Investing in the Community

“In the vision statement written in early 2003, I outlined numerous investments the University must make in order to be competitive and successful. The very top of the list reflects the importance of investing in people: our students, faculty, and staff. All of us mostly do our parts, and once again I urge students…to be engaged actively in academic and co-curricular activities and to do all you can to make the most of the rare privilege of your college education, with a determination in the great UVM tradition to give back and to make a difference.” – President Fogel, 2005 Convocation Address

President Fogel in his Convocation address earlier this semester emphasized the “fact” that the Vision for the University is one centered around people – an investment in people. This ambitious and exciting prospect for the future of our university is heart warming but not a reality.

The reality is that while UVM is in a time of record enrolment, national acclaim and financial success, many of the people who make our university run – the staff, service and maintenance workers, food workers and constructions laborers – don’t make a livable wage.

This means that many of these valued and important University community members are unable to support their families, are reliant on public assistance programs or are even forced to work a second job. It is here that we are witness to a disconnect between rhetoric and reality; a language of investment without investment, social justice without justice.

Currently, there are 307 service and maintenance workers on our campus who literally make the physical University tick. They clear the paths when it snows, fix the pipes when they burst, change the lights when they go out. They are the backbone of this University. However, 167 of them make well below a livable wage and, of those 167, 95 percent are recent immigrants. These simple and poignant facts fail to highlight any investment in people but rather a neglect of the core.

Added to this if one looks at the clerical workers on campus – the men and women to create our transcripts, answer our questions and process our withdrawal forms – 279 out of 632 do not make a livable wage. Once again these folks are the grease that makes this University turn. They are the faces we interact with everyday, make us smile and help to facilitate our education. They are community members who deserve to be able to support their families

Now I will be the first to say that I truly love UVM. As a native Vermonter I take pride in having a University that has provided me with an amazing education, has molded me into the person I am today and I hope can be a model for the State of Vermont.

Livable wages are not just a buzzword, not just a phrase to feel good about but rather are a very real proclamation and policy which would impact the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of our community members both as citizens of Vermont and of UVM.

As President Fogel said, “I urge students…to be engaged actively in academic and co-curricular activities and to do all you can to make the most of the rare privilege of your college education, with a determination in the great UVM tradition to give back and to make a difference.”

Now I urge you to take these words to heart. Think about the men and women who work at UVM, who you see everyday, who do not make a livable wage. We are at a time in our lives where we have the rare and amazing privilege to truly create change, to impact people’s lives, to shape the University we want.

Let us follow in the great tradition of UVM and make a difference in the lives of people we know. Let’s get out, speak up and make sure that social justice at UVM is a reality and not just rhetoric.