University of Vermont

Office of the President

Convocation Address
President Daniel Mark Fogel

September 3, 2002
Ira Allen Chapel, University of Vermont

Thank you, Provost Bramley. Thank you, too, Dean Maglaris for those stirring remarks. Members of the Board of Trustees, fellow members of the faculty, students, staff, alumni and friends of the University, welcome and thank you all for joining together today at our Convocation, an occasion at which we mark countless new beginnings that take their origin in the launching of a new academic year.

It gives me great pleasure to introduce the members of our platform party. We have five members of our Board of Trustees, including, in addition to the chairman of the Board, Dean Maglaris, (Martha Heath, Thomas Little, Seth Podolsky, and Sanjeev Yadav). I would like to take special and grateful note of my immediate predecessor, Edwin I. Colodny, whose service as Interim President last year provided stability and integrity as essential elements of the foundation on which I am privileged to have the opportunity to build. Thank you, Ed, from the bottom of my heart for everything you and Nancy have done for the University of Vermont. We have already heard from my closest partner in the leadership of the university, our superb provost, John Bramley. We have the deans of our academic colleges and schools: Don DeHayes, Natural Resources; Rocki-Lee Dewitt, Business Administration; Anne Huot, the Graduate School; Robert Jenkins, Engineering and Mathematics; representing Rachel Johnson, Douglas Johnson (Associate Dean), Agriculture and Life Sciences; Betty Rambur, Nursing and Health Sciences; Mara Saule, Libraries and Information Technology; Joan Smith, Arts and Sciences; Jill Tarule, Education and Social Services; and Joseph Warshaw, Medicine. We have student, staff, faculty, and alumni leaders: Jon Badaracco, President of the Student Government Association; representing President Karla Nuissl, Joe Speidel, Vice President of the Staff Council; Michael Gurdon, President of the Faculty Senate; and Dale Rocheleau, President of the Alumni Council. Our largest single group comprises exemplary members of the faculty, including two of our recent Kidder Award winners whom I have asked to offer opening and closing reflections for the assembly, Professors Thomas Hudspeth and Paula Fives-Taylor. Tom and Paula are joined by one of four colleagues who have been given the designation of University Scholars for 2002-2003: Professors Charles Goodnight and Rachel Johnson could not be with us today; Joni Seager is here on the platform, and Denise Youngblood, who dashed over from class too late to join the official party, is in the audience; by two of our five colleagues who are recipients of the Kroepsch-Maurice Excellence in Teaching Awards for 2002, Professors Joseph Schall, James Kraushaar, Stephanie Kaza could not be here, but we have on the platform today John Lecky and Ms. Sheila Weaver; last but far from least, occupying the first eight rows of the assembly are faculty colleagues who have donned regalia to help give this occasion its full academic dignity and splendor — in representing the faculty as whole, you stand for the heart and soul of the university, for our central activities in transmitting and creating knowledge. Thank you one and all for joining us today.

It is, as I said, a time of countless new beginnings. For me, and for my wife Rachel Kahn-Fogel (who is here with us today), this moment marks the real formal beginning of the new lives we embarked upon in Vermont when we crossed the Rubicon known as Lake Champlain in late June. We assume our new roles with great pride in the University of Vermont — a pride that I very much hope all of you will share. As Lattie Coor observed early in his tenure as UVM's 21st president, this is a small gem of a university. Graced by its magnificent location on a high hill flanked by the Green Mountains to the east and Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains to the west, the University of Vermont occupies one of the half dozen campuses in the nation that may rightly lay claim to the laurels of "most beautiful." The university attracted Rachel and me for a variety of reasons, not least of all its gorgeous natural setting, but, more importantly, its cherished traditions, its intimate scale — unrivaled among the nation's public flagships — its hybrid public/private character, and, above all, its unquestionable quality and limitless potential.

The University of Vermont is in many ways better now than it has ever been. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors, take note of the first-year students who have joined us this year. Many members of the classes of '03, '04, and '05 would not have been admitted in the entering class of 2006. The University of Vermont is a hot school, with applications for places in the first-year class that joined us last week having risen 18 percent over applications for fall, 2001. Admissions selectivity jumped the better part of ten points, from 80 percent to 71.5 percent. All of you who are continuing students should not be daunted by this leap in the quality of the classes nipping at your heels. You should, rather, take great pride and satisfaction. The value of the degree you will earn is appreciating at rates that would thrill investors if they represented appreciated market value. At the same time, all of us, students, staff, and faculty should also take great pride in what appears to be a high-water mark in the scientific, scholarly, and creative power and quality of our faculty. While I want to assure my fellow poets and arts & humanities scholars that I know we can never gauge quality in those areas by grant productivity, the best and most widely acknowledged index of the competitiveness of university faculties across all disciplines is their productivity in external grants and contracts, and this year UVM's external grants and awards came in at an all-time high of more than $102 million, a 17 percent jump over the $87 million-level achieved the year before. Six years ago the figure was only about $30 million. And in the mid-1980s, at the height of UVM's so-called "public ivyness," research productivity, in inflation-adjusted terms, was a tiny fraction of what it is today.

