Student sues UVM over disciplinary action related to alleged groping incident

The University of Vermont is defending its disciplinary process in the face of a civil rights lawsuit by a student who was suspended for sexual misconduct.

The student, identified as John Doe, alleges he was not given a fair hearing and that the university’s Title IX investigator had a conflict of interest.

The university found John Doe guilty last spring of groping a woman at a party in the fall of 2016. Doe was suspended for the fall 2017 semester, according to the lawsuit.

UVM said Tuesday it had not yet been served with the complaint, which was filed Nov. 22. The student is claiming damages and requests the expungement of his record.

College officials said in a statement that UVM “acted appropriately” and reiterated a commitment to a fair and impartial process of investigating accusations of sexual misconduct.

The lawsuit cites specific incidents of alleged violations of John Doe’s civil rights, including that he was not given the opportunity to seek legal representation.

UVM spokesperson Enrique Corredera said that during a sexual misconduct investigation both parties are given the opportunity for “support,” including legal aid.

“UVM’s process, as required by federal law, allows for both parties, as well as witnesses, to be accompanied to investigatory and other meetings, including sanctioning meetings, by an adviser of their choice,” he said.

Corredera said that UVM staff accompany students in an advisory capacity. Advisers do not have an active role in an investigation.

The lawsuit was filed amid a shift in how colleges are directed to handle sexual assault investigations. In September, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rolled back a 2011 directive issued under President Barack Obama.

The guidelines issued in 2011, in a document known as the “Dear Colleague” letter established protections for people who report misconduct. Critics believe the policy violated the rights of the accused.

Under the Obama administration rule, colleges set a “preponderance of the evidence” standard of proof — meaning the evidence shows it is more likely than not that the accused committed an assault.

The Education Department issued new interim guidelines last fall that allow schools to use a higher “clear and convincing evidence” standard of proof in proceedings, which makes it more difficult for victims to prove they were assaulted.

Mariah Cronin, an outreach coordinator at the UVM Women’s Center, said 80 percent of all assaults that occur are not reported and the 20 percent of victims who do report assaults must recount the events. Many victims withdraw their complaints because they don’t want to relive assaults, she said.

“People who have been systemically benefiting (from the Obama administration rule) feel that they are now being disenfranchised,” Cronin said.

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UVM, faculty negotiations go to fact-finding

The University of Vermont and the faculty union United Academics have failed to come to an agreement after two months of mediation and have entered the fact-finding stage of negotiations.

An independent fact-finder will review the evidence from both parties and offer a recommendation. The two parties can either accept the fact-finder’s report or negotiate further. If no agreement is reached, the Vermont Labor Relations Board would resolve the issue.

Wanda Heading-Grant, vice president for human resources at UVM, said she was disappointed that mediation failed.

“We put forward a fair and reasonable proposal that carefully balanced the importance of increasing compensation for our faculty with the need to keep UVM affordable for our students and their families, and to prevent any need for numerous layoffs of personnel due to increased costs over present and future budgets,” Heading-Grant said in a statement.

The main sticking point is salary increases, according to Tom Streeter, a professor of sociology and the president of United Academics. The discrepancy between salaries proposed by the union and the university is within a percentage point, but there is a dispute over how those salary increases will be paid for under a new budgeting model that ties student class enrollments to allocations for each college at the university, Streeter said.

The union wants the university to reduce administrative costs, to help defray potential cuts in certain departments and colleges, Streeter said. In a 2016 study, the American Association of University Professors found that $1 out of every $3 spent at UVM is used to pay university faculty.

“As faculty we are frustrated that our administration diverts resources away from the core academic mission of teaching, research and service to our community,” Streeter wrote.

Last week, UVM cancelled a dozen classes in the College of Arts and Sciences, under a new budgeting process that ties classes to student enrollment. Administrators say there has been a decline in interest in the liberal arts since the Great Recession. The college faces a projected budget shortfall of between $3.7 million and $4 million this fiscal year.

“They seem to think it is better to save a few pennies by haphazardly canceling classes and squeezing faculty salaries, instead of taking a hard look at overall priorities at UVM, especially administrative costs,” Streeter wrote in a statement. “Contract negotiation is just one part of our work to help the administration straighten out its priorities and start putting education first, instead of last.”

The university says that under a newly adopted budget model each individual college determines how funds are to be appropriated after funds are distributed from the central administration, including salaries.

Streeter says salaries are ultimately the responsibility of the central administration. “Some units are able to absorb the cost of modest salary increases, while others may have to reduce expenses to offset the increases,” he said.

The university says the union wants to tap a $6 million strategic investment fund for academic salaries. Streeter said this is false. “The union has never stated that and used it only as a comparison to illustrate the flexibility the central administration pulled for itself on things they deem strategic,” he said, “we are not asking for anywhere near that much.”

The UVM administration says salaries for faculty, not including medical school faculty, are above average. Professors earn $123,619 on average; associate professors make $92,838; assistant professors are paid $78,424, other faculty earn $60,031.

A percent increase in faculty salaries adds $900,000 of additional costs to the base budget, according to UVM administrators. Student tuition makes up more than 70 percent of general fund revenue.

“Mindful of our obligations to students and families to keep tuition increases low, the university has remained concerned in these negotiations that significant increases to faculty payroll may have to involve significant further tuition increases and/or significant cuts to academic units and programs, potentially impacting faculty and other employees directly,” according to a press release from UVM.

Two other employee unions that have recently settled with UVM saw salary increases of 2 percent for the current fiscal year.

UVM cuts 12 courses taught by part-time faculty

The University of Vermont’s College of Arts and Sciences announced a predicted multi-million-dollar budget shortfall and canceled 12 courses taught by part-time faculty the day before registration opened Nov. 13, spurring one department chair to step down from his post.

The college was left with $3.7 million to $4 million less than expected due to cuts in both undergraduate and graduate budgets, according to a Nov. 13 email from College of Arts and Sciences Dean William Falls. The college cut courses taught by part-time faculty because the rest of the budget was set and could not be changed, his letter said.

The situation unfolded in the midst of contract negotiations between the university administration and the faculty union. The course cancellations were a central concern at a rally held by UVM’s faculty union, United Academics, on Wednesday.

