The Vermont State Colleges System’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved the renaming of Castleton University, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College as “Vermont State University” as of July 1, 2023, during a special meeting on Sept. 29.
“With the guidance, support, and financial investment of the state, the Board of Trustees plans to accomplish a unification that expands opportunities for learners throughout the state, restructures the system for financial success, and retains our current campus locations and thus our commitment to serving Vermont’s rural communities,” said board president Lynn Dickinson in a Sept. 29 press release.
Academic structure, branding, mission, vision and sub-identifiers through Vision Point Marketing and the 15 respective board members will be the next part of the process, according to Chancellor Sophie Zdatny.
“In short, the name reflects what the new university will be. It will be based across Vermont, it’s a state institution and it delivers a breadth of high-quality academic programs,” Zdatny said during the meeting.
The utilization and implementation of the VSCS’s five campuses will be under the identification of the same “umbrella,” to quote Zdatny.
One of the primary concerns and prerogatives of the name change is the goal of reducing $25 million in VSCS debt. This is due mostly to a lack of state funding in recent years.
A close to even amount of supporters compared to opposers of the unification and name change had the opportunity to voice their opinions via Zoom in three minutes or less prior to the board’s decision.
Meaghan Meachem, a 2003 alum of Lyndon College and active chair of journalism and communication at NVU mentioned how this will be the second name change for the formerly known Lyndon College in three years (2018).
Meachem said she is on board with the rebranding, but she hopes all three locations will maintain a sense of individualism in identity in the new system of transformation.
“Although change can be hard, change can be exciting,” Meachem said.
Individuals like David Mook and Steve Cormier suggested the sub-identifier of the campus locations to be a tagline of sorts, for example, “Vermont State University at Castleton” or “Vermont State University – Lyndon campus” to maintain the uniqueness of each established area.
However, three professors at Castleton University aired their grievances live with the board’s eventual decision to merge Castleton with NVU and VTC.
Andre Fleche, Rich Clark and Lisa Pleban pleaded with the board to “press the pause button” before making the pivotal decision. Speaking on behalf of more than 1,300 Castleton alumni to sign a petition against the merger, the trio attacked the issue at hand from multiple angles.
Clark referred to it as “driving for 1,000 miles without marking our destination.”
“For the good of our students, we need to get this right,” he said.
“There’s no financial reason to insist on a centralized brand,” Fleche said. “That strikes me as beyond wasteful.”
“We demand transparency,” Pleban said. “Let’s see some real figures. Help us understand that this might actually work.”
Just prior to the unanimous vote, all board members present provided a comment on why the merger is needed in order to restore the VSCS. Board member Sue Zeller said the system’s functionality and purpose needed to take priority, although she understood frustration from diehard fan bases and alumni groups of the three respective schools.
“If the entire system is not functioning as a whole, then you will not be able to operate the respective campuses,” Zeller said.
As the board ushers in a new era of higher education in the state of Vermont, board member Shirley A. Jefferson echoed Zeller’s remarks, as she empathized with those emotional about the decision while reminding those same individuals to remain rational.
“I think they (opposers) care so much about their universities that they can’t see that we’re trying to save them,” Jefferson said.