Thousands voice no confidence in Garimella administration as grievances mount


Kate Vanni

President Suresh Garimella is the 27th president of UVM. His presidency began July 2019.

Over 3,000 people have voiced their lack of confidence in UVM President Suresh Garimella and his administration following a series of budget cuts and other perceived administrative failures. 

On March 29, UVM United Against the Cuts hosted their Leadership and Values Crisis: Emergency Press Conference, addressing this mounting and growing no-confidence movement. 

UVM United is an organization composed of faculty, students and community members. The group was initially formed in response to salary reductions that were temporarily imposed on many lecturers and staff in July 2020. These reductions have since been restored. 

Now, UVM United is spearheading a movement of opposition against the current administration and their proposed budget cuts, which are set to terminate three departments, 12 majors, 11 minors and four master’s degree programs in CAS. 

UVM United initially released its declaration of no confidence in Garimella March 1, citing a betrayal of UVM’s mission and values. The related online petition has 3,331 signatures as of April 11. 

Their petition of no confidence states disapproval of the proposed cuts to CAS and of the nonrenewal of the contracts of three longtime UVM senior lecturers, each of whom has taught at UVM for over a decade. 

It also states the closure of UVM’s childcare program, the Campus Children’s School, and the termination of a program that served low-income and first-generation college students, the TRIO Program, as further reasoning behind the declaration of no confidence. 

The administration has stood behind these decisions, referencing an $8.6 million dollar structural deficit in CAS as the reason behind the cuts to that college and stating that the TRIO program was canceled because the sole federal grant that funded it was not renewed, according to a March 9 email from UVM Spokesperson, Enrique Corredera. 

Corredera declined to provide any further comment on the nonrenewal of the three senior lecturer’s contracts. Their total combined salaries amount to only $171,000 of the multimillion-dollar deficit. 

UVM United’s declaration of no confidence was also picked up and circulated on the UVM Union of Students’ platform on Feb. 28. 

Founder of the UVM Union of Students and senior Chrysanthemum Harrell, announced the Union’s independent declaration of no confidence at Monday’s press conference. 

Additionally, three departments in CAS English, sociology and romance languages have all signed letters to the administration voicing their disapproval of the CAS cuts. 

The English department sent a Dec. 15 letter containing a unanimous vote of no confidence in UVM’s administration and demanding Dean Bill Falls’ resignation. The sociology department voiced their disapproval of the proposed cuts in a unanimous March letter. 

The romance languages department wrote an initial letter Dec. 22 in opposition of the proposed termination of Italian studies, and a second letter March 29 addressing the department’s broader disapproval of the administration’s proposed program terminations.  

The Burlington City Council also unanimously voted on a resolution Feb. 17, calling on the UVM President and the board of trustees to act with greater transparency and to prioritize job protection. 

“The City of Burlington calls on the Administrators of the University of Vermont […] to prioritize protecting jobs, to respect staff’s right to organize, to work with UVM faculty and staff to reverse regressive austerity measures aimed at vulnerable educators and staff, to cease non-educational bonuses,” the resolution stated. 

A collage of comments collected from a petition created by “UVM United Against Cuts.” (Mac Mansfield Parisi)

Despite the frustrations of many faculty members and students, Garimella has defended his administrative budgetary decisions and said that there is “no excuse needed for transformational change,” in an Op-Ed published on Feb. 10 in University Business magazine and a Feb. 17 VTDigger article. 

In addition to Burlington’s City Council, Vermont Senator Chris Pearson also voiced concern over the administration’s budgetary decisions during UVM United’s emergency press conference this Monday. 

“[President Garimella] is earning a salary twice what we give President Biden,” Pearson said. “Would we suggest that we’re not able to attract the best and the brightest to the White House?” 

There have been several initiatives in the last year fighting back against faculty cuts over the course of the last year, with the UVM Union pushing for UVM to “chop from the top,” and to look at addressing budget deficits through administrative salary reductions.   

Despite faculty, students and other community members demonstrating a mounting effort to push back against the cuts made by this administration, Corredera stated in his March 9 email that the administration has “widespread support” for their efforts. He declined to provide further comment regarding who this support is coming from.  

As a result of the cuts the administration plans to make to CAS and other programming, Garimella has betrayed the University’s mission to provide a strong liberal arts core and to focus on education over amenities, the UVM United petition stated.  

Still, Corredera stated in his email that the multimillion-dollar deficit posed by CAS needs to be addressed regardless of what budget model the University uses. 

