In front of a packed Grand Maple Ballroom and under threat of protest, presidential finalist Dr. Suresh Garimella gave a quick introduction to himself before he began a question and answer session Feb. 14 with the UVM community.
A newly formed student group, the Coalition for Student and Faculty Rights, hung posters around campus this week, encouraging students to join them in protesting Garimella as the sole finalist, based on his professional background and the reduced student involvement in the presidential search process.
The process for presidential searches recently began utilizing a hybrid process that begins with a private initial phase before moving into a public phase with finalist candidates, according to a Feb. 5 Cynic article.
In contrast to past presidential searches, Garimella was the only finalist announced.
Garimella said he would have been more than happy to do a Q&A with other candidates and the private phase followed by this public phase of the presidential search is not his decision to make, but this process is common in presidential searches.
Junior Haley Sommer, a member of the Coalition, attended the Q&A with other Coalition members with signs supporting the humanities, hoping to show Garimella the need for the next president to support the humanities, she said.
Recently, two lecturers from the College of Arts and Sciences did not have their contracts renewed and 10 lecturers had their hours reduced, according to a December 2018 memo from CAS dean Bill Falls.
In response, the faculty union, United Academics held a teach-in Feb. 14, according to a Feb. 14 Cynic article.
The Coalition was there to learn about him and make informed decisions about whether they support him, Sommer said.
“I just really hope that it’s an emphasis about how much we care about our education and how much we hope that the faculty also cares about it,” Sommer said.
The Coalition members attended to protest, after hanging signs encouraging students to join them in the Davis Center earlier this week. The members did not disrupt the Q&A.
Sophomore Aidan Doherty, chair of the student action committee on SGA, said after meeting with Garimella, he feels the candidate is open-minded, relaxed and a good fit for the job.
However, Garimella may have a bit of a learning curve in adjusting to UVM’s activist culture, Doherty said.
“I have full faith, especially with what just happened over the past hour [at the Q&A], he’ll very rapidly realize that the UVM community isn’t the community that will be going through all the proper channels, and that sometimes direct communication has to happen,” Doherty said, referring to UVM’s history of student protests.
“Invite me, and I’ll come meet the students,” Garimella said. “Come talk to me first before you start protesting.”
Feedback collected through online forms will be presented to the board Feb. 15 during their meeting to review and see what the next steps are to selecting a new president, said David Daigle, chair of the board of trustees.
Feedback is due by 8 p.m. Feb. 15, and the form can be found on this site.
“I was looking forward to the open forum,” Garimella said. “It was great to be on campus today.”