Union spokesperson Tom Streeter said the cuts are a result of failing to direct enough funds toward academic programs.

UVM administrators said cancellation of courses occurred for a number of reasons.

The College of Arts and Sciences is adjusting to a decline in the number of students majoring in liberal arts since the Great Recession in 2009. Students have instead favored majors in business and engineering, said Provost David Rosowsky, and the college is adjusting to balancing budgets with fewer students.

Overall, Rosowsky said the class cancellation rate in the College of Arts and Sciences is not out of the ordinary and represents a tiny fraction of all courses offered by the college.

Sara Helms Cahan, the chair of the biology department, said she fully supports Dean Falls’ decision, but wonders what could have been done to forestall cancellations right before registration.

“I feel that at a time when the university is not facing a budgetary crisis it is very disruptive to have one college bear a weight like this,” Cahan said.

When budgets are tight in the college, there are a variety of ways to cut costs, Cahan said, but often, part-time, non-tenured faculty bear the brunt.

Rosowsky said part-time faculty are hired and fired as student course demands shift. “That’s what part-timers are for, to flex with the demand of the colleges,” he said.

Streeter said the union is concerned about the loss of lecturers. “It’s disturbing that the part-time faculty are the first to go, not because they are too expensive, but because they are the easiest to let go,” he said.

In Falls’ memo, he stated that part-time faculty are fundamental to the college’s success and that in the future the college does not “intend to eliminate courses taught by part-time instructors, but we will have to balance curricular needs with fiscal responsibility.”

He also apologized to faculty for the cuts.

“I’m truly sorry we got to this point,” Falls stated in the memo. “I believe that despite this very challenging time, our plan which involves right sizing faculty; growing undergraduate enrollment through stronger retention; increasing transfer and spring admits; increasing summer revenue; and creating a new degree completion program, will move us toward a balanced budget and beyond.”

Falls did not respond to a request for comment.

Pro-white fliers at UVM part of national campaign

BURLINGTON — Posters stating “It’s okay to be white” were put up anonymously at the University of Vermont and in other public spaces across the country Tuesday.

Five posters were found on the UVM campus and two were torn down before 8:30 a.m., according to The Vermont Cynic, the student newspaper. The posters match those found at high schools and colleges nationally in their font and message.

According to The Washington Post, the idea for the posters began in a thread on the online chatroom “4chan” a few weeks ago. It was later developed as a plan to popularize white nationalist ideology, the Post reported Tuesday.University Vice Provost for Student Affairs Annie Stevens said she believed the postering at UVM was part of a larger national campaign.

The person who posted the idea to “4chan” wrote that the purpose would be to fuel a response from the political left that would convince centrists and those who lean right-of-center that people on the left “hate white people,” according to the Post. The fliers are part of an increase in similar campaigns by white nationalist groups, the Post said.

The university said in a statement to VTDigger that it removed the signs because they violated posting policy.

“To the extent that the signs were intended to promote a white nationalist ideology, as news reports have suggested, we condemn the activity in the strongest possible terms,” the university said, “as it is completely antithetical to our core university values.”

UVM’s campus is seeing tensions over race and social justice issues.

Sophomore Wesley Richter, 20, was cited into court to face a disorderly conduct charge last month after someone reported overhearing him make a threat against blacks.

A group of 13 student leaders backed by more than 200 students has been negotiating with the UVM administration for the past two months. Negotiations began with the group’s list of demands and a 200-person march toward the president’s office.

The original list demanded the expulsion of a student accused of stealing a “Black Lives Matter” flag in September 2016. The administration kept his identity private for nine months until documents obtained by UVM’s student newspaper revealed the student, J.T. Reichhelm, had admitted taking the flag. The administration’s response triggered a first draft of the demands in May.

Anthem incident has UVM officials calling for civility

University of Vermont officials are promising respect for free speech after members of a visiting basketball team were jeered by some fans when they knelt as the national anthem was played before a recent game.

“Going forward, it is my sincere hope and expectation that the behavior in Patrick Gym, and at all university events, will be grounded always in the respect and civility for which our athletic program and our university are well known,” UVM President Thomas Sullivan said in a statement this week.

That followed a Saturday incident at a game against Saint Michael’s College at which six players from the visiting team knelt during the anthem and drew some heckling, as well as some cheers.

During the cheering and booing, one person shouted, “Stand up!” Others yelled, “Freedom!” or, “Go home!”

Some students reported hearing racial epithets and said the incident amounted to harassment. All those who knelt were people of color.

Saint Michael’s players, coach Joshua Meyers and college officials said they were not ready to comment this week but were preparing a response.

All Division I college athletes are required to go through their school’s communications office before speaking to the press, according to NCAA guidelines.

University of Vermont Athletic Director Jeff Schulman wrote to ticket-holders Wednesday to share thoughts on what happened.

He stated that though he understood the difference of opinion in kneeling for the flag, the type of “harassment” alleged in the gym was unacceptable.

“The University and Athletic Department are committed to ensuring that our student-athletes and coaches, visiting teams, and fans are able to participate and experience our games in an environment that is free from threats, intimidation, and/or harassment,” he stated.

The national “Take a Knee” movement began in August 2016, when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem, to protest recent shootings of unarmed blacks by police officers, according to the NFL.

Kaepernick’s choice to sit through the anthem stirred conversation among players, coaches and members of the NFL, ultimately resulting in a shift from sitting to kneeling, 49ers defenseman Eric Reid wrote in a Sept. 25 opinion column for The New York Times.

“I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy,” Reid wrote.

Over a year later, the movement was reignited when many members of the NFL began to kneel during the national anthem after President Donald Trump stated in a tweet that those who knelt should be fired.

College athletes across the country have taken a knee, and some faced suspension and elimination. Gyree Durante, a quarterback for Albright College in Pennsylvania, was kicked off the team in September for kneeling during the national anthem, according to a Slate article.

Other areas of higher education have initiated “Take a Knee” movements that go beyond the field or court.

In his campuswide email sent Wednesday, Sullivan said he “wholeheartedly” agreed with Schulman.

