Friday, July 21, 2017

Burlington: The College and the Land Deal

The following were remarks to the Save Open Space Summit, on Jan. 21, 2015, at City Hall. A week after this talk I became a candidate for mayor, and proposed a partnership in the public interest to save the college and balance development plans with preservation of open space. 
     More recently, the circumstances surrounding the college's land purchase and eventual closure have sparked an investigation that implicates Jane Sanders and appears to be aimed at her husband, Bernie Sanders, who is poised for reelection to the US Senate -- and another presidential run.

   How did we get here? These days I often ask myself that kind of thing, looking back, thinking about the past. But 40 years ago, when I was new to Burlington, I thought mostly about the future, how it could be different and better.
   About that time I joined the faculty of Burlington College. It had another name then. Vermont Institute of Community Involvement, or just VICI. And one of the ideas of founder Steward LaCasce was to get away from "bricks and mortar" -- the big, expensive, campus-based model of higher education -- and, as much as possible, develop a community-based alternative, using existing resources and spaces around town. It was a practical form of involvement and interdependence. 
   Eventually, the College did buy a building. But the idea of staying small and connected to the community persisted.
   At the time, the land we are here to save was owned by Vermont's Roman Catholic Diocese. The church purchased most of it from Burlington Free Press Publisher Henry Stacy in the 1870s. Before that it was farmland, and the city grew around it. A rolling meadow led to a bluff overlooking Lake Champlain, with a beach below, a forest of oak, red maple and pine at the southern edge, and a railroad tunnel under North Avenue. All in all, it is a special, irreplaceable piece of land.
   The church erected an imposing Victorian building, which housed orphans for a century. After World War II, the local diocese bought adjacent land and converted a cottage into a school for delinquents. After the St. Joseph Orphan Asylum and the Don Bosco School for Delinquent Boys closed, it became diocese headquarters and home for projects like Camp Holy Cross.
    So, the "school without walls" and the cloistered catholic campus near the lake. How did they get entangled? The answer begins with secrets, the first about what went on in the church -- and on that property.
   In the end dozens of former residents came forward, and revealed a dark, sordid history of physical and sexual abuse by nuns, priests and staff. Like other parts of the church, the diocese ultimately found itself under attack and in serious financial trouble. By May 2010, it had paid almost $20 million to settle 26 lawsuits. More were to follow. Selling the land was urgent to help cover up to $30 million in legal settlements for the abused.
    Developers expressed some interest, but disagreed about what the property was worth. There were also zoning restrictions, and some claimed the city was overvaluing the land. In any case, it went on the market in April 2010 for $12.5 million. The sale to BC for $10 million was announced on May 24, 2010, only a month later -- ten days after the diocese paid out $17. 65 million.  Based on about 200 housing units, a plan initially considered, a more reasonable price was probably $7 million or less.
   Why did the college pay that much? And what did its leaders expect? Like many decisions by private boards, it's mostly confidential, a shared secret. But we know the deal was promoted and brokered by Antonio Pomerleau, once known as the "godfather of Vermont shopping center development." Owner of Pomerleau Real Estate, a prominent, devoted Catholic who wanted to help the church, and a powerful, persuasive developer who for years chaired the Burlington Police Commission.
    In the early 1980s Pomerleau became an obvious target for Bernie Sanders, a capitalist mogul who wanted to rebuild the waterfront and controlled the Police Department. His $30 million waterfront redevelopment plan was derailed after Sanders' election as mayor. But the relationship changed. By the time College President Jane Sanders announced the purchase, Pomerleau was considered a family friend. In then-President Sanders' words, Pomerleau was the only man who could have made it happen. Someone to trust, who understood relationships. But it didn't hurt that he loaned the school $500,000 to close the deal. Yves Bradley, who subsequently became chair of the College's Board of Trustee, handled the 2010 transaction details for Pomerleau Real Estate.
   According to local sources, the school's leaders believed that, with connected friends like Sanders and Pomerleau, plus a Treasurer like Jonathan Leopold, handling the $10 million debt and $3 million for renovations was a reasonable expectation for a school with 200 students and revenues around $4 million a year. Big donors would come -- but they didn't. The Board also embraced another notion: that enrollment could double in five years, a goal well beyond the national average. It didn't.
    In retrospect, it sounds like magical thinking. Or just bad judgement. But somehow it made sense -- at least until September 2011, when Jane Sanders was forced to resign, mainly for not raising enough money. So began a three-year, silent slide toward insolvency...

Related Feature Story: Campus Paradise Lost 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Dark Horizons: Navigating Change in Uncertain Times

