UVM Faculty Member Blights Fogel with Social and Ethical Irresponsibility

As you so clearly point out in your letter to the Campus Community of April 15th, 2006 “all of us cherish and uphold academic freedom and the right to the conscientious expression of opinion.” However, you go on to say that, “the University of Vermont is concerned about fairness and social responsibility,” which seems to need a little debate to say the least, since you appear to be, not a little, confused about just what constitutes “fairness and social responsibility.” Here, it may be necessary to point out to you, yet again, that there are people employed at this time at the University of Vermont who do not earn what the State of Vermont stipulates as a “Livable Wage.” This is what your students have forced you to acknowledge. I wish to point out here that if I had been the president and the students at the institution of which I would have been head had needed to force me to acknowledge such a thing, I would have been ashamed of myself. To have the students of my educational establishment educate me as President, of such an institution, about the need to address such a thing in the first place is a travesty. It also, does not bode well for your future consideration of any situation regarding those of the less well paid in your institution. Can these “less-well-heeled” people trust such an administration to treat them fairly in the future when the administration is intent on looking the other way until its’ students have to step in and force their administration to act with social responsibility? It is not socially responsible, or fair, to look the other way when people are suffering through not being able to earn a livable wage, especially when you personally, and many of your administration, earn such outrageous salaries for what you do. It is not you that should be given the credit for the formation of a “task force” that will be looking into “the economic welfare and opportunities of lower-paid UVM employees,” but the members of your student body, and those associated with them, who have plagued you about this issue for many months. Your so-called, “task force” is well over due. The second issue I wish to address is the “second issue” of your letter, as per: “… the SLAP demand that we interpose ourselves between contractors and vendors who do business with the University and their employees by insisting that those with whom we do business meet specific conditions with respect to wages, benefits, training and apprenticeship programs, and related matters”. As you say in your letter, “[Your] position has been consistently set forth over the course of several years. In all of its procurement activities, the University encourages free and open competition and bases its contractor and vendor selection decisions on price, quality, schedule, experience, bidder responsibility, and other factors.” You go on to say, “We contract with reliable and ethical firms capable of delivering quality products and services at prices and other commercial terms that allow us to fulfill our mission and to meet our responsibilities to the people of Vermont and other constituencies we serve.” Doesn’t this beg the question: If you are doing all these things to, as you say, “meet [your] responsibilities to the people of Vermont” then why have you failed for so long and so badly, the lower paid workers at this institution by paying them a salary that is lower than that which the State of Vermont deems to be a wage to be able to live on in Burlington? Are these people then, not “people of Vermont”, perhaps President Fogel you have conjured up some special criteria which you apply in your logic to negate the lower paid as being in that category? Your allusions to the morality of the market place and the application of criteria you use for selecting (or, “procuring” as you so accurately say) contractors for work on projects on campus says volumes about the value system on which your morality is forged. Yes, “price”, “quality”, “schedule”, “experience” are all important to selecting a company to get the job done, but this does not justify contractors using workers on campus without health care provision, or having them earn wages which are below that stipulated by the State of Vermont as livable, whether contractors or subcontractors (since for some reason you seem to believe that there is a moral difference in how one or the other can be treated?) Your administration is guilty again of looking the other way when you need to address social injustice taking place in your own back yard because you and your administration have engaged a bidder(s) who is not socially responsible in the eyes of anyone with a sense of social justice. Can the Campus Community then trust this administration not to look the other way again, until forced to be responsible by a group such as SLAP? I think not, your track record of looking out for people less able to negotiate a reasonable deal other than your own administration is less than satisfactory, is it not? You cannot “pass the buck” by saying that it is, “the responsibility of each employer”. You, and your administration, by selecting certain companies and not making reasonable binding contracts to force them to behave in a socially responsible and fair manner are guilty of looking the other way. In this case the students are again your teachers about responsibility and fairness and just what that entails. It is they who are forcing you to look at what you seem so reticent to see. Your letter also appears to confuse moral responsibility with the law, with all your allusions to “applicable state and federal laws regarding worker safety, collective bargaining, and workplace standards.” Regardless, of how just or unjust the laws are regarding the reasonable treatment of workers here, we can, and will, hold you and your administration responsible for your actions without state or federal laws to dictate to us what is right and what is wrong. If we see that you are behaving immorally it is our obligation, as responsible members of our community, to do all that is in our power to sanction you in those immoral acts whether they are within, or outside, the interpretation of the law; and that, it seems, is just what your students are engaged in. Just one final thought. Perhaps, President Fogel, it should be you and your administration who are paying the members of SLAP for your education at this point, not them paying UVM for theirs?