“Our university community must provide a safe, respectful, and welcoming atmosphere, where active learning, free expression, and constructive dialogue are encouraged and embraced,” he wrote.

UVM faculty face health care hike

BURLINGTON — Members of the University of Vermont’s faculty union were gowned in regalia, singing and chanting as they marched through the busiest portion of UVM’s central campus Thursday during the first round of talks for a new faculty contract for 2018.

The march ended outside a room full of UVM administrators with a rendition of “Amazing Grace.” They changed the original lyrics to include negotiating points on salaries and health care benefits and criticism of the new budget model.

United Academic spokesperson UVM English professor Sarah Alexander said the event was a “reminder to the administration that faculty are at the heart of academics.”

Negotiations reached an impasse in September after more than a year of talks; both parties stated they were committed to negotiating a contract through mediation. Tom Streeter, a sociology professor and United Academics spokesperson said impasse is not unusual and has happened in almost every past negotiation.

The sticking points for the union are health insurance premium hikes and salary increases, Streeter said.

The university recently announced that health care premiums would increase nearly 6 percent. Meanwhile, the university has offered a 2 percent salary increase.

The university released a statement stating that faculty salaries were 104 percent of market level, citing a 2016 Oklahoma State University Faculty Survey Average for Public High Research Institutions.

But the UVM faculty union says these numbers are not comparable to UVM because they are not taken from peer institutions. For UVM to be in line with peer institutions, they state, it would have to invest $11.7 million per year for instruction and research, including faculty salaries.

The union maintains money is going into administration that should be spent on education.

“Only one out of every three dollars of UVM’s budget for compensation goes to funding faculty engaged in teaching and research,” Streeter stated in a press release earlier this week. “Between 2003 and 2016, spending on faculty salaries has increased more slowly than tuition, whereas administrative salary increases have grown faster than tuition.”

Last February, a study released by the union showed that there was a 62 percent decline in tenure track professors, enough for UVM to potentially lose its standing as a “flagship public university,” the union said.

“Education is a public good,” Streeter said. “A public education is good for the state of Vermont, even those that may never set foot at the University of Vermont. I think a better educated, more thoughtful, critical society is very, very badly needed in Vermont, in the nation and around the world, universally.”

The university’s director of labor relations did not respond for comment.

The negotiations are happening at the same time as a relatively new budget model is being implemented and student activism about improving the quality of social justice education is increasing.

The new budget model, “incentive-based budgeting,” gives more money to programs that garner higher student enrollment.

Streeter says that the budget model has become a “Hunger Games” scenario that pits colleges at the university against one another. He pointed to a letter sent earlier this fall from department heads in the College of Arts and Sciences that said the model is harming programs that need to maintain small class sizes for effectiveness, such as humanities and social sciences.

Senior Emily Grace Arriviello said this is part of a larger attempt to defund of education.

“I have heard things from professors like there was a budget surplus but it is going to things like marketing, and I feel frustrated with that because that’s not going to my education, my money is not going to supporting me, it’s going to selling the university to other students,” she said.

Arriviello is a part of the group of 13 student leaders currently negotiating racial reforms at the university. Earlier this year, 200 students presented demands to the administration, including changes to the diversity requirement and more funding for diversity programs.

Arriviello said that courses that are essential to an arts and science education are shrinking. Instead, money in departments like English is being funneled to large introductory courses with over 35 students, such as the diversity courses, a campus-wide degree requirement.

Burlington man arrested for lewdness in UVM library

A Burlington man was arrested Thursday night for lewd and lascivious conduct in UVM’s library.

Officials at Bailey-Howe Library called UVM police Wednesday night after a man, later identified as Bryce David Whitney, exposed himself and attempted to hug several women in the library, pushing one into a bookshelf, according to Tim Bilodeau, deputy chief of UVM Police.

Whitney, the women and the library officials were present when police arrived, Bilodeau said.

Whitney was arrested on the charge of lewd and lascivious conduct and was held on $5,000 bail at the Chittenden County Regional Correctional Facility overnight, pending arraignment. Police also issued a no trespass order to Whitney for the entire UVM campus.

University of Vermont Police released a statement that applauded the quick response from library officials. The university sent an alert that urged the UVM community to contact UVM police with information on this case and on any possible sex crimes, including lewd behavior at 802-656-3473.

In the 2015-16 school year, there were 61 cases of sexual assault, according to a September 2016 article by UVM’s student newspaper.

Last year, there were two demonstrations on the issue. Recently, the group Students Advocating Sexual Empowerment began a list of potential improvements for survivor support, according to Z McCarron, a junior at UVM.

Many students have participated in the national social media #metoo campaign, where people that were assaulted post “me too” in an attempt to show their communities how pervasive sexual assault and harassment is.

UVM approves $1 million wellness center project

The University of Vermont board of trustees has approved a $1 million wellness center for a new multi-purpose arena that is to be built in 2019.

The wellness center is a new addition to the arena and will quintuple the space for health, wellness and fitness programs at UVM. The center will be funded through a gift from David Daigle, the chair of the UVM board of trustee and a partner at Capital Group, and his wife, Beth, who both graduated from UVM in 1989 and now live in Greenwich, Connecticut. The Daigles have supported a number of UVM programs including the Grossman School of Business, the UVM Career Center, the UVM Cancer Center, faculty endowments and student scholarships.

The center will support the university’s Wellness Environment Program, “a neuroscience-inspired behavior change program that incentivizes college students to build healthy brains and healthy bodies.”

“Dedicated facilities will enable the expansion of health and wellness programs, including Wellness Environment, and can make an important contribution toward student success,” the Daigles said in a statement.

The main arena will host the Catamount men’s and women’s basketball teams. Upgrades will also be made to the Gutterson Fieldhouse, which is used for UVM men’s and women’s hockey.

UVM Foundation CEO Shane Jacobsen said the university has raised $5 million for the arena project so far and hopes to raise $25 million to $30 million from private donors over the next four years.

The rest of the estimated $85 million for the cost of construction will be funded through an increase in the student athletic and recreation charge, said Tom Gustafson, University of Vermont vice president for Communications. Right now, the University of Vermont’s student recreation charge is significantly less than what is paid at similar institutions, he said.

