University of Vermont

University Communications

Remembering Jim Jeffords

Jim Jeffords
James Jeffords was recognized at UVM's commencement ceremony in 2006 upon his retirement from the Senate. “In both thought and deed,” UVM's president Daniel Fogel said of Jeffords, “he is the very embodiment of the independent character of the state of Vermont." (Photo: Burlington Free Press)

The University of Vermont lost one of its most dedicated supporters on Aug. 18 when former U.S. Senator James M. Jeffords passed away at the age of 80. Since his election to the State Senate in 1966 until his retirement from the U.S. Senate in 2006, Jeffords was dedicated to issues of education, the environment and agriculture and helped UVM to pursue research in those critical areas.
Jeffords, a native of Rutland and graduate of Yale and Harvard Law School, secured millions in federal funds that supported the UVM Transportation Research Center, the James M. Jeffords Center for Policy Research, and countless other projects in schools and colleges across the university. UVM's James M. Jeffords Hall was named in his honor in 2010.

“We should recognize Senator Jeffords’ dedication to the University’s land grant mission,” wrote UVM President Tom Sullivan in a campus-wide email. “He truly grasped that the University exists in order to translate knowledge, research, and discoveries into practical solutions for society’s challenges and supported us in that effort for many years. We are indebted to his kindness and fortunate to gain the benefits of his legacy throughout the University.”

The following comments about Jeffords are from members of the UVM community who worked with Jeffords or studied his career:

Karen Meyer, former vice president for Federal, State, and Community Relations and former member of the UVM Board of Trustees; board member, UVM Foundation

“I was lucky enough to land a great job with Jim Jeffords in the 1970s when he was serving in the United States Congress in the House of Representatives,” Meyer says. “I was a staffer in his Montpelier office responsible for casework and special projects. Back in those days we didn't have electronic communication, and Jim had me travel to every town in Vermont to visit the Town Clerks and listen to anyone in town who had an issue or concern. And that really gave me a deep appreciation for Jim and his interest in the people of Vermont, finding out what their concerns were and then addressing the issues of the day.

"Later, when I joined UVM, and he was chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, I worked with him again to accomplish some really important initiatives at the university that dovetailed with his interests in research and policy development in agriculture, environment, medicine and education that made an impact on the lives of Vermonters. Senator Jeffords had a deep appreciation and commitment to the UVM mission of creating and sharing knowledge to better the lives and wellbeing of our citizens. The people of Vermont owe Jim a debt of gratitude, as do the citizens of the nation, for his principled approach to tackling the major issues of the time. I feel privileged to have known Jim Jeffords, a kind and humble man who made a difference in the lives of so many."

Professor Emeritus H. Bud Meyers, James M. Jeffords Center for Policy Research

“Throughout his long Senate and House of Representatives career, Jim Jeffords championed policy in education, the environment, health care and citizen participation in good government,” says Bud Meyers, professor emeritus of education. The center that would bear the senator’s name -- The James M. Jeffords Center for Policy Research at UVM -- was dedicated to that same legacy of service to Vermont and the nation, says Meyers, who directed the center from 2008 to 2013.

“The center demonstrated that interdisciplinary collaboration among students and faculty is a powerful force for policy development,” says Meyers. He cites achievements of the Jeffords Center, such as a new training program in special education, a study for the Vermont Legislature on the opportunities Vermont students have to learn, a new Institute for Environmental Diplomacy and Security, several projects and papers on complexity in governance, a Vermont Legislative Research Service for the Vermont Legislature involving more than 100 undergraduate and graduate students, 14 new doctorates in several interdisciplinary fields, four master’s degree scholars and seven undergraduate research scholars.

Professor Glenn McRae and Professor Lisa Aultman-Hall, UVM Transportation Research Center

Glenn McRae, a faculty member in Community Development and Applied Economics and associate director of the UVM Transportation Research Center, and founding director Lisa Aultman-Hall credit Sen. Jeffords’ leadership role in the areas of transportation system research and workforce development for enabling UVM and its partners in Vermont to launch the Transportation Research Center at UVM. The senator’s efforts led to the 2005 authorization and funding for the establishment of a National Transportation Research Center at the university.

UVM built upon this foundation to create a nationally recognized center advancing innovative and interdisciplinary research, education and outreach on sustainable transportation system solutions, focused on transportation planning as it relates to resilience, energy and health. The bill Sen. Jeffords championed also set up the Transportation Education Development Pilot Program that funded a small set of innovative efforts to take the transportation workforce into the 21st century. UVM was later chosen to be one of just five pilots in the country to undertake this work.  

Professor Aultman-Hall recollects, “In the early days of the TRC on Trinity campus at UVM, Senator Jeffords shared our office space. His genuine pleasure and excitement at the focus on sustainable transportation and our plans as we started the center will remain an inspiring memory.”

Former Governor Madeline Kunin, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Political Science   

“James Jeffords was a decent man,” Kunin says. “He managed to rise above politics and was a Republican of the old school, which believed that the Congress should pass laws to help people by improving education and protecting the environment. He believed in working across party lines. When he left the Republican Party and declared himself an Independent it took a lot of courage. His switch in affiliation transformed the Senate from Republican to Democratic control. His party was not happy, but Jeffords played it straight. We knew where he stood and admired him for it. He put Vermonters first.”