By Greg Guma
      We're in uncharted territory. On some days, as the West's domination of world affairs winds down, you can feel the wheels of history turning. A multi-polar world seems to be emerging. But so far it looks as polarized, unstable and dangerous as the one it replaces.
      The Trump presidency is meanwhile turning out be even more surreal than the campaign. If you doubt that the foreign policy establishment is concerned, Richard Haass offers a comprehensive, "insider's" corrective in A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order (2017, Penguin, 352 pages). The message from Haass, who heads the Council on Foreign Relations, is that global rules and institutions that have kept the world relatively stable since World War II are at serious risk of being abandoned. 
      Written during the recent presidential race, Haass makes a convincing case for growing global instability. But he sidesteps a direct critique of Trump, calling instead for continued active engagement (defining it as a "sovereign obligation") over narrow nationalism. It's a sobering viewpoint that reflects the priorities of the internationalists who have controlled US foreign policy for most of the last 70 years.
      Unprecedented. We hear the word so often that it's become a cliche. But have we been here before? And is what we're experiencing an authoritarian surge or something else? In The Anatomy of Fascism (Vintage, 2004, 321 pages) , Robert O. Paxton illustrates the differences between the two isms, and how modern anxieties - from immigration and economic insecurity to urban "decadence" and national decline -- create conditions for mass-based, populist nationalist movements. Fortunately, not many have taken power, or lasted for long.
     Written before the recent surge of nationalist propaganda, hate crimes and "strongman" regimes in places like Turkey, Hungary, the Philippines and the US, Paxton's concise study outlines how fascists gain and exercise power. It also identifies the obvious warning signs: political deadlock in the face of domestic crisis, threatened conservatives desperate for tough allies and ready to abandon the rule of law, and charismatic leaders ready to "mobilize passions" through race-tinged demagoguery.
    On the other hand, he also advises that most real capitalists, even if they view democracy as a nuisance, would prefer an authoritarian to a fascist. The former usually wants a passive, disengaged public. But fascists, who have such contempt for people and reason that they don't bother to justify their excesses, tend to get people excited and engaged. And not just their blame-shifting supporters.   
***
      European powers ruled 84 percent of the land and 100 percent of the seas in 1914, and the US was the world's largest economy. What a difference a century has made. Now three of the four biggest economies are China, India and Japan. In Easternization: Asia's Rise and America's Decline from Obama to Trump and Beyond (Other Press, 2016, 307 pages), Gideon Rachman makes a persuasive case that China is poised to dominate the next century. But he also reveals why no "Eastern alliance" is apt to replace the crumbling "West."
    As a top financial commentator for the UK's Financial Times, Rachman has hobnobbed with ministers and business leaders worldwide, and brings some revealing encounters into his analysis and forecasts. The main issue, he explains, is whether the US and China can avoid the Thucydides Trap -- the type of rivalry between an established and rising power that can lead to war. It has happened in 12 out of 16 cases since 1500. 
     Location could be a decisive factor, explains Tim Marshall in Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything about the World (Scribner, 2015, 305 pages). For Russia, the largest country in the world, it has made power difficult to defend and provoked leaders like Putin to compensate by pushing outward. For China, in contrast, geographical features have often provided security, and now set the stage for it to become a two-ocean power (Pacific and Indian) and claim most of the South China Sea. 
      Marshall's book is well-organized, fast-paced and reads like a travelogue, observing history, politics and environmental dynamics from a high altitude. The maps in the paperback could be better and the text certainly does not explain "everything." But this is an engaging refresher and does illustrate why, despite having a great location, even America is constrained by geography's rule. 
 ***
     Long before the digital age, the US government used scientists and psychics to locate hostages and penetrate secret military bases. Sometimes it even worked. This is just one of the mind-blowing revelations in Phenomena: The Secret History of the U.S. Government's Investigations into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis (Little Brown, 2017, 527 pages). For decades, such research was publicly ridiculed as science fiction fantasy. But Annie Jacobsen has assembled the facts, from once-classified documents, former officials, and government psychics who explored this frontier.
     Did you know, for instance, that the US military used dowsers during the Vietnam War to locate Viet Cong tunnels? Or that Uri Geller, the famous psychic "spoon bender" who set the CIA's psychic research program in motion, also worked for Israeli intelligence, and later became wealthy locating ancient Middle East artifacts, oil, and minerals for mining corporations? 
     The difficulty with paranormal abilities was often reliability. Even when techniques were refined and endlessly practiced, only a few psychic warriors had the right stuff. Yet the research continues. The Office of Naval Research is currently exploring what it calls premonition or "Spidey sense," while the Defense Research Projects Agency (DARPA) looks into "synthetic telepathy," a brain-computer interface that may someday enable soldiers to "communicate by thought alone." 
     During the same period, with more success, various governments have also been developing cyber capabilities. As Fred Kaplan notes in his riveting new book Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War (Simon & Schuster, 2016, 342 pages), at least twenty nations are already in the game, led by Russia, China, Iran, Syria, North Korea and the US. The focus is currently on Russia's "hybrid warfare," the weaponizing of hacked documents to influence the presidential race. But keep in mind that information war began with the US-NATO campaign against Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. And the first significant cyber attack, a US-Israeli operation called Olympic Games, was directed at Iran's nuclear program. Later known as Stuxnet, it involved a cyber worm that destroyed a quarter of Iran's centrifuges and set back its nuclear program by several years. 
     The trouble with waging cyber war, warns Kaplan, is that "what we can do to them, they can someday do to us." It's a type of blowback. In an afterword written since the 2016 election, he also points beyond the Russia-Trump operation to the next threat -- denial-of-service attacks executed by thousands of household devices. It happened on October 21, 2016, when an Internet switchboard was flooded, shutting down Twitter, Spotify, Netflix and other sites. 
     "There are now about 10 billion Iot (Internet of Things) devices in the world," Kaplan concludes. "Some estimate that, by 2020, there will be 50 billion. That's a lot of bots to be enslaved for a cyber war."
-- First printed in Burlington's Peace & Justice News (July 2017)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Making of Black Dawn

Vermont artists and activists Doreen Kraft and Robin Lloyd will screen their 1978 animated film Black Dawn at Champlain College on Wed, July 12 at 5:30 p.m, along with a discussion and showing of original Haitian paintings featured in the work. The following article is from Black Dawn: a Study Guide on Haiti by Greg Guma and Robin Lloyd
In her book, Divine Horseman, American artist and filmmaker Maya Deren described her 1947 trip to Haiti from the perspective of a passionate convert to voodoo. She had visited the Caribbean country to make a film on dance, but once there found that dance in Haiti had to be seen not as an isolated art, but as a central aspect of religious ritual. After attending many voodoo ceremonies, she was eventually "possessed" by the Goddess Erzulie, her camera dropping to her side as she responded to powerful rhythms and felt the "loa" enter her body.
       Almost 30 years later, two other filmmakers, Robin Lloyd and Doreen Kraft, followed in Maya Deren's footsteps and lived in a voodoo temple while developing their own perceptions of Haiti. They didn't experience possession, but they did fall under the spell of Haitian culture. For many of the people they met, the gods were part of everyday experience, the subject of struggle and dreams. Religion was not dogma to these Haitians, it was a lifelong initiation into "the mysteries." 
      The filmmakers also visited art galleries and filmed the painted buses that clog the streets of downtown Port-au-Prince. From this dual interest -- in art and religion -- the film Black Dawn emerged.     

