A group of Green Mountain College graduates, parents and faculty have launched an online fund drive with the goal to keep the college open.
Huddy Grandy, an alumna from the class of 2008, is one of the organizers of the fund drive. She said the initial goal is $600,000 and $5 million by June 1.
“Our primary goal is to prevent closure. We don’t want to lose accreditation for the school. We don’t want to have any lapse in operation of the institution. Obviously, we want it to stay open in the long term,” she said.
The SaveGMC website says pledges are being sought to “retain current faculty and staff while we work to transition leadership at the college.”
“During the coming months, a team of alumni, students, parents, and community activists will be hiring professionals — lawyers, accountants, and fundraisers — to facilitate the restructuring and continued operation of the school,” the site says.
Grandy said the organizers have “launched a pretty huge effort on social media” to get the word out about the effort. The SaveGMC leaders have heard from alumni from as far back as the 1940s and members are reaching out to their own networks of GMC-connected friends and associates.
“We’ve got a large presence on Facebook. We have developed a website. We’re putting it out on Twitter. We’re tweeting at a lot of nationally-known environmentalists and folks who we think would have an interest in saving one of the only environmental colleges in the country,” she said.
The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education rated GMC’s curriculum as the best in America for sustainability and the college received a perfect “green” rating from the Princeton Review’s Green Honor Roll.
Larry Sherman said GMC’s sustainability had a powerful effect on his daughter, Claire Sherman, a first-year transfer student at Green Mountain.
“She applied to several places and got in, but Green Mountain was her No. 1 choice because it was the No. 1 school in sustainability. When she went out and visited last summer, she was just thrilled by what they saw there,” he said.
Larry Sherman said GMC was so inspiring, he “wanted to go back to school, I really did.”
Sherman said he and his wife were angry and shocked, but he said he may have had a different view. He said he attended Reed College in Oregon, which also had a shaky period just before he was a student there.
“I think I’m coming from a place where I benefited from a group of people who saved that college, and I would love to see the same thing happen here,” he said.
Several of the GMC alumni spoke about Sweet Briar College in Virginia, which was set to close in 2015 before a group of alumni and supporters stepped in to keep the college open. The effort was successful but, like College of St. Joseph in Rutland, Sweet Briar’s accreditation is under threat because of questions about its fiscal stability.
The SaveGMC organization was formed after Bob Allen, president of Green Mountain College, announced on campus Jan. 22 that the college would close its doors after the current semester ends.
According to Allen, the combination of a decrease in tuition and an increase in expenses left the small, independent college in Poultney in a financial crisis that school administrators could not solve.
Another member of SaveGMC’s leadership committee, Kheya Ganguly, executive director at Wonderfeet Kids’ Museum in Rutland, said both her daughters had gone to GMC. Ganguly said her concern was not only for preserving GMC.
“We feel that not only would this be a blow nationally and to the future to lose it, we also feel it’s going to be a huge blow to Rutland County at large and Poultney specifically,” she said.
Grandy said GMC was worth saving because it was a “beautiful gem.”
“It’s a powerful school, and it brings home a powerful message to all its students. Environmental stewards are born. They go to Green Mountain and they come out a completely different person,” she said.
As of about 6 p.m., the SaveGMC campaign had raised $41,000, according to its website.
In an email, Carla Snook, a spokeswoman for Green Mountain College, said she couldn’t reach Allen on Tuesday.
“He and his staff are devoting their full attention to helping students, faculty and staff make a transition to their next opportunity,” she said in the email.
Discussion of abortion and sexual abuse scandals dominated a forum Bishop Christopher Coyne held at Christ the King Church on Tuesday.
The talk, part of a listening tour bringing Coyne to churches around the state, also touched on how the church can win back parishioners it has lost and what the diocese can do for local parishes. Coyne said this was the sixth such meeting, and common themes from the previous ones included sex abuse scandals in the Catholic church, a decision to lower the age of first communion and calls for the ordination of female priests.
