Jonathan Spiro: It’s time for the state college trustees to stand up

This comment is from Dr. Jonathan Spiro, an award-winning teacher, a renowned historian of white supremacy and the former President of Castleton University. He lives in Rutland.

As a veteran Vermont educator, I am dismayed to note that Vermont State University administrators are still trying to defend their unwise plan to remove the books from the university’s libraries.

While there may be valid arguments for expanding the university’s online offerings, eliminating books entirely is the kind of reactionary, anti-intellectual move one might expect from a deranged place like Mississippi, Arkansas, or Ron DeSantis’ Florida. Tragically, this scandal has made Vermont State University a laughing stock in the national press.

I hasten to add that the folks who run Vermont State University are hardly reactionary. They are hardworking and well-meaning administrators who I personally respect very much. But they mistakenly believe that Vermont State University should be a primarily digital (aka “hybridized”) institution.

This vision is not in the best interests of Vermont’s students. On the contrary, our students need what Castleton University offers. Despite the challenges of chronic underfunding, Castleton has (until now) been a well-run institution with stable enrollment and an enviable reputation in the state and across the region.

Castleton’s dedicated professors and dedicated staff are transforming the lives of Vermonters because they provide a personal, relational learning environment—an environment that offers attractive academic programs, successful athletic programs, impressive arts programs, vibrant residence halls, and — yes — a library with current books on the shelves.

The current leaders of Vermont State University don’t appreciate that, perhaps because most of them have never taught in a classroom or because they have relied on the advice of highly paid foreign advisors throughout the merger process who have never been to Vermont.

READ :  Note these points on fee payment, refund and penalty

In 2021, when I was President of Castleton University, I was stunned when a senior official at the Chancellery recommended ending intercollegiate athletics at Castleton. Another official advocated the permanent closure of our dormitories. My team has successfully nipped these ridiculous ideas in the bud because they would have been fatally damaging to the Castleton student experience.

And yet the same “experts” who circulated these proposals are still in power at Montpelier, and it’s likely that the current plan to eliminate the books is the latest salvo in their crusade to end face-to-face teaching severely restricted in Vermont.

Everyone in higher education is aware that Vermont’s colleges are in the midst of an enrollment crisis as New England’s college-age population plummets. Castleton University — with its thriving on-campus programs — is weathering the demographic storm, but enrollment at some of its other campuses is declining, meaning its revenue is falling.

Accordingly, the Montpelier headquarters fears, rightly or wrongly, that some of the smaller campuses may no longer have the resources to support full-service on-campus libraries. So, under the mantra of “justice,” they decreed that since the students on the smaller campuses can’t have a library, Castleton’s students can’t have a library either.

This incongruous logic is similar to a father – whose youngest child has contracted a terminal illness – who decides to withhold food and water from his eldest child for the sake of “justice”.

Vermont State University spokespeople are understandably reluctant to admit these truths out loud, so instead they engage in obfuscation and disinformation. Destruction is referred to as “expansion”. Discounted services are sold as “equity”. Learners are classified as “consumers”. Up is down. war is peace Ignorance is strength.

READ :  Why have so many students given up on free speech?

Castleton’s students, staff and faculty are outraged by this lack of openness and, more importantly, by the gradual dismantling of their once-great university. I wonder if the 15 members of the Board of Trustees – who have the power to prevent the desecration of our libraries – are similarly outraged? I wonder if they will stand up and reverse this misguided decision so Vermont’s students can continue to thrive?

If you’d like to urge the trustees to do the right thing and save Vermont’s reputation, their email addresses are here.