A Letter to the President of UVM on Proposed Budget Cuts

Below is the text of a letter I will be sending to the President of UVM and the Board of Trustees. Please consider signing this petition for Classics and this one for geology. For information see @JPenelope_Evans’ eloquent thread, and her medium post, news reports like this, and the coverage on IHE

Dear President Garimella,

I am writing to express my shock and deep concern for the proposal Dean Falls of the Colleges of Arts and Sciences has produced to cut the University of Vermont’s programs in Geology, Classics, Religion, Asian studies, Latin American and Caribbean studies, and Italian studies. This proposal represents a betrayal of UVM’s historical mission and its responsibility to its community and, in addition, an outright attack on shared governance. It threatens the standing of the University as an institution of higher learning and it sets a disastrous example of educational leadership in a time of crisis.

I write first as a native New Englander who had to leave my home state of Maine to study Classics because my state system did not offer the degree. Your University fulfills a vital role in serving the people of Vermont and neighboring states. During my childhood, my dentist, pediatrician, and many of my teachers graduated from UVM. They were deeply caring and engaged members of our community because they had an education grounded in the Liberal Arts and the traditions of a great public university. Cutting these programs will impoverish the education your students receive and drive many more students out of state for their education.

I write also from personal experience with UVM. Both of my siblings graduated from your institution and my sister earned a degree in Classics. As a member of the discipline, I know that the Department of Classics at UVM produces remarkable scholarship, recently in the work of Professors Franklin, Usher and Chiu. But I also know that the department’s faculty are amazing teachers and mentors: a recent graduate student at Brandeis just beams when recalling Jessica Evans’ Greek classes; and, well over a decade later, Professor Bailly still asks me about my sister when he and I correspond. I have little doubt that the other programs on the cutting block are also filled with fine scholars and exemplary teachers. We can slash operational budgets, run deficits, draw on endowments, and cut salaries. We cannot replace the talent, memory, and dedication of faculty and staff once their programs are gone.

I also write as the Chair of the Faculty Senate at Brandeis University. Cutting academic programs in the way that Dean Falls has proposed undermines your University’s commitment to shared governance by depriving the Faculty of the ability to shape the curriculum and share responsibility in managing this crisis. These cuts are not a result of immediate financial exigency and certainly do not make up for even 10% of anticipated revenue shortfalls. Instead, these cuts represent a calculated attempt to take advantage of a crisis to eliminate programs that do not adhere to some preconceived notion of profitability and utility. The financial measures applied in making these decisions, moreover, are intellectually dishonest. By employing a measure of majors graduated by year instead of total credit-hours taught compared to cost of instruction, Dean Falls’ proposal cloaks ideological prejudice in false quantities. Even worse, Provost’s Prelock’s written comments claiming that these moves will “strengthen the liberal arts at UVM” (via Inside Higher Ed) enact a political doublespeak unworthy of your institution and proof that there is no solid financial justification for making these moves.

The next few years will indeed be a time of financial crisis for higher education. Instead of capitulating before future shortfalls are clear, educational leaders need to tell the truth of what is happening—how decades of divestment in higher education from state legislatures and the federal government put institutions in budgetary crises before the pandemic even started. University presidents and provosts should work together to lobby their state governments and the federal government for relief. Every avenue should be tried before cutting the most important resource Universities possess: the people they bring together.  Now is not the time to make minor, symbolic cuts to our budgets. Higher education is facing its most serious challenge in generations and now is the time to articulate our values. We are not how much we have; we are not what we desire; we are what we are willing to fight for.


The UVM Classics Building at 481 Main StreetCheck out the UVM Classics homepage, and send them some love.

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