A new multi-purpose center was first proposed in 2013. Since then, UVM has considered a number of sites for the project, including Burlington.

Last year, the university and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger discussed the possible renovation of Memorial Auditorium, located in the city’s downtown. The project would have been a joint UVM-Burlington arena.

In the end, UVM jettisoned the idea and opted for a site in South Burlington where the current arena, Patrick Gym, is already located.

Athletic Director Jeff Schulman described the project as “transformational” and said “feedback from students, alumni, our loyal fans, and the broader community has been incredibly positive.”

Last spring, after the decision was announced, many UVM students opposed the fee hike for the arena. Social media boards were abuzz about the project.

One commenter, student leader Izzy Schecter, a junior, questioned the prudence of the project and complained that UVM is already “one of the most expensive public schools in the country.”

“Eighty million dollars for something the school doesn’t need?” Schecter said, adding she’d rather see the money used for better quality food or a new library. “UVM is one of the only big state schools that isn’t all ra-ra sports,” she wrote on Facebook. “I don’t want the culture of this school to change.”

A petition drive opposing the arena project that Schecter initiated garnered hundreds of student signatures.

Essex educator named teacher of the year

An Essex teacher was named the 2018 Teacher of the Year last week by the Vermont Agency of Education.

Linda Cloutier-Namdar has been teaching English at Essex High School since 2006 and started her career in 1981 during her final semester at the University of Vermont, where she studied English literature.

Cloutier-Namdar sees teaching as a calling, and it hit her like a “lightning bolt,” she said.

The Burlington resident teaches ninth-grade English and an upperclass elective course on multicultural literature.“Each time I fall back into teaching, it feels like serendipity has brought me there,” she said.

It is rewarding, she said, to see students make connections to other people and other places through literature.

“I want them to feel like they are the superheroes in their own stories,” she said.

In addition to the awards honor, the recipients are responsible for representing Vermont educators, students and the education system.

“I started to cry happy tears when I found out,” Cloutier-Namdar said. “I felt the responsibility of such an honor, there are so many needs that our students present.”

She is also a candidate for the National Teacher of the Year.

Sara Doncaster of Lake Region Union High School is an alternate for the award. Karen Greene of Middlebury Union High School holds the title of distinguished finalist.

(Correction: A previous headline on this story misidentified the winner’s place of residence.)

Burlington cleans up Church Street graffiti

man spray painted the words “OFF THE WALL,” on a Church Street Marketplace mural on Monday in a Columbus Day protest. The city removed the graffiti Monday afternoon.

Albert Petrarca defaced the mural to honor the holiday, which has been unofficially renamed “Indigenous Peoples Day.” Petrarca said the event was organized in response to frustration with the Euro-centric depiction of the region’s history.

Native Americans who lived in the Champlain Valley prior to white settlement in the region were not included in the painting. The mural’s timeline begins in 1640 with the arrival of French explorer Samuel de Champlain.

Petrarca said using a white man’s discovery of the region as the starting point for the mural is “fake history.” “You obliterated an entire race, nation, culture of people from that history,” he said.

The mural, which depicts figures from Burlington’s history ranging from singer Grace Potter to Bernie Sanders was painted in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain’s arrival in the Champlain Valley in 1609.

Petrarca made two demands after the incident: That the mayor state publicly that he does not support the mural, and that records be released about the conception of the project. After releasing the demands, Petrarca turned himself in. He said he did so to make clear that this was a political action, not an act of vandalism. He was given a fine and a court date for later this month on a charge of public mischief.

Mayor Miro Weinberger said the action was “unfortunate” and “unnecessary.” “Vandalism of public space is a crime,” he said. “Even if the city respects the ideas that might motivate it, the city still supports its police department in treating the act accordingly.”

While Weinberger denounced the defacement of the mural, he said the city should offer a more complete history.

“Communities across the country are engaging in the important process of assessing the art and monuments in their public spaces and considering whether they accurately reflect the history and diversity of their communities,” the mayor said.

Ron Redmond, executive director of the Church Street Marketplace, said the business group plans to expand the mural to include the Abenaki people, Buffalo soldiers, an all-black calvary in the Civil War, and Daisy Turner, a civil rights activist.

Ben & Jerry’s signs ‘Milk with Dignity’ pact with migrant workers

Vermont migrant workers filled Church Street with the sound of cheers Tuesday as Jostein Solheim, the CEO of Ben & Jerry’s, signed a legally binding agreement, nearly three years in the making, to improve dairy farm standards in Vermont.

The so-called “Milk with Dignity” agreement requires dairy farm suppliers to provide workers with higher wages, time off and better housing.

Solheim said Ben & Jerry’s is the first major corporation to sign such an agreement.

“This is what we are calling a new day in dairy, a new day for the human rights of farmworkers,” said Migrant Justice leader Enrique Balcazar.

The program aims to open communication between farmers and farm workers with assistance from the corporation when needed, Solheim said.

“This is a program that will give workers a seat at the table, it will provide dignity and a real voice,” Solheim said. “It also gives the farmer a committed team, and a premium to support them when they need it.”

Though the specifics will not be made public, Will Lambek of Migrant Justice, an advocacy group for undocumented Mexican farmworkers, said the group has five basic demands: dignified wages, dignified schedules, dignified housing, safe workplaces and cooperation.

One of Ben & Jerry’s primary dairy suppliers, St. Albans Co-op, has the largest number of migrant dairy farm workers in the state, according to Migrant Justice’s website.

Solheim applauded their partners at the St. Albans Co-op, whom they have worked with for the past seven years to develop the Milk With Dignity Code of Conduct.

“Innovation is challenging, it’s hard to change, it’s hard to bring in new voices and they have done it,” Solheim said. “Vermont is ready for this.”

In 2014, Migrant Justice began the Milk with Dignity campaign with large corporations, such as Ben & Jerry’s, to promote justice for dairy workers. It is modeled after the Fair Food Program in Florida, a program that began when tomato farm workers banded together to forge agreements with companies ensuring fair treatment for workers, according to a release.

According to a Migrant Justice survey, 40 percent of the 172 farm workers they interviewed worked for less than minimum wage and 40 percent did not have a day off.

