UVM Foundation steps up to the plate

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 5.08.09 PMAs the money for public higher education starts to dry up, public institutions have turned to the successful model of public-private partnerships to stay relevant. This past week, our relationship with the UVM Foundation has never been more public.

The UVM Foundation, established in 2011, has been in the spotlight for good reason — $500 million will be invested in our community, largely thanks to their work.

An investment is ultimately a statement of priority. If the money is followed, the question of where the University is, and where it wants to go, can be quantitatively answered. With the announcement that three-fifths of this campaign will be invested directly in people — scholarships and endowed professorships — the campus should heave a huge sigh of relief.

For the Cynic, the relief stems from the realization that the people who lead the University have their priorities in the right place.

With mounting criticism that the American university is starting to look more like a corporation, President Sullivan’s assurance that “no student is denied entrance to the great doors of this University” comes at the right time and with the right message.

Fancy new buildings and aggressive public relations are only facades. It’s the people that matter at a university.

All the jargon that the Foundation and top administrators have been using — public ivy, excellence, prestige — is empty without the people that make it so.

The UVM Foundation has soared in the past four years of its existence. It’s actually a wonder how UVM remained relevant without them. Both the University of Maine and the University of New Hampshire have similar private foundations, and both have been around for much longer than ours. Perhaps there’s an advantage to learning from the mistakes of others.

What this investment represents, on a larger scale, is long overdue but concerted effort by the university system to alleviate pervasive concerns over the cost of tuition relative to the value one derives from a degree.

Another shift that this represents is a shift of some financial allocation from the state of Vermont and administrators to donors, who are mostly wealthy  alumni.

The benefits to such a partnership are everywhere: the University is afforded financial flexibility, credit stability, lower costs and shorter time-lines for vital projects.

Additionally, it gives alumni another avenue through which to participate in the affairs of the school from which they graduated, granting them the ability to support the programs and opportunities they appreciate the most.

Their generosity will increase UVM’s prestige and support its educational opportunities for generations to come.