Controversial UVM Chairman Resigns

On Wednesday, February 23, James Pizzagali the controversial Chair of the UVM Board of Trustees resigned from the Board. Pizzagali is the owner of his name bearing company – Pizzagali Construction Co. His company is Vermont’s largest contractor, having more than $300 million in sales yearly with over 1,000 employees from Maine to North Carolina. He has come under heavy criticism over the past year for the conflicts of interest caused by holding these two positions, especially at a time when the university is expanding rapidly revamping its physical plant. The reasons for Pizzagali gave for resigning seem to be quite opposite of the conflict of interest that the critics so often pointed.

In the letter of resignation given to UVM President Daniel Fogel, Pizzagali wrote, “Because of my role, I believe that the university will seek to avoid the appearance of favoritism toward the company by overcompensating in favor of the company’s competitors. This means that the company would not be competing on a “level playing field.'” Pizzagali continued by writing, “For some time I have wondered whether my role as a trustee, and more recently as chairman, might have a detrimental impact on the chances of the company being selected for university construction contracts. More recently, I have concluded that such is indeed the case.” Pizzagali graduated from UVM in 1966 and has been on the Board of Trustees since 2000. He was named the Chair of the Board in 2003. Max Berger, the leader of the newly formed student group the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP), said of Pizzagali’s resignation, “It’s a tremendous victory for people working for fairness on the issue. Pizzagali is the UVM equivalent to Dick Cheney.”

Berger went on to say that it will not directly result in better labor practices on UVM construction sites if the Board does not make it a priority. Not all are happy that Pizzagali has decided to move on, President Fogel released a statement saying, “While we respect his decision, I greatly regret the departure from the board of such a longtime friend of the university.” Pizzagali Construction CO. is currently managing two of UVM’s largest construction projects – the $61 million University Heights residential complex as well as the $23 million renovation of the Living/Learning residential complex.

Although Pizzagali Construction Co. has bid on and lost contracts for the Student Commons, the Gutterson Parking Garage, the Marsh Life Sciences addition, and the planned renovation of Wing-Davis-Wilks since Pizzagali became Chair of the Board in 2003. English Professor Nancy Welch a member of faculty union United Academics and an outspoken critic of Pizzagali told the Burlington Free Press, “I think there are many people on campus, as well as people related to unions across the area, who see his resignation as a positive sign. As we look ahead to the next 10 years of major expansion that will cost an estimated $400 million, we’d like to think the board of trustees can exercise real oversight. That would be very difficult if the board is headed by the head of the region’s major construction company.”