They're Killing My College

Goddard College's closure is a betrayal rooted in BoT mismanagement, violating bylaws, and ignoring community efforts to save this progressive institution.

They're Killing My College

The Heartbreak of Goddard’s Closure

The news hit like a sucker-punch to the gut: Goddard College, my alma mater, was closing its doors forever. And a sucker-punch it was, for this wasn't just an institutional failure, but a profound betrayal.

The Board of Trustees (BoT), hiding behind a façade of financial necessity, has revealed their true colors through years of mismanagement and poor communication with the wider community. They’ve let this happen, and I’m here to tell you how.

A Legacy of Innovation, Undone by Incompetence

Goddard College isn’t just any school. Founded in 1938, it was a pioneer of progressive education, championing creativity, critical thinking, and social consciousness.

Its radical approach—embracing student work programs, adult education, and individualized learning—was groundbreaking. For me, Goddard was magical. I earned my BFA in creative writing there, graduating in 2018. My time working with the Duende literary magazine was transformative, catapulting my career and giving me the confidence to continue in higher education.

Despite this rich legacy, the BoT blames declining enrollment for the closure. Like many smaller colleges around the United States, enrollment has been a serious issue of concern for Goddard during the last twenty years. However, this is a convenient scapegoat that masks years of failures by the college's leadership.

Decades of Goddard boards and administrations have struggled with financial instability, and their strategies have consistently failed. In large part, this is because they have shown a profound disconnect from the institution’s values and mission. The alumni association’s 2021 vote of “no confidence” in the BoT and President Dan Hocoy was a desperate plea for change.

We highlighted the board’s lack of understanding of Goddard’s unique pedagogy and their failure to uphold their fiduciary duties, pointing to a pattern of bad faith and mismanagement.

Mismanagement and Disregard for Stakeholders

The BoT’s recent decision to sell the campus to an undisclosed business underscores their continuing disregard for the Goddard community. This opaque transaction, completed without transparency or stakeholder engagement, is frustrating in the extreme.

Community groups like Cooperation Vermont and the Greatwood Project, that wanted to at least purchase and preserve the campus, were stonewalled. With these local organizations denied even a walk-through of the property, the BoT swiftly sealed the deal with an unnamed buyer. This clandestine approach not only contravenes the college’s bylaws but also betrays the trust of those who have fought to preserve the institution, or at least ensure that the land serves the local community in the future.

This is not just about financial missteps; it’s about a board acting in bad faith, disregarding the community they are supposed to serve.

A Call for Compliance and Accountability

On May 27, 2024, a formal petition was sent to the five remaining members of the BoT and President Dan Hocoy. This petition, backed by over five hundred students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, and concerned citizens of Plainfield, Vermont, called for the BoT to comply with the governing bylaws before making any decisions about the college’s closure, accreditation status, or sale of the campus.

The petition outlined several violations of the bylaws by the current trustees:

  • Endangering the college’s recently restored NECHE accreditation.
  • Operating without the minimal number of required trustees and excluding constituent trustees from crucial discussions (Articles 4.2 and 4.3.4).
  • Failing to maintain the required standing committees, including those for Academic and Student Affairs, Finance, Audit, and Personnel, and others (Article 5.1).
  • Neglecting to meet and vote on board nominees and denying them access to meeting information (Article 4.4).
  • Repeatedly refusing to communicate openly and in a timely manner.
  • Neglecting their vital duties of care, loyalty, and obedience.
  • Making critical decisions impacting all constituencies of Goddard College and its surrounding community without due process and required transparency.

The Consequences of Poor Leadership

The fallout from this decision is immeasurable. Generations of students and faculty who found solace and intellectual freedom at Goddard are left grappling with the loss. The college's unique culture, which provided a refuge from the dominant capitalist culture of U.S. academia, and which fostered deep personal and academic growth for thousands of students, will be sorely missed. The decision to close Goddard is not just a financial misstep; it’s a cultural and educational tragedy.

Despite the BoT’s assurances of smooth transitions and partnerships with institutions like Prescott College, the damage is done. Goddard’s closure reflects a broader trend in higher education, where financial viability trumps educational values. However, the specific context of Goddard’s demise is a testament to the catastrophic impact of poor leadership and systemic neglect.

Shady Business Interests: A Nationwide Problem

The case of Goddard College is not an isolated incident. Similar scenarios have played out across the United States, with other educational institutions falling prey to questionable business decisions and mismanagement. One stark example is the ongoing legal battle involving Rider University and Westminster Choir College.

The history of this case reveals a disturbing trend. Rider University initially sought to sell Westminster to a Chinese-government owned entity with no experience in running a college. When this deal fell through, Rider moved forward with consolidation plans, disregarding the unique needs and historical significance of Westminster’s campus.

This kind of maneuvering, where financial interests overshadow educational integrity, mirrors the situation at Goddard and many other institutions.

The Fight for Accountability

The Goddard community is not taking this lying down. Alumni, faculty, and students are calling for accountability and transparency. The Save Goddard College group has outlined several alleged violations by the trustees, from threatening accreditation to failing to communicate openly about the college’s dire situation. These efforts, though perhaps “tilting at windmills,” are crucial. They represent a stand against the erosion of educational integrity and the dismissal of community voices.

It’s important to highlight that the current BoT made their decision when they were not at their mandated minimum level and refused to seat new members to the Board of Trustees. This deliberate avoidance clearly suggests they feared that seating new trustees might impede their ability to proceed with the closure and sale. This kind of behavior is not just unethical; it’s a stark violation of the trust placed in them by the Goddard community.

This Didn't Have To Happen

The closure of Goddard College is a stark reminder of what happens when those entrusted with stewardship fail their duty. It is a call to action for all who believe in the power of progressive education and the necessity of transparent, accountable governance.

Goddard’s legacy will live on through its alumni and the values it instilled. However, the lesson here is clear: we must protect our educational institutions from those who would mismanage and dismantle them for short-term gain. The fight to preserve institutions like Goddard and Westminster Choir College is a fight for the soul of education itself, and it is a fight we cannot afford to lose.

This didn’t have to happen. Goddard could have been saved if the BoT had been willing to work with the community of students, faculty, alumni, and local citizens of Vermont.

Furthermore, this sale to an undisclosed business—when local Vermont organizations were perfectly willing to buy the grounds for the college and at least maintain this precious resource for the local community—is a stark reminder that the leadership positions in academia cannot be trusted.

We deserve better. Goddard deserved better. And it’s up to us to ensure that this kind of betrayal doesn’t happen again.

Hi there! I’m Odin Halvorson, a librarian, independent scholar, film fanatic, fiction author, and tech enthusiast. If you like my work and want to support me, please consider becoming a paid subscriber to my newsletter for as little as $2.50 a month!

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