Students, businesses in ‘turmoil’ over Cazenovia College closing
CAZENOVIA — It’s been a whirlwind of emotions in the village as one of its core businesses, Cazenovia College, announced it will be closing its doors after the spring semester.
Over 700 students preparing for finals week found out on Wednesday morning that their future at Cazenovia College would be getting cut short.
A representative from the college reported that there are currently 560 full-time and 186 part-time students, along with approximately 210 faculty and staff.
“Everyone’s freaking out and feeling really insecure,” a Cazenovia College sophomore told the Daily Sentinel.
The student said the email announcing the college’s closing was sent at 11 a.m., and then a meeting was held at 2 p.m. for all students with the president of the college, which included about 70 attendees via Zoom, the student said.
“Everybody had questions,” but there weren’t many answers, the student said.
On top of sharing personal concerns, like for those of them taking a gap year, the sophomore said many of their classmates were just as concerned about the teachers and programs, too.
“What about the teachers that have been here for 20 plus years and have a family to provide for and they’re losing their job? What about the equine facility?” were a few of the questions students had, according to the source.
“This is my personal fear — I think that everybody at the school is going to start causing chaos. I think kids are going to start taking things and just being really disruptive,” the sophomore student shared. “I feel like they’re not doing a very good job at making us feel secure. They’re not really giving us the individual attention.”
Some students have been calling for finals to be canceled. Many have felt, “what’s the point?,” the sophomore shared.
“It’s a challenging time, I don’t know how to feel,“ said Claudia Waltz, a senior at Cazenovia College. “At first I didn’t think it was actually going to close down, I thought it was just a rumor.”
When it appeared to be the truth, she feared for her ability to graduate in the spring of 2023, but she has been assured by the college that that will still happen. Underclassmen will have a lot more to deal with, she said.
“My roommate is actually a junior, and she’s having a hard time figuring out where she wants to go because her major isn’t offered at many other colleges, and a lot of the colleges that she’s looking to transfer to are a lot more expensive than Caz,” Waltz shared.
She added, “I always wanted to go back and see my friends and everything after I graduated, but obviously that’s not going to be able to happen now.”
Local businesses react
“It’s a lot of turmoil for a thousand people,” said Mark Biviano, owner of Loka Leaf Tea Lounge. “Very sad for them. I mean, they dedicated their life going here, and now it’s all in an uproar. Some of them probably might lose a whole year of their life having to repeat classes someplace else.”
Biviano said a tight-knit village like Cazenovia is affected when anyone in the community isn’t doing well, let alone a nearly 200-year-old institution.
“It’s scary to see what’s going to happen in the future,” said Caroline Vagnone, director of The Key. “Everyone I think is kind of on the same page with that. We just don’t know. Everything is uncertain.”
The Key is a nonprofit whose proceeds support other local organizations, relying heavily on volunteers and donations. The Cazenovia College fashion program funneled a lot of interns and other support into the little consignment/thrift shop. The college also facilitated tons of clothing drives, often resulting in as much as 20 to 30 bags of donations that benefited The Key. The fashion program also recently launched “Look Again,” a section inside The Key featuring upcycled merchandise created by fashion students, which was a big draw, Vagnone said.
“I know that we’ll be affected by [the college closing]. As everyone will be. So it’s very scary and unnerving.”
Vagnone said about 5-10% of their revenue base is tied to the college, with big bumps coming in during parent weekend and move-in time.
She continued, “I was shocked. But I think the pandemic kind of took a toll on all of us. All small businesses, the college. And it’s a little concerning because that was our main revenue for the town.”
She added, “But at the end of the day it is what it is. It’s a big lump sum that they owe. It’s unfortunate.”
“We’re sad,” said Judith Hight, owner of J.S. Hight Fine Wines and Spirits. “I think one of the saddest things is that the college has always been such a great partner to business. They’ve supported our businesses and we’ve supported them. And that partnership is a huge loss for Cazenovia. We just hope the students and employees have bright futures and that we are able to recraft the college so that it remains so significant to our identity as a village and community.”
“It’s an institution. And I don’t mean that literally, it’s a historic part of our town that has always been here. So it just feels really sad that it’s closing. It’s definitely going to leave a huge hole in the community in many different ways,” said Travis Barr, speaking as a resident, but also as co-owner of H. Grey Supply Co.
“I can’t say we get a huge turnout of students,” Barr shared from the business side. “And I think part of that is, my understanding is that a lot of the students are first generation college students, and I don’t think that they really have the money to spend on main street.”
He continued, “I feel like there’s always felt like there’s been a little bit of a divide as far as the student body goes from the college and the village. And part of me wonders if that plays a role in the low enrollment. Because if students don’t feel welcome here, why would you come here? And I’m not saying they don’t feel welcome, I don’t know that, but I’m just saying that there’s a divide.”
Not all businesses will be affected equally by the dramatic change to come. Caz Pizza owner Mike Musacchio said that the summer is actually the busiest time for his restaurant, largely thanks to the tourism brought in by Cazenovia Lake. This development with the college will not put his business in jeopardy, he said.
Purpose Coffee Co. wrote on its Instagram page, “The students and administrators have become such a special part of our day here.
We absolutely love having you. And to the students that put off that paper until the last minute, we loved caffeinating you to help push through.”
The post continued, “To my Purpose College kiddos — my heart hurts for you. These last few years have been hard enough. This last hurdle just seems so unfair to you. I don’t have the answers, but I can promise you that you will not only succeed but you will thrive wherever you land next.”
Village of Cazenovia Mayor Kurt Wheeler stated, “The college has been at the core of our village for nearly two centuries and its closure will have an enormous impact, not only economically, but culturally and personally. The faculty, staff, and students of the college are our neighbors and are all valued members of our community. We will keep them in our prayers as they navigate this transition. President Bergh and the rest of the college’s leadership team have been great partners and we will continue to work with them as we all look for the highest and best future use for the campus.”
As Cazenovia College is one of three higher-education institutions in Madison County, the Madison County chairman, John Becker, also weighed in. “I am very disappointed to hear that Cazenovia College will be closing its doors after 199 years next year. The closure of the college will not only impact Cazenovia Colleges students, faculty, staff, and alumni, but also the economy of the Town of Cazenovia and all of Madison County. Our college students are a part of our community. Unfortunately, the closure of the college is not a surprise, sadly, this may not be the only institution or business we hear that will close its doors due to the current economy. Thank you to Cazenovia College for everything you have done for our community over the years.”
At the forefront of those bearing the news are those currently attending and working at the college, but alumni and other college partners must also face losing a network and place of purpose they’ve so cherished.
Cazenovia College Class of 2014 Alumna Alex Hazard shared on social media, “For most, going to college is the best four 4 years of their life. But, if you were lucky enough to go to Cazenovia College — those 4 years most likely have been extended into a lifetime of opportunities, experiences, and most of all, friendships. A 200-year tradition turning into an exclusive club.
Only we, its alumni, get to know what the uniquely special experience of being a Wildcat is. While you were probably sad to hear of the college’s closing — let’s instead celebrate the memories, the history, and the family that is Cazenovia College.”
Hope for the future
While some are already feeling the loss that is to come, others are hopeful for what the future could hold.
“I’m a business person, and I know that this is a setback, but all those facilities are going to be gobbled up by somebody. Something will come into the community, whether it’s another school or could be elderly housing, I don’t know. But something will move in,” Biviano said.
Barr said he is hopeful that this isn’t the end, too. “I just can’t imagine that that would just be left to turn into a wasteland.”
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