       They returned the next winter with a small grant, the filmscript, and several suitcases full of paint and paper. Francine Murat, director of the Centre d'art, introduced them to artists whose styles or themes were appropriate for the film concept. Some of these artists were among the most skilled in Haiti, others were unknowns. Once the content of a scene was agreed upon, the hard work began: how to explain to artists who had never "animated" before that a number of layers of paper were required to properly animate characters. The Queen would have to move behind a bush, Toussaint would need three heads, each looking in a different direction. All of this was conveyed in French, or sometimes translated into Creole.
      One of the factors that assisted them in their task is the widespread acceptance among Haitian artists of voodoo as a cultural force. Voodoo is called animism in religion textbooks -- a belief system where inanimate objects are imbued with living souls. The word comes from the root word "anima": to breathe life into. And what is film animation but infusing the inanimate with life! The artists quickly began to share with the filmmakers a profound artistic sympathy and excitement for the film project.
      They returned to Vermont with background paintings and characters not yet assembled, just arms, legs and heads scattered across white sheets. They set up a studio and bought a custom-built animation stand modified to handle large paintings. American artists helped in creating transition scenes and special effects. Two Haitian artists obtained visas and worked in the Vermont studio. Haitian writers, musicians and a radio announcer in Montreal gave assistance during the final stages.
      Black Dawn was first screened at the Gala Exhibition of Haitian Art at the Brooklyn Museum in the fall of 1978.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

US System Failure: The Presidency Is the Problem

Continuing transfer of power to the executive branch in the United States is a largely untold story of the last half century, abetted by the cult of commander-in-chief authority, a global network of military outposts, a vast intelligence apparatus, the withholding of information on spurious grounds, and a permanent state of emergency... 
      Presidential sovereignty stems from the widely accepted (but utterly erroneous) notion that only a single executive can manage US foreign affairs. At the urging of various private interests, this has led to hundreds of US interventions around the world, often with Congress partially, wholly or willingly kept in the dark. The pattern, which began with President James Polk’s 1846 calculated provocation of war with Mexico, ultimately went public more than a century later with the exposure of a worldwide crusade to arm, train and direct various "contra" forces. It wasn’t “approved” public policy, but it nevertheless has served as a centerpiece of presidential foreign policy since the Reagan years...
       Two centuries after the US constitutional system was created, it has unraveled under the explosive force of the imperial presidency. The framers, though they could not predict the global dominance of the US, were certainly aware of the dangers of a drift toward monarchy. Unfortunately, their handiwork no longer meets the test. Even though the president needs congressional approval for expenditures and declarations of war, almost anything is permissible if the appropriate “national security” rationale can be manufactured...  
       Even impeachment won’t counter the long-term drift toward executive sovereignty, since a president can only be impeached for “high crimes and misdemeanors” while most of the covert or “illegal” actions condoned or promoted by presidents are tried-and-true policies that Congress dare not condemn, criminal as they may be. 
      According to historian Barbara Tuchman, the office itself “has become too complex and its reach too extended to be trusted to the fallible judgment of one individual.” Thus, she and others have suggested restructuring ideas; for example, a directorate or a Council of State to which the executive would be accountable. Ironically, such ideas were discussed and rejected at the original Constitutional Convention.
      Some basic changes are obviously needed. Presidents will continue to seek expanded power until clear limits are imposed and public pressure reverses the trend. In the end, the US may need another Constitutional Convention.

The Complete Text

Monday, June 26, 2017

Campus Paradise Lost: The Fall of Burlington College

Just before classes began at Burlington College in September 2011, President Jane O’Meara Sanders offered local media a tour of the school’s new campus and her vision of the future. A few days later, she followed up with the Board of Trustees, cheerily pleased with the press coverage and the school’s mention in a Newsweek-Daily Beast poll as the number one college for “free-spirited students.” 

Finally, she wrote, “we are getting the creative message through nationally.”

One of the country’s smallest post-secondary institutions, originally launched in 1972 as a “school without walls” for non-traditional students, Burlington College was about to turn 40. In addition to a large new campus, it was adding academic majors and had ambitious plans to more than double its enrollment by the end of the decade.

Sanders, wife of Vermont's famous junior US Senator, presented a range of optimistic enrollment goals, sometimes reaching as high as 500 students within five years, double the highest figure in the school’s history.

Two weeks later, however, she unexpectedly resigned after reaching a private settlement with the Board of Trustees. A press release from the college, which had purchased buildings and property previously owned by the Catholic Diocese for $10 million less than a year before at her urging, said that Sanders would step down on Oct. 14 but gave no reason for the change.

So began a four year slide that ultimately led to the sudden announcement that Burlington College would close by the end of May 2016. 

In January, Catholic parishioners in Vermont asked the US attorney in Vermont and the inspector general of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to investigate if Ms. Sanders committed federal bank fraud by misrepresenting the college’s fundraising commitments to secure loans for the land purchase. As faculty and staff emptied the school building prior to a May 27 takeover by the People's United Bank, locks were changed, students held a public funeral, and one witness close to the administration claimed that computer hard drives had been seized by unnamed officials.

Staying Small

Had it survived, even with a 34-acre campus offering views of Lake Champlain and five times as much space for classes and offices, Burlington College would have remained one of the five smallest colleges in the country. In Vermont only two schools had fewer students. For four decades, BC's annual enrollment had fluctuated between 100 and 250.

To double that number by 2020, enrollment would have to increase by at least 12 percent a year, a goal well beyond the national average and a radical departure from the school’s track record. The $10 million purchase of the Catholic Diocese property, as well as committing to more than $3 million in renovations, had put the school under serious financial, management and academic pressure. 

During the previous decade Burlington College’s annual income had grown by about half a million, from $2.744 million in 2001 to $3.372 as of 2008, based on federal 990 tax filings. But until recently enrollment had been on the decline. Between 2001 and 2008, the number of students dropped by about 40 percent, from 250 to 156. Enrollment had risen since, reaching somewhere between 180 and 200 students attending part or full-time at the time Sanders resigned.

While the number of students had decreased during the last decade, income from tuition had increased from $1.998 to $2.912 million. The school kept pace financially through a series of tuition increases that accelerated after Sanders became president. Tuition rose over 60 percent from $13,120 in 2003, the year before she arrived, to $22,407 in 2011.

