Vermont State University president recommends cutting 10 degree programs and up to 33 faculty positions

a man sitting at a table in front of a laptop computer.
a man sitting at a table in front of a laptop computer.
Mike Smith, interim president of Vermont State University, at the Vermont Technical College campus in Williston in May. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Vermont State University should end 10 degree programs, including agriculture, music and school psychology, and lose around 20-33 faculty positions, Interim President Mike Smith said in a draft report issued Oct. 2.

Smith’s report also recommends consolidating another 13 degree programs and moving 11 among the university’s multiple campuses. None of the recommendations, if implemented, would affect current students in those programs, according to VTSU leadership. The changes would begin in the fall of 2024.

The school administration is soliciting feedback on the recommendations until Oct. 27, according to the preliminary report, a copy of which was obtained by VTDigger. University leadership will make final decisions by Oct. 31.

“None of this is easy, and I recognize that impacted faculty will have a period of transition ahead of them,” Smith wrote in the report, adding, “What we are doing with these recommendations is confronting our pressures head on — not running from them — and forging a path to address each and every one of them either through steps to obtain fiscal sustainability, strategic plan for admissions, or a student success model to keep students engaged in academic life.”

Smith did not immediately respond to calls and texts Monday night. The report is expected to be made public Tuesday morning.

In the document, Smith recommends discontinuing degrees in agriculture; forestry; landscape contracting; an applied business degree completion program; computer engineering technology; music; photography; performance, arts, and technology; climate change science; and school psychology.

Ending those programs would not necessarily mean that instruction in those subjects would cease entirely. For example, the report notes that VTSU’s recently created Center for Agriculture and Food Entrepreneurship is working to “identify opportunities for a newly designed Agriculture program that is sustainable and meets the needs of Vermont’s workforce.”

And while the report recommends ending the degree in climate change science, it also suggests promoting a climate change concentration within an atmospheric sciences degree.

The programs that Smith recommended cutting currently enroll 77 students, he said, roughly 2% of the university’s student body. All told, the cuts and consolidations proposed in the report would eliminate between 20 to 33 full-time faculty positions — between 10% and 15% of the university’s total of 207.

Vermont State University is planning to release details about a buyout program for faculty “in the coming days,” the report states. “If there is sufficient uptake in the buyout program, layoffs may not be necessary.”

The university was formed this summer through the merger of three public institutions: Castleton University, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College. The merger was intended to put the three on a pathway to financial stability.

Monday’s report — an initiative that administrators dubbed “Optimization 2.0” — appears to be the next phase of that consolidation. According to Smith, VTSU offers too many academic programs — 99 in total — while some have too few students enrolled.

That situation, he said, is financially untenable. VTSU ended the most recent fiscal year with a $22 million deficit, and the university “must realize efficiencies now that we are unified,” the report reads.

Smith’s term ends Nov. 1, at which point he will be succeeded by the recently hired interim president David Bergh, who is expected to run the university for roughly 18 months.

Monday’s report identifies 13 programs that should be consolidated with others, many of which appear to be already similar.

It proposes merging a program in architectural & building engineering technology with a program in architectural engineering technology, for example.

Among other consolidations, the report recommends combining musical theater and theater arts programs, as well as merging a degree in creative writing with one in literature and writing. And it proposes folding a degree in “Health Promotion” into a health science degree or discontinuing it.

Another 11 programs should shift their location from one of the university’s campuses to another, according to the report.

Last month, in response to complaints from faculty and staff that VTSU employs too many administrators, Smith vowed to examine the institution’s administrative positions and their effect on the budget. In Monday’s report, he reiterated that promise.

“Please know that I strongly agree that administrative costs of the university must be optimized and reduced as well,” Smith wrote. “With this first set of recommendations out the door I will now turn my attention to administrative costs, releasing a recommendation before my departure at the end of the month.”

Linda Olson, a sociology professor who represents VTSU faculty for the American Federation of Teachers, said that there were still many unanswered questions about the report.