A National Day of Action was to be held on Thursday if there was no action. Now, because of the announcement made by Ben & Jerry’s, that campaign has successfully concluded, Lambek said.

Members of Migrant Justice and their families stand outside Ben & Jerry’s flagship store in Burlington to celebrate the signing of the Milk with Dignity agreement. Photo by Kelsey Neubauer/VTDigger
 This story was originally published by VTDigger on  Oct. 3, 2017.

Students demand expulsion of UVM sophomore who stole BLM flag

Sept. 29, 2017

Two hundred University of Vermont students marched Mondayto the UVM Waterman Building with a list of demands.

The students demanded that the UVM President Tom Sullivan expel a student who stole a Black Lives Matter flag on campus last fall. They also urged the university to hire more faculty of color, reform diversity requirements and increase training for faculty. In addition, they want UVM to rename a building on campus that was named for George Perkins, a UVM dean who was the father of professor Henry Perkins, who contributed to the eugenics program at UVM in the 1930s.

“We are a different generation, we are not the generation that will allow this school to trample on students of color anymore,” Harmony Edosomwan, UVM’s Black Student Union president said to administrators outside the executive offices. “We demand to be fully seen as human by the institution.”

University of Vermont President Tom Sullivan sat down with the student leaders of the protest on Wednesday.

On Friday the university released a nine-page response. Sullivan, Provost and Senior Vice President David Rosowsky, Vice President for Human Resources, Diversity & Multicultural Affairs Wanda Heading-Grant, and Vice Provost for Student Affairs Annie Stevens, addressed the entire “University Community.”

“For more than three decades, the University has taken clear and decisive steps to address many of these issues outlined in these most recent concerns,” Sullivan and administrators wrote.

University administrators will not remove Perkins’ name from buildings, as demanded by students. They said there was no evidence that the building’s namesake, Dean George Perkins was involved in the eugenics movement, but they acknowledged that his son, Henry Perkins, a biology professor at UVM, was an active participant in the Nazi era movement.

Officials said the university cannot expel the student who stole the Black Lives Matter flag as he has already gone through a disciplinary process.

“The student involved in the Black Lives Matter Flag theft was afforded a due process procedure and was sanctioned. The student cannot under law be charged or sanctioned again for the same incident that has been adjudicated,” the release states.

They also explained plans to improve diversity courses and add more faculty of color.

Student leaders said while they will have a response soon, they were not ready to comment at this time.

UVM
Two hundred students marched Monday to the Waterman Building, demanding that President Tom Sullivan expel a freshman who stole a campus Black Lives Matter flag last year. Photo courtesy of Elias Periera, a UVM student.

This Saturday, the leaders planned to host a student forum to share experiences and explain why these demands should be met, Edosomwan said.

“Our voices haven’t been heard for such a long time, it’s our turn to speak up and be listened to,” she said.

BLM flag theft

The demands and protest were in part a response to the theft of a Black Lives Matter flag on campus last year. The students want the university to expel UVM student J.T. Reichhelm who allegedly stole the flag last year. He returned this fall as a sophomore, according to UVM’s directory.

Many students have called for the theft of the flag to be considered a hate crime.

“We need to recognize this as a hate crime,” Angelica Crespo, UVM senior said. “Stealing that flag was stealing our humanity.”

Last September, UVM made national headlines for flying the flag over the Davis Center green.

Days later, students woke up to an empty flagpole. Students discussed the theft in campus-led events of solidarity in the weeks after.

In April, documents obtained by UVM’s student newspaper regarding a fraternity suspension stated that fingerprints confirmed Reichhelm had stolen the flag.

Reichhelm was a fraternity pledge who was immediately expelledfrom the fraternity. Records show the fraternity turned the freshman over to university officials who did not release the information, citing federal student privacy laws.

Students are also demanding the reform of diversity requirements, which were first established in 1991 after a protest in which students of color occupied the president’s office in Waterman for 20 days before being removed by police.

The university plans to release a response to students in the next few days, UVM spokesman Enrique Corredera said in a statement on Thursday.

“A communication that will provide some background and information about the university’s efforts and its response to the concerns that have been raised by the students is being prepared, and will be shared broadly in the coming days after it is shared with the student representatives,” he stated.

UVM
UVM students gather outside Waterman Building, demanding that the university update its 1991 diversity policies and hire more faculty of color. Photo courtesy of Elias Periera, a UVM student.

Burlington group discusses Memorial Auditorium future

Sept. 27, 2017

BURLINGTON — The closing of a popular downtown event venue has prompted a Burlington neighborhood group to launch a discussion to help determine the fate of the space.

More than 100 members of the Burlington community gathered Tuesday at City Hall to discuss the future of Memorial Auditorium at a meeting hosted by the Neighborhood Planning Assembly.

The meeting was intended to serve as a “firewall” between highly polarized groups who have very strong beliefs on the now-closed venue’s future, NPA chair Jim Holway said.

“We hope this is the first of many conversations,” he said.

When Memorial Auditorium closed in December, residents were left wondering what would replace the brick building built in 1935. The downtown site hosted events, including musical groups, as well as the winter farmers market for several years.

Many who spoke believed that renovating the original structure was essential to maintaining Burlington’s history. The building is located on Main and South Union streets.

Councilor Sharon Foley Bushor spoke about the value she found in the space after coming to Burlington to go to UVM.

She emphasized the low-cost entertainment options that the space provided her.

“I am very sad that we don’t value anything old – we tear it down and build something new,” Bushor said.

Bushor also said she believed it was the city’s fault that the arena fell into disrepair.

“I take responsibility because the city was a lousy landlord,” she said.

The space requires much work due to deferred maintenance, a cost that would cause taxes to increase, a NPA release stated.

Last year, Burlington was in talks with UVM about a possible joint-venture renovation of the auditorium. Ultimately, UVM decided to instead build an arena in South Burlington.

The city’s decision to ask UVM to help prompted questions surrounding transparency and community involvement in plans for the auditorium’s future.

Another portion of those at the meeting thought Memorial Auditorium’s meaning rested in the cultural development it allowed for, rather than the space itself.

Alan Abair, former property manager of the auditorium, said that he wants the city to renovate the space or build a new one.

