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Outgoing UVM President Shuns Governor's Advice to Return Severance Pay 

Published August 11, 2011 at 5:40 p.m.

During a weekend phone call, Gov. Peter Shumlin urged outgoing University of Vermont president Dan Fogel (pictured right) to give back a portion of his more than $600,000 severance package as a way to dampen the outrage that some leading politicians and the public have had over his golden parachute.

"I told him that I would like to see him set aside a portion of his severance pay that he'll receive to set up a scholarship program that would allow more Vermont students to attend UVM," said Shumlin during a lunchtime meeting with Seven Days. "I though that this would help put him, and the university, back in the good graces of Vermonters."

There has been increased anger directed at UVM's board of trustees, in particular the legislative trustees, for granting Fogel the equivalent of a $35,400-a-month severance package that will last 17 months. At the end of that time period, Fogel is anticipated to return to UVM as an English professor, earning $195,000 a year — $80,000 more than the next-highest-paid professor in the department.

Shumlin told Seven Days that he talked to the former president on Sunday.

"I really feel it would be the right thing to do, to undo the damage to his legacy and to the university," said Shumlin. The pair spoke for close to half an hour, the governor said.

So, how did Fogel react?

"Let's just say that my recommendation was not well received," said Shumlin, " which I think is a real missed opportunity." 

Fogel confirmed the phone call occurred and told Seven Days he didn't heed the gov's advice because it would set a bad precedent for future presidents — and send a bad message to the national academic marketplace.

"Governor Shumlin urged me — in the interest of 'protecting my legacy' — to give back some of my severance," Fogel wrote in an email to Seven Days. "He asked me to consider his advice — I said that I would, reiterated that I appreciated the way he and others felt, but that I thought the kind of gesture he was recommending would satisfy only a small portion of the critics, and moreover would send a very bad signal to the marketplace — the message that even a successful president will in the future be hard-pressed to secure a post-presidential package that is quite modest by national standards."

Fogel said, in turn, that he appealed to Shumlin to be a strong advocate for UVM, rather than simply a critic, to help recruit a bold president who can carry the  university forward.

"I appealed to the governor to do everything he can to support the university and the board in recruiting another strong — and we hope even stronger — leader, and to remember that his bully pulpit as governor can send a strong message to potential candidates, for good or for ill, about Vermont's aspirations for its one research university. He said he has every intention of doing so, and would," wrote Fogel.

During a midday news conference with reporters, Shumlin said he was not interested in punishing UVM financially in the state budget for what he deemed an exorbitant pay package for Fogel, and for other top university officials.

Shumlin said he understands that granting a one-year, paid leave of absence might be a standard contract provision in academia, but the governor said contracts can be written to limit severance pay if an executive resigns from office under a cloud of controversy — as did Fogel. Fogel resigned his post effective July 31, just weeks before the results of an investigation focused on his wife, Rachel Kahn-Fogel, was to be completed.

UVM launched its investigation following Seven Daysinquiries into Kahn-Fogel's influence over the doctoral studies and day-to-day employment of Michael Schultz, the school's associate vice president for development and alumni relations. The university's investigation focused on whether, as a result of the relationship, UVM resources were used inappropriately or UVM workplace policies were violated.

A report released yesterday found that neither Kahn-Fogel nor Schultz had violated any laws or university policies during their relationship. However, the report did find that the personnel decisions made by Kahn-Fogel and Pres. Fogel created a negative workplace environment and lowered morale in the development office.

UVM revealed yesterday that it had agreed to pay Schultz his $155,000 salary through the end of 2012, as well as health care benefits and free tuition for his kids. In exchange, Schultz agreed not to sue UVM, and vice versa. Schultz had been on the receiving end of Kahn-Fogel's affections for more than six years and was a central figure in the months-long investigation into Kahn-Fogel's actions at the university and her interactions with key staff.

Shumlin told Seven Days he supports legislation that would seek to remove sitting legislators from the boards of UVM and the Vermont state colleges.

"There is an inherent conflict in serving on the board while at the same time appropriating money to the university," said Shumlin. He added that while some lawmakers serve on the boards of nonprofits, serving on the board of a major university or state college, which comes to the legislature each year seeking millions of dollars in assistance, is a different story.

"Are you doing what's best for taxpayers, or are you delivering on what the president wanted you to deliver as a trustee?" asked Shumlin.

One or more images has been removed from this article. For further information, contact web@sevendaysvt.com.
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Shay Totten

Shay Totten

Shay Totten wrote "Fair Game," a weekly political column, from April 2008-December 2011.

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