University of Vermont

Office of the President

Opening Remarks - Campus Forum

Opening Remarks, Campus Forum
February 26, 2009

Tuna, many thanks, and thanks to the cosponsors of today’s forum. I welcome this chance to speak to community concerns. My optimism about continuing the strong course UVM is on arises from my conviction that this is an extraordinary community and that we draw our strength from each other.

I understand very acutely, however, how in the wake of today’s news report on executive pay that anger is running very high, and I want to begin by addressing that because I do not think it will be good for our students, our faculty, our staff, or the State of Vermont for us to begin to tear ourselves apart as a community.
I fully understand, and share, the outrage felt by people at a historical moment when the very word “bonus” summons up images of leaders who performed poorly and paid themselves excessively with wanton disregard for anything but feathering their own nests. It stinks to high heaven.

While the anger some feel about the report of bonuses here is understandable, our practices at UVM are not at all unusual and deserve to be better understood. There is a world of difference between UVM’s practices and those we all have vilified, not just in scale, but also in nature and intent. I don’t know how accurate the figures being circulated are, though I have some idea on those attached to my name, so let I’ll use myself as an illustration in a moment. Not all the numbers in that compilation on 21 recipients of bonuses averaging less than $11K per year per person were in fact bonuses, nor were bonuses given to every individual in each of the past four years. Included also were items like my car allowance, and in some cases extra pay for extra duties (a practice that happens across our community and that is codified, in fact, in some of our collective bargaining agreements). And, importantly, those payments that were bonuses were pay for performance, and they were generally but not always granted, because I believe in holding administrators and myself accountable. Such payments—along with other elements of compensation such as the deferred comp paid into a retirement account that is part of my pay, as it is for many of my counterparts nationally—have been an important part of hiring and retaining qualified personnel to date, as well as in some cases bringing individuals closer to market levels without permanently increasing base salary. I plan to re-examine this practice going forward.

So let me turn to myself. I want to say something I have declined to say until now because I have not wanted to make something as personal as my compensation an issue, nor have I wanted to claim credit where I don’t believe it is due. My total compensation this year is lower than it was last year because I asked the Board well before the downturn took its worst turn this fall not to include a bonus in my pay this year—my request, and the Board’s concurrence. As for my total compensation, the biggest numbers circulated on that list of 21 people are mine. Those numbers include a housing allowance and a car allowance. The Board sets my total compensation—looking to markets and competitiveness. That is the same thing we have tried to do for all faculty and staff: to provide total compensation that is equitable and sufficient for building a competitive national university for the benefit of everyone we serve. And while I am fortunate to be President of this fine institution and am paid fairly for what I do, I rank well below the midpoint of my peers – 93rd out of 151 among public research and doctoral universities. At UVM, faculty at my academic rank—full professors—stood somewhat higher, 82nd out of 151 schools (quite amazing when they were close to the bottom just a few years ago)—the average full professor at UVM this year, not including medical school faculty, has a salary of $104,978, plus UVM’s very generous benefits package, and when that salary is annualized to the full year that most people work it is of course much higher. Moreover, the precise ratio of my salary to that faculty average was 3.14 to one, a ratio that ranks in the bottom third of our peers. I share this information not to complain in any way – god knows I am very fortunate to be here, but to share a few facts about the context of executive pay.

It is an honor to be a teacher, and the life of the mind and of scholarship is for most of us a constantly renewed joy, and I honor and take joy in our wonderful faculty and staff. And I hope you know that competitive compensation has been a hallmark of my administration, and the evidence is clear that we have made, and continue to make, excellent progress. I understand the current concerns, but I have to tell you that I in turn am angered by the imputation that I have had any motive other than simply working almost beyond endurance throughout my presidency to build academic quality, value, and competitiveness for UVM, for Vermont, and for this community.

