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Article Title: Vermont College and Union: One Plus One Equals Three

Edition: May 2001
Category: General Interest
Author: Nat Frothingham

Officials at The Union Institute (T.U.I.) in Cincinatti, Ohio and Norwich University in Northfield are hailing the sale of Vermont College to T.U.I. as a great marriage and they are saying that as in any great marriage the whole could be greater than the sum of the parts.

On April 27 when Union was expected to deliver a formal letter of intent to Norwich, both institutions will move forward on a fast track toward the conclusion of a final sale which could take place as early as this September.

Gains for The Union Institute

The sale of Vermont College to Union was announced on April l4. Three days later T.U.I. President Judith A. Sturnick said in a letter to "Friends of The Union Institute" that the sale was "a classic case of two institutions with parallel missions and values uniting to strengthen each other." (The full text of President Sturnick's letter is at the bottom of this article.)

Sturnick said that Vermont College is building a budget that plans for 1040 students next year and all of these students will have short-term Montpelier residencies. When the two institutions are combined there will be about 3000 students in all. With these numbers and with the combined faculties of both schools, Sturnick sees the creation of a new institution with a critical mass of faculty and learners.

Sturnick said T.U.I. was committed to preserving the historic core of the campus, but she would not rule out selling or leasing parts of the campus outside that core.

Norwich University spokesman Tom Greene called the sale "smart in every sense of the word" He said it gives T.U.I. the chance "to create a comprehensive university."

In addition, Greene said the sale could do the following things for T.U.I..

He said it could eliminate a competitor. He also said it could provide T.U.I. (which already has doctoral and undergraduate programs) with much-needed Vermont College master's and additional undergraduate programs. Greene said the sale could strengthen T.U.I.'s presence in the key New England student market and could give T.U.I. an academic history dating to 1834. One thing more, it could supply T.U.I. with what Greene termed "a missing asset," a traditional New England college campus with historic buildings surrounding a classic green.

T.U.I.: A Historical Perspective

T.U.I. Was founded in 1964 as an experimental partnership of 10 colleges and universities to serve the needs of self-motivated, mature adults, according to T.U.I. materials. In 1970, with funds from the U.S. Office of Education and the Ford and Carnegie Foundations this consortium established the "University Without Walls" again to meet the needs of adult learners seeking higher education opportunities.

The university became freestanding in 1982 and changed its name to The Union Institute in 1989. Today T.U.I. enrolls about 2,000 students worldwide. Eight hundred are undergraduates and 1200 are doctoral students. T.U.I. has undergraduate learning centers in Cincinnati, Miami, Los Angeles and Sacramento.

New Hampshire resident David Stewart-Smith, who currently teaches at both T.U.I. and Vermont College, took his doctorate at T.U.I. In 1998. He said that Vermont College and T.U.I. "could be a tremendous match."

He said that both Vermont College and T.U.I. come from the same philosophical roots. Both institutions, he said, trace their history to the Union of Experimental Schools and Colleges founded in 1964 that included progressive schools such as Antioch and Oberlin in Ohio, Lesley College and Simon's Rock in Massachusetts, and Bard College in New York State. The Adult Degree Program founded at Goddard College in 1963 was an important forerunner of T.U.I., Stewart-Smith said. The Adult Degree Program and three other adult-centered alternative programs were purchased by Vermont College in 1981.

Stewart-Smith said that the average age of students at Vermont College is 39 and the average age of students at T.U.I. is 42. The assumption at both colleges, he said, is that mature students know what they want to do with their learning and are self-directed, self-disciplined and self-motivated.

Approaches to Adult Learning

Stewart-Smith went on to discuss how a typical adult student works with a faculty advisory on a chosen academic interest.

Let's say a student is interested in Art Deco architecture, Stewart-Smith said. In that case, the faculty advisor will try to broaden the student's view of that interest. Said Stewart-Smith, "Why is the student attracted to this subject? What is the social history of Art Deco? What were the aesthetic values of Art Deco? What is the literature that surrounds the Art Deco movement? Why did we have Art Deco during Prohibition?"

A student pursuit, Stewart-Smith said,"can be tremendously rigorous." A typical T.U.I. student might read as many as 20 books in a semester. That student will correspond with his/her faculty advisor by letter and e-mail. At the end of the semester a typical T.U.I. undergraduate will produce 40 pages of finished writing.

President Sturnick Pleased

Reached at her Cincinnati office, T.U.I. President Judith A. Sturnick spoke enthusiastically about the purchase of Vermont College.

She said mature adult learners begin their studies with valuable life experiences. Sturnick said that T.U.I. Was committed to "intensely mentored tutorial programs," one-on-one faculty-student relationships inspired by the tutorial system at England's Oxford University.

"Let them pace themselves," Sturnick said. "Let them individualize their degree experience," she added. Finally, she said, let adult students justify their academic studies by showing how their learning will have a positive impact on the greater world. "Social responsibility is a strong value (at T.U.I.)." she asserted.

