Trustees for the Vermont State Colleges have removed “interim” from Sophie Zdatny’s title.
Board members voted unanimously Monday afternoon to appoint Zdatny as the system’s new chancellor. Zdatny first stepped into the role on an interim basis in late April when Jeb Spaulding, the system’s embattled leader, abruptly resigned when his proposal to close three state college campuses engendered a brutal backlash. At the time, she was working as the colleges’ general counsel.
VSCS trustee chair Church Hindes, who led the search committee to replace Spaulding, said that Zdatny had “rewritten the definition of ‘interim.’ Most people think of interim as a caretaker — just keep the lights on. And it's been nothing like that whatsoever.”
He added that she had made “remarkable” progress in getting people across the colleges to pull together to problem solve about the system’s future.
“I had in my mind pictures of meetings where people sit around the tables with their backs to one another, and you have got everybody turned around,” Hindes said. “And that’s a giant step considering how deep we were into dissatisfaction and uncertainty.”
Zdatny has been given a one-year contract with an option for renewal, the same as her predecessor. Hindes said the role – and existence – of the chancellor’s office remains under review as the colleges contemplate larger reforms.
As the system’s new leader, Zdatny takes over at a time of unprecedented difficulty for the system, whose finances were already on rocky footing before the pandemic hit.
The state’s political leaders have promised to find enough funding to keep the colleges afloat through the coming academic year, but they have made clear they expect the schools to undertake a wider overhaul to confront dwindling enrollments.
“I wish you the very best of luck in the next few months,” Lynn Dickinson, a trustee for the colleges, told Zdatny, “because I think we're all going to need it.”
A search committee made up of trustees was tasked with recruiting candidates to the post. Hindes said the subcommittee looked at nine candidates and ultimately interviewed two, including Zdatny.
Zdatny said she had initially expected to take on the role of chancellor for just a few weeks as trustees searched for a more permanent replacement to Spaulding. But she said she came to enjoy her new job, and also thought the system would benefit from continuity after so much turmoil.
“I'm under no illusions as to the challenges that lie ahead. But I do feel that I have people on my side, willing to work with me to get through this. And I think that's going to be really valuable. We all need to pull together,” she said.
Zdatny has been with the state colleges since 2014, when she was hired as their associate general counsel, and was promoted to general counsel in 2017. Before the VSCS, Zdatny worked for about five years at the Dinse, Knapp & McAndrew law firm in Burlington. She came to Vermont from West Virginia, where she practiced employment law and clerked for a federal judge. She lives in Essex Junction.
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