Carl Williams Borgmann took office as the sixteenth president of UVM on August 1, 1952. Borgmann was born in Mt. Washington, Missouri, on June 3, 1905, and he spent his boyhood and early college years in Colorado. He received his B.S. degree from the University of Colorado and worked on the technical staff of the Bell Telephone Laboratories before he married Mable Dorothy Gaiser on September 28, 1930. After he received a master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Colorado in 1931, he studied abroad for three years in Norway, Sweden, and England where he was awarded a Ph.D. degree from Cambridge University in 1934. When he returned to the Unites States, Dr. Borgmann joined the faculty at the University of North Carolina. In 1938, he was appointed the chairman of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Colorado. He later served as coordinator of research and as director of the state experiment station at the university before leaving in 1947 to take a position as dean of facilities at the University of Nebraska. When the Borgmanns came to Burlington in 1952, their family consisted of four daughters and a son.
Carl Borgmann left a lasting impact on UVM by negotiating a new relationship between the university and the state of Vermont. When the university was seeking changes in its charter during the 1955 session of the state legislature, a reporter asked Borgmann on a television broadcast, “Was it always your plan when accepted the presidency of UVM to make the university a state university?” Borgmann, with a friendly grin, replied, “When I accepted the presidency, I thought UVM already was the state university.”
Borgmann’s support for public education was nurtured by the populist tradition he experienced in the western and Midwestern states. Borgmann also held a deep admiration for Vermonter Justin Morrill, the sponsor of the Public Land Grant College Act, and he simply assured that UVM, located in Morrill’s home state, was a public university.
In order to understand the situation that Borgmann and the Vermont State Legislature faced in 1955, it is necessary to review the legal status of UVM at the time the charter revisions were being considered. UVM was actually made up of three separate corporate entities. The oldest was The University of Vermont, the original corporation chartered by the Vermont General Assembly on November 4, 1791. The second major component, The Vermont Agricultural College, had been created by the legislature as a public corporation on November 9, 1865, the legislature united the university with the agricultural college by creating a third corporation. The University of Vermont and State Agricultural College.
Hence, UVM’s legal status was complex and confusing. The University of Vermont was perceived to be a private corporation, and it received only minimal support from the state legislature. The Vermont Agricultural College, on the other hand, was a public corporation that received a large portion of its funds from state (and federal) grants. In essence, the University of Vermont was something of a misnomer. Although the state helped to rescue the university following President Bailey’s death, once this financial crisis had passed it did not provide any consistent, ongoing appropriation. The legislature might provide special funds for specific building projects, but the university only received only scattered and largely inconsequential state support.
When Borgmann arrived at UVM, he discovered that Mississippi and Vermont had the lowest national percentages of college age population actually attending college. He was particularly concerned that Vermont students attending the University of Vermont had to pay a tuition of $625, while resident students who attended the state-subsidized agricultural college paid only $225 in tuition. Students who enrolled in the agriculture, education, medicine, and dental hygiene programs received state financial support, but none was available for students in the art and sciences, technology, or special graduate programs. As a result, the University of Vermont ranked number one among state institutions in high tuition costs for resident students who enrolled in these latter programs.
Borgmann’s primary motivation in proposing the charter changes was to secure more financial support for the university so that all Vermont students would receive the same amount of tuition assistance from the state. He campaigned very strenuously, visiting all the state senators and more than half of the 246 House members in an effort to convince them to revise the charter so as to make UVM an instrumentality of the state. “I worked like hell,” he recalled later. “I drank an awful lot of coffee.”
In March 1955, the legislature passed the proposed charter revision bill, which was signed into law by Governor Joseph B. Johnson (UVM ’15). The legislation added two new provisions to the act of 1865 by specifying that The University of Vermont and State Agricultural College “shall be recognized and utilized as an instrumentality of the state for providing public higher education…and the general assembly of the State of Vermont shall, from time to time, appropriate such sums as it deems necessary for the support and maintenance of said corporation.”
Although the charter revision act united the three corporations, each was still maintained as a separate legal entity in order to protect existing endowments, particularly the Wilbur Fund. The revised charter of The University of Vermont and State Agricultural College provided for three new trustees, appointed by the governor with the consent of the senate. This increased the board to twenty-three members, with the majority being drawn from the public sector (i.e., nine elected by the legislature, three gubernatorial appointees, and the governor ex officio), plus nine self-perpetuating trustees and the president of the university ex officio.
The immediate effect of the charter change was to increase the state appropriation to UVM by more than $500,000 from $1,054,000 in 1955 to $1,593,000 in 1956. A total of $358,000 of this increase was earmarked for in-state tuition support, which was used to equalize tuition charges for all Vermont students attending UVM at $325 (versus $705 for the nonresident students). The remainder of the state appropriation was used to continue state support for the agricultural college and the medical school. At the time, it was assumed that the state would pay 60 percent of the cost of each Vermont student attending UVM, and the legislature passed a statute requiring that the university not charge resident students more than 40 percent of the out-of-state tuition fee.
Once the charter amendments were approved, President Borgmann announced, “There no longer need be any confusion about UVM. It is now a unified institution dedicated to public higher education and is recognized as such by the legislature.”
The charter revision of 1955 was Carl Borgmann’s most significant accomplishment as president, but a number of other initiatives were also launched during his six years in office. In 1952 the Graduate College was established to coordinate advanced degree programs outside the College of Medicine, and by the end of the decade, it was sponsoring more than fifty different curricula leading to master’s degrees. Research grants from federal, state, and private sources increased from $270,000 in 1951 to $570,000 in 1956, and in 1958 the trustees authorized the granting of the Ph.D. degree in biochemistry. New women’s residences were completed at Redstone, with the central unit named for Mary Jean Simpson (UVM ’13), the long-time dean of women. Late in Bormann’s term, planning began for a new university library, a new gymnasium, a new medical college center, and an addition to Old Mill. Two major gifts the university received during this period provided for the establishment of the Corse Professorship of English Language and Literature in 1952 and the creation of the George Bishop Lane Arts Series in 1953.
A major controversy during the Borgmann era involved the firing of Professor Alex Novikoff during the 1950’s congressional investigations into communist subversion. In 1953 Novikoff, a research professor at the medical school, was subpoenaed to testify before the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee on the grounds that he had been a former member of the Communist party. In an effort to defuse the situation, Borgmann announced a new university policy stipulating that “a faculty member who admits previous membership in the Communist party, but who now claims that he is no longer a member, will be investigated by a faculty-trustee committee which will make recommendations on his fitness to continue on the staff of the university.”
The crux of the issue, however, did not center on Professor Novikoff’s alleged prior membership in the Communist party. Instead, it focused on Novikoff’s refusal to testify before the senate subcommittee by invoking his constitutional right to take the Fifth Amendment. In September 1953, the UVM board of review that considered his case voted to retain Novikoff on the faculty was Reverend (later Bishop) Robert Joyce (UVM ’17). Thirty years would pass before Professor Novikoff was invited back to UVM—this time to receive an honorary degree at the 1983 commencement ceremonies.
In 1958 Borgmann resigned as president of the university to accept a position as program director of the science and engineering division of the Ford Foundation. He remained there for eight years before returning to the University of Colorado where he served as the interim dean of the graduate school.
Carl Borgmann was a steady, solid, forthright individual who worked very energetically to achieve his primary objective of making UVM more accessible to all Vermont students. By the time he left Burlington in 1958, The University of Vermont and State Agricultural College had become an instrumentality of the state, a change that was destined to have a major impact on the course of its subsequent development.