• Letter to Goddard board
    August 27,2013

    Letter to Goddard board

    I am writing to express extreme disappointment at the news of Barbara Vacarr’s pending departure from Goddard. I live nearby in East Calais and I host “Rumble Strip Vermont,” a program at WGDR. I have a strong investment in Goddard’s success, and I was excited by Barbara’s energy and leadership. When I heard that she was stepping down, I was not surprised, given the challenges she’s faced since she started in 2010, but I was surprised at just how angry and disappointed I was.

    For many of us who are not part of the Goddard community, Barbara Vacarr was the first positive introduction to the school. I knew very little about Goddard College before Barbara’s tenure. It seemed insular, outdated, willfully eccentric and on financially tenuous ground. It seemed to be languishing, frankly. Barbara put Goddard back on the map that extends beyond campus borders. She made consistent efforts to help the school integrate with the community. She seemed to understand that there was real opportunity in inviting the outside world into the school and extending the school’s reach out into the community. The impulse seemed also shrewd, given that Goddard faces the same intense financial strain that all colleges face. If we don’t know about it, and we’re not invited to participate in it, why would we pay for it? Why would anyone go to Goddard?

    Barbara hired competent, effective people from our community to make great things happen. She was instrumental in opening an art space in downtown Montpelier. She was instrumental in starting the music series at the Haybarn, which has brought world-class performers to central Vermont. She jumped at the chance to collaborate with a local playwright to bring an exciting, professional play development program to the school. She was pursuing ways to extend WGDR’s presence on the national stage of community radio. She was actively pursuing new and creative ways to use the campus, for financial, educational and community gain.

    I only met her in person once. I was struck by her intelligence, her dynamism and her warmth. I thought, “How did we get her?” I thought, “When can I start working with her?” She is the kind of person who welcomes new ideas and knows how to shape them. She’s a natural leader.

    I am from the area, so of course I have heard the stories of what’s happened here. I recognize also that I am not a staff member so have not experienced her leadership in that way, and perhaps there is much nuance I’ve missed in the stories I’ve heard. Be that as it may, here’s a short list of my disappointments:

    I am appalled by the weird petulance displayed by Plainfield community members over the wood chip plant. I was impressed by her restraint and professionalism in dealing with this issue (nonissue).

    I was appalled to hear that there was resistance to Barbara’s moving her office to a more public-facing location on campus. She was hired to be a leader. Of course she should have an office befitting the leadership position — an office that also acts as a face of the school.

    I have heard about staff and faculty resistance to Vacarr’s emphasis on fundraising, anger over her hiring people to better market the school to the outside world. I have heard bitching about the way she organized the digital media conference. I have heard that certain staff and faculty feel the school doesn’t really need leadership — that the school would be better served by a kind of co-op leadership style. All of this — all of it — seems absurd beyond measure. Without strong, decisive leadership, long-term thinking, and the creative energy of someone like Barbara Vacarr, the staff and faculty at Goddard will find itself still arguing … while the doors close.

    Bring. Her. Back.

    Erica Heilman

    East Calais

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