The Truth of the Matter: Requiem for a college

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Vermont hasn't had many heroes of late who possess the characteristics of those noted in John F. Kennedy's 1956 book, Profiles in Courage. Last month, though, one emerged, Dr. Carol Moore, president of the now defunct Burlington College.

Dr. Moore broke her silence on what had transpired at Burlington College, in a letter published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Aug. 31, 2016 issue. Dr. Moore does not mince words in stating that the recent collapse of Burlington College can be laid at the doorstep of the college's former president, Jane O'Meara Sanders, the college's Board of Trustees, Peoples United Bank, and Vermont Health Buildings Financing Agency.

Moore's comments were the first insight the public has received from someone who has firsthand information as to what had taken place in 2010 when Jane O'Meara Sanders took the college down a financial sinkhole with the backing of her board of trustees and outside lenders.

In 2010, the college embarked on purchasing from the Catholic Diocese of Burlington, the Church's pristine headquarters property facing Lake Champlain. The Diocese was forced to sell the property in order to pay off huge legal claims stemming from the pedophilia scandal that rocked the Church.

The $10 million price tag was far and above anything that a small college (enrollment of 195 students) should have ever entertained. But for Jane O'Meara Sanders, the wife of the state's U.S. Senator, "many doors" open easily. Three such doors were a bank loan from People's United for $6.5 million, a 2nd mortgage given to the Diocese, and bonds issued by VEHBFA, a state agency.

According to a report in VTDigger on September 6, 2016, "Sanders told the bank that the college had $2.6 million in pledged donations to support the purchase. . . the college, however, received only $676,000 in actual donations from 2010 through 2014, according to figures provided by Burlington College."

Moore, questioned just how could a bank (People's United) ever think of providing the college with such a massive loan? According to Moore, ". . .People's was influenced by Sen. Sanders." She further notes, "Who is to blame for this appallingly inappropriate business deal? Perhaps a board that steered clear of the tough questions, which needed to be asked. Or a bank in the state of an influential senator "

What is conspicuously absent from the collapse of the college is any comment from the Vermont Attorney General's office, which has the responsibility of investigating malfeasance and negligence at any one of Vermont's nonprofits. It must be that Dr. Moore's revelations don't mean a thing to the AG?

On the other hand, the AG would be foolish to commence an investigation at a time when his Office is the recipient of millions of dollars in federal aid given to battle opiate addiction in Vermont. The conduit for such sums is the state's two U.S. Senators who are all but untouchable – and Dr. Moore has had the courage to state publicly what has always been known privately. Sadly, this David is no match against Vermont's entrenched Goliaths.

And the same can be said about VEHBFA. Having issued tax exempt bonds in connection with the college financing scheme, it would never question the fact that the college, under Jane O'Meara Sanders' administration, allegedly, provided it with false and misleading information.

Dr. Moore has displayed a great deal of courage in stating what really happened at Burlington College. She does so in recognition of the students who no longer have an institution to attend, a faculty that no longer has a place to practice its skills, and an administration no longer in place.

How unfortunate it is that such courage is absent at the AG's office, the office of the president of Peoples's United, the inner circles of the Catholic Diocese of Vermont, at VEHBFA, and from any member of the disbanded Board of Trustees.

— Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington


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