A Disturbing Decision by UVM Administration

On Monday, June 17th, Erica Caloiero, UVM’s Vice Provost for Student Affairs, delivered a late afternoon email announcing the hiring of a new Executive Director of the Center for Health and Wellbeing (CHWB). Within that email, our Vice Provost mentions that this new Executive Director brings “a plan for improved efficiency and effectiveness for CHWB.” The announcement indicates that “in addition to integrating services, [the new Executive Director] will work on space dedicated to fostering comprehensive wellbeing by addressing physical, mental, and emotional health needs.”

The notification also includes quotes from the new Executive Director who states a passion for “optimizing student success and designing support initiatives that recognize the ways in which students today are different from even a few years ago.” The new Executive Director expresses gratitude “for the opportunity to join such a committed team at a university so clearly dedicated to providing the best possible care and support to all members of its community.”

What wasn’t explained by the Vice Provost within this email is how, prior to this announcement, she spent the day notifying critical staff members within the Center for Health and Wellbeing that their positions were terminated, effective immediately, without any prior notification. These staff members, directly responsible for the delivery of this stated dedication to “comprehensive wellbeing” include:

  • The Medical Director for Student Health
  • The Associate Director for Counseling and Psychiatry Services
  • The Associate Director for Education and Outreach
  • The Catamount Recovery Program Director who coordinated the programs by which we support students in recovery from various forms of addiction.
  • The Health and Sexuality Educator who has developed our university wide outreach and education efforts in response to the persistent impact of stigmas surrounding sexual health, awareness of consent within healthy relationships, and promotion of racial, social, and reproductive justice.
  • The Mindfulness Program Coordinator who promoted resilience within the context of the ever growing crisis of how mental health hurdles appear on campus – a critical resource that partners with our overburdened system for counseling and psychiatry services.
  • The Public Health Initiatives Manager, the only position on campus who was responsible for centralizing our health equity approaches to public health planning and policy, our public health program design and implementation, and the overall coordination of our public health frameworks.
  • The Operations Coordinator who managed the administrative functions of the Education and Outreach staff in their delivery of public health care and support for struggling students.
  • The Communications Manager for the Division of Student Affairs, who co-authored an overarching and holistic health and wellbeing communications plan to be adopted by a number of university partners.
  • Additionally, following a recent resignation of an Educational Training Manager responsible for campus support around areas of suicide prevention, eating disorders, and mental health literacy, there is no anticipated plan to replace those provided services.

These staff members, with a combined 70+ years of experience, represent the team on campus that are absolutely critical for designing and delivering the support network for our students who regularly and consistently need assistance responding to the pressures associated with the expectations placed on today’s college student. In my role with the Center for Student Conduct, I interact with the Education and Outreach team regularly as we develop interventions for students who are disregarding community expectations often because they are battling mental health struggles including substance abuse and misuse, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and various other struggles that have long been intercepted by these outstanding support professionals. That team of outstanding professionals has been dismantled and all but eliminated.

In the most recent bargaining session between UVM Staff United and the administration, now in the fourth month of contract negotiations marked by administrative stalling techniques and counter proposals that can be fairly classified as in poor faith to that process, Chief Human Resources Officer Chris Lehman communicated the University’s position that, if our staff members want to increase their wages, they should simply find a different job that pays more. These sorts of comments betray the obvious administrative strategy to simply cycle employees in and out of their positions in order to artificially keep salary costs low. This is not how you serve students, build a reliable staff, or strengthen the surrounding community. This is not how you build a sustainable workforce that benefits from continued expertise and stability. The costs associated with the constant hiring, training, and onboarding of staff members are significant. The impact on our ability to recruit and retain qualified staff members within the resulting impact of wage compression and stagnation is easily tracked.

I’m worried and saddened by the increasing commodification of Higher Education that is so hyper focused on the bottom line budgets without regard for the overall wellbeing of our students (or staff and faculty, for that matter). Success in the classroom that will ultimately produce our next generation of leaders is most certainly compromised when a strong network of student support is absent. To watch that absence develop by intentional design is heartbreaking.

It is my clear observation that the UVM administration is placing the burdens of austerity onto the shoulders of students through an irresponsible increase in revenue generating out-of-state students shoved into more and more crowded housing options while decreasing the support systems designed to respond to the resulting pressures. This, while refusing to pay their staff a competitive wage while decreasing the overall services provided for student support.

I don’t have an ask with this post other than to encourage my surrounding community to remain critical of how our flagship land grant state university is morphing from the once great institution that has sat, quite literally, upon the hill for generations into another unfortunate example of a money grabbing vehicle for the elite.