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The Queen is Dead! Long Live the Queen!

Inside Track


Published February 14, 2001 at 7:21 p.m.

Farewell to her majesty, Judith Ramaley, president of the University of Vermont! As you know, Queen Judith was dethroned last Friday in an well-orchestrated palace coup. Despite her popularity off-campus — especially with Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle, who described current town and gown relations “the best in history” — Queen Judith had several powerful enemies on campus. It’s never easy being the Queen.

Today, Camp Catamount is steaming full speed ahead, without either a captain or a first officer. Course unknown. Vacant are the two top administrative offices of president and provost. Governor Howard Dean said plainly the other day the selection of the next UVM president will “make or break” UVM.

The envelope, please!

Among the names being bandied about already as candidates for UVM Prez are those of Peter Smith, Madeleine Kunin and Joan Smith (no relation to Peter).

Peter Smith was a Republican state senator and lieutenant governor in the 1980s. He’s also the answer to the trivia question: “Who was the Republican congressman Bernie Sanders defeated in 1990?” Mr. Smith is the founder of the Community College of Vermont. Currently, he’s president of California State University, Monterey Bay. At least he wouldn’t have to change titles.

Madeleine Kunin was governor of Vermont in the 1980s — the state’s first woman in that position — and U.S. ambassador to Switzerland under Bill Clinton. Queen Madeleine is currently teaching a political seminar at Middlebury College. An interesting choice. And remember, the trustees used an ex-Vermont governor once before to plug the leaks in the UVM dike — Tom Salmon.

Joan Smith is currently the dean of UVM’s College of Arts and Sciences, the largest college in the university. Even her critics describe her as a powerful, politically savvy major player on the campus that Ira Allen founded. And Joan of Arc is fingered by many faculty we spoke with this week as a leading player in the downfall of Queen Judith.

Political Science Professor Garrison Nelson has been teaching up at Camp Catamount for 32 years. He’s seen ’em come and he’s seen ’em go. Last week he told us the recently distributed faculty petition calling for a vote of no-confidence in Ramaley “had Joan Smith’s fingerprints all over it.”

Smith denied it and insisted she and Judy had the best of working relationships. But Nelson and many others just laughed at Smith’s denial.

“Basically,” Nelson told Seven Days Tuesday, “within three months UVM has witnessed the departure of the two senior administrators who locked horns with Joan Smith — Judith Ramaley and Provost Geoff Gamble [who left in December].”

Nelson, Vermont’s leading political pundit since the 1970s, said that if Howard Dean weighs in on who the next UVM president is, Joan Smith will surely have a leg up. He points to the public support given Dean in last year’s election by Smith and her husband, Peter Welch.

Mr. Welch was once a rival of Ho-Ho’s within the Democrat Party. In 1990 Peter decided to run for governor and lost to Dick Snelling. Ho-Ho decided to sit tight as lieutenant governor. Ten months later, Gov. Snelling keeled over from a heart attack while cleaning the pool at his Shelburne demesne. Dean ascended to the throne he’s clung to ever since, while Welch remains in the public eye as a personal injury attorney with spiffy TV ads.

Mr. Welch was once a devout liberal with great ambition. But last year, Nelson charged, he “sandbagged” the liberals and Progressive candidate Anthony Pollina and worked hard for Dean’s reelection.

“The governor does owe Peter Welch,” said Nelson, “for having sandbagged the liberals and escaping an election by the legislature.” Had Dean not broken the 50 percent threshold with just 50.4 percent, the governor would have been chosen by the legislature in January.

So what really happened at UVM? Why was Judith Ramaley sacked?

Good question. But as with most palace coups, the whole story may never be told, and even then, it requires a Shakespearian touch.

We do know that last week the bearer of bad news to Queen Judith was Bruce Lisman, chairman of the board of trustees and a senior mucky-muck at Bear Stearns, the giant international investment house. Lisman is a Burlington boy who graduated UVM in 1969. He found fame and fortune on Wall Street. Lisman’s relatives run the well-established Burlington law firm Lisman & Lisman. (Coincidentally, that’s where Joan Smith’s daughter and Corey LaTulippe’s attorney, Mary Kehoe, landed after the hockey hazing lawsuit wrapped up. Small world, isn’t it?)

According to sources, Lisman met face-to-face with President Ramaley on Monday, February 5. Cousin Brucie suggested Queen Judy think about taking a powder by the end of June. The next day, Ramaley informed Lisman he should henceforth talk to her lawyer. Bing, bang, boom! Judy called his bluff.

A trustees’ meeting was promptly called for Friday, at which time Mr. Lisman demonstrated he had the votes to sack her. Queen Judith reluctantly resigned. She’ll get nine months pay and can keep driving the Jeep Cherokee until the lease expires.

Friday afternoon we asked Cousin Brucie if the “no confidence” petition making the faculty rounds the previous week had any impact on his decision to ask Judy to hit the road.

“Nothing,” replied Lisman quickly. “It had nothing to do with it. Zero. Less than nothing. We had already made plans to be here this week. [The petition] had nothing to do with it,” he insisted again. “Absolutely, categorically, positively nothing to do with it,” said Lisman. “It played no part. No part. I want to be clear that it had nothing to do with it.”

Okay, okay. We get the point. But might one suggest Cousin Brucie doth protest a little bit too much?

This Tuesday, Joan Smith spoke to us by phone, but the conversation was, unfortunately, a very, very brief one — under a minute. Yours truly inquired if, as sources tell us, she had gone to New York City last month, met with Chairman Lisman and discussed the need to remove the Queen?

“Absolutely not,” replied Joan. Her trip to the Big Apple was for “fundraising” purposes. Then she said, someone was “at my door. I’ve got to go.” End of conversation. Nice talking to you, too.

