University of Vermont announces layoffs, cutbacks

By John Curran
Associated Press Writer / February 20, 2009
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BURLINGTON, Vt.—Citing what its president called "inescapable financial realities," the University of Vermont said Friday it will lay off 16 people and discontinue the men's baseball and women's softball programs as part of a $10.8 million budget cut.

Twenty-six other employees have been told they may be laid off, but the university will decide after it learns about its state appropriation, which is expected in the spring as the Vermont legislature addresses it.

The cuts, which triggered a raucous on-campus demonstration Friday by students, will take effect in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

They include:

-- eliminating 16 vacant staff positions, most of them in the athletic department.

-- leaving vacant 18 tenure-track faculty positions and four new faculty positions.

-- freezing salaries for nonunion employees making more than $75,000.

-- eliminating the two varsity sports at the end of the spring season.

-- unspecified "reductions in administrative areas" totaling $7.3 million.

-- reduction of general fund budgets in academics by $3.5 million.

The elimination of the two teams will save $836,000, and the athletic department layoffs will save $247,000, according to the university.

"They represent, in our view, a sensible approach to inescapable financial realities," President Daniel Fogel said in an interview.

Of the layoffs, he said: "These aren't numbers. These are people we work with, that we know and value. But to put it in perspective, this week Dartmouth (College) has announced more than four times this number of layoffs. Arizona State, in the fall before they took their biggest cut, eliminated 550 jobs, including 200 faculty positions.

"The scale of the budget challenges and of the human impacts at UVM is far, far lower than what we are seeing at most colleges and universities around the country," Fogel said.

Targeted employees covered by collective bargaining agreements will get severance benefits, while the others will be granted benefits including continued tuition remission for them and their dependents. The nonunion employees will also get medical and dental insurance coverage for two months beyond their terminations.

The athletic department cuts -- which include the layoffs of two head coaches, two assistant coaches and two support staff -- spell the end for a Catamount baseball program that has fielded a team continuously since 1888, except for six years in the early 1970s.

The softball program began in 1974.

Student-athletes on scholarship will be able to continue to attend UVM tuition-free if they decide to stay, according to Athletic Director Robert Corran. The coaches and players were told Friday morning, he said.

"As much as we may not understand it, we all have to deal with it," Corran said.

The cuts come after a pair of midyear reductions in state appropriations to the university, which has about 9,500 undergraduate students and an annual budget of about $284 million.

But students accused Fogel and the university of targeting faculty and staff instead of higher-salaried university administrators.

Carrying hand-lettered signs and a papier-mache effigy of Fogel -- with an oversized head and bushy eyebrows -- about 100 students marched across the college green and into Waterman administration building, banging a snare drum and chanting "Fight for jobs and education, not for Fogel's administration" and other slogans, some containing obscenities.

"Unfund Fogel, not professor positions. Pink slip VPs, not lecturers and staff," read one sign.

The group demonstrated on the steps of the building before roaring down a hallway toward Fogel's office. After about 15 minutes of noisemaking and rhyming chants, UVM vice president of finance and administration Richard Cate emerged from the executive offices and talked with them.

"The bottom line is that we had to make some hard choices," said Cate, who was shouted down several times as he spoke, surrounded by students. He ended up offering to meet with three or four leaders of Students Stand Up!, the group organized the demonstration to explain the university's rationale in making the cuts.

They also called on the university to tap its $239 million endowment fund to stave off the cuts, an option the university said was not feasible given legal restrictions on expenditures of that money.

"The kids that are out there, bless their souls," said Fogel. "We admire their passion and commitment, and we do listen to them. It would be nice if it were reciprocal. They understand very well why we can't tap the endowment," he said.

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