Buckham fund to redistribute

What was the original intent of the Buckham fund?

The fund, used for years to underwrite the English department by paying for visiting writers and scholars to lecture and teach weeklong seminars, will now subsidize financial aid for English majors due to disagreement over the fund’s original wording. 

“It’s a fund that has helped a lot with the reputation of the department,” English professor Lokangaka Losambe said. “It has helped us recruit high level, quality professors. The Buckham fund benefitted the whole community.”

At its peak, the fund brought in notable figures like Stephen King, who amassed an audience of near 10,000, George Saunders, Stanly Fish and several other high profile writers to lecture and teach weeklong seminars dubbed “Buckham seminars,” said Associate Dean of the Honors College Lisa Schnell

In 2012, total costs for hosting visiting writers amounted to nearly $45,000 including meals and travel, which included paying for about 15 public events, 22 public speakers and a small annual conference, the Burlington Free Press reported. It was also used to support UVM’s study abroad program in Kent, England that has been a favorite among English students. 

Now that money is going from scholars to scholarships, Schnell said, adding that a certain amount of the money is still available to professors, “They can pool their money and pay for a writer or thinker to visit. But this system is a shadow of what we had before,” she said. 

The change in the fund’s distribution is one, relatively minor, part of how the University administration is planning to confront an increasing need of financial aid that has been a significant drain on the general fund. 

Trustees met in June to curtail a $7 million shortfall in the FY 2014 budget and agreed to increase financial aid to $79 million, according to Vice President of Finance and Administration Richard Cate. This was up more than nine percent from last year. 

While the Buckham fund, which totaled approximately $133,000 last year according to the Burlington Free Press, likely wont make a dent in the overall financial aid need among University students, the University thought it was significant enough to reevaluate the intention of the fund that was established in the 1980s. 

The following is the actual language of the five-page will of Helen Day Buckham that specifies some of the uses the fund was intended for: 

“The annual net income and the net income only, of the Fund shall be expended and used by the University for the benefits – of both men and women undergraduate students or graduate students of the University, but if scholarships, fellowships or prizes of any kind shall be offered, it shall not be necessary for the University to observe numerical or financial equality therein between the sexes or between undergraduate and graduate students.”

“Whoever worded the fund originally wasn’t that attentive to things,” professor Andrew Barnaby who teaches in the English department said, explaining that the phrasing made it to difficult to tell what the intention was. 

“We were abiding by the original intent as far as I can tell. There was no serious discussion about this. We were simply informed that the intent of the original donor was for scholarships, fellowships, etc., exclusively,” he said

English department chair Valerie Rohy said she thinks the change in the fund is somewhat disappointing.

“I can only reiterate what was said in the Free Press,” Rohy said. “It is unfortunate that we will not be able to provide the same number of public events for the UVM community, but we must abide by the wishes of the donor as determined by the University.”

UVM lacks both a graduate program in creative writing and a doctorate in English, and professors interviewed for this article said they believed the fund attracted scholars who may not have otherwise visited campus.

While a conversation about financial aid has naturally ensued the fund’s redistribution, Vice President for Administration and University Relations Tom Gustafson said it all comes down to what [Helen Day] Buckham wanted. 

“Donor intent is really important,” he said. “It appeared to the auditors that the English department had gotten away from that to some extent and what they were doing may or may not have fit in with the donor’s intention. From a fiduciary respect, the recommendation was that we need to be pretty disciplined.”

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Katie Hellman, a senior majoring in Film & Television Studies- a department that also had access to the Buckham fund- said she felt the change in funding would ultimately be best for students. 

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“I can see how it would be good to get people to come to UVM and offer their different opinions,” she said. “But the actual likelihood that students would attend those talks or those workshops does not seem very great. There are kids out there who need the money to even have their voices heard in a classroom. I’d say it’d be best if more money could go to those students.”

Junior Stephanie Rogers, an English minor, said that the boost in financial aid may help UVM attract students to that department, but it could also affect its quality. 

“Not being able to have good writers speak at UVM diminishes the English department,” she said.