“Burlington is the cultural center of Chittenden County,” said Abair. “If the city is going to take Memorial Auditorium, they sure better build us a new civic center.”

The potential deal with UVM sparked community activism beyond the NPA meeting as well.

James Lockridge said earlier this week that he will run in March for City Council, largely because he finds problems with the city’s “transparency and representation” and wants to get involved.

The mayor stated in a press release Tuesday that he would be putting together a team to address the future of Memorial Auditorium later this fall.

“In our history, Memorial Auditorium has served as a valuable assembly space, and as we pursue its revitalization and adaptive re-use, we should prioritize how the building will continue to serve that vital function for our community,” he stated in the release.

NPA Chair Holway said this meeting is the beginning of what many hope to be a revival of the grassroots, community-driven Burlington that Bernie Sanders created almost 40 years ago when he won election as mayor.

“Right now, people want to get a feel for, can NPAs redefine the way public process works?” he said.

Parents scramble as Burlington teachers strike

This story was originally published on VTDigger.org on Sept. 24, 2017 with a dual byline.

By: Morgan True and Kelsey Neubauer

(This story was updated at 9:07 a.m. on September 15 with new information from the Burlington School District)

BURLINGTON — Teachers across the city took to picket lines on the first day of a strike Thursday, as many parents of the district’s roughly 4,000 students scrambled to find child care options.

No resolution is on the horizon. Burlington Education Association President Fran Brock said the strike would continue Friday, and the union had not spoken with the school board since mediations failed Wednesday. She said the union had no plans to reach out to the school board at this point, but its members planned to meet Thursday afternoon to discuss their options.

Erik Wells, a district spokesman, confirmed there would be no school Friday, but declined to say when or how the board might make overtures to the union going forward.

The work stoppage comes after more than 10 months of negotiations failed to produce a teacher contract. The school board imposed terms and working conditions earlier this month, and the Burlington Education Association responded by voting to strike.

Union officials agreed to delay the strike by one day for a final round of talks organized by the mayor and a third-party mediator, but after close nine hours the two sides could not reach a compromise.

The district is halting most after-school programs. Wells initially said sports would be canceled as well, but in a news release sent late Thursday, he said sports and other extracurricular activities can occur during a strike.

It’s Homecoming Weekend for Burlington High School, and after meeting with student athletes, Wells said that Superintendent Yaw Obeng began working with administrators to allow the weekend’s games to proceed.

“Each extracurricular activity is dependent upon participation of non-teacher coaches and volunteers in collaboration with the school principal,” the release states.

The Homecoming dance will be rescheduled, according to the release.

The district will continue to provide lunch to students in need during the strike, Wells said. More information for parents is available on the district’s website.

Liam Griffin has a son in second grade at Integrated Arts Academy. The self-employed consultant said he was initially concerned the strike would make it difficult for him to work normal hours.

Then late Wednesday, Griffin said he received an email from the Boys and Girls Club saying they would offer the same day camp during the strike that his son had participated in over the summer. “We were lucky to get one of the limited spots they had open for that program,” he said.

Griffin said he was part of a long text message chain with other concerned parents who were racing to find child care options on short notice. Some parents with multiple options gave up their spot at the Boys and Girls Club to help other families that did not.

“I think everyone is looking out for each other,” Griffin said.

Brock, a high school history teacher, held a morning news conference where she sought to dispel what she described as “misinformation” surrounding the stalled negotiations.

Burlington Teachers Strike
Teachers picketing on North Avenue, in front of Burlington High School, on Thursday. Photo by Bob LoCicero/VTDigger

After Wednesday’s mediation, teachers said the issue that stalled talks was contract language governing time management and responsibilities for elementary teachers, while the board said it all came down to a dispute over pay raises.

School Board Chair Mark Porter said the board offered teachers an 8 percent raise over three years, an increase of roughly $6,000 per teacher over that span, which the union rejected.

“This all just came down to the money,” Porter said. “We really don’t know what else we possibly could have done to avoid this strike.”

Brock acknowledged they had not reached agreement over “the economic issues,” but negotiations had brought the two sides close to agreement, and a dispute over pay was not what led to the strike.

She also said it was not true that the board had offered an 8 percent raise over three years. “I’m sorry, nobody offered us 8 percent. What, you think we wouldn’t take 8 percent?” Brock asked reporters, sounding incredulous.

A three-year contract also isn’t a practical option, because Act 85, a law passed this year to ensure savings from new teacher health plans accrue to state coffers, requires that unions and boards renegotiate health benefits after two years, Brock said.

More importantly, Brock said the union wants the district to adopt contract language that’s been in the works for years, which would give elementary teachers more time to prepare lesson plans and work one-on-one with students who have special needs or require individualized learning plans.

In a statement released by the board Thursday, officials said they accepted the union’s proposals for elementary teachers “outright, or with minor modification,” but it’s unclear whether that’s the case, as Brock was adamant the issue is still unresolved.

“Unfortunately, they’re not listening to us. We told them that the elementary school language is crucial,” Brock said.

“It may sound petty to you,” Brock said, when asked whether the union chose to strike over elementary school working conditions, “But it really feeds the issue of getting the right kind of services, the right kind of education to the elementary school children. If they don’t get the education at their level, they’re never going to get caught up and that achievement gap just gets wider.”

The achievement gap refers to the disparity in school performance between low-income students, students of color and English language learners and their wealthier whiter peers. Both the district and the union have said the operational changes they’re seeking are aimed at addressing that gap.

Similar issues at the high school level were resolved during the mediation, with the two sides agreeing to have a study group explore time management and other issues related to keeping high need students in the classroom and out of specialized programs.

Brock said the teachers are aware of how disruptive a teacher strike is, but felt it was a necessary step to stem the “exodus” of educators from the Burlington School District.

Sixty-four BEA members have resigned since May, 2014, according to figures compiled by the union. Brock said those resignations are people who have taken jobs in nearby districts or left the profession — largely out of frustration with how they’re being managed.

“Some of those people have gone to jobs where they’re earning less or they have a longer commute. It’s a mix of reasons, but the common thread is they wanted out of the Burlington School District,” Brock said.

