- Vermont State University is pausing a controversial plan to shrink its physical libraries after its president, Parwinder Grewal, abruptly stepped down last week — less than three months before the formal launch of the newly configured institution.
- The public institution announced Grewal’s immediate departure Friday. He spearheaded the project to transform the libraries into an “all-digital format,” a decision that attracted a torrent of criticism from students and faculty.
- This led to Vermont State, a consolidation of three state public colleges set to formally open July 1, to scale back the plan and say it would still offer print resources.
Officials tapped Grewal, a former administrator at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, last year to lead the consolidated institution.
Vermont State will merge Castleton University, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College, all of which have suffered continued enrollment declines and structural deficits. The move is intended to put them on a path to financial stability.
However, the digital library proposal has overshadowed the college’s launch and Grewal’s roughly year-long tenure. It involved doing away with most of the libraries’ physical texts and repurposing those spaces.
Students and faculty argued the plan went too far. It even attracted the attention of state legislators, who introduced bills that would block the institution from closing the library or reducing the size of its physical collections without lawmakers’ signoff.
Grewal resigned for personal reasons, according to Vermont State Colleges System officials.
“We knew this work would be difficult — in fact, none of this work is simple or easy but we are making steady progress and will be ready to launch Vermont State University in July,” Sophie Zdatny, system chancellor, said in a statement. “We are grateful to Dr. Parwinder Grewal for stepping into the role of President and bringing his skills and expertise from a similar higher education unification at this important time, and we appreciate his service.”
Vermont State has also delayed a plan to downsize athletics, which would have required some of the campuses to leave their athletics associations and others to convert their teams into club sports.
The library and athletic initiatives will be on hold “pending development of a comprehensive set of recommendations for continued transformation work in the coming weeks,” according to the statement.
Michael Smith, former secretary of the Vermont Agency of Human Services, will take over as Vermont State’s interim president for the next six months.
Smith has been nicknamed “fixer-in-chief” for his work in revitalizing struggling institutions, including Burlington College, a private nonprofit institution in Vermont that eventually closed in 2016.