During the same period the school’s assets also increased, from under a million in 2004 to $1.454 million by 2008, or around 50 percent. Sanders’ salary went from $103,500 to more than $150,000.

Of Vermont’s 30 colleges and universities, only seven cost more – Green Mountain, Landmark, Bennington, St. Mike’s, Marlboro, Norwich and Champlain. The University of Vermont’s in-state tuition was about $6,000 a year less. Despite its attractive new campus, Burlington College was at a competitive disadvantage, especially for in-state students, and lacked sufficient discretionary funds to embark on the kind of sustained marketing it needed, especially with increased overhead.

Sanders Takes Charge 

Prior to becoming Burlington College president in 2004, Jane Sanders worked as campaign manager for her husband Bernie Sanders, then a US congressman. Her credentials also included a stint running Goddard College and almost a decade as head of youth services for Burlington, mainly during the Sanders administration.

In 2005 she said that increasing student numbers was vital because tuition dollars would help pay for the overall plan she was developing. As it turned out, tuition dollars rose but the number of students didn’t. The college was also mindful of its mission to stay small, she added. In 2006, however, she announced a $6 million expansion plan. The initial idea was to build a three-story structure next to the current building on North Avenue.

Hired at about the same salary as her predecessor, President Sanders received salary bumps for the next five years, ultimately topping $150,000 in 2009. During the same period tuition rose by more than $5,000 while enrollment dipped to 156 students.

By 2008, students and faculty were expressing frustration, especially after the dismissal of popular literature professor Genese Grill. Students, faculty and staff said that the environment at the school had become toxic and disruptive. In interviews, many blamed Sanders and decried what was described as a “crisis of leadership.”

More than two dozen faculty and staff left the school during Sanders’ tenure, according to then-Student Government President Joshua Lambert. Grill claimed she was fired for criticizing Sanders, particularly for a letter to Academic Affairs Committee Chair Bill Kelly blaming Sanders for an “atmosphere of fear and censorship” on campus. Sanders called Grill’s critique unfair but declined to discuss the details. 

The American Association of University Professors, which became aware of the dispute, noted that Burlington College lacked a grievance policy for faculty, an omission considered “quite unusual.” Robert Kreiser, program officer in AAUP’s department of academic freedom, tenure and governance, told the weekly, Seven Days, “A faculty member should have the right to speak out about actions and policies at his or her own college.” He offered to help Sanders draft a new policy but she declined.

We are leaving a 16,000 square foot building on 2 acres to a 77,000 square foot building on 34 acres. Instead of a lake view, we have lakefront.”
                                                                               – Jane O’Meara Sanders

Despite faculty resignations and student objections, the trustees continued to  back their CEO. “The board is quite confident in Jane’s leadership, and we stand by her,” said Patrick Gallivan, who was board chair In 2008.

By 2011, the Board was being chaired by Adam Dantzscher, a credit and debt consultant, and Gallivan, a vice president at St. Michael’s College, had become vice chair. Members included two local orthopedic surgeons, a psychologist and a workplace consultant, the development director of Fletcher Allen Hospital and an emeritus faculty member from UVM.

The business community was represented by David Dunn, an advisor at the Vermont Small Business Development Center; Rob Michalak, Director of Social Mission for Ben & Jerry’s; and David Grunvald, vice president of Preci Manufacturing, a leading Vermont military contractor. The Board was rounded out by peace activist Robin Lloyd, student representative Brendan Donaghey, and Jonathan Leopold, former Chief Financial Officer for the City of Burlington.

Originally appointed as city treasurer by Bernie Sanders decades earlier, Leopold had become treasurer of the Burlington College board, and chaired the crucial Finance an d Facilities Committee. He'd left city employment the previous June, as controversy erupted over his handling of Burlington Telecom financing, but continued consulting for the city under a short-term contract. His wife Roxanne was part of Burlington College’s core staff; she headed the school’s psychology and human services programs.

Buying a Campus 

When the school community gathered to honor the 34 members of its 2011 graduating class at its new campus, Sanders acknowledged that the only man who could have brokered such a deal with the Roman Catholic Diocese was real estate mogul Antonio Pomerleau. A prominent local Catholic, Pomerleau had been a prime target of Bernie Sanders’ political attacks when he first became Burlington mayor. But since then they had become family friends. 

“He understands relationships,” Jane Sanders explained at 2011 graduation ceremonies. “Not just ‘who you know,’ but an understanding that leads to a reputation, and to trust.”

As a result of more than two dozen sexual abuse lawsuits, the Catholic Diocese was on the hook for $17.65 million in settlements. The property initially went on the market for $12.5 million. Although $10 million looked like a bargain, not everyone was impressed. According to Erick Hoekstra, a developer for a local commercial development firm, City officials may have overvalued the property. Even if hundreds of housing units were eventually built on the land, a more realistic price was $5 million to $7 million, he claimed.

The college’s vision for its new land base was ambitious but expensive. The main building was already being renovated for classrooms, administration offices and labs. Eventually, the former bishop’s residence, with a view of Lake Champlain,  would provide space for public events, study rooms and visiting faculty.  For the first year $1.2 million was budgeted for renovations. But it would cost at least $2 million more to complete the transformation, including work on an enormous building previously rented by the Howard Center to provide housing for about 16 students.

“It’s fabulous,” said Sanders. “We are leaving a 16,000 square foot building on 2 acres to a 77,000 square foot building on 34 acres. Instead of a lake view, we have lakefront.”

According to Dantzscher, the strategic plan developed five years before had basically been achieved. “Now we can decide and dictate our own destiny,” he predicted.

To make this dramatic expansion work financially, the college tried to lower some of its expenses by refinancing debt and improving energy efficiency. However, Sanders acknowledged that completing the move would require still more borrowing. In addition, a $6 million capital campaign (increased from an initial $4 million) had been launched. But progress was slower than hoped.

