Burlington College president blames Jane Sanders, others for school’s demise

Burlington College
Carol Moore, president of Burlington College, left, and Coralee Holm, dean of operations and advancement, attend a news conference Monday where they discussed the school’s impending closure. Photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger
BURLINGTON — In a strongly worded commentary, former Burlington College President Dr. Carol Moore is laying blame for the collapse of the college at the feet of her predecessor Jane Sanders, the school’s creditor and former members of the board.

Without mentioning Sanders or her husband, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., by name, Moore suggested that Jane Sanders was able to secure an ill-advised $10 million loan because of deference to her husband and a lack of scrutiny by trustees and People’s United Bank.

Moore’s allegations were contained in a recent scathing letter to the editor in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“BC’s fate was set when its former board members hired an inexperienced president and, six years later, approved the imprudent purchase of a $10 million piece of property for campus expansion. Enrollment that year was about 195 and the budget just over $4 million, less than half of this ill-advised investment. What were they thinking? Where was the Finance Committee when these decisions were being made?” Moore wrote, in the letter published on Aug. 31.

Jane Sanders did not return calls Tuesday requesting comment on Moore’s letter.

Last year, VTDigger reported that Sanders overstated pledged donations in loan documents used to secure the $10 million from People’s United Bank in 2010. At that time, trustees largely refused to discuss why the deal was allowed to go forward or why Sanders was forced out a short time later, though earlier reports suggested it was because of her inability to fundraise.

Most board members from that time declined to be interviewed for that report, but Jonathan Leopold, Burlington’s former chief administrative officer, praised Sanders’ work and refused to discuss why she was ousted.

Former Board Chair Adam Dantzcher said Sanders’ fundraising ability had nothing to do with the board’s decision, but he too declined to say what precipitated her departure.

Sanders told the bank that the college had $2.6 million in pledged donations to support the purchase of the former Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington property on North Avenue. The college, however, received only $676,000 in actual donations from 2010 through 2014, according to figures provided by Burlington College.

The school was also never able to increase enrollment as Sanders had hoped prior to her departure in 2011. She received a $200,000 severance package.

Moore also questioned whether Sen. Sanders’ clout contributed to the loan being approved without sufficient scrutiny.

“More interestingly, what bank lends a small, private, unendowed college of that size and financial status an amount that so obviously outweighs its ability to repay? People’s United Bank of Vermont. And the collateral? One planned gift of a revocable trust, payable upon the death of the donor, and the ‘promise’ of another million-dollar gift. But, alas, no written record of such a ‘promise’ could be found, anywhere in Burlington College’s records,” Moore writes.

People’s United Bank has consistently refused to discuss why it approved the loan, and Vermont President Michael Seaver did not return a request for comment Tuesday.

Moore goes on to suggest that People’s was influenced by Sen. Sanders.

“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 — a senator, as it turned out, with bigger ambitions?”

Sanders sought the Democratic nomination for president this past year.

That echoes allegations leveled by Vermont GOP Vice President Brady Toensing in a letter to the U.S. Attorney of Vermont and the Inspector General of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in January asking that they investigate Sanders for loan fraud.

In his letter, Toensing wrote that Jane Sanders’ “privileged status” as the wife of a senator “inoculated” her dealings from proper scrutiny. “This privileged status, however, should not inoculate her from the scrutiny, culpability and accountability of a federal investigation,” he wrote.

One target left off Moore’s culpability list for entities that should have further scrutinized the loan is the Vermont Health Buildings Financing Agency (VEHBFA), whose members, appointed by the governor, approved the issuance of tax exempt bonds to finance the loan.

People’s United Bank and Burlington College officials have also never explained why People’s remained the sole holder of those tax exempt bonds over a five-year period, until the loan was refinanced in January 2015.

As part of the refinanced loan agreement, the bank terminated VEHBFA’s involvement, according to Bob Giroux, VEHBFA’s executive director.

Moore takes one more parting shot, alluding to a cabal of powerful interests in Burlington, which, she says, may bear ultimate responsibility for what happened to Burlington College.

“Perhaps the network of those whose interconnectedness laid the groundwork for this small college’s demise will ultimately be exposed, providing lessons for the future,” Moore said.

Moore did not respond to a request Tuesday for further comment on her letter.

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Morgan True

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  • Clyde Cook

    And don’t forget that the State of Vermont (in essence YOU and me fellow taxpayer), are footing the bill of $18000.00 to archive the Students transcripts. If Ms. Sanders had any integrity I would hope she would contribute to that, unless legal advice said not to. Sigh… and on it goes….

    • Thomas H. Taber

      You’re getting your underwear in a bundle over $18,000…?

      • Clyde Cook

        Not really, I would hope that the State would go after those that may have mismanaged this school into oblivion to recover the costs of the service they are providing to the students. Even better would be a comment from Jane Sanders on her thoughts about leaving with 200K. For instance, does she truly think she earned it in light if how things have been mismanaged?