Other members of the BEA negotiating team have pointed to several guidance counselorsand several special educators who resigned earlier this year, citing frustrations with administrators, as evidence that the district is mishandling operations.

The BEA has roughly 400 members in a bargaining unit that includes teachers, guidance counselors, school nurses, special educators, speech pathologists and other specialists.

A separate BEA unit representing paraeducators has roughly 100 members, and its contract is negotiated separately. That unit is not striking, and is still in active negotiations for a new contract with the school board.

Brock said BEA members would be meeting Thursday afternoon to discuss next steps, but she was not able to say how long she expected the strike to last or when the union’s next meeting with the school board might take place.

The board also did not release any information Thursday about when the two sides might next meet for further bargaining.

Mia Marinovich, an administrative assistant at Edmunds Middle School, said Thursday that she was not aware of any meetings between the two sides scheduled for Friday, but she was nonetheless holding out hope that students would be back in school Monday.

“Everyone feels a little sick,” she said. “The kids want to be here, they were just getting started.”

Inside Edmunds, there were around 57 people still at work, including paraeducators and administrative workers. Marinovich said that only one student had shown up Thursday to get a sack lunch from the school.

The district said on its website that it would provide free bag lunches at all schools for the first three days of the strike and then reassess based on demand.

Outside Edmunds, Onnika Hawkins-Hilke of Burlington, was one several parents who walked with the teachers. She was with her son, Micah, a first grader in the district. “Our future is in the hands of these teachers, we hope the board will put our children first and sit down and negotiate,” she said.

At Burlington High School, freshman Isaac Martin, 14 of Burlington, picketed alongside his teachers. “I didn’t feel like I had a choice. The teachers have given so much to us, and I felt it was the right thing to do,” he said.

Burlington teachers picket for further strikes

BURLINGTON — City teachers have been picketing in the pouring rain to urge the school board to reopen negotiations with their union.

The Tuesday afternoon informational picket — and others planned for today — aimed to inform the public of the school board’s recent decision to impose working conditions rather than continuing to negotiate a contract with the Burlington Education Association.

This is the second year in a row that the board has imposed salary and other terms on local teachers. It’s the seventh school board in the state to take that step twice, the BEA said.

The union membership plans to meet Thursday to decide what to do next, including the possibility of striking.

Last year the two sides reached a one-year deal hours before a strike was set to begin in October.

“We are not happy. We are angry,” union President Fran Brock said at Tuesday’s picket.

The teachers’ goal is to persuade the board to reopen negotiations, the union said in a news release Tuesday.

The two sides haven’t agreed on salary increases or health care contributions, although the union has said they are close.

One of the biggest issues teachers want to negotiate is the use of time throughout the school day, Brock said.

Since cutting back on educators and para-educators in recent years, class sizes have increased, with some nearing maximum occupancy in the high school, Brock said.

Without further negotiations, she said, teachers would have to increase the number of classes taught, taking time away from student-directed programming and one-on-one time with students.

This increase in workload is meant to address the achievement gap between different groups of students, but Brock said students would suffer in the long run if teachers must increase their course load.

“We too want to narrow the achievement gap, but we need the board to do it with us and not against us,” Brock said.

The school board chair, Mark Porter, has called the contract terms set by the board “fair and reasonable” in the context of “student needs and the ability of the community to fund public education.”

Burlington teachers vote to strike next week

BURLINGTON — The city’s teachers have voted to go on strike Wednesday if the school board doesn’t agree to reopen contract negotiations.

The vote came Thursday in response to the board’s imposition of salary and other termson the union last week. The sides remained deadlocked after months of talks.

“Call us, and we’ll come back to work,” said Fran Brock, Burlington Education Association president.

Ninety-five percent of teachers voted to strike. “There was no question,” Brock said.

A spokesperson for the school board could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

This is the second year in a row the Burlington union has voted to strike after the board imposed working conditions. Last fall an agreement to resume negotiating averted a walkout just hours before it was to begin.

This year the two sides again failed to reach agreement on pay increases and health care contributions. Teachers also hoped to continue negotiations about their schedules, Brock said during informational picketing Tuesday.

Without further negotiations, high school teachers could be assigned a sixth class instead of being able to use the time for preparation and student-directed programming, she said.

The South Burlington school district also decided to impose working conditions on its teachers last week after 10 months of negotiations.

Gov. Phil Scott called for districts and teachers to compromise for the sake of students.

Burlington School Board Chair Mark Porter has said the terms the board imposed were fair and fit student needs and the ability of the community to fund education.

Brock said the decision to strike is in solidarity with 100 colleagues who have chosen to leave the district in the past five years.

The delay between the strike announcement and planned walkout is to make it possible for parents and students to make adjustments, Brock said.

Child care providers say new regulations will be costly

Author’s note: This story was originally printed by VTDigger .

Efforts at child care reform have been greeted with ambivalence by some providers who are concerned the changes are too steep.
New regulations for child care providers, written by the Child Development Division within the state’s Department for Children and Families, are scheduled to go into effect Sept 1. They spell out more specifically what is required.

“It is definitely more words, but sometimes it takes more words to be clear,” said Reeva Murphy, deputy DCF commissioner.

The new regulations were based upon extensive national research and discussions that began in 2012, she said.

However, as child care professionals begin to navigate the changing field in order to comply, some feel the new regulations do more harm than good.

The new requirements have distressed child care providers such as Tracy Patnoe.

Patnoe, who has been a provider for 17 years, has a facility in Morrisville with five classrooms, five full-time teachers and 39 children, she said.

Old regulations from 2001 required full-time teachers working alone in a classroom to have an associate degree in child development or a minimum of 12 college credits in early childhood development.

The new regulations will increase these requirements, Patnoe said. Each staffer will be required, at minimum, to have either completed 21 college credits in early education or obtained an associate degree in a related field, a childhood apprenticeship certificate or a child care certificate from Community College of Vermont.

Her five teachers, some in child care for more than 20 years, would be deemed unqualified to teach. They would have to go back to school, or Patnoe would have to hire new professionals, she said.

Murphy, of DCF, said these guidelines are for entry-level teachers. The hope was that as the teacher’s professional development grew, so would their level of qualification.

