New head of Vermont State Colleges discusses challenges ahead for system

Local News

BURLINGTON, Vt. – On Monday, Sophie Zdatny was unanimously appointed chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges System by the Board of Trustees after serving on an interim basis for several months.

“I want to thank the Board of Trustees for their support throughout this transitional time,” Zdatny said. “We have a lot of important work ahead in the months to come and I could not be more encouraged by the intelligence and commitment of those involved. I want Vermonters to know we are already making good progress towards transformation. All of this effort is in service to our faculty, staff, students and employers who are counting on us to be a strong and reliable partner.”

Zdatny’s initial appointment as interim chancellor came when Jeb Spaulding resigned from the position over his recommendation to close down three Vermont college campuses. The dire financial outlook of the VSCS worsened in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, and had prompted Spaulding to make the unpopular recommendation.

“I didn’t anticipate I would be in it full-time, but given the challenges, I moved forward to start addressing what needed to be done which was primarily with the Legislature at the time,” Zdatny said.

Previously, Zdatny served as general counsel within the Vermont State Colleges System.

“I’ve spent a lot of time talking to a lot of inside stakeholders and working with them, but I have no illusions as to how challenging the situation is,” Zdatny said.

Prior to COVID-19, the Board of Trustees was evaluating the financial impacts of declining enrollment at Vermont state colleges. Zdatny said the pandemic and its financial impacts have accelerated the timeline in which tough decisions need to be made.

“We’ve had various task forces that have been working from Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College, and we have a system-wide task force looking at system wide issues,” Zdatny said. “We will also be working with the Legislature closely – they have a select committee created to look at the future of public higher education in Vermont, with a particular focus on state colleges.”

Vermont state colleges received $35 million in federal coronavirus relief, and while Zdatny said that was greatly appreciated, there’s some issues it can’t help address.

“That money has strings attached to it, we have to use it for costs and expenses related to COVID,” Zdatny said. “We can’t use it to replace lost revenue, for example, so it is very important we continue to have conversations with the Legislature for additional funding from the general fund that we could use to address other gaps we have in our financial situation.”

Board of Trustees Chairman J. Churchill Hindes praised Zdatny’s efforts throughout the first few months of her new role as chancellor.

“Sophie stepped up to lead at a time when the organization needed a steady hand to guide it forward,” Hindes said. “She has exceeded our expectations as a leader by bringing stakeholders together through thoughtful collaboration and openness. We know this is precisely the leadership style we need at this critical juncture. We are so pleased she has agreed to stay on and continue the work she has started.”

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