Ergathon raises over $10K to protect Vassar Rowing; Dean Kitzinger’s axed email below

November 20, 2009 by

This is the email justification for the rowing program being cut that was sent out by Dean Kitzinger. The rowers did manage to raise over $10,000 in funds that will be used to protect rowing at Vassar for the time being. I’m trying to find out more details but in the meantime, not the continued emphasis on changing the face of Vassar forever and not as budget-tightening temporary means…changing the Vassar experience forever to….what, save some money?

In the meantime, congrats to those hardworking, fundraising VC rowers! And we’re kinda jealous…Maybe we can have a poem-a-thon? Not the same.

Dear Alumnae and Alumni,

As you may have seen in the Misc or heard from a friend, Vassar has taken the difficult decision to transform rowing into a club sport. I wanted to give you a little context for this decision and to explain in some more detail what opportunities there will be for rowers at Vassar.

If you have been reading President Hill’s emails, you know that Vassar is undertaking a series of permanent changes to spending at the college to ensure that we achieve financial equilibrium for the future health of the college. These decisions are not about temporary, belt-tightening changes. The Department of Athletics and Physical Education has been considering for months how to participate in this college-wide effort. They considered a number of options, including across-the-board cuts for all teams. But significant cuts to all the teams would seriously impair the ability of the teams to compete. So it was clear to the department that it should consider reducing the number of varsity teams. The three criteria they agreed upon, none of which is more important than any of the others, are the overall cost of the program, the recruiting and retention of athletes in the program, and the college’s ability to provide a serious alternative for athletes engaged in the sport. We considered every team. With reluctance we came to the conclusion that rowing would have to change, based on these criteria.

Of central importance to us in making this decision was our confidence that we could provide a serious and competitive rowing experience, if we changed the team from a varsity to a club sport. We had this confidence because we have worked closely with the Hudson River Rowing Association to imagine how we could partner with them and possibly with other colleges in the area to create a larger competitive context for Vassar’s team. HRRA has excellent facilities, a strong commitment from enthusiastic life-time rowers, and the serious dedication of the director of HRRA to rowing as a competitive sport. Although we continue to be very interested in exploring this partnership, some members of the team asked us to work with them to develop a plan for a club sport run independently of HRRA. We will be working with the team to develop both of these options over the course of the year. Vassar’s varsity rowing coach, Rodney Mott, has indicated his willingness to consider staying on for a year to help with the transition.

We would welcome your thoughts as we continue the planning. We are trying to be imaginative and careful in making a change which, though driven by financial necessity, is also guided by our knowledge of how important rowing is for many current students and alumnae/i.

Rachel Kitzinger
Dean of Planning and Academic Affairs


Adios Hudson Valley rowers

November 15, 2009 by

VC rowing team axed. I’m trying to get ahold of Dean Rachel Kitzinger’s email regarding the justifications for downgrading the rowing team fro a varsity competing team to a club team.

This same Dean Kitzinger of the we-used-to-have-a-classics-dept-till-this-damn-recession.

Cappy, can you please take a 10% pay cut and SAVE OUR SCHOOL?

Social Media for Vassar Activists

October 31, 2009 by

I rote this about a week ago then procrastinated on publishing…more relevant now, maybe, than it would have been then. Please distribute, copy, forward, tag, make suggestions, revise, contribute and help create new guidelines for sharing our message! -L

One thing that we can all do is get the message out there through any channel possible. Of course there are many channels on campus, but looking to the Internet allows us to reach a whole new vein of interested parties, from prospective students and faculty to alumns who represent Vassar in the world. While all of these people might be–and should be–very interested in the current events under Cappy’s time in office, many of them aren’t as aware of you of these details and some are outright ignorant. Which is where new media and technology come in…this is a jumping off point, a few ideas. I don’t have the time to invest myself fully in exploring the range of tools out there that are available to activists so if there is something I am missing, please add it on and find your own way of distributing this information.

Before I describe some basic tools, I’ll tell you why this matters.
Vassar is big and they have a lot of money and they have a lot of means to control the media outlets. Aside from the Misc who really cares? And what do we have as our advantage if we want to say “hey, you people controlling the discourse? You are leaving a lot of things out! People need to hear about this!” We sneak in the cracks, wherever they are, and we post our message. And when we cover the internet or the walls of campus with a thousand tiny post-its saying “this is what we think about what you’re doing ad we’re not going to stand by silently” then our message gets out in all kinds of unexpected and wonderful ways. If you don’t believe me, then try one of these things and find a way to track it and tell me that no one is listening and that I’m wrong.

