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UVM Policy Would Heighten Scrutiny of Presidential Spouses 

The University of Vermont is one step closer to creating a first-ever policy to govern the volunteer activities of presidential spouses.

On Wednesday, a committee of UVM trustees unanimously approved a draft policy that would put stricter oversight on a president's spouse who wishes to raise money for UVM, coordinate alumni events or engage in other aspects of university life.

The policy was created as result of the revelations that the wife of former UVM President Dan Fogel — Rachel Kahn-Fogel — had a years-long relationship with a high-level UVM staffer assigned to work with her on fundraising events. Fogel stepped down from his role as president in early August, almost a year ahead of schedule.

In the wake of the news and a subsequent internal investigation, the UVM Board of Trustees created a special ad hoc committee and charged it with crafting a policy to better spell out the roles and responsibilities of the university, and the spouse, if he or she chooses to volunteer.

Chaired by Rep. Bill Botzow (D-Pownal), that committee met Wednesday afternoon in the Waterman Building and voted to bring the draft policy to the full board of trustees for a vote on the weekend of October 21-22.

"This policy provides some practical, realistic parameters for all parties so the spouse can volunteer for the university effectively," said Botzow.

Under the policy, a spouse interested in volunteering would jump through a series of hoops before taking on a project. First, the spouse would contact the vice president for executive operations, who, in turn, would contact the appropriate UVM official in charge of the area in which the spouse would like to provide support. From there, the spouse would interview with the person who directly oversees that part of UVM operations.

Final approval of any volunteer appointment would need to be granted by the chair of the board of trustees, who would also co-sign a clearly-defined letter of agreement detailing the "nature and extent of any proposed services, including his or her reporting line."

The board chair would also meet at least once annually with the spouse and UVM officials to "discuss the ongoing suitability of the volunteer assignment and any adjustments to the assignment that the partner or the officials wish to request."

In short, the policy creates a clear path for any presidential spouse to follow if he or she is interested in volunteering at UVM. If the spouse is interested in a paid job, then normal policies and procedures governing other UVM job-seekers apply.

As part of the policy, UVM would cover or reimburse the spouse for any business travel or entertainment expenses.

The policy was drafted by UVM General Counsel Fran Bazluke after she reviewed policies from a host of other universities around the country.

"We did look at a lot of other policies," said Bazluke, "and tried to bring out the best of each one and tried to create a policy for UVM that was somewhat hospitable without being too constrictive."

Though the university's internal investigation cleared Kahn-Fogel of wrongdoing, it did find some of the personnel decisions made by the Fogels created a negative workplace environment.

Workplace climate is another area the ad hoc committee is examining. Provost Jane Knodell is taking the lead on determining how UVM can update its workplace climate guidelines to give employees more chances to register complaints outside of current channels. The committee is also looking into ways UVM can improve the oversight of employees' use of purchasing cards to pay for business meals and travel expenses.

A separate review is underway regarding UVM policies around administrative pay and severance packages, issues that continue to rile students and faculty.

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Shay Totten

Shay Totten

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

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