Shared with the permission Allison Despathy.
Originally published in the Vermont Daily Chronicle.
Feature image from this op-ed.
A library without books is an oxymoron” proclaimed a wise elder at the Northern Vermont University, (NVU) Lyndonville campus this past Friday. NVU hosted an open forum after the overwhelmingly negative community response to the Vermont State University’s controversial decision to shift libraries to “all-digital.” NVU Provost Nolan Atkins, Vermont State University’s (VSU) President Parwinder Grewal, and Vice President of Admissions Maurice Ouimet were present to listen to the concerns of the attendees who came to stand up, push back and ensure their voices were heard regarding this shocking announcement. The consensus was unanimous – this was unacceptable. Both faculty and staff unions issued a vote of “no confidence.”
Speeches at NVU on Friday covered many legitimate concerns- censorship, students’ needs for guidance from librarians and human interaction with material, engaged staff and a dedicated space. With strong emotions, students voiced their need for hands on books, valid information, and librarians. Issues related to the health detriments of excessive screen time and student’s documented disabilities due to this were also part of the conversation – What is a university without a library? – was the burning question.
The themes conveyed by faculty, staff, students and community members centered around broken trust and lack of communication, compassion and integrity. Many have been working tirelessly in committees to ensure a smooth transition towards an end product that serves all involved. It has been a bumpy road and this announcement to move to an “all-digital” library shattered any hope and trust that had been built through this VSU transformation process.
This unprecedented move has stirred up valid conflict of interest questions regarding the role of Megan Cluver, Vermont State College System’s (VSCS) current Vice Chair and Chair of the Education, Personnel and Student Life Committee. Megan Cluver is also a senior manager at Deloitte. She has worked with the Deloitte Higher Education Team for over fifteen years assisting universities with their transformation efforts. This fact has been rumbling and whispered in the background. With the recent announcement of an “all-digital” library, Cluver’s Deloitte connection has surfaced and questions regarding her influence and intentions on this decision now demand full attention.
Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited’s (2) main headquarters are in London, England. They are the largest professional services provider and are one of the ‘Big Four’ accounting firms. As of 2022, Deloitte employs 415,000 people and grossed 59.3 billion US dollars.
On their website, Deloitte shares their purpose:
“Making an impact matters, together. All our successes, the differences we make for our clients, our people, and in our communities around the glob, come down to our purpose: to make an impact that matters. It is this simple statement that defines each decision, each connection, and drives us – always. To uphold integrity and promote a culture of inclusion. To build better futures.”
Deloitte’s offered services include- Audit and Assurance, Consulting, Financial Advisory, Risk Advisory, Legal, Tax and Deloitte Private. Deloitte serves a wide variety of industries across all sectors including: consumer based, energy resources and industrial, financial services, government and public services, life science and health care as well as technology, media and telecommunications.
On their technology web page, it states:
“Fueled by emerging technologies and trends such as AI, anything-as-a-service (XaaS), cloud, and edge computing, the technology industry continues to define our ever-dynamic future. We provide a network of industry specialists and innovative solutions to help you thrive.”
Deloitte lists its strategic alliances and partnerships with Google, Oracle, SAP (an “intelligent, cloud-enabled enterprise), ServiceNow (digitized platform to enable re-imagined workflows), Workday (data analytics to promote progress and efficiency).
Specifically on their Deloitte Digital – Bring your business to its next level of digital maturity – website page, It states,
“Digital technology has changed the face of business as we know it. Deloitte Digital is here to help you use it to your advantage. Our services help you advance customer -and design-centric thinking throughout your organization, from strategy through execution.”
“Deloitte Digital combines Deloitte’s globally recognized strength in business transformation and technology implementation with the capabilities of a world class digital agency. We can support your organization across the digital life cycle –from working to define a bold digital strategy to designing and building your online and mobile presences. – using agile methods that move quickly from digital concept to digital reality. Use our innovative mobile, web, and social solutions to increase the impact of digital for your customers, employees and partners.”
Megan Cluver is a high ranking Deloitte consultant with access to a wide variety of Deloitte’s digital services. This coupled with the fact that Cluver is also working in an influential position on the VSCS board has raised red flags for many. Questions related to the intention behind the hybrid university and “all-digital” library decisions, who will host the platforms and if it will actually serve the students and community are at the forefront. Based on the high level of petition signatures, rallies and push back across the state – many agree it will not.
Another question relating to integrity involves a YouTube video entitled,The Future of Hybrid U- Meeting the Needs of NKUs Students in a Hybrid Environment. This video was moderated by Dr. Ashish Vaidya, President of Northern Kentucky University and recorded on November 18, 2021. Cluver took part in this panel discussion as a Deloitte representative, national leader in higher education, and a VSCS board member.