According to university travel records obtained by Seven Days, Dean Smith flew Jet Blue to New York on Jan. 22 and spent two nights at the Park Central Hotel at Seventh Avenue and 56th Street in the heart of midtown. Upon arriving, she telephoned the College of Arts & Sciences, her husband’s law firm, and then made six calls to Carnegie Hall. The Cincinnati Orchestra was playing. Sources say Smith and Lisman met over dinner at Carnegie Hall with several financially endowed UVM donors. A faculty source said one of those donors told him, “The subject of the need to replace Ramaley was discussed.”

Lisman, who is serving his last year on the UVM board, is said to have remarked, “I don’t want to be remembered as the chairman of the board who fired the president.”

So sorry, Mr. Chairman. A dirty job, but someone had to do it.

In an e-mail query to Joan of Arc this week, we asked for her reaction to Ramaley’s demise.

“President Ramaley’s resignation,” wrote Smith, “is a matter between her and the board of trustees. It would be wholly inappropriate for a member of the administration to comment publicly on it, and I do not intend to do so.”

Funny, because faculty sources tell Seven Days Joan did just that in a meeting with the sociology faculty Monday afternoon. We’re told Dean Smith said she was “appalled” by the way Queen Judith was treated by the trustees. She even played the gender card, we’re told, and wondered aloud if Ramaley would have been treated in such a fashion if she had been a man.

Nice touch.

According to administration sources, Joan of Arc played an important role in this academic political drama, but we’re assured the trustees had been inching along in this direction for some time. There’s even talk on the hill that Queen Judith would have gotten the boot sooner had it not been for last year’s hockey hazing scandal and the need for a unified front.

But there sure was something a little spooky about the timing of all this — the way it all came to a head on Friday.

You see, there’s no question Queen Judith’s removal would have been the top story on “Vermont This Week” on Vermont Public Television Friday night. But “Vermont This Week” was preempted by the planned live coverage of the UVM-Brown men’s ice hockey game. One year ago, President Ramaley canceled the hockey season because the hockey pucks had lied to investigators about hazing.

In a dramatic role-reversal Friday night, just hours after Ramaley’s season was canceled by the trustees, Vermont viewers watched the resurrected UVM elephant-walkers shut out the Brown Bears 2-0 and hand Coach Mike Gilligan his 400th career win. The times, they sure are a changing.

As for who’ll be the next president at Groovy UV, we asked Cousin Brucie if Dean Joan Smith is a worthy candidate for the job. Lisman replied, “I guess anyone is who is qualified.”

In that case, we hereby nominate Ben & Jerry. Hey, the boys have a little time on their hands since selling the frozen fat empire to the giant multinational. Talk about qualified? UVM President Ben Cohen and UVM Provost Jerry Greenfield are just what the doctor ordered for Camp Catamount — out of the box, risk-taking, bold new leadership for the 21st century!

Plus, all that free ice cream would surely attract the best students in New England!

What Mayor’s Race? — Honest. We’re not kidding. There is a mayor’s race in Big Bad Burlap and Election Day, March 6, is less than three weeks away, so snap to it!

Progressive Mayor Peter Clavelle is seeking a sixth term in the third-floor corner office at City Hall, and it looks like he has the race all locked up. Mayor Moonie’s main challenger, a little-known Republican city councilor from the New North End, appears to be in the contest more for purposes of taking a citywide political test drive than actually running an all-out campaign to dethrone Clavelle.

Challenger Kevin Curley appears to be quite colorful, at least based on his Monday press conference, in which he accused Clavelle of not protecting Burlington’s children from “predators” as well as charging the mayor plans on “buying the election.”

Earlier Curley told the press he’d be running a low-budget campaign out of his kitchen. That remark prompted Clavelle to kick off his campaign last Friday from the breakfast nook of his South Union Street kitchen. Nice big kitchen, too. A très chic hand-painted trompe l’oeil ceiling and a lake view.

Asked why he hadn’t held his press conference in his kitchen like Clavelle, Curley said, “You couldn’t fit three reporters into my kitchen.”

Clavelle says he won’t spend a whole lot of dough on this year’s race. No campaign office, for example. But he also said he’ll never forget his 1993 upset by Republican Peter Brownell, either, so he’s taking nothing for granted.

As for a new and humorous wrinkle, the bald Mayor of Burlington’s campaign is distributing little red combs that read, “Never a Bad Hair Day! Clavelle for Mayor.”

Douglas for Governor Update — As we reported last week, Vermont’s Republican state treasurer and life-long politician, Jim Douglas, the leading GOP candidate for governor in 2002, refuses to answer questions on policy issues. Mr. Middlebury said he won’t talk issues until he’s running for a “major” policy office. To this day, Slim Jim’s positions on Act 60 or civil unions are veritable secrets, and that’s clearly by design. Why piss off half of the people all of the time?

But Mr. Douglas is clearly on track to take the big step and run for the state’s top job. Seven Days has learned that the Internet domain names — “” and “” have already been reserved.

The Web addresses were registered last month by Jim Peden, a Middlebury Internet developer and devout Jim Douglas supporter. Peden told Seven Days he reserved the domain names “in case they’re needed, and I hope they are. I think Jim would make a fantastic governor.”

Peden said he had informed Mr. Douglas of his action. Cool.

Media Notes — Happy Valentine’s Day to the lovebirds over at WVNY-TV! Seven Days has learned that Carrie Blake, the cute weekend news anchor, and Larry Delia, the station’s dashing general manager, have been struck by Cupid’s arrow. A traditional marriage is planned. No date set as yet. Congratulations!

P.S. How about an on-air wedding? The November sweeps might be a perfect time to tie the ol’ knot.