Only through the hard work of thousands of members of this community has the University advanced in recent years, with significant gains in high-quality, diverse enrollment, in academic quality and standing in the scholarly world, in research awards, in the scientific, scholarly, and creative achievements of the faculty, in external recognition of faculty distinction, in competitive compensation for faculty and staff, in the upkeep and development of the campus from classrooms to labs to residence halls, in strategic investments like library acquisitions and high-performance research computing, in the programmatic richness of undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs—and much more, far too much to enumerate here. In short, thanks to the strength, intellectual vitality, and sweat equity of this community UVM has swiftly become an increasingly competitive national university for the benefit of all who work and study here, of the people of Vermont, and of the wider society.

Without this progress, at a time when the foundations of economic prosperity and progress have been more deeply shaken than ever before in my lifetime, we would be in far more dire straits than we are in today. Throughout the past six years, we have been building strength that is helping us to meet challenges none of us foresaw. Certainly I did not foresee the steepness and still unpredictable length of the economic decline when I wrote last April about our need to sharpen UVM’s focus and academic quality to prevail in the rising economic and demographic storm. I can say I saw it coming, but none of us can say we saw how bad it would be. We can say, however, that had we ridden into this storm in the less than optimal condition in which the University floundered for the better part of fifteen years, beginning in the late 1980s, our position today in troubled waters would be far more perilous, with far more negative consequences for students, faculty, and staff and for the University’s ability to accomplish its mission.

Not only are we not in those far more dire straits in which we would find ourselves had we not come so far and so fast under the invest-and-grow strategy of the last six years, but we are also in far better shape than most of our peers. I flew back today from meeting in Washington with the leaders of the nation’s great public universities. Their institutions are generally in far more trouble than ours. Single public institutions are laying off hundreds of colleagues—in some, the faculty lay-offs already run into the scores, and even the hundreds. Schools have already taken huge cuts—I heard numbers ranging from 15% to as much as the 40% projected at the public universities in Arizona. By contrast, the $10.8 million we cut last week was less than 4% of our general fund. How strong is our comparative position? Contrast, for instance, our new faculty contract, with its 5% annual raise pools for three years, with the new contract at UMass-Amherst, where faculty salaries are frozen this year, go up 1.5% in 2010, and 3.5% in 2011 and 2012. Our contract reflects the strength we have built together and our ability to keep building national competitiveness—and believe you me I stuck my neck out in advocating for the contract here against lots of pressure to hold pay to much lower levels.

We all know that the economic landscape has been utterly transformed in the past year. I have called on UVM to shift gears, to move from an invest-and-grow strategy to a focus-and-invest approach to building academic quality and competitiveness. And to carry that strategy out in challenging times we have made—and will have to continue to make—hard and painful choices. The sixteen persons notified last week that they would lose their jobs are not numbers but colleagues with whom we work. We are intent on supporting them in every way to transition to new jobs—as many as feasible within the University—and we are providing strong support for them, material and otherwise, including extension of health benefits beyond the end of their employment; continuation of tuition waivers for them and their dependents; where applicable, bridges to retirement; and assistance with job counseling and placement. Meanwhile, we are examining all feasible options, including those suggested by the community, for increasing productivity and efficiency, including significant administrative streamlining. While we have not been able for many reasons to take the suggestion that we tap endowment to elongate the period of budget balancing, we have achieved the same goal by drawing on other reserves. As I have told you before, by early April I’ll announce a number of measures to streamline administration —and, as you know, the cuts to date in non-academic areas were more than twice those in academic areas. On the academic side, we are simply moving toward the 16 to 1 student faculty ratio that was developed as a target years ago, widely shared with the community, and formally approved by the Board in 2004—the change from this year to next will be a 5% increase in the ratio, or an increase of at most one to two students already factored into the more than 80% of class sections scheduled for next fall with 39 or fewer students. In setting this ratio target, in investing in the campus within the prudent debt policy that limits debt service to 5% of annual expenditures, and in advocating for and delivering enhanced support for faculty and staff in the form of rising salaries and for students in the form of rising financial aid—including a $10 million increase for next year, $3 million above the original planned growth in student aid—my colleagues and I have been focused only on building academic quality, the quality of the student experience, and national competitiveness for the benefit of all who work and study at UVM and of all who are served by this wonderful institution. I look forward to our dialogue this afternoon. Thanks again, Mandy and many thanks to all of the organizers.

Last modified February 27 2009 05:06 PM