University of Vermont

Office of the President

President's Report to Board of Trustees A. John Bramley
Board of Trustees, President’s Report
May 18, 2012

Today I present my last set of remarks to the Board as we enter the weekend of events that celebrate the 209th commencement of the University of Vermont. It appears at this stage that the sun is set fare to shine on UVM allowing us to mark this occasion outside on the green in an incomparablesetting.

As the Chair has mentioned last August when I assumed this office the climate was less settled – in fact is was stormy both metaphorically and, by the months end, literally as Tropical Storm Irene hit us. A major part of my challenge was to create greater stability, improve morale by open and honest communication while continuing to move forward on critical issues. I feel confident that we have done so.

We demonstrated our value to Vermont by responding in numerous ways to Tropical Storm Irene. For example UVM police officers worked tirelessly in Windham County, we provided space for state offices and laboratories, our students, staff and faculty volunteered their time, expertise and money to respond to the state disaster. We chose to forego our state capital appropriation request so that the funds could be used for pressing infrastructure repair. Our Extension professionals worked with farmers on the immediate issues around food and crop safety soil testing and they continue to engage today on the long term economic impacts.

I felt it was important to connect with the state and remind legislators, businesses and citizens of UVM‘s contributions in educating Vermont citizens, supporting the state infrastructure in health, agriculture, natural resources and education and our essential direct and indirect contributions to economic viability and job creation. We have done that through media releases, TV and radio programs and by community meetings across the state in the fall semester. We provided compelling evidence and testimony of our contributions to legislative committees and received a level appropriation, a little over $40million. The Governor recognized that a healthy and strong UVM is essential for Vermont’s well-being and established his working committee on higher education, with particular emphasis on UVM’s future role.

We completed negotiations of 3 labor contracts and addressed the difficult and thorny issues of future post-retirement medical benefits while protecting our existing employees. We have budgeted for an increase of 2% in compensation for employees next year with a modest tuition increase at 3.5%.

This year our students have won numerous meritorious national awards including Truman, Goldwater, Udall, Fulbright, Smart, Boren, Gilman and Critical Language Scholarships. The Cynic newspaper won a national award for student journalism and our Lawrence debate team achieved seventh place, and was top U.S. school, in the world debate championships. Our students increasingly engage in enriching learning experiences outside the classroom. This year 90% of the students surveyed in our NSSE study participated either in study abroad, undergraduate research, community service or an internship while at UVM. This shows what a strong element experiential education is of a UVM education. John Dewey would be proud but remind us that we must embrace experiential learning as fundamental and not supplementary.

We have worked with the Vermont Lake Monsters to create a long term home for minor league baseball at Centennial Field. Our student athletes won a national ski championship, a conference basketball championship and an academic conference cup. As testimony to our environmental leadership we signed onto the Real Food Challenge, we are eliminating bottled water and have completed the renovation of Aiken as a green sustainable building.

We set up the University Foundation and we are on the verge of a record year of donor commitments.

Sunday we graduate another class to add to the accomplishments and achievements of our 90,000 alumni. We have recruited a very strong class of 2016 to follow in their footsteps. A class that is strong in academic quality, diversity and potential.

So we are in excellent shape and I am very proud of the progress made. However, I am anxious about the future of higher education and our ability to adapt to the challenges predicted. Some say that the current model is broken, that successful residential colleges will become few and far between as new; less expensive ways to deliver education expand. That may not come to pass but I am confident that the next decade or two will bring greater changes to higher education than we have seen since the land grant act of 1862.

Higher education costs have grown at rates in excess even of those of health care and exceeding family’s ability to pay. With jobs hard to come by, the wisdom of investing in a college education is increasingly questioned. Sadly higher education is often presented as a private benefit rather than a public good and is no longer a priority for government investment. We must convince others that we are a public good, worthy of public investment, and essential for the future success of the nation. If we fail a college education may once again become the preserve of the wealthy and privileged and our nation will slip further down the international ladder of competiveness.

Perhaps technology will provide an answer to some of the cost challenges but what are the implications for UVM? MIT and Harvard are investing $60m in a new on-line course initiative. They are doing that not altruistically but because they see a huge global educational opportunity for them and a future revenue source. Some institutions with huge resources see themselves as the providers of education to an increasing proportion of the world’s students.

UVM will need a distinct identity, a demonstrated value and a competitive edge to prosper in the new educational world. That means exploiting our location and its attributes in programmatic and experiential learning models, and embracing technology in cost-effective ways that align with what we do better than others. It means relying on high quality content from others in some areas and focusing our own content development elsewhere and making that available to others. There will be new delivery models combining asynchronous learning, real life experience, community college credits and residential college courses in a variety of ways.

Better use of facilities year round will be essential and can make college education more affordable, create new program opportunities and foster powerful alliances and partnerships that generate new revenue. However we will have to change our way of doing business. If we don’t others will.

As Vermont’s only research university we are expected to play an expanded role partnering with Vermont businesses in job creation and economic development. That will be important to the success of our students and to expansion of institutional resources. UVM can be the center of an innovation hub, with spokes state wide that link our students, faculty and Vermont entrepreneurs in an innovative learning and delivery system that prepares students, guides and supports entrepreneurship and creates job.

Fortunately, we have been engaging in dialog around many of these issues through the SIP process and you will be hearing much more about that work at this meeting. We are not at the end of the process of wrestling with measuring and increasing quality, using technology wisely, making strategic decisions about investments, reducing administrative overhead, optimizing of efficiencies and so on. The work done by faculty, administration, staff and students over the course of this year provides an invaluable data base for President Elect Sullivan and the institution to build on and continue this work going forward.

In closing I thank all my colleagues for the wonderful efforts and commitments to UVM. The success we have enjoyed is the consequence not of my efforts but theirs. I also wish to thank the Board for the faith they showed in me last year in asking me to assume this great responsibility and their support through the year. I feel it turned out pretty well!

Last modified May 18 2012 08:40 AM