Educators Laid Off

On December 15, 2005, six lecturers, five of them of senior status, in the Department of Education in the College of Education and Social Sciences (CESS) received notice that they were not reappointed for the following school year.

Across campus, powerful forces such as the United Academics fight what they deem a great injustice without a valid explanation.

When asked what she thought the reasoning behind this sudden move is, Associate Professor of English, Nancy Welch and an active member of United Academics replied, “It isn’t because of their teaching record, which is excellent. And it’s not because the department is shrinking, it has more than 400 majors and the college has 800 [students].”

Welch finds the sparsely given justification false and unsettling, “They say that it is necessary to eliminate a small deficit in the college, which the highest I’ve heard is $360,000. But I can’t help remembering last year when there was a building cost overrun with the new dorms, then there was no problem finding over a million for that.”

Others like Welch are finding themselves questioning the administration’s priorities. Secondary Education Major Kimberly Murtha who has recently spoken with her fellow education majors about leaving the major if the layoffs go through, says “one of the best things about the education department is that is creates a sense of community and without these teachers and their leadership that sense will be lost. And community is extremely important when it comes to education.”

According to United Academics, community and giving back to it are of utmost importance, “the College of Education and Social Sciences offers the only nationally accredited teacher education program in the state of Vermont.”

It is “the flagship institution for undergraduate programs in elementary, middle and secondary education and helps fulfill UVM’s land grant mission service to the people of Vermont.”

United Academics estimates that “by the end of 2006-2007, it is estimated that 12 lecturers and senior lecturers and another 8-10 part time faculty will not be reappointed.”

They say that the Department of Education in CESS are being threatened by UVM’s administration, which plans, over a two year period, to cut 76 course sections by letting go of essential faculty members.

It is believed by leaders of United Academics that even though “none of the recent letters of non-reappointment included reasons for this decision, the administration has indicated that the these cuts are a means of addressing a budget crisis.”

The administration, however, disagrees with most of the complaints and even denies any notion of a “budget crisis. Accordingly UVM Provost John Bramley stated, “There is no budget crisis or budget reduction in the College of Education and Social Services or in the Department of Education. Their budgets have been increasing and faculty numbers have grown over the last few years. However the Department of Education consistently overspends its budget.”

Bramley further explained that the department, “lost significant state funds some years ago and frankly has never addressed the consequences of that. We cannot ignore that and expect other departments and colleges to subsidize them. It would be like using your bank balance to meet a roommate’s bills.”

The Provost continues by reiterating “this department has been told that it needs to operate in a balanced fashion and also address issues of program quality.”

Although the program quality is left praised and unquestioned, the monetary balance is and has been in issue in the department for a while. The administration aims to work with the Chair of the department to develop a plan in consultation with faculty to address this issue over the next few years. They estimate that it will take “some period of time to adjust their expenditures.”

Estimations by United Academics are also a point of concern for Bramley who says, ” I have no idea how UA reached their conclusions. Certainly some senior lecturers and lecturers may not be reappointed over the next two or three years. However, until the department plan is finalized, and the time scale for balancing the budget is determined, I do not know the extent of the potential consequences.”

Many find that this issue is being handled inappropriately and this way of dealing with deficits could spread to the other colleges and departments and as Welch puts it, “It’s a real danger, over the past two years they have cut 8 positions, they fire people first then figure out what to do with the classes.”

Not that there isn’t feeling attached to these actions, Bramley concludes, “I am always sad when changes impact people’s lives, when they have served the University well and for a long time. It is always a goal to minimize impact, and that will be the case here.”