PLAINFIELD — Goddard College President Barbara Vacarr has announced she will step down in December due to family reasons.
Vacarr, who began her tenure as president in 2010, announced her resignation in a joint statement with the board of trustees released Thursday. Per the statement, Vacarr will stay on as president until Dec. 31.
Tino O’Brien, vice chairman of the board of trustees, said Vacarr, who was unavailable for comment, made the decision this week because of health concerns within her family.
In a statement, Vacarr said, “In this challenging time of national economic and enrollment concerns for higher education, I remain focused on the issues paramount to Goddard’s mission. However, I have concluded that I must also pay more attention to the personal challenges facing close family members. Therefore, I look forward to working with the board in leaving the college moving ahead. I am grateful for the opportunity to lead such a wonderful institution.”
O’Brien said Vacarr’s daughter recently had a baby by cesarean section and developed an infection. O’Brien said the daughter has been fighting the infection for more than two weeks and has recently returned home to meet her baby for the first time.
On top of her daughter’s health issues, O’Brien said, Vacarr’s stepmother was recently hospitalized due to early dementia and increasing physical ailments. This has caused Vacarr to take in her 92-year-old father.
O’Brien said he was sad and disappointed that Vacarr, who was under contract until 2015, is leaving.
“She’s a very energetic, committed, hardworking person,” he said. “She’s the reason I came on the board (in 2011). ... Golly, it’s a shame that she’s leaving.”
Now that the school has to find a replacement for Vacarr, O’Brien said it has to figure out whether to hire an interim president to take over in January or go into a full-scale search to have the school’s next president ready to go by the start of the year.
Faculty and staff at the school declined to comment on Vacarr’s resignation, saying the news had come too soon and they weren’t prepared to talk about it.
Over the past year, Vacarr has had a rough go in her position at the school. The school is in the middle of union negotiations with the staff and new contracts for the faculty. In the days and weeks leading up to the staff voting to unionize in January, some staff members felt the administration was discouraging them from joining UAW Local 2322 with the faculty.
The union also looked into the firing of one of its members and whether it was related to an anonymous letter that was published and circulated that highlighted employees’ issues with Vacarr, including appointments she made to her administration.
A biomass heating plant the school is planning to build has also been a bone of contention with some in Plainfield who do not want the plant built in the planned location and have taken the issue to the state’s Environmental Court to keep the plant from being built.
As recently as last month, Vacarr sat down with The Times Argus to explain that the school was facing a deficit and would have to impose pay cuts to some faculty and staff.
Plainfield Select Board Chairman David Strong wished Vacarr well and said the board has “enjoyed working with (Vacarr) and has been impressed with her commitment to bridging the gap between the college and the community.”
Strong said that since Vacarr took over, she has made sure to have a representative at the board’s meetings regularly, which showed to him a willingness for communication and collaboration and a sign of respect.
He said under Vacarr’s tenure, the school has offered unused space on the campus for an arts organization for the community and given money to causes like the Town Hall renovations and the fire and rescue squad. All of those things, Strong said, were not happening before Vacarr arrived.
“Hopefully, her successor will continue on that path,” he said.
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