The Museum’s Board Chair Ed Vilandrie and Executive Director Adam Kane sent this letter to Governor Phil Scott regarding the proposed closure of Northern Vermont University:
The Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium urgently asks you to intercede against the Vermont State Colleges System’s plan to close Northern Vermont University (NVU).
The Fairbanks Museum has a long relationship with the Lyndon campus and currently employs five alumni who contribute regularly to statewide programs. The Eye on the Sky, Vermont’s signature weather forecast, would not exist without its Lyndon State graduates (Mark Breen, Steve Maleski, Lawrence Hayes and Chris Kurdek). Their combined meteorology and broadcast skills are a unique product of the acclaimed Atmospheric Sciences program on the Lyndon campus.
A decision to close NVU would undermine all three of your Priority Initiatives, and demonstrate an absence of vision in stark contrast to your leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Priority 1: Grow the economy. Contrary to this goal, closing NVU will devastate the economy of the Northeast Kingdom. The NEK under-performs the rest of the state in nearly every meaningful economic measure. Deliberately removing this essential catalyst for economic growth will be catastrophic. The loss of NVU will cascade well beyond the immediate loss of one of the region’s largest employers. The NVU campuses facilitate endless economic activity – from conferences to camps to performances – losing meaningful programming at NVU would further isolate the Kingdom and undermine efforts that have taken root to build manufacturing, agriculture and tourism sectors, along with a host of related fields.
Priority 2: Make Vermont more affordable. Without the economic engine of NVU, few will be able to afford to live in the NEK. As the tax base inevitably collapses, particularly in the towns of Lyndonville and St. Johnsbury, tax rates will increase for those residents who choose to stay. A needlessly inflicted cycle of real estate depreciation combined with shrinking grand lists will make regional municipal and school budgets unaffordable.
Priority 3: Protect the most vulnerable. The NEK is Vermont’s most vulnerable region; any reasonable interpretation of this priority would suggest that the State of Vermont should invest in NVU, rather than gut the state’s most vulnerable region. In recent years, the NEK has taken tremendous steps to reinvigorate areas with growth potential. Examples of statewide pride can be celebrated in the Kingdom, and each success story includes connections with NVU.
We understand the economics of NVU are challenging, and the State’s finances are facing significant shortfalls for the foreseeable future. Times of crisis, however, require strong and resourceful leadership, and, importantly, they present opportunities for institutions to refocus and renew their work.
That moment is now for NVU.
We ask that you stay NVU’s execution so that leadership – community leadership – has the opportunity to revision NVU.