  • Todd Morris

    This is what happens when liberal/progressive have access to other peoples money. The good intentioned but misguided utopian world view prevents them from objective reasoning. The bank deserves to eat the loss as they are in the business of being objective but apparently was unable to objectively evaluate the financial status of an far, far overpriced community college. Seriously did anyone who was objective in evaluating the cost of attendance against the return on investment for getting a degree from BC really think this expansion was necessary because enrollment was going to surge? It did not pass the smell test. I for one thought is was ridiculous from the start.

  • James Rude

    It was pretty clear to a neutral observer that, at the time of the land purchase, something did not add up. A small college with little or no endowment, lackluster reputation in academic excellence and run by the wife of a socialist senator, of which neither ever started or ran a successful private enterprise….and we wonder what went wrong….hello, anybody home?

  • Rod West

    Where would Burlington College be today, if the board of directors hadn’t approved ________ (indicate your preference of bad decision here)?

    They took some chances and it turned out badly. I do not remember BC’s pre-Sanders days being all that robust financially.

  • Christopher Daniels

    Mr. True,

    In your investigation of the demise of Burlington College, have you examined the track record of pledges during Ms. Sander’s entire term as president? Have you compared pledge performance (actual pledges as a percentage of promised pledges) at other colleges? These are basic questions that I’ve yet to see answered.

    • Christopher Daniels

      Additional questions:

      1) What was BC’s financial conditions prior to the hiring of Ms. Sanders?
      2) What was BC’s strategic plan prior to the hiring of Ms. Sanders?
      3) DId BC change their strategic plan during Ms. Sander’s tenure?
      4) If so, who initiated the change? And did it include campus expansion and real estate acquisition?

      These questions would provide a comprehensive understanding of the demise of BC. VT Digger, please do your homework.

      Last question: Does Dr. Moore have any connection to Brady Toensig?

  • Randy Koch

    One small feature of this situation catches my eye: it certainly appears that the bank did not do due diligence in approving the loan in the first place. So was it a “liar’s loan” where the condition of the borrower was intentionally misrepresented? If so then the national and international debacle of 2007/8 had no effect? The questionable lending just continued? The banks didn’t even tighten up lending standards for a couple of years?

  • Charles Burnham

    Who are these Board Members?

  • Stan Hopson

    Socialists never were good at math.

    • ed stanak

      And 2008 showed us that capitalists aren’t either !

      • Exactly Ed….when the Investment banks, mortgage companies, and insurance giants like AIG screw up and cost us trillions in lost revenues, jobs, and bailouts,what happened? The banks got bailed out, nobody went to jail, and the people paid. When the same thing happened in Iceland, the bankers went to jail and the people got bailed out.

      • Darin Gillies

        Actually Ed 2008 showed us that crony capitalists create problems. Governing based on good intentions instead of good results created the 2008 debacle.

    • Irene Stewart

      Socialists are takers. Give me money that you have earned thru many years of working, and we will dole it out as we see fit. Bernie and Jane are takers and have been forever. Did they ever work in the private sector? No. They just take and take from the taxpayers in this country. Bernie’s campaign has certainly opened the eyes of all Vermonters to the real Bernie Sanders and his wife, Jane. He had been living under the radar, but now it is out in the open, with probably more to come. The US Attorney in Burlington still has not brought charges against Jane Sanders, and have had the case since late last January. Vermonters and the rest of the country will have more to ponder about Bernie and Jane in the future.

    • Isn’t the TARP agreement that bailed out the banks and AIG in 2008 the ultimate socialist program?

  • Jane Sanders, like her husband Bernie are just pretenders. Neither Jane nor Bernie have ever had a job that wasn’t tax payer funded.
    It’s obvious the two of them have no reservations about lying and misrepresenting financial disclosures and bank applications.

    Saddest thing, a majority of Vermonters still hold these two criminals on a pedestal.

    • Thomas H. Taber

      People are seriously still hammering on about this stuff? Give it a rest, you’re a broken record.

      • Todd Morris

        Thomas I think objective observers expect those responsible for the debacle to be held accountable. Do you feel they should be held accountable? Do you believe they have been? Jane Saners, BC board of directors and those providing loans largely based on phantom pledged donations are those I feel should be held accountable. There were people financially damaged and students SOL that might like someone to be held to account. If you are a leader such as a president of a college you are paid far more than most to make wise decisions. Shouldn’t there be consequences for making very poor decisions and from the sounds of it lying regarding pledged donations?

        • Christopher Daniels

          You actually don’t know that these were phantom donations. VT Digger has never established the basis for the difference between the pledged and actual donations.

