UVM to eliminate 23 programs in the College of Arts and Sciences

Suresh Garimella
University of Vermont President Suresh Garimella. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

The University of Vermont announced proposed cuts Wednesday to 12 majors and 11 minors in the College of Arts and Sciences. 

University officials say the college has seen a 17% reduction in enrollment in liberal arts classes from 2010 to 2016. Low enrollment is defined as 25 or fewer students or fewer than 5 graduates per year. 

The college has faced budget shortfalls over the past few years as a result of declining enrollment. 

College of Arts and Sciences Dean Bill Falls told faculty in a letter Wednesday that the pandemic has “amplified” structural deficits. The school faces anticipated shortfalls of $27.9 million over the next three years, according to a fact sheet provided by the dean’s office. 

The university plans to eliminate geology, religion and classics departments. Twelve out of 56 majors will go by the boards, including regional studies, romance languages and cultures, Latin, Greek, German and Italian. 

The departments of Art and Art History, Music, and Theatre and Dance will be consolidated into a School of the Arts. The departments of Asian Languages and Literatures, German and Russian, and Romance Languages and Cultures will be folded into a School of Languages. Majors in German and Italian are targeted for elimination.

Four out of 10 master’s degree programs, including classics, geology and historic preservation, and 11 out of 63 minors are on the chopping block. The historic preservation program has averaged five students and five degrees awarded per year, and the cost of the program exceeds revenue, Falls said. 

These drastic steps “will not close the structural deficit in its entirety,” Falls wrote, but they are “a critical first step in reaching an initial target of reducing expenditures by $5M by FY2023.” 

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Most of the cost savings will come from faculty positions, Falls said. UVM will “introduce additional retirement incentives and make every effort to reassign faculty.”

UVM President Suresh Garimella directed the college “to take immediate action to close its structural deficit in part by terminating low enrollment programs and combining or eliminating academic departments,” Falls wrote. 

“This decision has been extremely difficult,” Falls said. “It has been informed by data and guided by a strategy to focus on the future success of our College by consolidating our structure and terminating programs that can no longer be supported without jeopardizing programs with more robust enrollment.”

The plan is to be acted on “expeditiously,” he said as “there is no other way forward for CAS to balance its budget.”

The College of Arts and Sciences, which serves 4,500 students out of a total of 12,000 at UVM, is the only college that has experienced a decline in enrollment and associated shortfall, officials say. 

The university plans to phase out the majors and minors over time, Falls said. Students currently enrolled in the programs will be allowed to complete their degrees.  

The cuts, officials said, will give the college “an opportunity to more closely align its resources with areas of high enrollment demand and foster the vitality necessary to achieve a high-quality academic experience.”

Provost and Senior Vice President Patricia Prelock said the decision was made as the result of “careful thought and consultation over the last several years.” 

The cuts were “informed by data,” she said, and are part of a strategy to shore up the success of the College of Arts and Sciences. 

“They also reflect UVM’s commitment to providing our students with an array of properly resourced programs that can maintain strong enrollments and foster the vitality necessary to achieve a high-quality academic experience,” Prelock said. 

Blowback from students and faculty was swift. 

The faculty senate was not informed of the cuts in advance, nor were department chairs, faculty union president Julie Roberts told Seven Days.  

Lauren Posklensky, class of 2020, said in an email that geology, religion and classics courses “are immensely popular” for fulfilling general education requirements. 

“The entry level classes in these departments are interesting, they’re fun, and they’re accessible to people who do not generally find themselves in adjacent disciplines,” Posklensky wrote. “I cannot count the amount of humanities majors I’ve known to be besides themselves with relief that Geology is a science which doesn’t feel impossible, and STEM majors who have rediscovered their love of reading in Classics. Plus, the professors are so popular and loved that people even take a chance on classes unlike anything they’ve ever done just to be in their lectures.”

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“UVM has been cutting corners on CAS for ages, and cutting off funding anywhere they can just over the last few semesters. It’s clearly a matter of money rather than redistribution,” she continued.

A first year student, Sophie Aronson, who planned to double major in Spanish and Latin American and Caribbean Studies, said this dream “will be stripped away from me and other prospective students.” 

“UVM cannot claim the title of a ‘public ivy’ if it continues to cut humanities programs year after year,” Aronson wrote in an email to VTDigger. “Classics, regional studies, and language must be strengthened, not done away with. I am especially concerned with language, as the breadth of courses offered was already quite limited and underwhelming. It is incredibly disappointing and devaluing to watch the humanities programs diminish and dwindle while the majority of the university’s resources are directed towards STEM programs.”

In October, the university announced a freeze on tuition, room and board as part of a plan to retain and attract students.

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Anne Galloway

About Anne

Anne Galloway is the founder and editor of VTDigger and the executive director of the Vermont Journalism Trust. Galloway founded VTDigger in 2009 after she was laid off from her position as Sunday editor of the Rutland Herald and Times Argus. VTDigger has grown from a $16,000 a year nonprofit with no employees to a $2 million nonprofit daily news operation with a staff of 25. In 2017, Galloway was a finalist for the Ancil Payne Award for Ethics, the Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award and the Investigative Reporters and Editors FOIA Award for her investigation into allegations of foreign investor fraud at Jay Peak Resort.

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