“I think that there needs to be a lot of explanation still about why the proposal is making the recommendations that it is,” she said. “And also, more importantly, what data they’re basing it on.”

Read the story on VTDigger here: Vermont State University president recommends cutting 10 degree programs and up to 33 faculty positions.

Michaels Workers in Hadley Organize Store’s First-Ever Union

HADLEY — Earlier this month, 24 workers at the Hadley location of the arts-and-crafts retailer Michaels announced their intent to unionize with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1459. If they win an election before the National Labor Relations Board, they’ll become the very first union recognized at any store in Michaels’ nationwide chain.

On Aug. 10, the workers filed cards with the NLRB, triggering an election. Michaels employee Peter Boots-Faubert works as a framer at the store — a job they said pays minimum wage. In a phone interview, they told The Shoestring that a supermajority of workers have signed union cards. Two of the biggest issues for those workers, they said, were low pay and a lack of staffing.

“A lot of the time, people don’t get breaks,” they said. “There’s not enough people working.”

Michaels did not return an email from The Shoestring requesting comment.

With a population of just over 5,000, Hadley is best known, perhaps, for its asparagus. But now, the town is gaining fame outside of the region for another reason: new union organizing.

Hadley has now become a town of “firsts” in unionizing large corporate chains. Last July, workers at the Trader Joe’s just down the street from Michaels formed the first-ever union at that chain. Their independent union born in Hadley, Trader Joe’s United, went on to organize workers at Trader Joe’s in Minneapolis, MN, Louisville, KY, and Oakland, CA.

Then, this May, workers next door at Barnes & Noble in Hadley voted to unionize with UFCW Local 1459. That was the first stand-alone Barnes & Noble location in the country to unionize; two weeks, prior around 70 workers had voted to unionize a Barnes & Noble College Booksellers location at Rutgers University.

Michaels now becomes the latest store on the Route 9 corridor to unionize. The spark of new organizing led the news outlet More Perfect Union to dub Hadley “Solidarity Central.”

Chase Goates, who works mostly as a cashier at Michaels, said that he and others were inspired by Trader Joe’s United and then further buoyed when they saw Barnes & Noble workers unionize in the same Mountain Farms Mall building as them. Since the Michaels staffers went public with their union, he said the other nearby unions have reached out over social media to connect with them.

“Their support so far has been very positive,” Boots-Faubert said. “I love all of the ‘Hadley is a union town’ stuff going around,” Goates added.

Boots-Faubert said that workers at Michaels are paid very little and have to deal with workplace struggles like not being able to sit down, a lack of janitorial services and difficult hours. Goates added that the company responded to the union effort with “one of the most copy-paste union-busting letters I’ve seen.”

UFCW organizers Drew Weisse and Gillian Petrarca told The Shoestring that the union will represent all non-managerial workers at the Michaels location.
Weisse said that Trader Joe’s United had a big impact on both the Barnes & Noble and Michaels workers who decided to unionize.

“Once you see retail locations start to move, other workers at smaller companies or less prominent ones say, ‘Oh, we can do that too,’” Weisse said.

Michaels describes itself at the largest arts-and-crafts retailer in North America. Filings with the NLRB show that Michaels has hired a lawyer from the firm Ogletree Deakins, which is known for the “union avoidance” services it provides clients.

Photo by Mike Mozart

Dusty Christensen is an independent investigative reporter based in western Massachusetts. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @dustyc123.

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Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.

Grant Helps Cape Cod Restaurants Drop Plastic

Grant Focuses on single-use plastics used in the food and hospitality industries.

Local environmental conservation non-profit

CARE for the Cape & Islands

received a nearly

$300,000 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) Sea Grant

from the

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

to help the Cape’s food and hospitality businesses move away from single-use containers and service-ware.

More Lower Cape News coverage of plastic reduction on Cape Cod

What is CARE for the Cape and Islands?