          • Todd Morris

            Christopher, the proofs in the pudding. The donations did not materialize and the college went belly-up. So, no I am not privy to the details and documents provided to the bank. However I see the outcome. Do you know that these pledges were legit? Your response seems to imply you think they were. However the outcome seems to lend more credence to the fact that they were not legit. If in fact you don’t know, why have you seemingly taken a position that would belie the reality that the college went bankrupt. Is it because you are not being objective due to some desire to protect someones reputation? I think the weight of evidence to date would suggest somebody produced a business plan to the lenders which was deeply flawed at best or a fabrication at worst. The reality is that the cash flows of BC could not support the debt.

          • Christopher Daniels

            You’re making some incorrect assumptions. My questions are directed to VT Digger, as they are making connections and drawing conclusions unsupported by evidence. I have no idea if Ms. Sanders was incompetent, unlucky, or fraudulent. VT Digger has not supply any evidence toward any of the three possible conclusions, yet it does not stop them from publishing articles on the closing of the school and Ms. Sander’s role. Without evidence, these published stories are little more than tantalizing scandal mongering. The suggestion of impropriety is strong, but without evidence, it’s just that, a suggestion. I expect better out of VT Digger, but given its recent coverage of Senator Sanders, it’s clear that my expectations are too high.

      • Thomas you must think this is all OK? “Give it a Rest” has led Vermont to where we are.

      • Rich Lachapelle

        To quote a famous American politician: “what difference at this point does it make?”,

  • Oh, how many of you wanted her to be first lady with that kind of thinking? People like that should be made to forfeit their wealth to the cause. Did they also give her a liberal leaving pay, how stupid.

    • Thomas H. Taber

      $200,000 in exit pay? That’s chump change. Fogel got half a million clean and was able to retain an academic appointment when he resigned. He makes $200,000 every year to teach a class about graphic novels.

  • Dan Donnelly

    This all smells of a hit job by a person whose self interest is evident. The responses reflect the desired outcome.

  • Gary Murdock

    Well it’s about time someone points a finger at Peoples. I recall commenting on the article when this fiasco first broke, suggesting that Peoples be investigated for making this loan.

  • One with any business acumen (or with a few episodes of Shark Tank under their belt) would take a look at the numbers in the article and immediately suggest that this school went “underwater” AND upside down the day the 10 million was transferred into the real estate purchase. It wasn’t merely Sanders inability to fund raise… It was a shortage of either blindly led or totally ignorant donors, because no-one with any common sense and practical vision would cut a check to loose into this apparent abyss.

  • Bruce Seifer

    According to the ‘Association of Colleges and Universities’: Governing Boards are the governing body of the college or Board of “Trustees are fiduciaries—legally responsible for assets, financial and other. As a condition of office, the board of trustees accept obligations to sustain assets that do not belong to them, and to serve the interests of others.” Ie., their jobs are making legal and fiduciary decisions and approve the organizations mission and strategic goals including approving the budget.


    Isn’t this obvious – of course this was the downfall of Burlington College

  • Ann Tucker-Gwinn

    Oh well, thank goodness Jonathon Leopold says it was all ok.

    Maybe he can tell us next how that large contract Burlington had with his son’s resort in the Bahamas was also totally legit.

  • Bob Hooper

    Who were the other Officers and Board Members who cast the Yea votes for these actions?? In Mdt situations, ms Sanders as President usually DOES NOT get a VOTE. She may or may not have brought the idea, but……

    • Mark Moore

      She may not have a vote, but she, in large part, captains the ship. The board and lenders depend on accurate and honest reporting from the president to make their decisions– apparently they did not get it, and for that she (and others) should be held accountable.

  • Sandy Baird

    Why does no one ask what happened after Jane Sanders left? After all, she left in 2011 and three presidents succeeded her with the last being Carol Moore former President of Lyndon State. The real demise of BC took place when Jane for unknown reasons left after as what she said “the Board had a different vision from the future of the college than she had.”
    The next three, Christine Plunkett, Mike Smith and Carol Moore had no realistic plans to increase enrollments, no real ability to fund raise and from day one of their tenures in office made plans to sell the property to real estate developer, Eric Farrell. In a final irony Carol Moore gave Farrell an honorary degree at BC’s last graduation. Why does Moore absolve them of responsibility including most notably herself?
    Sandy Baird

  • Mendoza Ferrer

    Why does no one ask how enrollment numbers were affected by students enrolled at VT Woodworking School through Burlington College – taking tuition and residency funds away from the college and lining the pockets of a for-profit institution? Does no one not think it strange that since becoming a part of Burlington College, VT Woodworking has thrived – while the Burlington College has gone bankrupt? Interesting, too that Jane Sanders decided to create a woodworking program at Burlington College shortly after her daughter, Carina Driscoll, opened VT Woodworking School. That relationship continued after Jane left with Carina become Dean of the woodworking program at Burlington College until it was shuttered this past spring. The Board of Trustees should be held accountable for this questionable relationship.