Subsequent investigations have suggested that Sanders overstated donation amounts in a bank application for the $6.7 million loan used by the college to purchase the land. She apparently told People’s United Bank that the college had $2.6 million in pledged donations to support the purchase. But the college received only $676,000 in actual donations from 2010 through 2014, according to figures provided by the college. That’s far less than the $5 million Sanders listed as likely pledges in the loan agreement, and less than a third of the $2.14 million she told People’s Bank the college would collect in cash during the four-year period.

Two people whose pledges are listed as confirmed in the loan agreement told VTDigger that their personal financial records show their pledges were overstated. Neither were aware that the pledges were used to secure the loan. Burlington College also cited a $1 million bequest as a pledged donation that would be paid out over six years, even though the money would only be available after the donor’s death.

Evolving Academics

In its final years, the most popular academic programs at the school included film, photography, fine arts and integral psychology. As part of an expansion plan, new majors were proposed in media activism and hospitality/event management, as well as four new Bachelor of Fine Arts degree programs. It already offered study abroad opportunities, including one in Cuba with the University of Havana, and an Institute for Civic Engagement to promote an informed, active citizenry.

Most Burlington College students were under 25, a contrast with both the school’s early history and recent educational trends. Nationally, the number of older students was rising faster than enrollment for those under 25, a pattern expected to continue. The question confronting the Board of Trustees was whether a small school, even with a lovely new campus, could succeed in doubling its student body in the current academic and economic environment. 

Sanders' critics said the underlying problem was that she was more concerned with image and marketing than academic quality. As one former faculty member who asked to be kept anonymous put it, she preferred hiring “young inexperienced, but ‘hip’ people whom she hopes she can push around.”

Dynamics of Growth 

If there was a precedent for the school’s expansion hopes, it was less than a mile away at Champlain College. Founded as Burlington Collegiate Institute by G.W. Thompson in 1878, it was renamed Burlington Business College in 1884, moved to Bank Street in 1905, and relocated to Main Street in 1910.

The College took its current name in 1958 and moved to the Hill Section of Burlington. That year, it offered only associate’s degree programs, had about 60 students and no dorms. But it had grown enormously in the decades since then, launching new programs in the social services, adding a campus center in 1989, bachelor’s degree programs in 1991 and online education as early as 1993.  Today it has around 3,000 students and a sprawling campus.

In contrast, Burlington College, while expanding its core and adjunct faculty from 15 to almost 100 over the years, its staff from less than 10 to 61, and its budget from $200,000 to almost $4 million, never saw significant enrollment growth. In fact, while Champlain’s student body was exploding Burlington College’s declined.

One of the differences was that Champlain expanded its campus based on increased demand for business and technology education, while Burlington College hoped that better facilities, more majors and a larger land base would attract students. In other words, if you build them – programs and facilities, that is – they will come. However, this approach was at odds with the school’s original intent – academic freedom and self-designed studies in diverse community settings rather than on a traditional "bricks and mortar" campus. 

A larger campus created opportunities but also challenges. In the former category was space to create dorms for up to 100 students, an attractive campus for mid-career professionals in master’s programs, plus labs and a student lounge. But it made rapid growth essential. If student enrollment didn't rise consistently, it was clear that the new campus would become a burden, one that required either dramatically increased fundraising, even higher tuition costs, or somehow leveraging the school’s land base to compensate.

About four years after the purchase, faced with bankruptcy, Burlington College was forced to sell most of the property to developer Eric Farrell. At first the idea was that the school might remain, retaining some programs in a small portion of the former Catholic Diocese headquarters, with Farrell building 600 housing units on the rest of the land. For the City of Burlington, this would represent tax revenue. Like the Catholic Diocese the College was tax exempt. 

Now Burlington College is completely out of the picture, and any housing built on the land will bring in property taxes. Some of the units will even be affordable. But the questions surrounding the untimely demise of Burlington's most progressive college will haunt the community for years to come.

Much of this material was first published in 2011 by VTDigger.

Related story: Why Jane Sanders Left Burlington College

Friday, June 2, 2017

UNWITTING: Testing the Limits with MKULTRA

Chapter Five: Mastering Minds 
(The Secret War on William Pierce)

