Faculty, Administration Differ on UVM’s Finances

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(Host) A study sponsored by the faculty union at the University of Vermont contends UVM is in sound financial condition. The conclusions contradict the University’s claims of serious budget problems. The study is intended to bolster the union position that UVM has the money to increase faculty salaries.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Most discussions about the state of affairs at the University of Vermont contain phrases like "financially strapped" and "money problems." But Rudy Fichtenbaum uses different words to describe the university’s financial picture:

(Fichtenbaum) "I’ve looked at the financial statements of the institution and have come to the conclusion that the institution is in excellent financial condition. That in every single year, the university’s revenues have exceeded their expenses."

(Zind) Fichtenbaum is a professor of economics at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. He’s conducted financial studies of a number of universities for unions representing college faculties. Fichtenbaum is in Vermont to talk with faculty members about his analysis of UVM. Even though he works for the union, Fichtenbaum says he doesn’t always tell faculty what they want to hear:

(Fichtenbaum) "I’ve done a report before where I had to tell people, ‘Gee, I hate to tell you this but it really doesn’t look like your university has any money.’ And I think in the case of the University of Vermont, that’s not the case."

(Zind) Contract negotiations between the UVM union and the administration have been underway since early this year. Neither side will comment on what progress is being made. The University says it can’t comment on Fichtenbaum’s study while negotiations are underway.

From the outset the union has said better pay for UVM teachers was a top priority. Fichtenbaum says the divide between his assessment and UVM’s contention that it has money problems is because university budgets can be misleading. He says they reflect administration priorities and decisions about how to manage funds, not necessarily how much money is really available. Gerry Gossens was a UVM trustee for six years. He says Fichtenbaum findings are wrong. He says the budget problems at UVM are real and serious:

(Gossens) "You have to think of between $85-100 million in deferred maintenance that face us. You have to think in terms of the fact that the state continues to fund us at the second lowest level in the nation. That we’re running a $3-5 million dollar deficit in the budget every year."

(Zind) As contract negotiations continue, union representatives and UVM’s administration will have to reconcile two very different points of view about the university’s financial condition.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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