Blogs. The blog is a great library for chronicling past and present outlets. There are a few blogs that exist to chronicle Vassar news and a few of them right now are
Mads Vassar (
Fire at Vassar (
Vassar @ Blogsome (
Save Creative Writing (

If you want to follow these blogs, some of which are sporadically updates, you should do it in an RSS feed. The feed draws together daily updates from any blog you read and means that with one URL click you can see instantly what’s been updated and what’s going on. If you blog you should track visits to your blogs. WordPress offers detailed stats such as how many visitors per day, incoming links, phrases people used to find your blog etc, but Google Analytics also offers many of these if you aren’t using the WordPress platform. If you blog, you should absolutely promote every blog post to a wider audience by posting it on Twitter or on one or more of the following blog aggregator services:
Delicious (formerly

Blogher is slightly different but on all of these sites, you upload a link to your post, add a few relevant tags so users can get a quick feel for what you are talking about, and move on with your day. It’s simple and efficient and a good many people use these sites to filter their blog news. On Blogher, you upload a teaser to your blog post, link back to your blog and categorize it. This is a pretty short explanation for all of the above, but a quick visit to any of their websites should get you set.

Facebook. If you’re like me you’re on Facebook passively for a few hours a day. Maybe you check your group pages, maybe not. (I don’t). There are a couple of groups dedicated to campus activism including Vassar Hunger Strike and Don’t Let Vassar Silence Writers so join them if you haven’t already. As I’m sure you know, when you join the group it will post to your Facebook feed, thus reaching any friend of yours reading the feed.

Twitter. There isn’t a lot of Vassar activism on Twitter. I’m pretty certain of this because I periodically search for Vassar and not much comes up. Twitter is a great media tool to reach a wide audience and it’s well used by journalists, public radio show hosts, popular bloggers, etc. If you post to twitter, there are a couple of things you should know.
# – hashtag. If you are posting news about upcoming layoffs at Vassar, add a few hastags (#vassar, #layoffs and #economy) are a good place to start. This means that anyone searching Twitter for news of layoffs or Vassar will find your tweet.
@ – the twitter version of a shout-out. Maybe you’re tweeting something that the Misc or Poughkeepsie Journal or your friends would like to know. Make sure the item posts to their wall by forming a tweet that beings @username: ____ with your message in the blank.
Post news of events, rallies or links to other URLs on Twitter. To track and shorten your URLs use a service such as or is nice because is tracks your clickthroughs, so you can see that 50 people followed your link to a recent Misc article, etc.

YouTube. There are people with stupid office jobs who watch YouTube videos every day and forward them to their friends. I know this because they’re my friends and I get their videos. When you are uploading a video to YouTube you have the option of adding a description at the top. Use this to offer a clear and succinct update of what’s going on written toward the user who knows absolutely nothing. You can also add tags to your YouTube video that enable users to better find your video in searches. For example if I were uploading Cappy’s super-disturbing convocation speech

You may be puzzled by the Writers but we’re also puzzled by you.

October 29, 2009 by

Kathleen Hart, a French professor at Vassar, published this curious editorial today in the Misc. Unless she published it in February {if anyone from the Misc is reading I’m not sure what the difference between “published” and “updated” is especially when no one’s commented on this piece}

Says Professor Hart:
I am puzzled by the articles deploring the loss of a few creative writing teachers in the English department, at a time when nearly every department on campus will be losing some of its visiting instructors. A professor of English is quoted saying that the remaining English teachers will be “unhappy” teaching literature in addition to creative writing. How can one be “unhappy” teaching literature to Vassar students?

I can only assume that the original article actually suggests that the lit professors (you know, those with PhD’s as opposed to MFA’s, with the exception of Paul Russell who has both) would be unhappy teaching writing, not that the writers would be unhappy teaching literature because with the general exception of 101/170 courses most Creative Writing profs DON’T teach lit classes, least not in my Vassar days.

There is no place like Vassar. This is my dream job
, writes Professor Hart. I imagine we’re all in agreement here. Most faculty members I know feel pretty lucky to be at Vassar.

But all good times must come to an end, right Professor? Like other colleges across the nation, Vassar had to let go a larger than usual number of visiting faculty. The English department would have liked to hire even more creative writing teachers than it already has, but that might have created imbalance in other important areas of the curriculum.

Correct me again if I am wrong but after several lengthy conversations with members of the English department and one of its two co-chairs I really, highly doubt that the English department thought for a second about hiring more teachers, given the economics of the last year and a half. I would bet my unfinished manuscript on it, in fact. Professor Hart, what conversation exactly with an English department colleague left you with this impression?

And, lastly, you write that, regarding students (who are so delicate, lil things, let’s protect them) Some of them will want to take creative writing, but others will want to take Chemistry, Music, Anthropology, Chinese, Cognitive Science or Environmental Studies.

If you had taken a Creative Writing class, you would see that most of the slots in 205 Comp classes are not reserved for English majors or would-be writers. Anyone in the college community, whether they count themselves a physics, psych, or poli sci major, can take a writing class and the demand far exceeds the supply. Why don’t you ask your French students for their opinions on the matter?

