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The Future of UVM

02/20/02 12:00AM By Tom Slayton

Fortunately, UVM's acting president Edwin Colodny, has pulled the University of Vermont out of its recent nosedive and is ready to turn the state university over to another competent manager, Daniel Fogel of LSU. That's the good news. The bad news is that that the state university's underlying financial problems have not gone away, and must be Fogel's foremost concern when he takes office this summer.

Although it is called the University of Vermont, in many ways UVM is structured as much like a private school as a public one.

Nearly half the members of its governing board of trustees have no official ties to the state Legislature or government. They function like the trustees of any private college. And more than half of UVM's student body now hails from out-of-state. Vermont students are a minority at the University of Vermont.

One reason for that? UVM has the highest in-state tuition of any state university. And one reason for that is that UVM receives the lowest level of state financial support of any public university in the country.

Combine meager state support with UVMs relatively meager endowment, and higher tuition emerges as a necessity, just to pay the bills.

Thus Daniel Fogel, the newly appointed president of UVM, has his work cut out for him -- and that work is largely financial. More than UVM's rebellious, recently unionized faculty, more than its ponderous administrative bureaucracy, more than its unfairly tattered national reputation, the core problems at UVM are financial.

In fact, it could be said that most of its other problems stem directly from UVM's shaky finances -- from its limited endowment and the fact that the State of Vermont has perennially failed to adequately fund the University's budget.

Here's a prediction: UVM will not get much more money out of the state Legislature --probably not even all of the $1.5 million increase proposed by Gov. Howard Dean. It's a tight budget year and the current Legislature doesn't seem inclined to spend scarce taxpayer dollars on higher education.

Since more state money is not in the offing and since tuition really can't be raised much higher, or UVM will lose even more students to competing private colleges, UVM's new President, will have to seek private donations to build UVM's endowment.

And what that most likely means is that UVM will become even more of a private university than it is already. Watch for a proposal to increase the number of private "self-perpetuating" trustees on the UVM board and a "reassessment" of UVM's relationship to the State of Vermont.

Will it make any difference to Vermonters that their state university will likely become essentially a private school? And will it make any difference to UVM that it will have become less a part of the vital educational infrastructure of the State of Vermont?

Those questions remain unanswered at this point. Perhaps the new president, Daniel Fogel will be the one to answer them.

--Tom Slayton lives in Montpelier and is the editor of Vermont Life Magazine.

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