Merit vs. Diversity in the VT Senate

June 12, 2020

By David Flemming

On Tuesday, the Vermont Senate considered a bill for amending the selection process behind the Board of Trustees at the University of Vermont (a public university). One Vermont Senator lambasted the new approach, calling into question why diversity should take precedence over merit to be on the Board.

The UVM board currently has 20 men and 5 women. The bill would create a “State goal” for which the UVM Board would “achieve gender balance by 2025…that the 25 member Board is composed of 12 or 13 members who identify as women.”

Senator Brock (R-Franklin) questioned this thinking (watch Brock’s statement here). “When we fill positions, when we elect people, when we do any other form of selection, we do it on the basis of the best person for the position. We don’t assign them to particular groups and classify them as in effect, fungible, in terms of women, or men, or disabled, or members of minority groups, or by color, or by sexual orientation or anything else. And what this bill does is it does just that.”

Brock continues, “I wonder if we’re going down a very slippery slope in which today we say there should be a certain number of women, on the board regardless of qualifications or over-qualifications.”

He concludes, “next, we’re going to say that we need a certain number of people of color, we need a certain number of people who need to be classified and included because of their sexual orientation. In this particular case, we say a certain number who identify as men, a certain number who identify as women. But we make no mention of people who don’t identify as either or who are transgender. How often do we need to include a definition of what a person is, as opposed to who a person is?”

And that really is just the point. Positions such as those on the UVM board should not be looked upon as checking off a box to fill a position. This is even more true in the aftermath of Covid-19. UVM just recently cut salaries and is facing the prospect of paying “$8.7 million in pandemic-related expenses.” UVM needs the very best Board members with the most creative ability to balance the needs of its students while preserving its reputation as one of the best research universities in the country.

David Flemming is a policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Francis Jones June 12, 2020 at 11:35 pm

Thank God for Randy Brock. Is he the only sane one up there?


Sharon Toborg June 15, 2020 at 7:53 pm

Interior Secretary James Watt was ahead of his time, I guess.


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