What About Walls?

Early in its life T.U.I. Was a "university without walls." But it appears that T.U.I. might be rethinking its sense of place.

Sturnick said there is some something of a division of opinion about whether a school had an early commitment to "a university without walls" should now be acquiring a physical campus. She said the critical factor that led T.U.I. to embrace the purchase of Vermont College were the undergraduate and master's programs. "If your master's and undergraduate programs hadn't already existed tied to this place, a part of the history, we would not be looking at this (sale)." She said persuading her trustees to embrace the entire package including the buildings and campus was a hard sell.

"Our trustees are very wary of real estate," she confessed. Speaking for herself she expressed an appreciation for the college campus that T.U.I. acquires as part of the sale, a place, where she said "our learners can come to be in a gorgeous natural environment."

Sturnick has big dreams for the new university that will be formed by the sale. She believes that T.U.I., indeed Vermont College, have struck on a successful model for global higher education. One of the possible names for the new university is "Union International University." Sturnick suggested that the Vermont College name might endure as "Vermont College of Union International University."

Three Models for Higher Education

In discussing the big movements afoot in higher education today, Sturnick discussed three academic models. The first model is the traditional four-year residential college. She thought this model would continue to be an important part of the mix. Second, she said there is an emerging model of the "virtual university" with most of its offerings available on-line via distance learning. But Sturnick said that many such virtual universities had their limitations: "lockstep courses, a specified curriculum" and a reluctance to accept the value of the adult learner's life experience.

It's the third model at places like T.U.I. And Vermont College that Sturnick believes in passionately.

"We're looking at the creation of a global leadership development program," she said, that will take people where they are and lead them into a doctoral program. Sturnick singled out a Jamaican woman -- who served as Jamaica's Minister of Labor and is still in government there -- was recognized by T.U.I. With an honorary doctorate degree. This Jamaican leader wanted a college degree but said initially that she didn't have the time.

Then, Sturnick said, the woman looked at what T.U.I. had to offer: its reputation for quality and its flexibility in working with mature adult students many of whom are working full-time and trying to manage all the pressures of mid-life. The woman has earned a T.U.I. Undergraduate degree and is now entering T.U.I.'s doctoral program.

Summing things up, Sturnick said, "This is the kind of person we exist for as we look at people around the globe."

Some Local Impacts of Sale

What will this new "one-two punch" mean specifically to Vermont College and by extension to Montpelier?

First, Sturnick said, the purchase will preserve the core of the historic institution that is Vermont College.

Second, the purchase will give new life to Vermont College, Sturnick said and will permit Vermont College to offer a doctoral program.

Third, she said, it will enable both institutions to launch a major, national marketing campaign to attract students and fourth, it will link both schools to the global economy.

In pursuing her campaign to purchase Vermont College, Sturnick says she was aware of competition from other institutions who were vying with T.U.I. To acquire Vermont College. "It was literally heating up day by day," she said.

Sturnick and delegations of trustees, faculty members and a few key undergraduate and graduate students from T.U.I. made three site visits to Vermont College in recent weeks. Sturnick said the T.U.I. delegations were profoundly affected their encounters here.

"People in Montpelier and Vermont embraced us, challenged us, lifted our enthusiasms," Sturnick said.

About the convergence of T.U.I. And Vermont College, she said, "This is absolutely right. This is a fit." She said that when she and her delegation met with people in Vermont and Montpelier "we felt we were talking to intellectual colleagues who believed in the social mission as we did. It felt intellectually," she said, "as if we were coming home."

Letter from Union President Judith A. Sturnick, to "Friends of The Union Institute"

April 17, 2001
Dear Friend of The Union Institute:

I wanted you to be among the first to receive some wonderful news.

After several months of in-depth exploration, careful analysis, and on-site visits by the senior administration, faculty representatives, and members of the Board of Trustees, it is my great pleasure to announce that The Union Institute will serve as the new steward of Vermont College, another institution with a distinguished history and reputation as a leader in progressive adult education. It is a classic case of two institutions with parallel missions and values uniting to strengthen each other.

Just as two lenses that make up a pair of glasses act in synergy to create improved sight, the pairing of two cutting-edge institutions brings our vision for the future into sharp focus, and provides countless opportunities for program development and faculty enrichment. Among other enhancements, The Union Institute gains Vermont College’s highly respected master’s programs, in many instances taught by faculty who earned their doctorates at The Union Institute! In addition, the Vermont College campus provides The Union Institute with another beautiful, historic setting in which to hold seminars, colloquia, and other events.

If you would like to read more about this exciting new chapter in The Union Institute's history, please log on to More information will follow in our university publications and other mailings. In the meantime, I hope you will join me in wholeheartedly welcoming Vermont College into our university family, as we continue to hone our vision of The Union Institute as a leader in fulfilling the academic dreams of adults around the globe.

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