All Campus Organizing Meeting 10/27

October 23, 2009 by

Just got this email, passing it on:

I just wanted to send a quick message letting everybody know that we’ll be holding a second all-campus meeting, this upcoming Tuesday, October 27, at 8pm in Rocky 200. We tried to find a space more suitable to the type of equal discussion we had last time, but this was the only large space available.

Some things to discuss: Last Wednesday’s demonstration; the meeting with the Board of Trustees; a possible meeting with administration to clarify the demands; exhibit going up in the College Center on Nov. 4th; and where to go from here, among other topics.

Vassar’s Dubious Top 10 Award

October 21, 2009 by

Vassar College earned the vaunted #10 spot on the Consumerist’s list of 100 Most Expensive Colleges. The list placed fellow New York state schools Sarah Lawrence and NYU and #1 and 2 respectively, with Johns Hopkins at #6 and Georgetown at #7.

The annual cost of a year at VC? $50,875. A cost that slightly less than 50% of students will have to pay, since–as Cappy likes to state at every opportunity–she’s been able to increase the percentage of students who receive need blind admission. Financial aid, as alumns like myself, faculty and students at Vassar know, is a BIG priority of Cappy’s.

From Vassar and the Economy: “The percentage of entering freshmen on financial aid has increased significantly beginning with the class of 2010, rising from 45.8 % to 52.6% (class of 2011) to 55.9% (class of 2012) to a projected 60.0% (class of 2013).”

What Cappy has never been able to answer to my satisfaction–and if someone has seen her address this issue, please, let me know–is the discrepancies between the rising cost of Vassar admission (which I’m sure is mostly in line with that of other colleges), the increased financial aid and the changes at the faculty and staff levels. With all of these changes, what exactly is Vassar becoming?

A place where the drive up Raymond Avenue showcases roundabouts with seasonal flowers and the dorms have skylights? A place where Collegeview has larger sidewalks and fewer parking spaces for Arlington residents? A place where more students receive financial assistance to get an education from a faculty that’s terrified of getting laid off or where professors are covering areas that aren’t exactly of their expertise because the budget’s tight? Is it too much to ask Cappy for a verbal commitment to maintaining the academic excellence of Vassar on all levels by sourcing a richly diverse and highly qualified cadre of professors and a fully equipped support staff so that Vassar’s future students, regardless of financial aid status, can receive a Vassar education that’s worth a different Top 10 award?

(Vassar’s actually #11 right now in the US News and World Report rankings, which have the tuition at a far different number than Consumerist’s…$41,930)

it’s been a long fall…

October 15, 2009 by

More staff cuts in the last couple of weeks, with Cappy looking to finalize a budget for the next academic year by February.

From the Misc: Students and faculty react to the news of 13 staff members being let go. English professor Donald Foster speaks out against the administration’s status quo and suggests, as many students do, that upper level admin take pay cuts instead of passing the buck. Cappy fires back that his numbers are false and that high level admin people can’t take pay cuts because they’ll leave and go elsewhere, with the unspoken correlation being that all of these staff VC’s been shedding are totally replacable and untalented themselves.

More interesting than the above recap are the comments on the article from VC students AND anonymous faculty that offer snarky remarks and broad defenses of Cappy (she gives out student aid) or Foster/the faculty (liberal colleges should employ liberal ideals and not fire low-wage workers in a recession in Poughkeepsie, not exactly a hotbed of job opportunities).

and one more about the recent demonstrations in protest of the latest staff cuts, where a faculty member accuses students of more activism on the part of staff than faculty.

What’s up, VC? Lots of snarky discourse. I don’t think the students who support the staff support the faculty any less or even make that decision but it does seem a fair amount of those in the college community might not care who may be forced to leave as long as their education/financial aid/level of comfort isn’t affected.

Elsewhere in Academia: Harvard Cuts 275 Jobs

June 26, 2009 by
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image by chaval brasil

Now I love to hate Harvard. I’ll fess up. But here’s a good reason to look askance at Cambridge’s Kingdom of Snobbery. This week Harvard cut 275 jobs due to endowment losses. This after the Allston housing-relocation project came to a standstill in an effort to save money. Layoff Tracker notes that Harvard Prez Drew Faust states less than 2% of total employees are affected by these layoffs and additional reduction on hours for 40 staffers. Writes Layoff Tracker:

“Harvard’s endowment fell 22% at the end of 2008 to $28.7 billion, and is expected to drop 30% in the fiscal year that ends this month. By state law, schools can only spend endowment gains, not the principle. Harvard has already frozen salary, cut budgets and slowed construction on a science complex in Allston.”

One the one hand it’s nice to say that Vassar’s not alone, times are tough. It sucks.

