In mid-August of 2016, I was included in a group of five people sitting around a table chatting at the University of Vermont, which is in the city of Burlington, Vermont’s largest, 42,000 people. Four of us were a current or retired faculty member at the university and the other was a new dean who had arrived in town from California a few weeks earlier. Basically the occasion was to meet and welcome the newcomer; he was center stage. No big agenda, professional small talk over coffee.
During the conversation, the new arrival—I’ll call him Bill—commented that he was indeed happy to come to Vermont, great state, but that he realized it takes a generation to be accepted by Vermonters as one of them, as a real Vermonter. I remembered being told that same thing soon after I came to Vermont from Minnesota over forty years ago to take up my duties as a tenure track assistant professor at the university. The assumption behind this piece of conventional wisdom is that Vermonters have a strong and positive sense of who they are as a unique people and feel connected and committed to one another and to this place and to their way of life, and that it takes a good measure of socialization and accommodation for an outsider to become one of them.
“I’m not sure what you said is true, Bill, or true now anyway,” I offered. “I mean, Bernie Sanders came here from New York City back when I did and he’s a senator. And Howard Dean, another presidential candidate from this state, in 2004, came here from Massachusetts, I think it was, and he got to be governor. I felt checked out and kept at a distance by Vermonters when I first got here, but I don’t think this sort of thing goes on much now, if it goes on at all.” Read more