Bill Burger to Leave College

Led rebrand of the Middlebury institution; Was a central figure in the Murray saga

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Bill Burger to Leave College

Bill Burger in his Old Chapel office. He will leave his position in April.

Bill Burger in his Old Chapel office. He will leave his position in April.

MICHAEL BORENSTEIN

Bill Burger in his Old Chapel office. He will leave his position in April.

MICHAEL BORENSTEIN

MICHAEL BORENSTEIN

Bill Burger in his Old Chapel office. He will leave his position in April.

By SARAH ASCH

Bill Burger, the college’s vice president for communications and chief marketing officer, will leave his position on April 30. President Laurie L. Patton announced Burger’s departure in an all-school email on Feb. 14. According to the email, Burger will remain as one of Patton’s senior advisors until June 30.

Patton said the college will immediately begin the search for Burger’s successor and that she hopes to hire someone before the fall. Until then, Robin Gronlund, the current associate vice president of marketing and creative services, will serve as his interim replacement, beginning May 1.

Burger leaves behind a complicated legacy, as many in the college community associate him closely with his role in the controversial Charles Murray protest and its aftermath in March 2017.

While news of his departure came as a surprise to some, Burger said he told Patton over a year ago that he intended to leave the role. He said the demanding nature of jobs like his cause increased turnover, not just at Middlebury, but at similar institutions. Of the 11 NESCAC schools, Burger is currently the third-longest serving head of communications.

“I think from an institutional perspective it makes sense for the transition to happen now,” he said. “Middlebury is embarking on several long-term projects, and continuity will be helpful.”

Among these projects, Burger named the continued implementation of Envisioning Middlebury and an upcoming fundraising campaign. 

Patton did not return a request for comment on Burger’s departure. 

Leaving His Mark

In her email, Patton detailed some of Burger’s contributions to Middlebury, including his role in increasing the college’s social media presence and his influence on the award-winning Middlebury Magazine. Patton also praised Burger’s work in integrating the various parts of the Middlebury institution under one identity. 

“He arrived at a point of critical transition as Middlebury began to fully embrace the complexity of its schools and programs and the need to think strategically about its identity and operations,” Patton said in the email. “He led the institution through the successful introduction of a new identity system that linked all our schools and programs”

Patton also described Burger’s relationship with The Campus, writing, “Bill has regularly and effectively worked with individual students, coaching on ethics, reporting, and best practices, and with editors at The Campus, while always respecting the independence of student journalism.”

Ellie Reinhardt ’17, a former editor in chief of The Campus, worked with Burger during the time of the Murray protest, and recalled having a productive relationship with Burger’s office.

“He constantly challenged me and challenged the staff, pushing us to reflect and refine our processes and our content,” she said. “He held The Campus to the highest standard of journalism, gave candid feedback and demanded professionalism. I will always appreciate his candor.”

Ethan Brady ’18, another former editor in chief, disagreed with Patton’s description of The Campus’ relationship with Burger. Brady said that he and Burger had different views of the role The Campus should play in the Middlebury community. He recalled a meeting with Burger and Patton in which both expressed they believed the paper was publishing too many negative stories. 

“He articulated this idea that The Campus is a morale booster or a community builder, and if we print negative coverage or bad coverage then we’re not doing our job,” Brady said. 

After this meeting, The Campus ran an editorial pushing back on the request for more positive coverage and affirming the paper’s independence from the Communications Office.

“There’s no such thing as negative coverage if it’s accurate and factual,” Brady said. “The school should not be immune to any sort of scrutiny.”

Brady acknowledged that Burger was simply doing his job in trying to protect the image of the school. Still, as editor in chief, Brady had a different view of the newspaper’s purpose.

“The duty of The Campus is to provide a check on the institution,” he said.

Role in the Murray Protests

MICHAEL O’HARA
Community members waited outside the service building in May 2017 to support students facing discipline following the Murray protest. Several of these students said they associate Burger with this prolonged judicial process.

Outside the newsroom, many students associate Burger with the role he played in the Murray protest.

As the protest played out, Burger planned to shuttle Murray and Political Science Professor Allison Stanger, the talk’s mediator, away from the event. The official college account, published by the college newsroom, said that Burger accelerated away from McCullough Student Center and that students jumped onto the hood of his car after it had begun to move. In the aftermath, many students disputed that account, alleging that Burger drove through the crowd and into protestors, at one point accelerating with a student on the hood of his car.