Dispatch from the English Dept: Kiese Laymon Blogs About Cuts

June 22, 2009 by

So we’re having a little bit of a summer break over here, for the most part, except for reporting on gross or disturbing news as it happens (as, dios mio, I’m sure it will).

Kiese Laymon reflects upon the mood in the halls of the English department in his most recent blog posts.

Laymon writes that :
I’ve been on the tenure track at Vassar College for the last 5 years. And every night of those five years, I expect that tomorrow my Vassar apartment, my Vassar job, the Vassar part of my home will come tumbling down in the form of a pink slip. Every time I get a cryptic email from the dean of faculty, a generous email my chairs or a knowing glance from the President, I think, “Oh shit. How am I gonna break it to my Grandma and them that these white folks are taking away my check?”

Take time to read the post, whish is richer and more sorrowful and more wise than the simple issues here at SAVE Creative Writing.

Laymon follows up that post with a second post about the issue of race in the English Department. He admits that cuts need to happen in the Department, and that he expects them to happen, that as one of the largest departments at Vassar, English *should* give up some positions.

Unlike the “cuts are inevitable” drivel that Cappy tosses off, Laymon levels honestly with his audience. Make cuts, he says, but not cuts that reduce that quality of departmental instruction. Take away hours, not positions.

Kudos to Kiese Laymon for writing so passionately and provocatively about the position of the Vassar officials. I’ll leave you with one more passage from Laymon’s blog, which touches on the artificial dichotomies some have tried to paint between new/old, in/out, race and status.

“The recent hires of color are the result of excellence on the part of the individual hires and an institutional reckoning on the part of the college. The English department, as a part of the institution, has done some departmental reckoning of who are, where we are and who we want to be. It’s been painful and we, no doubt, need to do a lot more. But I’d like … you to know that those hires who you claim have “ballooned” and/or “overpopulated” the English department and Vassar College are The English department and Vassar College. We are at the center of the English department bringing quality to our classes, our publishing and our service.

We are at the center of the college, just like you. And as centered folks aspiring to quality, excellence and transformation in this trying time, I want you to know that both of your comments implicitly neglected what we bring to Vassar, our home. Your comments, at best, reduce us to numbers and something called diversity. At worst, your comments conflated us, ironically, to the evidence of inequity. We are colleagues, not evidence.”

Dispatch from the Hunger Strike

May 13, 2009 by

A student on campus sent me the following report. I’ve also secured photos of the May 12 Rally courtesy of Ariel Hulley and those are posted after the tipster’s report.

We, a broad coalition of Vassar students and student organizations, planned a rally for Tuesday, May 12. The administration believed that May Day was it, and we were done. They were wrong. On Friday, May 8th, we went to President Catherine Bond Hill’s office and had a chat. Some choice comments from President Hill included that summer cuts would “look like peanuts” come next fall. And that despite there not being any money in the Vassar coffers to maintain the staff that maintain the school, Catherine Bond Hill could get a raise from the Board of Trustees, if she wanted to. She also commented that the college should not be “the middle man” between faculty and students wanting staff to have jobs.
We don’t believe that the school is the “middleman;” the school has a responsibility to the community it houses. We gave President Hill our list of demands, and left, telling her to read them carefully, and get back to us.
On Sunday, May 10, we put on our Sunday best to picket outside of a Mother’s Day Brunch. We wanted the alumna/e and parents attending to know that mothers also work in our kitchens, clean our dorms, and maintain the campus. We handed out Mother’s Day cards that we thought were especially informative. Security drove by many times, but could find nothing wrong at all with what we were doing.
We then marched to the roundabout at the corner where our school meets the Town of Poughkeepsie. We stood silently holding our signs (Cappy Needs a Paycut/Job Security for Campus Workers) for 45 minutes, then marched through the dining hall to announce yet another rally.

Today we had that rally, and it was well attended as we walked through campus, and let the administration know that we were back. We also marched alongside the college, blocking traffic on College View, which drew the Poughkeepsie Police in remarkable force. Vassar Security also made an appearance, urging protestors to return to campus and keep their unrest out of the public eye. But Vassar College is not an island, and Poughkeepsie residents are being hit hard by Vassar’s decision to reduce employment. We will not keep our anger politely reigned in. President Hill cannot ruin lives without anyone knowing.

Unfortunately, President Hill was not in town, due to an illness in the family. But we’ll be waiting for her return. The hunger strike has been going on since noon on Tuesday, and the strikers, along with several supporters, are camped outside of the President’s office. We have the Colleges word that negotiations will begin at noon tomorrow. We are all waiting with anticipation.

The list of demands can be viewed here. Let’s wish them a productive dialogue in their negotiations. Tipster promises to keep us updated.

If you’d like to send letters of support to the hunger strikers you can do so at: maydayworkinggroup[at] Additionally, they have a facebook group to share information.

rally outside main building

rally outside main building