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Former Unity College faculty, alumni react to schools plan to decentralize

Earlier this week, Unity College announced it was transitioning to a hybrid learning model and looking at possibly selling the main campus site unless they see an increase in enrollment.
Changes at Unity College
Changes at Unity College(WABI)
Published: Aug. 6, 2020 at 5:16 PM EDT
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UNITY, Maine (WABI) - Earlier this week, Unity College announced it was transitioning to a hybrid learning model and looking at possibly selling the main campus site unless they see an increase in enrollment.

School officials believe the needs of students are changing and the school must change with them.

As TV5 found out, not everyone agrees.

We caught up with some alumni Thursday who are reeling from the news.

“We’re just floored. It was completely blindsiding for the whole town,” said Trevanion Grenfell, a graduate of Unity College.

“We understood that this year was going to be a little off because of COVID-19, and we were prepared to deal with that.,” explained Penny Picard Sampson, Chairwoman of the Unity Board of Selectmen. “We were not prepared to deal with the possibility that the campus might be permanently closed.”

Unity College alumni and town officials are reacting to the news that the college will shift permanently to a hybrid learning model.

The school is also laying off 15% percent of its workforce in order to maintain the financial integrity of their budget.

School officials say 11% of its workforce will also be furloughed with hopes of bringing them back as soon as its financially feasible.

Since Unity College is one of the largest contributors financially to the town, town officials say this news is devastating.

“We’re already working on a way to market the town as a great place to live with or without the college,” said Sampson.

“If this goes through, it will be devastating, and it will counter what the founders of the college had hoped for,” explained Unity College graduate, Aimee Dorval.

Many former employees and alumni are experiencing mixed feelings. However, many agree the president and the board are not looking out for their faculty and students’ best interest.

Unity College plans to decentralize, sell main campus
Unity College plans to decentralize, sell main campus

“The founders of the college founded the college to kind of jump start the local economy a little bit and respond to things during those times, and if we take that away, we’re just ripping out all of those foundations,” said Dorval.

Trevanion Grenfell and Stephanie Martinez, both alumni, agree. They felt it was important to speak out for current students and faculty.

“The faculty have felt more and more disrespected and disregarded under this administration, and that’s a huge problem. The faculty are in many ways the heart of the school, the faculty and students together,” said Grenfell.

While school officials say the change is necessary to keep the college running successfully, many alumni and faculty disagree that moving to a hybrid model is the best decision.

“At this point and time, now more than ever, we need the place-based, land connected, nature connected education that Unity has historically offered and can only be achieved through on-the-ground education. You can’t get it in a Zoom call,” said Grenfell.

Unity College officials hope this hybrid learning model will allow students to take control of their education while launching into their careers with half the debt most college students have to deal with.

Read Dr. Melik Peter Khoury’s letter to students and staff here.

"Unity College prides itself on treating both employees and students fairly, and ensuring a healthy, equitable environment for all is a top priority. While we know change is difficult, and we respect the opinions of everyone in our community, this cultural shift is an opportunity to innovate our programming. We are thrilled many of our employees are supportive of the new direction and optimistic about the opportunities it presents.

With regards to the Unity town leaders, we made an announcement on Monday about a decision the College is considering. The announcement was intended to be shared publicly so that College leadership can openly gather the internal and external information necessary to make an informed decision. We have been in communication with the chair of the select board since the announcement went out, and we fully intend to keep them updated.”

Unity College Officials

FAQ’s about Unity College’s Path Forward can be found here.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help faculty and staff who have been laid off.

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