This commentary is by Myers Mermel, of Manchester. He is a Republican candidate for U.S Senate.
We need our flagship university, the University of Vermont (“UVM”), to educate Vermonters and prepare them for higher paying jobs. But as it now stands, UVM exists now primarily to educate out-of-staters. UVM is blocking our children from achieving their full potential by admitting out-of-staters in their place.
UVM, my own alma mater, has made out-of-state money more important than the public education of Vermont. Our public ivy has become a poison ivy. Why are we subsidizing them when they do not help us? It did not used to be this way. At the beginning of the 20th century, over 95% of its classes were made up of Vermont students. By the 1980s, this proportion had fallen to 50%. Today new enrollments of Vermont students in FY2021 are only 18% (see page 10, 11/40 of report.)
In fact, UVM is in violation of its own charter (view the Charter in the Vermont Statutes, Title 16). In the Charter, the full name of UVM is the “University of Vermont and State Agricultural College,” (Title 16, § 1-1., line 3). Notice the mention of “State Agricultural College” in the name; it is a vestige of the land grant status which seems to be forgotten. The Charter states that UVM “shall be recognized and utilized as an instrumentality of the State for providing public higher education” (Title 16, § 1-1., lines 5-6). This is the key language.
By law, UVM is “utilized” in order to provide “public” higher education. This means it is to educate Vermonters — the only people to whom the system is public. UVM is currently not providing “public” education; it is providing “private” education. New enrollments from out-of-staters are at 82% and in-state enrollments are at 18%. UVM is no longer a “public” institution. If the percentages were 51% in-state and 49% out-of-state, then it could be classified as “public.” The vast majority of its students are not from Vermont, and UVM is in violation of its Charter. The public has recourse in the event UVM fails to carry out the requirements of the Charter, through the Vermont Supreme Court, which can vacate the Charter and dissolve the institution (Title 16, § 1-11.). Clearly, the state has the power and the reason to vacate the Charter today. But I will, if elected to the U.S. Senate, effect a compromise which will preserve UVM and return it to its purpose.
UVM no longer serves the state in which it exists rent free on arguably the best piece of land in Vermont. Since it is private it should make a payment for land rent. The days of free rent on our communal land must end if it decides to continue to stay private. Since UVM has made money its priority we should all share in those profits — which have come at the expense of our students who did not get to attend from across the state. UVM has said it is poor for decades. Nothing could be further from the truth. UVM has almost 1,000 acres of land in Burlington and South Burlington, which it carries on its books as worth $29 million. In reality, each acre is worth closer to $13 million (on each acre, 50% lot coverage, FAR of 3, $10 NNN, Cap of 5%). That means the total enterprise value of UVM is closer to $15 billion not including assets like the hospital(s), art collection, and intellectual property/patents.
I am proposing UVM pay an annual payment-in-lieu-of-tax (PILOT) of less than 1%. This is not a tax; it is like a synthetic land rent payment. This PILOT would start at $125 million until UVM admits 51% of in-state students, at which point the PILOT would decrease. Of the $125 million PILOT, Chittenden County would receive $60 million, since UVM has paid almost nothing to Chittenden over the centuries for its services. And from the $125 million PILOT, every other of the 13 remaining counties in Vermont would receive $5 million per year. If UVM can’t educate us, it can at least pay us a payment-in-lieu-of-tax. UVM would not be allowed to raise tuition on its students with this PILOT as its tuition is already among the highest in the country. It can afford the PILOT through better management of its resources like land, hospitals, online courses and intellectual property.
We have suffered this injustice for over 40 years. Our children are excluded from their own university. It is time we compel UVM to change. We must insist that our public institutions serve the public interest.