Eileen Burgin, associate professor of political science

“Jim Jeffords was not afraid to make tough choices that he believed were right,” says Burgin, who plans to have students in her Congressional Process class read Jeffords’ book My Declaration of Independence, this semester. “It will take on a different meaning with his death. Leaving the Republican party in 2001 to become an Independent, and thereby switching control of the Senate from Republicans to Democrats (as Jeffords caucused with the Democrats), was a courageous move. But Jeffords believed that the Republicans were not following through with promises made, and that to best represent the people of Vermont he had to stand apart from the direction that the national Republican party was moving. Jeffords understood that there would be inevitable fallout from this action, both professionally and personally, yet this did not stop him.

“Jim Jeffords managed the dual roles of a member of Congress -- serving as both a representative of his constituents and a national lawmaker -- exceedingly well, not an easy feat at all. He was accessible to the people of Vermont, and his office was open to all constituents.  And he also was an effective legislator, respected by his peers.”

Rob Cioffi, former member and chair of the UVM Board of Trustees

“I worked on Senator Jeffords’s staff in Vermont when I was a student at UVM in the late 1980s -- in the second half of my junior year and all of senior year," Cioffi says. "During the summer I worked for him in Washington as one of the first LBJ Senate interns. What I most respected about Jim was that he was in a long line of great statesman from Vermont going back to George Aiken and Bob Stafford, who cared more about what was right than what the party felt was right. He always looked to do the right thing for Vermont and the right thing for the country, rather than following the party line. He certainly upset some members of the Republican Party when he was a Republican, and he upset some of the members of the Democratic Party when he was a Democrat. Unfortunately, I don't think we have a lot of those types of politicians left today, and if we had more Jim Jeffords today, Washington would be a place that would probably run a lot better than it does. What was important to Jim was he never really became a Washington person. That wasn't him. Jim was a Vermonter. It always came back to what he felt was right for Vermont. And I think Vermonters are going to remember Jim for just that, that he wasn't out there to make a name for himself. He was a pragmatist through and through who was trying to do what he felt was right. I feel fortunate that I was able to be on the board during the time that we approved and then broke ground and then finished the Jeffords Center. That’s a physical legacy that I'm thrilled Jim's name is on. Because it's one that will be on the campus for a long time in the same way the Aiken Center and Stafford buildings will be. He definitely deserves that honor.”

Garrison Nelson, professor of political science

"Jim Jeffords was very self-effacing. Far-and-away the most modest politician I have ever encountered in my life." Nelson started teaching at UVM in 1968 and recalls hearing about a young state legislator who was running for attorney general. "Jeffords was elected in 1968 and during his four years as AG, Jim went after the mega-corporation International Paper Company that he contended was polluting Lake Champlain. He also vigorously enforced Vermont's laws against unsightly billboards. Jim was a staunch environmentalist long before it became fashionable."

Nelson says Jefford's entrance into federal politics occurred in the unlikely Watergate year of 1974 when he narrowly won a three-way primary for the U.S. House over two conservative Republicans. The same year a 34 year-old Chittenden County States Attorney named Patrick Leahy was elected to the U.S. Senate. "Because Nixon resigned in August, Democrats captured more than 50 seats and sent 70-plus 'Watergate babies' to the House," says Nelson, who was on Leahy's staff in 1975-76. "Only 17 new Republicans won, and Jim was one of them."

Mara Saule, dean of libraries

“Senator Jeffords was a profoundly important steward of Vermont’s cultural heritage," Saule says. "His legacy is evidenced throughout the UVM Libraries in myriad ways. In 2005, he assisted Senator Patrick Leahy in securing funding for the establishment of the Libraries’ Center for Digital Initiatives, which now includes over 20 digital collections telling the story of Vermont and Vermonters and providing global access to some of UVM’s most significant research materials. His work in politics is documented throughout the Libraries’ large collections of Congressional papers and we’re proud to have collaborated with him and his staff to help preserve his own records. His significant contributions to our work as librarians will be felt for generations to come.”

Jeffords’ 1991 speech on the Replacement and Alternate Fuels Act was among the first items to appear in the Libraries’ Center for Digital Initiatives. Delivered in the wake of the first Gulf War, it is a prescient call for investments in renewable energy and a testament to Jeffords’ commitment to sustainable transportation and the environment.

Tom Vogelmann, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

“Jim Jeffords’ legacy is an expression of the land-grant tradition, a key element of which is giving back and investing in future generations, so that they can go out and make a difference in the world. Jim wanted UVM, and UVM students, to have an impact, especially in those areas he knew were of special importance to Vermonters: education, agriculture and the environment,” Vogelmann says. “Thanks to the generosity of Senator Jeffords and the other members of the Washington delegation, UVM was able to secure a substantial amount of money to build Jeffords Hall, which is a lasting testament to the things that he believed in. Hundreds and hundreds of young people are now moving through that wonderful educational facility, getting state-of-the-art training in modern labs, giving them the tools they will need to go out and make a difference.  Jeffords Hall is testimony to Jim and what he meant to this college and university.”