Is UVM’s potential being ignored by politics? | Editorials

It is difficult to know how much money will actually end up in the cash drawers of state and local governments “once in a generation”. At the end of March a year ago, we received $ 1.25 billion. Shortly after taking over the Biden presidency, another stimulus package with an additional $ 1.25 billion was passed. If the president’s $ 2 trillion infrastructure bill or something close to it is okay, we could look, give, or take another billion dollars.

A portion of that premium goes to those crippled by the pandemic, but a much larger portion is used for investments that are considered one-time and long-term, rather than programs that commit us on an ongoing basis. At least that’s the hope.

These considerations should lead to efforts that are “transformative”. One example would be our switch from fossil fuels to renewable energies. Once the conversation is through, the fear of having to retrace your steps is limited.

Another is expanding the broadband network for those who do not have access or cannot afford what is available. Once that connection or financial support is established, the trend line for socio-economic progress will be started.

As we prepare for the oceans of money to come, there is a natural tendency to fill vacuums to accommodate those in need of help correcting inequalities whenever possible and building what was not built, which, in Vermont’s case, means to shore up the areas that are not blessed with the economic strength of northwest Vermont, especially Chittenden County.

Politically, it’s easier to take that huge pile of peanut butter [all 2 billion plus of it] and distribute it nicely and evenly in any place that doesn’t have it. This reaffirms the maxim that the hardest way to run a business well is when things are flush. [The hard times make the hard choices obvious.]

Part of what guides such political tendencies is the belief that those at the top need no help. It is also directed by lawmakers and other regulators who use the power of their positions to try to neutralize those who have big interests. A case in point is the Vermont healthcare system, and in particular the University of Vermont Medical Center.

Another is the University of Vermont, which is not intuitive to most Vermonters. How is an institution that prepares the state’s students for productive lives viewed as something other than something that brings added value to every corner of the state?

Perception. It is on the top of the hill and overlooks Burlington and Lake Champlain to the west and Vermont’s Green Mountains to the east. It is a prestigious academic institution that attracts more overseas students than Instate. [Otherwise it would be broke.] It’s also the most political setting in Vermont, including the State House in Montpelier. Logic does not rule, the politics of self-interest. UVM is arguably the toughest place to be in Vermont, and no legislation has been moved to help. There are forces within the legislature whose motive is to keep the university in place, which means keeping the profile low and participation low.

The state suffers from it. It’s a major disruption that neutralizes the potential of what UVM could actually create. We are in the middle of a demographic crisis. We get old quickly and cannot attract the young or keep the youth we have here. UVM is the number one generator for the skilled workforce of tomorrow. It’s also the number one force that keeps the workforce we have in place.

Connect the dots. As the largest research and development university in the country, how can those one-time dollars be used to attract industries that want to combine their efforts with ours? How can these one-time dollars be used to create tuition funds that would forever subsidize the cost of attending UVM? How can they be used to pay for the late maintenance costs that threaten future budgets? How can those one-time dollars be used to make UVM the catalyst for long-term sustainable growth that it could be?

It has to start with UVM. It has to publish its story beyond the hill it sits on. The school must be understood for the strength and usefulness it possesses for the entire state. That strength and usefulness must be understood as the force for good that it is, which means countering the image that goes with elitism and with academics.

It starts with UVM, but it’s a message that needs to be paired with lawmakers whose interests and responsibilities extend beyond the city of Burlington. Perhaps we were limited in our resources in the past, but that is not the case today. Exceeding this potential would be purposely self-destructive. It’s time for this conversation to be thrown into full view from the back room. Give the average Vermonter a close up of what’s going on and what the potential might be and maybe the politics would be more inclusive.

by Emerson Lynn

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