Frustration is building among the students, staff and alumni of three colleges at risk of being shut down in a Vermont State Colleges Board of Trustees vote next week.
The Board of Trustees is scheduled to vote on closing Northern Vermont University campuses in Lyndon and Johnson, as well as the Randolph campus of Vermont Technical College.
“Myself and my colleagues found out about this through a leaked press release on social media on a Friday afternoon during the start of finals,” said Mary Findley, a professor at Vermont Technical College. “The worst possible time, with a vote to happen on Monday.”
Findley and two dozen other members of the three campus communities weighed in during the public comment session of an emergency board meeting held via Zoom. A vote had initially been scheduled for Monday, but was ultimately postponed to April 27.
Chancellor Jeb Spaulding, who made the initial recommendation to close colleges, said he’s monitoring ongoing efforts by the Vermont Legislature to keep them afloat. Regardless, he seemed intent on sticking with next week’s vote.
“It’s still, in my opinion, something that we really can’t delay very long,” Spaulding said. “But we would like to find out what kind of legislative response – at least I understand the trustees would like to – and I think that makes a lot of sense. Find out what kind of response and assistance we can get, and when we can get it.”
Findley and others expressed skepticism that other options were given serious consideration, and said delaying the vote won’t change the end result.
“To say that we feel that this is already a done deal and we’re being placated with a week is an understatement,” Findley said. “If you don’t want to close down the campuses Chancellor, don’t. You say that this is sustainable, you’re putting the nail in the coffin of the Vermont State Colleges System.”
At times, members of campus communities were emotional. A large portion of those who spoke were recent graduates or students. Victoria Carlson graduated from NVU Lyndon in 2018 and was a student through the school’s transition from the former Lyndon State College.
“We lost our identity my senior semester, but Lyndon handled the move with grace and patience,” Carlson told the board. “Your plan was flawed from the start, and with little notice we were notified of the possible closure. I can’t help but speak on such pride to be a Lyndon alumni. I’ve seen so many beautiful letters, videos, and articles created to show the love of our campus. That’s the only positive I see right now as I’m fighting for my home.”
In general, those who spoke to the board expressed a fear that closures have become a foregone conclusion. Midway through the public comment period, Board Chair Churchill Hindes defended the process that lead to next week’s vote.
“This is not a sham, this is a genuine pause as we continue to listen to you and to others and work closely with our constituencies and colleagues as we work our way towards a decision that will be coming within a week or so,” Hindes said.
If the board votes to close schools, some of NVU’s programming would transition to Castleton University. Vermont Technical College would operate solely from their Williston campus.