Sarah Karerat ’18, who was among those put on probation for her involvement in the Murray protest, said that for her Burger represented the administration’s effort to punish her and her fellow students for their actions.

“He became a figurehead of the anxiety and fear of the administration that we had about how the judicial process was going to affect our futures,” she said. “He was the voice of the protest policy that night, and one of the things that sticks out to me is in the whole free speech argument was that the protest policy and the judicial process eventually became censorship in its own right. And in a public manner he represents that censorship.”

Throughout the judicial process and after, when Karerat had already received her two semesters of probation, she recalls feeling anxious often. This feeling was accentuated in the presence of administrators who she associated with the protest and the trial, including Burger.

“Whenever I saw him in public spaces I was pretty immediately uncomfortable and afraid. At the beginning, that spring of 2017, I usually would leave spaces because of that discomfort,” she said.

Life After Middlebury

Burger intends to take some time to decide on his next move. He and his wife Susan Greenberg, who teaches writing and journalism at the college, plan to remain in Middlebury for the next year and a half. Greenberg will continue to teach in that time. 

“I’ve spent time in media, the corporate sector, and higher education,” Burger said. “I’ve enjoyed working in all of those fields and so I don’t rule out anything for the future.”

He also noted that he is proud of the work his team has accomplished during his tenure.

“Middlebury has become a more transparent place than ever before,” Burger said. “We are more willing to engage with the media in good times and challenging times. There’s not a lot of room for hiding in today’s media environment and the best institutions — and I’m proud to say Middlebury is one of them — must be accepting of being in the public eye more than was the case even a decade ago. That’s been a growing experience for some people, but there’s no going back.”

GiGi Hogan contributed reporting.

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About the Contributors
SARAH ASCH, Editor-at-Large

Sarah Asch ’19.5 is an editor at large.

She previously served as senior features editor, features editor, and staff writer.

Asch is majoring in...

MICHAEL BORENSTEIN, Chief Photo Editor

Michael Borenstein ’19 is Chief Photo Editor.
He has been with the photos team since his freshman fall and has served as an editor since the Spring...

1 Comment

One Response to “Bill Burger to Leave College”

  1. Alumnus, Late 2010s on April 26th, 2019 12:14 am

    With the improved reputation Middlebury now commands – due in part to Burger’s skillful lies to the public media, and his censoring pressure of Campus editors and other internal college communications – perhaps the college can use its stature to attract a Burger-successor who will not only uphold the tradition of lying and free press-quelling Burger perfected, but who will even avoid recklessly endangering and vehicularly assaulting nonviolent student protesters while they’re at it. (Or at least, someone who can do a better job of not having these automotive activities witnessed by a crowd of future lawmakers, thought leaders, and donors. That can’t be good career or legal capital for Burger (or legal- or marketing-fodder for the college) in the long-run, despite the partial short-term success of his go-to strategy: lying about what happened and blaming the victim.)

    Meanwhile, I hope the PubSafe officers will breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that Burger’s driving will be breaking the toes of a different employer’s security force from now on. I know I will. On the downside, PubSafe will lose an eloquent and loyal defender/denier of their racial profiling and protester-brutalizing practices; I guess you can’t win ‘em all.

    But, all sarcasm aside…good riddance! (Albeit at least two years too late.) His departure is the first announcement from Burger I can be proud of as an alumnus. Now, when will it be Patton’s turn to go?

    Speaking of Patton, specifically her positive-only spin on Burger’s tenure at Middlebury: something tells me whitewashing this man’s career might not be the best legacy for Patton as the years go by. The truth, and new evidence, have a tendency to come out eventually – and before they do, there’s the perpetually terrifying possibility of their coming out at any time.

    On the plus side, I (admittedly heavily speculatively) commend Patton et al. for firing Burger and representing it as a resignation, if that is in fact what happened – and I suspect it is, given Burger’s low reputation inside the College community (almost pavement-level), the norms of high-level corporate dismissals, both parties’ history of mendacious marketing statements, and my own wishful thinking. While impossible for me to prove, this would be a fittingly deceptive way for Burger to go.

    …Well, maybe not quite as fitting as accelerating his car down S Main Street, a civilian on the hood and a Koch-funded shill / PR nightmare in his passenger seat, watched by a traumatized group of PubSafe-beaten students and broken-toed PubSafe officers as he recedes into the distance…but the scene will live on in memory, won’t it? That will be Burger’s legacy for me.




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Bill Burger to Leave College