Walkout against cuts at UVM

April 17, 2009

BURLINGTON, Vt.--Students and faculty at the University of Vermont (UVM) walked out of classes on April 9 in the latest action against the university administration's proposed budget cut measures that will result in 107 faculty and staff layoffs, ballooning tuition and an increase in class sizes.

Students left classes to join a 1,000-strong rally and were quick to point out that the administration's drive to balance the budget on the backs of students and workers reveals a twisted set of priorities.

The administration has attributed recent budget cut measures to the economic crisis, presenting their case in the all-too-familiar language of "shared sacrifice," despite the fact that state appropriations--thanks to federal stimulus money--will restore university funding to normal levels in 2009.

The proposed cuts come at the same time that 40 top-level administrators, whose combined base salaries--before benefits--add up to $7,312,381, were revealed to have received nearly $1 million in Wall Street-style bonuses in the last several years. If these same administrators were to take a 5 percent pay cut, the savings would be enough to restore all 27 lecturers laid off from the school of Arts and Sciences.

Marching against budget cuts at the University of Vermont
Marching against budget cuts at the University of Vermont (SW)

The protesters congregated to listen to outraged faculty and community members speak out against the cuts. Members of Students Stand Up, the group responsible for organizing the event, engaged the crowd with a political skit about the budget cuts, using a puppet resembling UVM President Dan Fogel.

First-year student Naadhira Ali said she was excited to see the turnout of both faculty and students. "Usually, faculty are kind of resistant to the idea of protest, but my biology professor told us this might be her last lecture at UVM, and she appreciates everyone walking out against the cuts," said Ali. Not only did professors allow their students to leave class, but manyended class early so students could attend the protest.

Larry Ziegler-Otero, an anthropology lecturer facing layoff, said he was encouraged by the scope and spirit of the rally. "I think it's wonderful," said Ziegler-Otero. "I'm deeply grateful to the students for making this effort."

After the spirited speak-out, the crowd marched to the Waterman Building, which houses the university's bloated administration, chanting, "They say cut back, we say fight back," and "Money for jobs and education, not for Fogel's administration."

Upon arriving at the Waterman Building, the demands of the campaign were read to the crowd. They include revoking all layoffs, issuing a statement of neutrality regarding faculty unionization, reinstating the discontinued varsity baseball and softball teams, and allowing students, staff and faculty a role in future university decision-making.

Students then stormed into the building and gathered outside the administrative wing chanting, "One, we are the students; two, you can't ignore us; three, stop the cuts at UVM!"

After some time, Vice President of Finance Richard Cate emerged from the wing to address the crowd. When asked if the administration was ready to accept student demands, he responded by saying, "Not yet." After a few more minutes, people began to leave the building chanting, "We'll be back!"

About 50 students returned to the Davis Center for a discussion of the next steps for the campaign, including strategies for outreach and the potential of a building occupation.

This protest was the largest at UVM since the anti-apartheid struggles of the 1980s. The stirrings of a mass movement uniting all forces against the administration are apparent as students and faculty plan their next move in the fight against putting profit before UVM community members.

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