Staff members discuss vote of no confidence for Vice President of Finance


Mac Mansfield-Parisi/The Vermont Cynic

(left to right) Trustee Don McCree, VP of Finance Richard Cate and University Budget Director Shari Bergquist sit at the Oct. 26 board of trustees meeting.

A vote of no confidence could be held for a top UVM administrator after he was accused of voicing an all lives matter narrative at a Staff Council meeting.

In a June 9 Staff Council meeting meant to discuss the most recent round of budget cuts due to COVID-19 shortfalls, staff raised questions about racial issues at UVM, and asked VP of Finance Richard Cate to address them.

In response to a question on why the budget cuts announcement was made during a time of heightened racial protests, Cate said the memo was not targeted at black faculty, and that if the memo had been released later, racial issues would still be a prominent topic of discussion.

“I’m truly sorry that this had a negative impact on people of all races,” he said. “These budget cuts were not based on anything other than salary.”

Jenna Emerson, outreach programmer for the Center of Health and Wellbeing, responded and said Cate’s words were racist.

“What you’re saying is extremely racist in an ‘All Lives Matter’ kind of way,” Emerson said. “We want you to recognize the impact that your memo could have on people who are not rich, who are people of color and who are black folks in our community.”

Hours after the monthly staff council meeting, Rafael Rodriguez, director of Residential Life, suggested a vote of no confidence for Cate in a June 9 Microsoft Teams chat with over 200 other staff members. 

Votes of no confidence are driven by faculty members who find some aspect of the senior leader’s behavior problematic and are largely symbolic actions, according to the Journal of Research on the College President. 

“I understand the incredible challenges facing the institution,” Rodriguez stated in the chat. “[However,] I worry about the incredible harm that will continue to be perpetrated on our communities.”

A vote of confidence means the staff will have an opportunity to formally respond to the latest events, Rodriguez stated in a June 9 email to the Cynic.

“What occurred during the meeting was disappointing and hurtful to many, including the staff of color who felt unseen and many of our questions went unanswered,” he said.

Cate stated he had no comment on the matter of the possible vote in a June 10 email. 

If the vote of no confidence takes place, it will be overseen by the Staff Council, Rodriguez stated in the same email.

Several others in the chat supported Rodriguez’s request for a vote of no confidence, including Erin Baker, program director of learning community Cultural Crossroads,  Troy Headrick, assistant director for the Center for Student Conduct

and Ferene Paris Meyer, the program director of First Year Experience.  

Meyer’s questions regarding race relations at UVM were ignored at the meeting with Richard Cate, and only addressed when Sandra Bermanzohn, business office analyst for the College of Arts and Sciences, requested Cate to answer them. 

“This harmful behavior and exploitation of staff needs to stop. This continued leadership centered in white supremacy…needs to stop,” Paris Meyer stated. “Why are we allowing our worth [to be] minimized by this institution? I am done,” said Meyer in the Teams chat.

Screenshot from Microsoft Teams meeting

However, Andrew Horvat, a media technician senior, said a vote of no confidence is misguided and time consuming.

“Real decision making is done at the [Board of Trustees]. Go after them. Use your time and energy wisely,” said Horvat.

This is not the first time a vote of no confidence has been held at UVM for a senior administrator. 

The last time a vote of no confidence occurred was in April 2018 for then-provost David Rosowsky in regards to implementing a controversial budgeting system, the Incentive Based Budgeting model.

Rosowsky stepped down from his position as provost in 2019 as UVM’s administrative leadership changed from Tom Sullivan to the current UVM president, Suresh Garimella, according to a March 2019 Cynic article. 

Correction: This headline was updated at 1:39 p.m.  June 10 to more accurately reflect that staff members discussed a vote of no confidence and not the Staff Council.