The concept of the hybrid university was brewing at Deloitte in the summer of 2020. Conversations about “how we could take advantage of some of these emergency measures for long term good?” surfaced in this video which was utilized to promote the hybrid university model to colleges and organizations. What has many concerned was the fact that at the time of this video, the hybrid model for VSU had not yet emerged. Faculty and staff were informed that the hybrid university model was developed from surveys and conversations with Vermont stakeholders.
Was there an existing plan in place and to what degree is Megan or her work with Deloitte influencing the VSCS decision regarding the development of the hybrid model and the future of education in Vermont? At this time, these are the questions needing scrutiny as many seek to ensure that sound policy, serving students and a well-rounded and sustainable educational model are the priorities of the decision making process for the future of VSU.
In this video, Megan emphasizes the significance of students, specifically stating:
“I think what is most important to think about here is really to come back to the student at the center…. How does the student perceive and want to experience a hybrid student campus and that’s different than how faculty may want to perceive it or what parent’s may have as a perspective. So those different stakeholders are all important in the conversation but you need to identify who the most important stakeholder is and I would posit that that truly is the student.”
Based on this statement and after witnessing the reaction from students regarding the “all-digital” library. Many hold hope that their needs and opinions will be taken into account as the decision is revisited. On Friday, President Grewal stated a regroup would happen after input was gathered from the open forums.
At the 2022 Educause conference in Denver, CO, Megan Cluver took part in the “Tech Roles and the Future of Work” session. As reported in EdTech Magazine,
“Cluver suggested thinking about the future of work in three parts: work, workplace and workforce. –When considering the work itself, determine what tasks will be performed by machines versus humans. How can technology help in fulfilling the overall mission? Are their instances where tasks can be automated to lessen the burden on workers? Cluver said this could be seen as a shift from a “build” culture” to a “buy” culture where software applications are outsourced to vendors.”
This could easily equate to a loss of human interaction, human connection and jobs. This thought process also raises the question of workforce development versus education. There is clearly a role for both but they are significantly different, -it is apparent that the VSU community is demanding education, that is actually why many attend a university.
Cluver also stated, “We’re thinking about the requirements for skills versus the requirements for degrees, and whether those skill requirements are evolving as the role of IT teams is evolving over time…” Options within these realms would be ideal. There is an international trend towards unpacking education and gaining skills and badges for lifelong learning instead of a well-rounded, traditional education. Training a corporate workforce is not education. Ensuring options and classical education for students will be an essential task for educators and administration moving forward.
Ultimately, Cluver’s association with Deloitte and their digital services and hybrid university model have led to questions relating to integrity and trust and the resulting need to ensure that all are acting in good faith and for the benefit of the VSCS community. Many acknowledge that technology and digital services are tools that can serve but they are limited in their capacity to offer a well-rounded education. Situations exist in which educational experiences are compromised with digital technologies. The VSU team is at a crossroads and faces pivotal decisions about what types of technology and to what extent technology should play a role in their new model. The VSU community is clearly demanding conversation and active participation in this decision.
Deloitte is a leader in Blockchain and Digital Assets, Social Impact Investing, Digital Twins(2), Web3, Facial Recognition, Artificial Intelligence and Analytics , and the Spatial Web. They hold partnerships with companies such as Ultimate Software (Nasdaq:ULTI), a leader in human capital markets. Urgent questions and concerns exist regarding these ethically, controversial tech services. The predatory possibilities of these highly unregulated, financially profitable technologies have many on high alert. As the hybrid model university based on digitalization evolves and brings with it a need for tools and services, awareness that these may compromise education, human rights, jobs and experiences versus enhancing them is paramount.
Digital services require data, the most sought after ‘commodity’ at this time. Human data is an infinite, extractive resource and with a growing data economy comes a wild-west, type charge for companies and institutions to gain access to data and control over user platforms and dashboards which manage and gather this highly valuable data “commodity”. The technological and financial possibilities related to data are exponentially growing and the demand has forced many to seek the supply in all ways possible – including ethically questionable means.
Hybrid universities require significant digital services and technologies in order to function and operate effectively. These are often sourced out, and whether Deloitte or their strategic partners will provide these services is a key question on the table. Many are examining the integrity around the “all-digital” library decision and demanding a thorough assessment of repercussions, which many claim did not include their input. Trends should not be the defining factor in such a far reaching and impactful decision. Trends come and go, but a good education is forever. – A comprehensive analysis, honest conversations and transparency for all involved is necessary.
People are passionately and fiercely communicating their human rights and needs to interact with each other with real books in real places. They are seeking real education in the real world. Digital technology in its many forms is a tool that can augment the learning experience and access but it is very apparently not the world that students want to fully immerse themselves in for their educational and life experiences. Human connection, real books and real education are at the forefront of the message here, people are choosing reality, humanity and wisdom. Vermont State University would be wise to listen to the students, staff, faculty and community members. As the transient technology trends push out the human aspect of education, VSU would attract more students who seek human connectIon, balance and books.
Alison Despathy, Guest Contributor