UVM, strive for transparency

Letter to the Editor

In October 2019, posters went up across campus warning of exclusion on the Incentive Based Budgeting steering committee, pending academic cuts, pay inequality and a worrying New England Commission of Higher Education report.

They were born from an op-ed that the Cynic declined to publish earlier that semester. We’re the ones who made those posters.

A December 2019 issue of the Cynic ran a ¨fact check¨ of our posters, choosing to parrot administrators’ talking points rather than critically unpack the issues or do enough investigative work to come to firm conclusions.

A close read of the fact-check article reveals that our fundamental concerns were valid.

Nonetheless, a staff editorial insisted that “these posters are fear mongering and … many pieces are factually incorrect.”

We’ve done detailed research and strive to work at the highest level of factual accuracy. “Facts,” however, are never neutral in how they are available, communicated and interpreted.

Like the Cynic Editorial Board, and many others in the campus community, we are frustrated with how little information is available regarding decision making and finances at our own University.

In a December 2019 meeting with the Coalition for Student and Faculty Rights, Richard Cate, UVM’s treasurer and vice president for finance, confirmed how little information is publicly available. “The base pay list and the sourcebook are what there is,” Cate said.

The public cannot access financial data from more than 10 years ago, information on overtime and benefits or payroll data sorted into important categories like gender and full-time status.

The saying “information is power” certainly holds true here, and when administration and board members have exclusive hold on the facts of UVM’s situation and are featured prominently in campus media, it is hard for anyone else to propose a coherent alternative.

At UVM over the last decade, the salaries of the top 10 earners increased 43% after inflation, while the average salary for all employees stagnated, according to the Catamount Data Fund’s website.

We’re also concerned over administrators’ efforts to silence critique into the narratives they peddle. Over the last year, administrators have punished activists and privately threatened both professors and journalists for being critical.

President Suresh Garimella has opened the possibility for change with his announcement of a tuition freeze at UVM. The question remains however: on whose backs does this tuition freeze come?   

If the precedent set at Purdue University, where a tuition freeze was put into place during Garimella’s tenure, is any measure, UVM has reason for concern.

The freeze came on the backs of faculty and core academics, according to a February 2016 article by the Purdue student newspaper, The Exponent. Faculty were left with higher healthcare costs, and departments often had to forgo teaching assistants and small seminar classes to cut costs.

This is particularly relevant in the coming months when the faculty union’s contract is up for renegotiation.

The cost of education at UVM is astronomical. Cost savings, however, must come from amenities, marketing and non-academic expenses – not at the expense of the breadth, depth and rigor of academics.

Students, media, faculty and staff have a role to play in fighting for quality and equality in higher education. Get the facts, but be wary when the facts are only available to some people, or deployed by those in power to tell a simple story.