Political Leaders Speak out to Support Faculty and Staff Against Regressive Cuts by UVM Administration

For Immediate Release: 11 June 2020

Contact: Rachael Montesano 802-777-1903, rachael.montesano@gmail.com and Felicia Kornbluh 802-777-7718, fkornbluh@gmail.com

Vermont leaders are sounding the alarm on highly regressive cuts being made to non-tenured faculty (lecturers) and staff at the University of Vermont.

The UVM administration plan a 25% pay cut to over 70 full-time lecturers. These educators make a little over $60,000 per year, on average. Many teach hundreds of students per semester. Part-time lecturers and staff members also face cuts. Lecturers make up more than half the UVM faculty.

Vermont political leaders are calling for the UVM administration to cut the salaries of highly paid UVM executives instead of putting the burden on its most vulnerable educators. The UVM community is protesting the cuts pointing out that it’s inequitable for executives to retrain handsome salaries, like UVM President Suresh Garimella to the tune of over $600,000, while pushing needed educators onto tax-payer funded unemployment benefits and other programs, needlessly.

Lt. Governor David Zuckerman sent a public letter to President Suresh Garimella and the university Board of Trustees on May 28, 2020, which stated: “These cuts could be more easily sustained by those making the highest salaries, rather than those at the lowest pay levels. Instead of cutting salaries of the lowest paid educators, the UVM administration should consider cuts to those who can most afford it. We’re told the $1.1 million the administration is proposing to save through 25% salary cuts of non-tenure track (NTT) faculty could be saved by an approximately 6% cut in the highest paid Faculty and Administrators. Even with those cuts, every affected person would retain income over $215,000. The highest paid workers should be able to absorb such a salary adjustment without a negative impact on their ability to pay their bills.” The average full-time lecturers’ salary will drop to $45,000, while the contractual minimum salary of $45,000 will drop to $34,000. This will put many lecturers and staff members well below the Vermont livable wage and will inflict economic harm on individuals and the wider community.

In a public statement directed toward the UVM administration, former secretary of education and current Democratic candidate for governor, Rebecca Holcombe, stated: “The University of Vermont is uniquely positioned to provide public and moral leadership on this important issue. UVM’s lowest wage employees help drive Vermont’s economy. Their earnings are most likely to be turned around and put to work paying for housing, food and other goods and services right here in Vermont. Protecting them is also an investment in the livelihoods and economic wellbeing of other Vermonters in the larger UVM community, and is an investment in our shared vision — for our recovery and our future.” On May 21, 2020 the Vermont Senate Education Committee held hearings on the inequity of cutting non-tenured faculty salaries by 25% without first looking at how to streamline administrative expenses and cut the salaries of UVM’s highest paid administrative staff. The committee found the UVM faculty testimony persuasive.

Senator Debbie Ingram, who is the Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Education, sent a statement in favoring progressive, rather than regressive, cuts at UVM: “I fully support, and have been encouraging my colleagues to support, placing restrictions on any future funds to UVM until they look at cutting the budget without cutting the salaries of non-tenured faculty. These lecturers deserve to make a livable wage, not be thrown into housing and food insecurity, when others at the university are much better placed to afford salary cuts.”

Former House Representative Kesha Ram, a candidate for Senate in Chittenden County, commented on the morality of the cuts: “If this pandemic has shown us anything in education, it is that the relationship between teachers and students can be a lifeline that holds an entire generation together while the world is falling apart around them. Our lecturers did that for our young people, and instead of our deep gratitude, they are getting deeply cut. Now is the time to lead with moral clarity and keep the UVM family together, just as our lecturers have done through this pandemic.”

Burlington City Council Democrats Sarah Carpenter, Chip Mason, Karen Paul, Franklin Paulino, and Joan Shannon wrote an open letter to UVM president Garimella asking the administration to treat its employees fairly: “We write to you today asking that the leadership of the University of Vermont approach these challenges by being transparent about your financial realities and we implore you to work collaboratively with your Unions and together, do your best to find a path forward that honors your collective commitment to your mission and vision for the University. We strongly believe that all workers must be treated with respect, dignity, and fairness.”

Burlington City Council Progressives Perri Freeman, Jack Hanson, Zoraya Hightower, Jane Stromberg and Max Tracy shared the sentiment in their statement saying “we call on the University to prioritize the needs of all their workers. As local elected officials representing thousands of UVM students and employees, we are always focused on holding the University of Vermont accountable to our community’s values of economic, environmental, and social justice. During this unprecedented crisis, UVM’s role as a good faith community partner has never been more relevant and necessary.” South Burlington City Councilor and State Senate Candidate Thomas Chittenden said of the UVM cuts “To navigate this storm, we need to honor our shared values of being good neighbors and stewards of our communities. That requires us to seek shared sacrifice in balancing our budget in a way which draws more from those earning the most and less from those earning the least. It also requires us to see this storm for what it is – a time limited crisis that will eventually pass. I call on the University of Vermont to use any reserved ‘rainy day’ funds to weather this storm to fill the budgetary short falls through the coming fiscal year while maintaining our institutional values and commitments.”