When Bill Pierce’s real troubles began he had no solid evidence that mind control projects were being actively pursued by the federal government. For years he sounded like a crank, paranoid and possibly delusional. But once the surviving MKULTRA documents were declassified in 1977 – most of them were destroyed before they could be reviewed by Congress -- his descriptions and personal experiences in the 1950s and 60s began to look uncannily close to the experiments actually being pursued by the CIA at the time.
       Even prior to MKULTRA,  considerable research had been done by the government on amnesia, hypnotic couriers and efforts to create a Manchurian Candidate – a label commonly used after the release of a 1963 conspiracy thriller with that title. The CIA’s goal was to develop “brainwashing” techniques and program subjects with a hypnotically implanted trigger, thus turning them into secret agents who wouldn’t remember what they had done. In scientific terms, the objective was to deliberately and experimentally create dissociative identity disorders, with associated amnesia barriers, and use this technique in both simulated and actual covert operations.
      MKULTRA was officially launched by the Central Intelligence Agency on April 3, 1953, and continued for a decade until it was rolled into another project, MKSEARCH, in 1964. That ran for another eight years, until CIA Director Richard Helms ordered most of the MK documents shredded in June 1972. Despite this, and redactions to most documents that did survive, they revealed that there had been hundreds of separate sub-projects.
      In an August 1963 “Report of Inspection of MKULTRA,” Deputy CIA Director Marshall Carter acknowledged a problem: “Research in the manipulation of human behavior is considered by many authorities in medicine and related fields to be professionally unethical, therefore the reputations of professional participants in the MKULTRA program are on occasion in jeopardy.” Beyond that, “the testing of MKULTRA products places the rights and interests of U.S. citizens in jeopardy.” As a result, the paper trail was being kept to a bare minimum, operational control was delegated to the Technical Services Division (TSD), and the entire project was exempted from audit.
      During the preceding ten years the “avenues to the control of human behavior” had expanded to include “radiation, electro-shock, various fields of psychology, psychiatry, sociology, and anthropology, graphology, harassment substances, and paramilitary devices and materials.” Under a heading titled “Advanced testing of MKULTRA materials,” the 1963 CIA report asserted the “firm doctrine in TSD that testing of materials under accepted scientific procedure fails to disclose the full pattern of reactions and attributions that may occur in operational situations.” It added that TSD “initiated a program for covert testing of materials on unwitting U.S, citizens in 1955,” the same year Pierce said his own troubles began.
      The ultimate test for any drug, device or technique, argued the report, was “application to unwitting subjects in normal life settings. It was noted earlier that the capabilities of MKULTRA substances to produce disabling or discrediting effects or to increase the effectiveness of interrogation of hostile subjects cannot be established solely through testing on volunteer populations.”
      To keep the loop small and secure, “certain cleared and witting individuals in the Bureau of Narcotics” provided various drugs for testing on those “deemed desirable and feasible.” Some of the most “feasible” subjects were informers and criminals. But as the report added, “the effectiveness of the substances on individuals at all social levels, high and low, native American and foreign, is of great significance and testing has been performed on a variety of individuals within these categories.” In some cases, “the test subject has become ill for hours or days, including hospitalization in at least one case.”
      Bill Pierce was no longer teaching at Syracuse in 1962. After a year at West Virginia University, he had moved to Stillwater to teach at Oklahoma State University that September. But he was still writing letters to prominent individuals and newspapers about “right-wing extremism” and “security procedures." 
       Then suddenly, in mid-October, he was removed from his teaching duties and ordered by the university administration to undergo a psychological examination. According to Pierce, "extremists" were trying to discredit him. But some students, along with the manager of a local coffee shop, told President Oliver Willham that Pierce was the one creating disturbances. Word rapidly spread across campus that he was “psycho.” It was precisely what he feared and had been writing about. 
      In a letter by Pierce published in the Oklahoma City Times on Oct.19, 1962 the primary focus was the arrest and hospitalization of Maj. Gen. Edwin A. Walker, whose fiery rhetoric had helped to spark a violent riot on the University of Mississippi campus. On September 30, after hundreds of people were wounded and two were killed, Walker was arrested on charges including sedition and insurrection.
      Attorney General Robert Kennedy ordered Walker held in a mental institution for 90 days of psychiatric examination. But the decision was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union and psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, who argued that psychiatry should not be a political tool. After five days Kennedy backed down and Walker was released.
      Pierce certainly didn’t agree with Walker’s politics. But he did identify with the situation. “Admittedly, Walker’s extreme views on ‘liberals’ and his alleged defiance of the government (including alleged incitement to violence) suggest mental unbalance," he wrote,  but the presumptions of enforced mental tests and/or treatment should cause us grave concern."
      “It is only a short step from psychiatric tests for rioters to psychiatric tests for victims of crime and political persecution,” Pierce warned. “A favorite technique of the latter is clever misuse of the ‘psychopath’ label; and, even worse, revolutionary devices of psychological warfare and brainwashing capable of crippling almost any human being, and in such a manner that the victim’s factual description of the attack sounds like mental illness.”
     A few days after his letter was published a police officer and sheriff’s deputy showed up at his apartment with a warrant for his arrest, apparently at the instigation of President Willham. Sheriff Charlie Fowler had never met Pierce before, yet the detention order  claimed that Fowler had “personal knowledge” that he was violent and showed the potential to injure himself or others.
     A week later, Pierce was involuntarily committed. More ominously --  and without him realizing its significance -- he had been placed in the care of Dr. Louis J. West, one of the CIA’s leading MKULTRA doctors, a cutting-edge scientist who had once killed an elephant with an overdose of LSD.

To be continued... 

Chapter One: Wrong Turn
Two: Naming Names
Three: Unwanted Voices
Four: Chung's Way

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Progressive Vermont: The Winding Road to Fusion

For most Vermonters the biggest stories five years ago were the state’s response to Hurricane Irene -- the state’s worst natural disaster since 1927, the struggle over closure of Vermont Yankee, and passage of the first-in-the-nation universal health care system. After almost a decade the state also had another Democratic governor, Peter Shumlin, who pledged to usher in single-payer health insurance and usher out Yankee. Meanwhile, around the country people were starting to rally to Bernie Sanders' economic critique.
     The larger story, in the Green Mountains and beyond, was the sea change in public discourse – from anti-government rage to a more progressive focus (also angry) on economic inequality and concentration of wealth. At the time conservatives called the new movement class warfare, but it actually reflected an overdue recovery from a period of national amnesia. 
      The pace of change was quickening – revolt across the Middle East, Greece and other countries on the verge of economic default, plus a titanic struggle for the soul of the US in the presidential race. Democrats were experiencing Obama Fatigue, while among the leading Republican candidates Mitt Romney had the organization and the money. But he was a member of the 1%, a “vulture capitalist” who seemed to lack core principles.
     From Vermont to San Francisco, thousands were protesting the growing wealth disparity between the rich and almost everyone else. Using social networks and a collective approach the Occupy movement had spread rapidly to hundreds of cities, gaining momentum as unions and politicians offered support. According to a Gallup poll, 44 percent of Americans felt that the economic system was personally unfair to them. More to the point, the top 1 percent had greater net worth than the “bottom” 90 percent. And in an unusual generational twist, more people under 30 viewed the general concept of socialism in a positive light than capitalism.
     The number of Vermonters living in poverty had changed little in the previous 40 years, moving almost imperceptibly from 12.1 percent in 1969 to 11.5 percent in 2009. In early 2012 Vermont Interfaith Action – part of a national group that was looking for solutions to “systemic issues that prevent our most vulnerable citizens from enjoying the quality of life God intends for us all” – confronted several lawmakers and Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding with this disquieting reality at the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue in Burlington.
     The gist was that state government had failed to effectively address economic inequality. The event, billed as an “economic action,” attracted about 125 people from a variety of faith communities on a wintry Sunday afternoon. The issue of poverty was being “held hostage to a shortage of funds created in part by the refusal to ask wealthy Vermonters to do more,” the report’s authors declared. They accused state leaders of having succumbed to fear “by some who claim that raising taxes on the wealthy will result in capital flight.”
     When asked if he would work to avoid cuts in social programs by raising taxes on the wealthiest Vermonters, Tim Ashe joined the two other senators, Democrat Sally Fox and Progressive/Democrat Anthony Pollina, in saying they were on board. Rep. Martha Heath, who chaired the House Appropriations Committee, was more equivocal. It would depend on balancing various needs, she explained, and urged those in the room to make their case at legislative hearings.
     State funding was being misallocated, Ashe charged. He pointed specifically at the Vermont Training Program, a Department of Economic Development initiative that subsidized wages and trained employees in new and existing businesses. Although the emphasis was supposed to be on enterprises that could not afford to fund training, profitable enterprises like Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and General Electric Aviation in Rutland had received more than $400,000.
     When his turn came to speak Pollina pointed to a drop in median family income for Vermonters. Inequality was greater than at any time since the 1930s Depression. But his prescriptions, beyond some tax changes, were to improve the process for setting the state budget and develop a state bank, an unlikely proposal that had been part of the Liberty Union Party’s platform four decades before.

