Jane O'Meara Sanders
Jane O'Meara Sanders
|4th President of Burlington College|
March 2004 – September 2011
|Preceded by||Mary Clancy|
|Succeeded by||Christine Plunkett|
|Acting President of Goddard College|
|Preceded by||Richard Greene|
|Succeeded by||Barbara Mossberg|
Mary Jane O'Meara
January 3, 1950
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Dave Driscoll (divorced)|
Bernie Sanders (m. 1988)
|Education||University of Tennessee, Knoxville|
Goddard College (BA)
Union Institute and University (MA, PhD)
Mary Jane O'Meara Sanders (born January 3, 1950) is an American social worker, college administrator and political staffer. Sanders was provost and interim president of Goddard College (1996–1997) and president of Burlington College (2004–2011). In June 2017, she started the think tank The Sanders Institute. She has been married to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders since 1988.
Education and personal life
Sanders was born Mary Jane O'Meara on January 3, 1950, and grew up in Brooklyn, as one of 5 children of Bernadette Joan (Sheridan) and Benedict P. O'Meara. She was raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools, including Saint Saviour High School, before attending the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. O'Meara dropped out of Tennessee and moved back to Brooklyn with her first husband, David Driscoll; they then moved to Virginia. In 1975, they moved to Vermont when Driscoll's employer, IBM, transferred him. O'Meara had requested that Driscoll seek a transfer because she did not like Manassas, Virginia. The couple divorced shortly after their arrival in Vermont and the birth of their son Dave. Sanders has three children (Heather Titus, Carina Driscoll, and David Driscoll ) from her marriage with Driscoll.
O'Meara finished her college degree at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, with a bachelor's in social work. She met Bernie Sanders in 1981, ten days before his first campaign victory as Mayor of Burlington, and again at his victory party; they wed in 1988.
Early in her career, Sanders worked in the Juvenile Division of the Burlington Police Department, and then as a community organizer with the King Street Area Youth Center, and for VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), a job that helped her pay off her student loans.
From 1981 to 1991, Sanders served as founding Director of the Mayor's Youth Office and Department Head in the City of Burlington. She was also active in K-12 education, elected as a School Board Commissioner, and was a founding member of the Women's Council & the Film Commission. In 1991, her husband, Bernie Sanders, was elected to the U.S. Congress. From 1991 to 1995, she worked in his office on a volunteer basis.
In 1996, Sanders was appointed as Provost and Interim President of her alma mater, Goddard College, to help the college through a difficult period. The Board, faculty, staff, students and Sanders worked together to improve the accreditation, finances and governance of the institution.
From 2004 through 2011 Sanders was President of Burlington College, which closed due to financial problems in 2016. It was a small liberal arts college founded in 1972 for non-traditional students. She earned $149,380/year, including benefits, and, upon her departure in 2011, received a total package of $200,000, consisting of one year's severance pay, along with certain retirement and bonus payments.
As senior partner in the Burlington-based consulting firm, Leadership Strategies, O'Meara worked as a political and educational consultant for federal, state, and local political campaigns.
Sanders was instrumental in founding The Sanders Institute, a progressive think tank which launched in June 2017, and is one of its 11 original fellows. Like the other fellows, she does not receive payment for her work, although she does get compensated for travel and entertainment expenses.
Adviser and aide to Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders has described his wife as "one of [his] key advisers", and he has employed her at various times as "an administrative assistant, spokeswoman, policy adviser, chief of staff, and media buyer". In a 1996 article in The Washington Post, she was credited with helping him draft "more than 50 pieces of legislation".
She has served in Sanders's Congressional office as Chief of Staff and as Policy and Press Adviser, and also serves as an Alternate Commissioner for the Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission.
Burlington College presidency
In 2004, Sanders was named President of Burlington College, a private, non-profit liberal arts school founded in 1972 in Vermont. She increased the small college's fundraising. During her tenure as President, Burlington had an endowment of "about $150,000", and fundraising revenue had increased from about $25,000 when Sanders first arrived to $1.25 million by 2011. In 2010, Sanders oversaw the purchase of property formerly owned and occupied by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington. The College-based the real estate purchase on projections that enrollment would rapidly grow from fewer than 200 to as many as 750 students, with a corresponding income increase from tuition fees.
In 2011, the College's Board of Trustees, while crediting Sanders with acquiring a permanent campus for the 200‑student college, called a meeting for September 2011 and accepted Sanders's resignation. "We reached a decision which I believe is best for both the College and me," Sanders said after the meeting, "The board and I have different visions for the future and that’s perfectly fine." Sanders's salary as President was $160,000, with a contract for the position through 2013; on departure, she received the title of President Emeritus and a $200,000 severance. With the College unable to collect on some promised pledges after Sanders had resigned, and the enrollment increase plans failing, the Diocese settled the loan debt with the College in 2015 for $996,000, less than the agreed amount, and with $1 million of the repayment made in shares of an unidentified LLC company.
In 2016, Burlington College announced it was closing its doors effective May 27, 2016 due to "longstanding financial woes", in particular the "crushing weight of the debt" undertaken to buy the Diocese property. After leaving the Burlington College Presidency, Sanders became a member of the Vermont Economic Development Authority.
According to 2017 news reports, the FBI was looking into allegations of possible bank fraud in connection with a $10 million loan Sanders helped Burlington College obtain in 2010 to purchase 33 acres of land from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington. The investigation was launched after complaints were filed with the FBI in 2016 by Brady Toensing, chair of the Vermont Republican Party and Vermont campaign manager for then-candidate Donald Trump. His complaints alleged she had misrepresented the college's donor levels and pledges in the loan application. Bernie Sanders described the allegations by Trump's former campaign manager in Vermont as politically motivated and "nonsense". As of June 2017, Jane Sanders had retained counsel while the FBI investigated the matter.
On November 13, 2018, the U.S. Attorney in Vermont closed its investigation of the college land deal involving her and decided not to bring charges.
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