Care for the Cape and Islands

 was founded in 2012 as the Cape and Islands’ first 

travelers’ philanthropy initiative


More commonly known today as Impact Travel, CARE seeks to encourage, support, and create opportunities for visitors and residents to donate their “time, talent, and treasure” to help preserve and protect the region’s natural beauty, plant and wildlife habitats as well as Cape & Islands culture and history.

What is the WHOI?

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

is the world’s leading, independent non-profit organization dedicated to ocean research, exploration, and education.

WHOI maintains unparalleled depth and breadth of expertise across a range of oceanographic research areas.

Institution scientists and engineers work collaboratively within and across 

six research departments

 to advance knowledge of the global ocean and its fundamental importance to other planetary systems. At the same time, they also train future generations of ocean scientists and address problems that have a direct impact in efforts to understand and manage critical marine resources.

Small-Town Newspaper Readers Are More Open to New Revenue Ideas Than Publishers

There’s a conflict between what weekly newspaper publishers think are the most likely ways their businesses will generate money in the future and what their readers are most willing to pay for, according to a study conducted in four states in the northern Great Plains.

The research – which focused on weekly papers in Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota – found that publishers were more likely to bank on traditional sources of revenue like advertising and subscriptions. Readers, on the other hand, were more likely than publishers to say they were willing to pay for less traditional products and services such as events, memberships, and newsletters.

The study concludes that there is “a clear disconnect between what revenue streams publishers are willing to implement and what revenue streams readers are potentially willing to endorse.”

The research, written by scholars at public universities in Kansas, Colorado, and Missouri, has implications for small-town and rural media that are negotiating major changes in the news-industry economy.

In the last 20 years more than 500 rural newspapers have closed or merged, but little of the research on the journalism economy has focused on small-market media, said the study’s lead, Teri Finneman, associate professor at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Kansas. Dozens of papers closed during the pandemic alone, Finneman said.

“It really made me start thinking, ‘why is it that we don't yet have a solution for this business model problem?’ And frankly, I saw this as a failure of academia, like why in the last 20 years has there not been a solution found for the industry? And so this really motivated me to try to look into some solutions to this very serious problem.”

Together with two colleagues, Finneman researched the possible revenue streams, speakng with publishers and readers in the Heartland states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.

Not surprisingly, the publishers picked the model that has been around for hundreds of years: advertising and legal notices.

“They very much pitch the current model, which is concerning, because we know that legal notices are under attack at legislatures across the country,” said Finneman, publisher of The Eudora Times, a nationally recognized news desert publication that she runs with journalism students. “And so at any point, newspapers could see that revenue disappear, which is why we are arguing why it is so important to be proactive instead of reactive, so that there are more financial resources coming in.”

For readers, however, the study found that the top response for an additional revenue stream was events.

“The most common phrase in rural areas is there's nothing to do. So it makes a lot of sense that events would be very popular because they're looking for things to do,” said Finneman, who grew up and spent a large part of her life in rural North Dakota.

Another top option for readers was memberships, which was defined as a perk beyond subscription.

“We left it simple like that, because there's different ways to do membership programs,” she said. “And this was something that readers said that they were really interested in.”

Other myths that were busted about rural America include that older adults care more about the news and consuming it. The study found that residents ages 18 to 54 were more willing to financially help their newspaper than those over age 55.

“The industry has got to get past this myth that their older readers are the only base that they have to serve because they have a lot of younger people who would be willing to support them if they were given an opportunity,” Finneman said.

Still, for all the myth busting and hardships for rural news, Finneman believes there are a lot of good things happening.

“Rural journalism has more of a stability to it, when they aren't run through Wall Street, and when they care more about their communities and not just making money for shareholders,” she said. “So there are a lot of positives for rural journalism. And I emphasize that to my students a lot about how many opportunities that there really are in this field.”

The post Small-Town Newspaper Readers Are More Open to New Revenue Ideas Than Publishers appeared first on The Daily Yonder.