Eight full-time faculty at Vermont Technical College in Randolph received layoff notices Monday. The action is part of a large-scale financial reorganization that could have major implications for the school’s course offerings.
Senior professors are being offered cash incentives to retire early, and up to 27 adjunct instructors may not be hired back in the fall. The deeper the cutbacks, the fewer courses will be offered and the larger class sizes will likely to be.
Departments are required to increase the number of cross-listed course offerings to cover more academic ground with a smaller faculty. Students will be asked to take some core classes at sister institutions in the Vermont State College system: Castleton, Johnson and Lyndon state colleges and the Community College of Vermont.
VTC President Dan Smith emphasized Monday afternoon that the layoffs won’t take effect until Aug. 1, 2015.
“A lot can change from now to then, but I need to give notice now,” Smith said, citing contractual obligations.
He blames a drop in enrollment and declines in state funding levels.
"By virtue of its inattention to public higher education, the state has now put at risk the very programs it claims to need. I am committed to seeing both of those things change, and welcome your help in that effort,” Smith wrote in a letter to faculty on Monday.
Smith said programs at Vermont Tech prepare students to work in almost every industry in Vermont, from farming to advanced manufacturing and construction to health care.
He characterized the latest round of layoff notices — plus April’s layoff of six non-instructional staff, a current administrative pay freeze and a new early retirement cash incentive — as a yearlong “budget correction.”
"I worry about the enrollment, but this in large part is a product of what I view as an inadvertent state policy of disengaging in higher ed,” Smith said. State funding for higher education has declined consistently over the past three decades.
Four departments would be affected by Monday’s layoff notices: Civil Engineering Technology (one tenured professor); English, Humanities and Social Science (two tenured professors and one nontenured professor); Landscape Design and Horticulture (one nontenured professor); Architectural Engineering Technology (one nontenured professor); and Electrical Engineering Technology (two tenured professors).
Landscape Design and Horticulture also may see more layoffs if spring recruitment doesn’t produce adequate enrollment. The departments of Equine Studies, Civil Engineering Technology and Diesel Power Technology also have been placed on a "financial watch.”
"Even as we approach those decisions, we retain and will fulfill an obligation to serve students who have enrolled in those programs by getting them to their degrees,” Smith said in a letter to faculty.
Major restructuring may be required to deliver that promise, especially in the realm of English, Humanities and Social Science. Vermont Tech does not offer a major in these fields, but the department supports curricular requirements for other programs, Smith said.
Smith explained in his letter to faculty his strategy for sustaining “our core programming and unique educational experiences.” This approach carries “outsize” implications for the humanities, he acknowledged. Barring a significant windfall, only three full-time faculty will be retained in the department next fall.
To help compensate, Smith directed all departments to revise at least one course that can be offered online and meet general education requirements.
Examples are an architectural history course offered through the school’s architecture program, but which counts as an English elective; or a business course soon to be renamed Writing for Electronic and Social Media.
Departments have been ordered to reduce the number of program credits to 124 or 64 for a baccalaureate or associate’s degree, respectively.
"Doing so can’t result in an increase in sections taught,” Smith instructed faculty. "As long as any program has more than 16 credits per semester, we are structured to pay for significantly more workload than is covered by the tuition we receive.”
As restructuring and marketing efforts continue, the administration and the Faculty Federation’s VTC chapter, affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and AFL-CIO, have agreed on retirement incentives for senior faculty. Options are:
- Cash payment of 40 percent of FY15 salary for a faculty member eligible for retirement who commits to retiring effective July 1, 2015.
- Senior status for faculty who are eligible to retire and wish to transition to teaching half-time for up to five years.
- Cash payment of 20 percent of FY15 base salary for a faculty member eligible for early retirement who commits to early retirement effective July 1, 2015.
- Early retirement upon the conclusion of certain sabbatical proposals that do not require a return to teaching at the college.
Early retirement offers expire Jan. 5, 2015.
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