There are incentives to gain these qualifications, Murphy said. Scholarships are available through colleges and the state that help those in child care gain more qualifications and ensure high-quality care.

Patnoe also pointed to new regulations require 24 months of experience in child care in order to work at a center, describing it as a Catch-22 making it difficult for those who want to start a career.

The new rules would cost her organization more than $40,000 a year because the hourly rate for each teacher would increase $2, Patnoe said. That does not include payroll costs or health insurance, she said.

Patnoe said she will need to find funding to either provide education for her staff to meet the qualifications or hire new staffers — at a higher rate — who meet the requirements.

“Where is this money going to come from? It will fall on the backs of parents who are already paying more than they can,” said Patnoe. She owns Mud City Kids Childcare in Morrisville.

The high cost of child care is one of the reasons given for creating the regulations. On average, a Vermont parent spends 28 to 40 percent of earnings on child care, according to the advocacy campaign Let’s Grow Kids.

Robyn Freedner-Maguire, campaign director for Let’s Grow Kids, said that although the regulations have prompted essential conversation, they also place financial burdens on child care providers. She said more money is needed from the state.

“We need more than regulations,” she said. “We need investments.”

The regulations are the first in more than a decade for center-based child care and in more than two decades for home-based child care. They are part of a larger statewide discussion on how to improve the child care system.

Campaigns such as Let’s Grow Kids have rallied lawmakers, parents and providers to speak about sustainable changes. In addition, a blue ribbon commission formed in 2015 has been conducting qualitative and quantitative research on achieving high-quality affordable child care in Vermont.

The commission will make a recommendation on the next steps in November.

Lawyer: Injuries from wet cement bring settlement

A Bennington man recently won a $450,000 settlement for skin injuries he suffered from coming in contact with wet cement, according to his lawyer.

The lawyer, David Silver, of Bennington-based BarrSternberg Moss Silver & Munson, wouldn’t identify the client or the company allegedly involved. He said the man wanted to educate the public about the risks of working with wet Portland cement.

In November 2014 the man was helping his son-in-law put in a new floor in a crawlspace, according to Silver. There wasn’t room to stand up, so the man got on his knees to spread the wet concrete.

The son-in-law was then given a receipt by the delivery person. On the bottom of the receipt was a warning that the product could cause skin irritation. Hours later, third-degree burns covered the man’s kneecaps, leaving him with scars and medical bills, said Silver.

The man decided to sue, and Silver said the concrete company’s insurers agreed to settle. If a product is potentially dangerous, a business must tell the consumer, Silver said.

Portland cement is in almost every form of concrete. When wet, Portland cement can damage the skin because it is caustic and abrasive and absorbs moisture, according to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA says the effects can range from mild and brief to severe and chronic.

Burns may not be felt immediately, according to OSHA. That’s the most dangerous part, said Silver, who warned that the effects are not evident until hours after contact.

According to OSHA, if skin comes into contact with wet cement, it should be washed with cool water and acidic soap immediately. Skin softeners such as Vaseline should not be used.

Silver identified the lawyers he said represented the concrete company; they did not return VTDigger’s calls or emails.

Arraignments held for four murder suspects found in California

BURLINGTON — Four people charged with the murder of a Milton resident all pleaded not guilty at their arraignments Monday.

Erik Averill, 21, Jordan Paul, 21, Myia Barber, 22, and Allison Gee, 25, face second-degree murder charges in connection with the beating of Amos Beede, 38, in May in Burlington.

A fifth suspect, Amber Dennis, 29, pleaded not guilty at her arraignment last month.

All five are being held without bail. If found guilty, each would face 20 years to life in prison.

Beede was a transgender man who was well-known in the Burlington homeless community. He was at a homeless camp on Pine Street when the attack occurred. Witnesses told police Beede was part of a dispute between two homeless camps in the Barge Canal area just before he was killed.

In the days and hours preceding his death, Beede told police he felt he was in danger. The five suspects were said by witnesses to have kicked and beaten Beede.

The four who were arraigned Monday were brought back to Vermont early this month from San Diego, where they drove shortly after the beating. Each of the four told police in California that they played some role in the beating that led to Beede’s death, according to court documents.

Dennis did not go to California with the others and gave statements to police implicating the other suspects and declaring her own innocence. The four suspects arraigned Monday, however, gave statements to police saying Dennis participated in the attack on Beede.

Barber, Gee and Dennis are being held at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington. Averill and Paul are being held at Northwest State Correctional Facility in St Albans.

Though police say there may have been some bias against Beede’s gender identity on the part of his alleged attackers, prosecutors said they have not found enough evidence to seek hate crime enhancements to the charges.

Firefighters union backs Dunne for governor

BURLINGTON — Democrat Matt Dunne has picked up the endorsement of the Professional Firefighters of Vermont in the race for governor.

“We are standing with Matt because he has been standing with us,” said Bradley Reed, the union’s president, on Monday in front of the historic Ethan Allen Firehouse on Church Street.

Matt Dunne
Democrat Matt Dunne listens as firefighters announce their endorsement of him for governor Monday in Burlington. Photo courtesy of the Dunne campaign

Dunne, who has been a member of both the Vermont Senate and House, has a history of supporting and introducing legislation benefiting the Professional Firefighters of Vermont, Reed said.

Three weeks ago, union members met with the gubernatorial candidates and voted to collectively support Dunne, Reed said.

“He understands the importance of raising wages and working for economic justice for the middle class,” Reed said.

Reed said members face dangers every day that government must address and that Dunne has done so in the past. Firefighters have a high incidence of cancer, lung and infectious diseases, and heart emergencies, Reed said. In 2006, Dunne supported protection legislation for firefighters during cardiac emergencies, Reed said.

The Professional Firefighters of Vermont includes firefighters, EMTs and paramedics.

Dunne has been endorsed by various other unions, including the Vermont State Employees’ Association, the Teamsters and the Executive Committee of the Vermont AFL-CIO.

The firefighters union generally leans toward Democrats but had endorsed Republican Phil Scott for re-election as lieutenant governor in 2012 and 2014. He is now running for governor.

(Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the AFL-CIO.)