We’re Not Retreating. We’re Advancing to the Rear.

What is an institution to do when it makes a decision that kinda blows up in their face? Well, one option is to stick with the decision but modify it just enough to quiet the critics. Or to put it metaphorically, apply enough lipstick to a pig and make people stop noticing it’s a pig.

As it happens, two august Vermont organizations are currently engaged in the messy business of searching for the minimum acceptable capitulation. Vermont State University is trying to figure out how many books it will have to preserve, not because it wants the damn things, but because it desperately needs to quiet the howls of criticism; and the Green Mountain Care Board is looking for a way to give away $18 million while convincing us that they’re not giving away $18 million.

VSU’s nascent leadership continues to fumble its plan to close the campus library system… sorry, create something better than libraries… no wait, they’ll still be libraries but unencumbered by books… oops, now we’ve got a “refined plan” that will select the most academically important volumes while disposing of the rest. (You can tell they’re proud of their plan because they posted it online last Thursday with no formal announcement or public event of any sort.)

Gee, it’s almost as if the original plan was thrown together in haste with minimal forethought. Which inspires no confidence in the ability of this administration to lead a troubled system out of its current straits and into a better tomorrow. The future of VSU’s library system is way down on the list of critical issues to be addressed. If they can’t handle this without it blowing up in their faces, how will they address a massive structural deficit when they’ve already squandered their credibility dicking around with the library plan?

And all the while, they insist they’ll implement this vaguely defined thing by the end of June, come Hell or high water.

If you think the process is laughable, just wait till you hear the details of Plan 3.0. Let’s start with deciding which books to keep.

…we will maintain volumes that have been accessed or checked out between January 1, 2018 and December 31, 2022 and have been deemed academically valuable by the academic department chairs and the Provost. Additional volumes, vital to academic programs, may also be retained based on academic need as determined by the Provost or his designee in coordination with the academic department chairs.

Problems, I see a few. First, how will they decide which books have been “accessed” but not checked out? Dusting for fingerprints? Second, each book that’s been “accessed or checked out” in the last five years must also be deemed worthy by the Provost and the relevant department chair. That’s how they’re going to spend the next few months when the entire institution is in transition? Going over lists of books one by one?

Third, there’s an ill-defined backdoor method for rescuing books from Death Row through intervention by “the Provost or his designee.” Really? The Provost (or a designee to be named later) is going to review each and every book that failed the first test? Really?

This part of the plan cannot possibly be implemented as written. There will have to be shortcuts aplenty and decisions made en masse without the kind of thoughtful consideration they’re trying to sell us.

It gets better, by which I mean worse. Books that aren’t academically important but are unfathomably popular will be consigned to a “Neighborhood Library” where books can come and go without oversight. Reminds me of the metal shelves outside the Red Hen Bakery where you can leave unwanted volumes and take whatever you want. That’s what VSU means by “Neighborhood Library.”

VSU is also boosting library staff. As minimally as possible. Not only will VSU generously supply a single “liaison librarian” serving the entire system, they’ll grant each library a part-time library assistant. How partial, we haven’t been told. Whether they’ll qualify to join the union, they haven’t said but I can guess.

I do hope they realize that if the libraries are re-created as libraries cum public spaces with useful books, resources and materials, they might just need even more staff to ride herd on all the activity they’re hoping to foster.

Finally, VSU will spend $500,000 “to renovate and improve the library spaces across our campuses prior to the Fall semester,” with priority given to expanding “the usability of these spaces in the short-term.”

Wait. Short term? So a system that’s strapped for cash is going to spend a half mill (which isn’t much, distributed over five library spaces) for short-term fixes?

There are lots more spiders in this attic, but I’ll limit myself to one example. Well, 1 and 1A.

We will have a core set of licensed databases that will be augmented by freely available scholarly databases. Acquisition of new digital resources will utilize an “on-demand” model, ensuring that we only buy materials that will be used.

That’s a “core set” of as few paid databases as possible plus all the free stuff we can add for ballast. Furtheradditions will be made based on unknowable projections of future use. The entire “refined plan” reeks of desperation and, well, a lack of refinement. They’ve dug themselves a hole and their solution is to keep on digging.

On to the Green Mountain Care Board, last seen proposing to allow the University of Vermont Health System to freely use $18 million that had been earmarked for improving inpatient mental health care. The inpatient system desperately needs improvement and has for over a decade. The GMCB put forward its plan to de-earmark the funds and set aside a two-week period for public comment, to be followed by immediate action on the plan.

That laughably short public comment period didn’t work as intended. At its March 8 meeting, GMCB Chair Owen Foster (who would be forgiven for wondering why the hell he took this job) pulled the question from the agenda.

“I personally would like a bit more time to think about this because it is really critically important,” said Foster, pointing to the significant number of public comments on the issue.

Yup, so much for slipping this through quickly and quietly.

Board members appear to be looking for — shockin’, I know — a face-saving way to impose slightly tougher restrictions to make it seem like they’re being all watchdoggy and such.

The question that may go unanswered is, “How would this money best be spent in service of improving inpatient mental health care?” The answer clearly, and inconveniently, is crafting a plan for a new inpatient facility. But that seems to be too hard for anyone to tackle, as it has been since Tropical Storm Irene gutted the old state hospital.

The Green Mountain Care Board has pretty broad powers to oversee and guide Vermont’s health care system. It seems generally uninterested in exercising those powers. Maybe that’s because the GMCB was created in the dog days of the Shumlin administration as a poor substitute for the doomed single-payer system, and Phil Scott has no personal stake in the Board and a general enmity to government control of the private sector. Is it any wonder that the GMCB isn’t working as intended?

In health care reform, our ability to create vibrant institutions in difficult circumstances was tested and found wanting. The same outcome is staring Vermont State University in the face.


4 thoughts on “We’re Not Retreating. We’re Advancing to the Rear.

    1. nancy

      and the VSCS is adding new high paying positions that don’t provide direct services to students at quite the clip…

  1. Snafu

    As usual, UVMMC gets its way… follow the money… except that it’s our money they are using to get their way. And I still can’t figure out the purpose of this library thing. The bs about saving money is just the cover.


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