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.