Preaching respectful listening, Coyne opened the floor to the roughly 100 in attendance, saying people who came forward would get 2 minutes each for questions or comments. The first came from a man who began by proclaiming his love for the church and his belief in literal transubstantiation.
“I am very angry at the hierarchy of our church,” he said. “I am angry at your brother bishops and the Bishop of Rome.”
The man said when news of sexual abuse coverups broke more than a decade ago, parishioners were assured that reforms had been implemented and such abuse would not happen again. Then the public learned of more abuses last year.
“Now, I realize the bishops did not do what they said they would do, and I am angry about it,” he said.
The man said his anger was compounded because the scandals robbed the bishops of their moral authority, which they need to argue against measures like H.57, the bill that would preserve abortion rights in Vermont. The man said the bill “borders on infanticide,” while later speakers outright called it infanticide.
“There’s a lot there,” Coyne said. “I can only be responsible for myself. ... I can’t answer for some of the bishops.”
Coyne described how the diocese had appointed a commission — led by a former member of law enforcement who was not a Catholic — to review all clergy personnel files containing a credible claim of abuse of a minor. He said the commission would produce a report he would then make public.
A number of other people described the scandals as having pushed people away from the church. Coyne said a recent national survey found that more than half of parishioners believed abuse of children by priests was still regularly happening and being covered up. Coyne said Vermont’s churches had gone many years without a credible allegation of abuse and that the church needed to be better at communicating to the public. He said he was director of communication for the Archdiocese of Boston after the scandal broke there and hired a professional PR firm.
“We priests, we’re not trained in PR,” he said. “That’s not our skill set.”
Coyne noted that the vast majority of the abuse cases arose in the 1960s and 1970s, which likely offered some window into how they happened. He said it was a time when the church ordained huge numbers of priests, some right out of high school.
“Never did experimentation,” he said. “Never tried relationships out. In many ways, they were repressed adults.”
He said it was also a time when many homosexuals used the priesthood as a way to hide their orientations, and that their sexuality was not “integrated” with an understanding of celibacy. On top of that, he said the culture of the time created opportunities.
“No one balked when the cool father or the young priest took a teenage boy under his arm,” Coyne said. “If he did it with your daughter, though ... even in the ‘60s and ‘70s, you would’ve said uh-uh.”
Coyne reacted positively to a suggestion that prayers of the faithful be regularly offered for survivors of abuse. He said he had presided over Masses at which there were multiple parishioners who only he knew were survivors. He also said that when priests add prayers for victims to services, they are sometimes asked by parishioners when the church will “get over” the abuse scandal.
“We are never going to get over it,” he said. “It’s a sin that wounded people in a very deep way.”
Another speaker read aloud a letter he said came from former Poultney state representative Andrew Donaghy, asking if the bishop would direct pastors to condemn H.57 from the pulpit and call upon their parishioners to write to their representatives. The question drew applause. Coyne said he had issued a statement encouraging Catholics to “contact their Legislators as they saw fit.” He called it a “volatile issue” and said a number of people have “very personal reasons” for supporting abortion rights.
“My hope is, as a pastor, to convince them otherwise,” he said. “I leave it up to people to make their own decision. ... My hope is to move the middle.”
Coyne also stated he would not seek to excommunicate Catholic legislators supporting the bill, saying his instruction has been that pastors need to speak to such individuals privately, telling them that they should not take communion until they change to a position in line with “the community of the church.” He said any such legislators are still “brothers and sisters” within the church, deserving of charity, and that excommunication is not a punishment but a measure to try to get people to return to the church.
“I think it’s something that needs to be done privately because people outside of this community don’t understand what it is and what it isn’t,” he said. “Let them make decisions whether they receive communion or not. It’s on their head. It’s on their soul. ... Public excommunication doesn’t do what we hope it does.”
Coyne said he believed his approach was winning over people to the belief that H.57 goes too far.
“We are moving the needle,” he said.
“What I found here was a welcome so big that they wanted to do everything, big and little things, to show that the pope’s visit was good.”
Pope Francis, assessing his visit to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, after celebrating the first papal Mass on the Arabian Peninsula for about 180,000 people on Tuesday. — A10
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