After reading UVM President Garimella’s column, “Vermont by Degrees: Developing tomorrow’s students,” I felt compelled to respond. Primarily, I wish to point out the falsehood President Garimella can show by “following the numbers,” that his vision is aligned with student interest.
If this was true, the senior lecturers whose contracts have not been renewed would be reinstated immediately.
If his vision truly was aligned with student interest, there would not be thousands of student signatures on the petitions defending the departments and programs put on the chopping block.
President Garimella apparently believes multi-disciplinary courses are the thing of the now and future. It appears equally clear he is keen on steering UVM toward a structure that has fewer academic departments, fewer programs and a plethora of multi-disciplinary classes, taught by faculty without an academic home. Without “disciplines,” although he used the term in his op-ed, as well as “in-depth majors” and “liberal arts core,” this appears to be a slimmed down à la carte vision of education with an “exposure” to the liberal arts, but significantly less disciplinary substance. His op-ed does not convince me otherwise.
Furthermore, how will UVM be able to compete for research faculty to teach these “compelling multi-disciplinary courses” when there is no fully fledged program to support their work or for brilliant, committed lecturers to do so when there is the threat of being terminated in a UVM where students “vote with their feet” (as Garimella stated on the VPT program, Vermont This Week)? Clearly, our programs need to remain relevant, but the line Garimella has drawn is starkly anti-academic. Although Garimella states he wants UVM to be a Research 1 institution (we currently have a Research 2 Carnegie designation), it is not clear how he will get us there by gutting our academic departments and discarding our accomplished scientists, humanists and beloved teachers like old socks.
The word “variety” is saved for real-world, hands-on projects, and he focuses almost exclusively on the training that experiential and service learning provides. He therefore does not appear to understand how the liberal arts prepare students for their future careers.
Finally, although he stresses the depth and value of a UVM education for a healthy civic society, under his leadership and direction, the administration has become increasingly top-down, unadvisedly data-driven, and sloppy, if not reckless, in self-contradictory public communications and premature press releases. Where is the judgment, broad consultation, holistic thinking, caution, and — dare I say it — careful stewardship of our institution that we should expect from our administrators?
Meaghan Emery, PhD, is UVM Department of Romance Languages and Cultures associate professor of French.