The deans of each college sent an email to the UVM community April 1 stating that the administration has called upon them to imagine new possibilities and approaches for UVM. 

“We may disagree on the merits of some of the plans being proposed, but the commitment and an inclusive approach of our leadership is evident,” the email stated. “We must hear and support one another as we move through this process.” 

English Professor Nancy Welch sent an email March 6 to her department and another email March 8 to a United Academics listserv, in order to boost the no-confidence petition. 

The administration got a hold of these emails and Falls called Welch to a meeting for oral counsel, in order to discuss the emails she had sent to the listservs, according to a March 15 email from Falls to Welch. 

“Exhorting your colleagues to share the petition with ‘interested students and alums’ and ‘neighbors and friends’ is unprofessional and nothing less than a blatant attempt to disrupt admissions of prospective students and weaken the relationship between the university and its students and the university and its alumni,” Falls stated in his March 15 letter to Welch. 

If Welch continues with “misusing university resources,” her privileges may be revoked and formal discipline may be initiated, the letter stated. 

“I find it unconscionable that you are actively trying to undermine the university’s future in this way,” the letter stated.

Welch believes she was well within her rights to send emails promoting the no-confidence petition, citing rights outlined by the American Association of University Professors, she said. 

“The AAUP has upheld the right of faculty members to speak freely about internal college or university affairs as a fundamental principle of academic freedom that applies as much to electronic communications as it does to written and oral ones,” the organization stated in a report

This includes the right of faculty members to communicate about their conditions of employment and to organize on their own behalf, the report stated. 

“Neither I nor the University have any interest in interfering with a faculty member’s ability to express an opinion,” Falls stated in an April 8 email to the Cynic. “However, I believe it is not appropriate for a member of the faculty to implore their colleagues to solicit students and alumni to sign a petition.”

Falls initially also tried to deny Welch her right to Union representation at the meeting, she said, and during the meeting, he referred to the presence of her representatives as a “courtesy” rather than a right. 

Falls stated in an April 8 email that union representation was not necessary because this was not a disciplinary meeting, however, he allowed Welch to bring a representative anyway. 

Welch believes the administration singled her out in order to make an example out of her and to cause other faculty to fear speaking out, she said at the conference. 

“It’s particularly appalling to me that in the same 24-hour period that this Dean called me in for this pre-disciplinary meeting, the same Dean also sent out an email to the faculty about Professor Kindsvatter, saying that we all share the value of free expression,” she said.  

UVM Professor Aaron Kindsvatter, who posted YouTube videos decrying supposed “white discrimination” at UVM, has faced little repercussions from administration despite student demands for resignation, according to an April 5 Cynic article.

Corredera declined to comment on any possible infringement by the administration on Welch’s AAUP or constitutional rights, nor on whether the handling of Welch’s case was handled differently than that of Kindsvatter. 

In a Jan. survey created by United Academics, UVM’s faculty Union, 56.5% of faculty respondents felt job insecure and are unhappy at UVM. An additional 37.5% of respondents said they were looking for jobs elsewhere.  

“The reasons for this, I believe, are many, but fall squarely and directly on administrative decision-making that was not only unilateral, but done in ways that denied the humanity of the faculty and staff at you at UVM,” Professor Julie Roberts, president of United Academics, said at the press conference. 

Corredera stated in his March 9 email that faculty positions have not been cut. However, he declined to comment on whether it is a possibility down the line, as the academic reorganization process continues. 

Also, faculty have indeed been a part of the process over the course of the last five years, the email stated. 

“Faculty have participated in efforts to find solutions but have not produced a workable plan,” he stated. 

French Professor Meaghan Emery believes that this is not the case, she said. 

“We can deal with reality, we can deal with data,” she said. “It’s very paternalistic, it’s very dismissive of people who give their lifeblood and I’m specifically talking about the faculty who give their lifeblood to this university.” 

Students are hoping that these efforts will draw attention to the Garimella administration, said junior and UVM Union member Eliza Fehrs. 

“We want the nation to see that we’re shining a light on Garimella,” she said. “We’re not going to let this go through because it’s just so damaging to students, to faculty to pretty much everyone at UVM.” 

Contradictory to claims he has made about a budget crisis, Garimella stated in the 2020 fiscal year financial report that “in spite of the challenges presented by the effects of COVID-19, the state of UVM’s finances is sound.” 

An interview with Garimella himself was not possible, according to emails from Corredera.