In 1854 UVM published an account of its semi-centennial celebration. Why 1854? Because the university, though “founded” in 1791 didn’t open its doors until 1801, and didn’t graduate its first class (of four students) until 1804. Part of the celebration was an oration by the attorney and publisher James R. Spalding, Class of 1840. In it, Spalding talks directly about what made UVM unique:
“Now I maintain that, however it may be with the graduates of other institutions, the graduates of this university are bound to take the side of the inherent Rights of Man against the vested Rights of Power, and to contend for the same with… inextinguishable faith and unfaltering courage.” (The italics are his.)
And there you have it: the smoking gun, proof that the unique self-understanding of UVM was its commitment to new democratic freedoms. At its first commemoration of its own history UVM pointed to itself as “bound” to take the side of the inherent Rights of Man against the vested Rights of Power. Spalding went on: the criterion that which UVM graduates had for judging government, he added, “which others may not” – UVM’s “actualizing idea” was “the right of the individual to order all his relations with freedom according to Reason.” (Again the italics are his.)
The Rights of Man; opposition to the Rights of Power; a belief in the rights of individuals to run their own lives; this was teh UVM credo, and what made the university unique.
This is exactly the heritage we need to reclaim. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the administration to look up from their spreadsheets or to stop planning their perks. Recklaim it yourself.