CASTLETON – Officials at Castleton University announced Friday the school will reduce its staff through layoffs, elimination of positions and early retirements based on an expected operating loss of $1.5 million for the current year. CU President Karen Scolforo said Friday afternoon the exact number of cuts among the roughly 400 employees hadn't been determined, but said most staff should know the situation by the middle of May. “We are expecting to take the semester to make that decision. … Our priority is to remain focused on the student learning experience so our department heads and faculty will be assessing department needs and coming up with those decisions by the end of the semester,” Scolforo said. Scolforo said recommendations are expected by April 15 with a goal that administrators would be able to make their final decisions by May 15. Both staff and faculty could be affected by the changes, along with administrative positions. “One of the first things that I looked at was my senior leadership team," she said. "My cabinet members and I are carefully looking at the leadership team and the structure there. There'll be some changes there as well, so really, there's no department that's exempt from this process." The changes, which Scolforo said were important to maintain affordability for students, are also expected to affect courses with the number of majors being consolidated from 79 to an expected 55. However, Scolforo said even if the number of available majors changes, students are likely to still be able to find applicable classes. “Within any discipline you may have a number of majors," she said. "So the idea is that, say, for example, if we have eight different choices in sociology, reducing it to three or four so students can still pursue a discipline that they care about and they're interested in, but maybe not have quite as many options in terms of concentration.” Those changes will be made with the input of a faculty task force that will look at consolidating majors, while the others will look at new programs and ways to deliver education to students. The changes are expected to take affect for the 2018-19 academic year. Scolforo said discussing the changes well before they happened met her leadership goals. The proposed changes were identified after her contract as the university's president started on Dec. 1. “I wanted an opportunity to assess our circumstances and take a look at our budget circumstances," she said. "It was really important to me, as it has been, here on campus to be highly transparent and communicative. Within the university community I've been very collaborative and transparent in terms of sharing in this process with our staff and faculty. Once we saw we would need to do a restructure to align our budget process. We wanted to let folks know. We are a state institution.” Scolforo succeeds David Wolk, who was president of Castleton for 16 years, including the time the school went from a college to a university. The new president spoke well of her predecessor for his contribution. “I think the decisions that were made to protect positions were admirable," she said. "However, I think some of these things are no longer sustainable." One of the reasons Scolforo was offered the presidency, she believes, is that she has a history of growth initiatives and community partnerships. Scolforo said the college was still dedicated to working with the town where it's located. She said she had met with Castleton's new town manager this week to develop ways the town and university could work together. "I feel my predecessor left a really strong foundation and even though we are going through a restructure, we're extremely well-positioned for growth. This process will help us to press a reset button and from there we'll be able to move forward with some really exciting initiatives,” Scolforo said.
Jeb Spaulding, chancellor of Vermont State Colleges, said Friday night that when Scolforo was hired she was told she'd have some "heavy lifting" to do, and she'd need a thick skin when she did it. "Colleges and universities all over the Northeast and and all over America are facing some very difficult challenges," Spaulding said, citing reduced high school graduation numbers and fewer families being able to afford college. "The competition for a smaller number of students is intense," he said. Vermont's other state colleges are all in different situations and different stages of response, he said. Vermont Technical College underwent significant cuts several years ago. Lyndon and Johnston merged at a savings of $1 million a year. Community College of Vermont has been budgeting for declining enrollments. Castleton, too, has been tightening its belt, Spaulding said, but the drop of 200 students this year required tough measures. "This is not about the survival of Casstleton, that's not it," he said. "It's about making sure we can put the money into the things that mean the most to students." Castleton had seen enrollment grow since the turn of the century from 1,200 to more than 2,000. But since 2014, enrollment has decreased to around 1,800 full-time undergraduates. Students were on break this week and the changes have not been communicated yet to them, their families or alumni. To watch excerpts from the interview with Scolforo, visit bit.ly/2FtkFqC