Bill Schubart

Commentator

Bill Schubart lives and writes in Hinesburg. His latest book is Lila & Theron.

I’ve been watching the national effort to politicize Burlington College’s demise and am saddened by the venality of our politics and our dangerous ignorance of non-profit governance. It’s endemic in Vermont, where too many of our major non-profits have limped through a decade or two of un-reviewed leadership, mission decay, and disconnection from constituents because their boards have no idea what the obligations and liabilities of board members are or even what board service means.

How quickly we forget. Just short of four decades ago Vermont policymakers decided that a competitive healthcare system had not lowered healthcare costs, but was, in fact, driving costs up, as hospitals vied for more expensive technology and market share. The relationship between our thirteen community hospitals and our tertiary-care hospitals – then Fletcher Allen and Dartmouth – were tortured and riddled with expense.

From as early as I can remember, I’ve been an opera buff. I remember sitting in the orchestra section at the Old Metropolitan Opera House on 39th and Broadway and hearing the great mid-century singers. My great-grandmother Selma was having a platonic affair with Caruso. My Aunt Rose hung out with the greats of the time: Gueden, Schwarzkopf, Kunz, and Jerome Hines. My fervid childish imagination lit up at the live passion, violence, and madness on stage that made the comics littering Al Melendy’s barbershop in Morrisville seem pale by comparison.

I love Vermont. I’ve lived here seventy years, and like my father, I’ve turned down opportunities to move away and earn more money. But I don’t trust the Vermont myth of ‘exceptionalism.’

We’ve become a nation of divided cranks. Too many of my friends have made up their mind about everything, dug in their heels, and either turned their face to the wall, as they say in hospice, or steeled themselves to fighting for their entrenched opinions.

Many small colleges are struggling with low inquiry, application, and admission rates, including here in the Northeast. Rising tuitions, student loan abuses, and radical change in employment patterns have discouraged many students who then choose to bypass college and just enter the workforce at a lower level of opportunity.

Growing up in the transition from Vermont’s “Republican century” to the Democratic “sixties,” the political labels we used seemed meaningless in the many discussions I had with people of differing political ideals. I usually found commonsense and decency in their differing perspectives.

Many young people are, by nature’s design, rash and impulsive and in loco parentis educators must often deal with the fallout from their students’ lack of experience. Real-life consequences and good mentoring, mature them over time or they become infantilized adults.

We may be finally witnessing the death throes of the conservative “trickle-down” mantra that advocates for lower taxes on “job creators” and “hands-off” government regulation.

If current political events have taught us anything, it’s how vulnerable we all are to misinformation and innuendo. And if 80% of us don’t trust our own government, we must then ask how many Americans even understand how their government works or their own role in a vibrant democracy. Three quarters of Americans can’t name the three branches of government and one third can’t name even one branch. An electorate that condemns its own government without understanding its functions and purpose can hardly be counted on to participate with informed voting and advocacy.

Let me start by saying that “ignorance” is a meaningless word. It’s a judgment that lacks any clarity. I grew up among many undereducated people who had more wisdom and common sense than later friends who graduated from Ivy League schools and, forty years hence, find themselves lost in a random and complex world.

I missed the opening day of the legislature and the inauguration of our new Governor. But I caught much of it on radio and read more in the dailies.

There are three catchment areas for the broken among us: hospitals, public schools, and jails. Healthcare is a third of our state budget, public education another third, and jails cost twice what we spend on higher education.

There are two types of religion in the world today, those inspired by divinities and divinely inspired prophets once living among us such as Christ, Buddha, Mohammed, and Moses and those altered or fabricated by men to their own earthly purposes.

Schubart: Fake News

Nov 22, 2016

I’ve tuned out of the endless forensic analyses of how news media failed the electorate. In fact, other than having misread the political and cultural pulse of many Americans, I’m not sure the serious news organizations failed us at all. Many were just absent.

Schubart: Consensus

Oct 31, 2016

Vermont has a “consensus” problem. We don’t understand the concept. This confusion manifests itself especially when leadership is weak.

We call out corruption in our partner nations yet are myopic to how corruption threatens our own. It’s time for us to acknowledge how deeply corruption is taking root here at home.

Schubart: The Vote

Oct 10, 2016

The right to vote becomes a moral obligation when voting is understood as being fundamental to the functioning of our democracy. In Australia, voting is mandatory - and failure to vote is punishable by a fine or community service. But here, as much as 40% of eligible voters will stay home on Election Day.

Schubart: Leadership

Sep 26, 2016

Some 20% of Vermont’s economy and much of our social safety net depend on Vermont’s nonprofits. Yet the governance principles that help them achieve their missions are widely misunderstood or ignored by the 6000 largely unregulated organizations licensed to operate in Vermont.

Whomever we elect to lead us for the next two years, we’ll need to confront two gaping holes in our governance: strategic planning and ethics.

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