From Outside to Inside 

Anthony Pollina was elected to the state Senate in 2010, and joined Tim Ashe as the second Progressive leader to run successfully as a fusion candidate with both the Democratic and Progressive nomination. It was his first term in office. Yet Pollina had entered statewide politics with a splash many years earlier. In 1984, he had won an insurgent victory in the Democratic primary for US Congress, then decisively lost in the general election to Jim Jeffords, the popular incumbent.
     He didn’t run again for 16 years, but served during the 1990s as Senior Policy Advisor to then-Congressman Sanders. He also fought for campaign finance reform legislation that established public funding for statewide political campaigns. In 2002, however, when his campaign for Lt. Governor failed to qualify for public funding Pollina filed a lawsuit in federal court to overturn the law.
     Running for governor as a Progressive in 2000 Pollina received 9.5 percent in a crowded field with Republican Ruth Dwyer, who received 37.9 percent, and incumbent governor Howard Dean, who won with 50.4. Two years later, in the race for Lt. Governor, he received 24.8 percent in a three way race, behind Shumlin, with 32.1 percent, and Brian Dubie, who won with 41.2. Dean had retired, and was planning a race for President. Michael Badamo ran for governor as a Progressive – without much support from the Party, and got only .6 percent. Jim Douglas was elected.
     In 2004, Peter Clavelle, in the midst of his last term as the mayor, returned to the Democratic Party and challenged Douglas’s first re-election bid. Douglas won again, this time with 57.8 percent. Clavelle received only 37.9. The Progressive Party didn’t field a candidate for governor that year, or in 2006.
     Pollina ran for governor again in 2008. But at a July press conference the Progressive leader announced that he would appear on the ballot as an Independent. It was “by far the best way” to build a coalition, he now claimed. The decision raised questions about his reasons and the future of the party.
     Both Sanders and his predecessor Jeffords had been embraced as Independents, Pollina argued. But Sanders became an Independent in the late 1970s after several disappointing runs as a third party candidate. At the time he publicly announced that the timing wasn’t right for a new party. He had since served four terms as Burlington mayor and eight as a US Congressman, before running for the US Senate in 2006. In every race he ran as an Independent.
     Jeffords, on the other hand, was a life-long Republican, serving in the US House and Senate for decades. He left the GOP in 2001, citing deep differences with the Republican leadership and the Bush administration. It turned out to be his last term, and there was no way to know how Vermont voters would have responded had he attempted to run for re-election as an Independent.
     Pollina’s reasons were different. He had devoted years to building Vermont’s Progressive Party, and had declined to enter the Democratic primary earlier the same year, saying he had no intention of running as anything but a Progressive. “You know, I’m a Progressive,” he told columnist Peter Freyne. “I’m not going to leave the Progressive Party to become a candidate of another party.”
     Doing so "would undermine people's faith in me and also in the process," he said,  " I woudn't be too surprised if there were Democrat who would accuse me of being oportunistic in switching parties." Once he announced the intention to switch his status, Democrats did exacty that. "This is about opportunistic decision-making," Democratic Party Chair Ian Carlton told The Burlington Free Press. 
       The underlying question raised by Pollina’s decision was whether it was more important to build a party or win a race. Thirty years earlier Sanders had faced the same choice, made it, and held office almost continuously since 1981 – as an Independent. Although the unofficial head of the state’s progressive movement, he never joined a party and didn’t feel accountable to any partisan line. At times he was criticized for not doing enough to build an alternative to the Republicans and Democrats. He ignored the critique.
     By running as an Independent Pollina claimed that he hoped to build on his Progressive base, possibly as high as 25 percent, attracting voters who had no allegiance to the other two major parties. If he succeeded, in theory the chances increased that neither Democratic challenger Gaye Symington nor Douglas would get 50 percent. If that happened, Vermont’s Legislature would pick from among the top three vote getters. It seemed like a long shot.
     Traditionally, Vermont lawmakers went with the person who received the most votes – but they weren’t required to do so. Democrats had a 60-vote edge in the state legislature, not counting the six Progressives and two Independents in the House of Representatives. If Symington, Speaker of the Democrat-dominated House, came in first or a close second, they might well choose her over Douglas. If Pollina beat them, even by a few votes, he could plausibly argue that picking anyone else would be undemocratic. At least theoretically, he could create that situation by getting no more than 34 percent.
     Abbott’s endorsement indicated that the Progressive Party’s leadership backed his play. As Pollina argued, they didn’t want to let a label get in the way of victory. On the other hand, the party's leadership had misjudged its base in the past. A prime example was Burlington after Clavelle, when leadership backed the Democrat but the grassroots recruited an upset winner, Bob Kiss. 
     Pollina’s 2008 campaign won the support of the three largest unions in the state. The Vermont-National Education Association backed an independent candidate for governor for the first time. He also received support from the Gun Owners of Vermont, a "libertarian" connection Sanders also made in campaigns. When the votes were counted, however, he came in with 21.8 percent, just a tenth of a percentage ahead of the Democrat. Douglas won again, this time with 53.4 percent.
      Two years ater Pollina ran for the state Senate --and won -- as a Progressive and Democrat. Since then Stae Auditor Doug Hoffer and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman have taken the same path to victory. 


