VPR Commentary

Burlington College: Politics or Governance?

I’ve been watching the national effort to politicize Burlington College’s demise and am saddened by the venality of our politics and our dangerous ignorance of non-profit governance. It’s endemic in Vermont. Where too many of our major non-profits have limped through a decade or two of un-reviewed leadership performance, mission decay, and disconnection from constituents because their boards have no idea what the obligations and liabilities of board members are or even what board service means. I won’t dwell on the details of Burlington College except to say that the entire fault lies with the Board. It can be said that Jane Sanders has a checkered history leading colleges, but all presidents serve at the will of their boards. It’s …
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Stay the Course in Vermont Healthcare

How quickly we forget. Just short of four decades ago, Vermont policymakers decided that a competitive healthcare system had not lowered healthcare costs, but was, in fact, driving costs up, as hospitals vied for more expensive technology and market share. The relationship between our thirteen community hospitals and our tertiary-care hospitals – then Fletcher Allen and Dartmouth – were tortured and riddled with expense. We decided that a citizen-regulated monopoly would better constrain costs, regulating towards a more cost – efficient and accessible network of integrated healthcare facilities, spanning sole practitioners, community clinics, community and tertiary care hospitals. And it worked. Looking at measures of access, prevention and treatment, avoidable hospital use, costs, healthy lives and equity, the Commonwealth Fund …
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Puccini in Middlebury

From as early as I can remember, I’ve been an opera buff. I remember sitting in the orchestra section at the Old Metropolitan Opera House on 39th and Broadway and hearing the great mid-century singers. My great-grandmother Selma was having a platonic affair with Caruso. My Aunt Rose hung out with the greats of the time: Gueden, Schwarzkopf, Kunz, and Jerome Hines. My fervid childish imagination lit up at the live passion, violence, and madness on stage that made the comics littering Al Melendy’s barbershop in Morrisville seem pale by comparison. One afternoon after seeing an Aida with my grandmother, the head of the Opera Guild, the fan club for the well-heeled, ushered us backstage to meet the diva, Galina …
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When reverence for our past blinds us to our future….

I love Vermont. I’ve lived here seventy years, and like my father, I’ve turned down opportunities to move away and earn more money. But I don’t trust the Vermont myth of ‘exceptionalism.’ We’re a microcosm of the world around us. Our communities and our natural, working, and built environments make us a wonderful place to live, but I worry that our tendency toward self-adulation calcifies belief systems that often impede our progress. Change happens whether we like it or not and it’s critical to understand and accommodate it without compromising our values. To ignore change puts our future at risk. I love a well-framed barn, in fact, my first home was one. I love and use hand-made tools. But I …
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A Nation of Cranks?

We’ve become a nation of divided cranks. Too many of my friends have made up their mind about everything, dug in their heels, and either turned their face to the wall, as they say in hospice, or steeled themselves to fighting for their entrenched opinions. If only we lived in a simple binary world of absolutes instead of in the complicated, nuanced world where some things can be true and false at the same time. We wouldn’t need all this troublesome education, reading, art, science, and conversation. We could just eat, drink, watch television, and give those who disagree with us the digital digit. Friends send me anti-vax, anti-immigrant, anti-abortion, anti-religion, anti-wind, anti-hunting, anti-single-payer memes… the list is endless and …
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Creative Invention: Plan for the future, learn from the past

Many small colleges are struggling with low inquiry, application, and admission rates, including here in the Northeast. Rising tuitions, student loan abuses, and radical change in employment patterns have discouraged many students who then choose to bypass college and just enter the workforce at a lower level of opportunity. Now combine that thought with the fact that Vermont spends twice as much storing our social and economic fallout in jail as it does supporting its six state colleges. The chancellor and Board have begun a process to merge Johnson and Lyndon to save administrative overhead, but this is structural, and much more could be done to prepare both campuses for the new age we’re entering. It’s widely accepted that prevention …
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To Hell in a Man-basket?

Growing up in the transition from Vermont’s “Republican century” to the Democratic “sixties,” the political labels we used seemed meaningless in the many discussions I had with people of differing political ideals. I usually found commonsense and decency in their differing perspectives. The social compression of Vermont’s small towns, both in daily life and annually at town meeting, didn’t inhibit diversity of opinion on any topic. But the fact that we depended on one another in hard times, attended the same churches, traded in the same stores, and buried our dead in the same cemeteries meant we generally spoke civilly to one another, considered opposing opinions, and often found common ground. I don’t know whether it’s the inherent distance of …
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Middlebury Student Meltdown

Many young people are, by nature’s design, rash and impulsive and in loco parentis educators must often deal with the fallout from their students’ lack of experience. Real-life consequences and good mentoring, mature them over time or they become infantilized adults. The recent protest that turned violent at Middlebury College is likely to be a hard lesson for those students who succeeded in preventing Charles Murray from having to defend his questionable philosophies – at the price of injuring one of their own. Middlebury President Laurie Patton and Allison Stangar, the faculty member in charge of the event, had sought to promote – not the views of the controversial guest – but a diverse and open learning culture; to encourage …
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The Death Throes of the “Trickle-Down” Mantra?

We may be finally witnessing the death throes of the conservative “trickle-down” mantra that advocates for lower taxes on “job creators” and “hands-off” government regulation. This philosophy enthralled Reagan’s “moral majority,” who also challenged the rights of women and many non-whites by opposing abortion, birth control, gay marriage, voting rights, and immigration. More recently, ultraconservative factions have championed the unfettered right to carry guns anywhere, isolationism in an international world, limiting voting rights to themselves, and opposition to an inclusive health care plan. No wonder we’re seeing suicide by lifestyle and declining life expectancy among disadvantaged white men and women seduced by this hollow belief system. The question is… what will replace it? If, as Calvin Coolidge says, “the business …
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Time to Resume Teaching Civics and Begin Teaching Media Literacy

If current political events have taught us anything, it’s how vulnerable we all are to misinformation and innuendo. And if 80% of us don’t trust our own government, we must then ask how many Americans even understand how their government works or their own role in a vibrant democracy. Three quarters of Americans can’t name the three branches of government and one third can’t name even one branch. An electorate that condemns its own government without understanding its functions and purpose can hardly be counted on to participate with informed voting and advocacy. In Morrisville Junior High, we had a civics course that gave us a rudimentary sense of how government worked and instilled in us a sense of our …
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