This article is adapted from Progressive Eclipse, available from Amazon, based on reporting for VTDigger. To download a sample:
 PROGRESSIVE ECLIPSE: BURLINGTON, BERNIE AND THE MOVEMENT THAT CHANGED VERMONT

Thursday, May 4, 2017

UNWITTING: Setting the stage for harassment

Chapter Four: Chung's Way
(The Secret War on William Pierce)

In June 1955, about a month after an unsettling talk about Communism and government surveillance with Lilian Hartwell, a new boarder at his home in Syracuse, Bill Pierce attended a Saturday evening cocktail party in town. Students and faculty members were there, including Math Department Chairman Kibbey and Kai Lai Chung, a professor and probability expert who introduced himself to Pierce as the son of a Taiwanese official.
       Kai Lai Chung was no typical member of the Syracuse faculty. Pierce had no way of knowing it, but he was from Hangzhou, a right-wing Kuomintang stronghold until the People's Liberation Army invaded the city and placed it under Communist control on May 3, 1949. 
       At that point the group, known as KMT, retreated to the island of Taiwan. There they used brutal tactics against suspected communists and developed a secret police force to conduct surveillance of political opponents. It continued as the ruling party on Taiwan until reforms instituted from the late 1970s through the 1990s gradually loosened its grip.
       Chung entered Tsinghua University in 1936, a well-connected 19-year-old who initially studied physics. In 1940, he graduated from the Department of Mathematics of National Southwestern Associated University, where he subsequently worked as a teaching assistant. During this period, he studied number theory with Lo-Keng Hua.
       Hua had produced some important work while at Cambridge University, establishing his fame in the international math community. Nevertheless, after the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1938, he chose to return to China, where he was appointed full professor at Tsinghua even though he lacked a degree. With much of China under Japanese occupation Tsinghua, Peking, and Nankai University had merged into the Southwest Associated University in Kunming, capital of the southern province Yunnan. Despite his academic isolation during the war years, Hua produced some first-rate mathematics.
       After Japan bombed Changsha, the remaining staff, faculty and students at Tsinghua fled a thousand miles to China's remote and mountainous southwest and joined with others to create the National Southwest Associated University, known as Lianda. For the next eight years, they worked in makeshift quarters that were often subjected to bombing campaigns by the Imperial Japanese forces. Despite shortages of food, equipment, books, clothing and other essentials they nevertheless ran a modern university, making Lianda University famous nationwide for producing and hosting most of China's prominent academics, scholars, scientists and intellectuals.
      One of the most promising students was Chung, who was ultimately chosen in 1944 for the Boxer Rebellion Indemnity Scholarship Program, a highly competitive, US-funded project that brought Chinese talent to America. Chung arrived at Princeton in December 1945 and obtained his Ph.D. there two years later. His dissertation, “On the maximum partial sum of sequences of independent random variables,” was written under the supervision of John Wilder Tukey and Harald Cramér. 
      Cramér, a Swedish mathematician and actuary who specialized in statistics and probabilistic number theory, was Chung’s Ph.D. advisor. Math chair at Stockholm University at that time, Cramer was also the first Swedish professor of Actuarial Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics. In 1950, he became President of Stockholm University.
      More intriguing was Chung’s other advisor, John W. Tukey, who helped to design the first H-bomb. The program was headed by his friend John Wheeler. In 1945, John von Neumann had enlisted Tukey for a computer development project funded by the Defense Department. Mathematicians were essential to the development of nuclear weapons, especially to test the feasibility of a design through calculations.
      Within a decade Tukey’s promising protégé Chung had taught at some of the leading US schools, moving between University of Chicago, Columbia, UC-Berkeley and Cornell University. In short, Chung had traveled in elite academic circles for years, a loyal anti-Communist who had benefited from those connections. Arriving at Syracuse University, he made contact with another, very different mathematician -- Bill Pierce.
      Shortly after Pierce accepted a drink from Chung at that off-campus party in Syracuse, he began to experience extreme effects. “I felt that I was going to pass out,” he told me. “The next day I was too sick to move, with severe pain in my jaw and head.” The landlady was away, but the overly solicitous Mrs. Lilian Hartwell brought him breakfast and medicine. 
      “I managed to teach my classes, but for the rest of the term my mind was hazy, as though from an anesthetic,” Pierce said. “It would be nearly five years before I discovered what had happened, and almost ten before I could prove it.”
      What exactly was he alleging? And more important, could he prove it? Basically, Pierce claimed that Chung had drugged his drink, knocking him out and setting the stage for “auditory harassment” through a miniature transmitter implanted to replace a filling in one of his teeth.
      It sounded highly unlikely, more likely delusional – that is, until Pierce opened his briefcase and pulled out correspondence with the chief of the Physical Sciences Division of the Department of the Army, a page from Dental Abstracts, and a US Air Force report titled, “Application of Miniaturized Electronic Devices to the Study of Tooth Contact in Complete Dentures.” 
      The response from the Army official said yes, it was possible to hear voices or radio programs through tooth fillings “because of the various materials used in fillings together with accidental ingestion of other particles near the fillings, and the subsequent chance of rectification of signals generated by strong radio waves.” Of course, this wasn’t conclusive. But a notice in Dental Abstracts added another piece to the puzzle with this announcement: 
      “A radio receiver smaller than half a sugar cube has been developed by U.S. Army electronics engineers who say it easily can be further miniaturized. Besides being tiny, a significant feature of this short-wave superheterodyne is its variable tuning.” In other words, the Pierce's claim wasn’t unreasonable: the intelligence community could actually have a tiny, tunable short-wave receiver the size of a tooth. 
     Still, could it be implanted in someone’s mouth? The Air Force report indicated that this had already been done with dentures, mainly to study tooth contact. One photo showed a tiny transmitter with a diameter less than the average tooth. 
      The intelligence community even had a street name for this type of harassment device – shark-bite.

Next: Mastering Minds
Chapter One: Wrong Turn
Two: Naming Names
Three: Unwanted Voices