So student quality and faculty quality are rising dramatically. The University of Vermont is a marvelous institution, poised, in the words of former Board chair Bruce Lisman, on the verge of brilliance. What must we to do achieve that brilliance? All of us, faculty, staff, and students, must commit ourselves to raising the competitive metabolism of the University of Vermont.

The phrase "raising the competitive metabolism" and the idea of doing so with respect to an already excellent institution are borrowings from Howell Raines, executive editor of The New York Times. Mr. Raines assumed his new position a year ago, in August, shortly before the September 11th attacks. Raines led the Times to an unprecedented seven Pulitzer Prizes (no newspaper had ever won more than three Pulitzers in a single year). What I like is the idea that Raines was not content to be the chief executive of the best newspaper in the business — he was bent on raising its competitive metabolism, and he did. And if UVM is in many respects better than it has ever been, we must nevertheless be dedicated here together to raising the university's competitive metabolism, work that I know will be rewarding and exciting for everyone.

Next week we will observe the first anniversary of the terrible events of September 11, 2001, a cruel and costly attack on the United States of America, one that displayed in a vast, cataclysmic panorama horror and heroism at a pitch that has not touched us as a nation for more than half a century. We are moved to reflect that most human beings do not live graced by our blessings of abundance and liberty and stable institutions. To the contrary, billions live without adequate nourishment and medical care, without educational opportunity, and above all without belief that they can negotiate the multiple impasses blocking the full development of their individual human potential and also blocking any plausible path to better lives for them and their children. We are all connected. One of the ministers of Tony Blair's government, Gordon Brown, said last fall, "Today what happens to the poorest person in the poorest country can affect the richest person in the richest country." We are all connected, and until we come to terms with the full implications of that interconnectedness — that "what happens to the poorest person in the poorest country can affect the richest person in the richest country" — we will not be in a position to renovate the world, making it secure, just, and humane, not just for ourselves but for all people everywhere. No one proclaimed better our connectedness than John Donne in his seventeenth meditation of the Devotions upon Emergent Occasions:

Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world? No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main(land). If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

There are many ways of describing the ways in which we are connected. Today I would like us to focus on just two, submitting to you that we must be connected above all by a fabric of care — that is, of care for each other, of care for each other's well-being at the highest attainable levels — and that the quality of care we attain is woven of a fabric of expectations. We must care for each other, we must expect much of each other, and we must expect much of ourselves. In striving to meet the highest expectations of ourselves and of each other, we weave a fabric of care that is the essence of community, on the campus and throughout the world at large.

Let me begin with the staff of the university. Without their dedication, intelligence, and loyalty, all of our work in trying to strike sparks through the exchange of ideas among students and faculty would come to naught. UVM is strong today because we have terrific staff throughout the university who do their jobs very well indeed. Yet to raise the competitive metabolism of the university, we must all do better. Staff members must care enough about the knowledge, skill, acumen, and zest for discovery that constitute the life of the mind to which all of us in the university are dedicated — must care enough to ensure that every task and every administrative process and procedure is facilitative, designed to support student achievement and faculty creativity. Whether dedicated to physical safety, building maintenance and operations, student affairs, or administrative support, we need to expect from ourselves and each other timely and efficient work that is as free as possible of bureaucratic turgidity and unresponsiveness. Bureaucracy is no friend of creativity. It should be as minimal as is consistent with law and regulation and should for the most part be transparent to the students and faculty. We need our staff to shed a "business as usual" attitude. We have a very high expectation of them: that they will come up with good ideas to make UVM work better and that they will carry those ideas out — and that when others approach them with good ideas their response will not be that "it can't be done" or "isn't done that way here" but, rather, that we can find a way to make it happen. Above all, we need to expect each other not to ask how new initiatives and ways of operating may affect me and my unit, but how they may better the university as a whole.

Turning to my faculty colleagues, as Allen Nevins said to General Eisenhower, you are the university. As I've already suggested, there are strong grounds for believing that the scientific, scholarly, and creative power of the faculty is at an all-time high. But to raise the competitive metabolism of the university, we too must do much better. We must ensure that the highest distinction in teaching, in scholarship and creative activity, and in service is the indelible signature of the University of Vermont. We must expect of each other scholarship and creative work at the highest competitive national levels. We must step up our effectiveness in recruiting undergraduate students who will succeed at the University of Vermont, in mentoring them, in giving them the personal attention they crave and deserve. This is not work that we can or should simply leave to our colleagues the admissions professionals and the academic counselors. We must take student advising to levels that go far beyond advice in course selection. We must energize the intellectual climate of the university for ourselves and our students, challenging students to stretch and to grow intellectually and to do so with an appreciation of academic rigor and high standards. We must work together to build strong graduate programs across the campus, particularly in priority areas, so that we become a more graduate-intensive institution with larger cadres of nationally competitive doctoral students. And like our staff colleagues, we must be prepared to set aside old ways of doing things, and must ask ourselves not how new initiatives and programs may affect me and my department, school, or college, but how they may better the university as a whole. We must hold ourselves and our academic leaders accountable for setting significant, stretch goals and for making real advances toward achieving those goals.

Among the goals that faculty and staff must pursue together, I want especially to single out one, the goal of creating a truly diverse learning community in which women, people of color, ethnic and religious minorities, members of the lesbian-gay community, and others who bring rich threads of difference to our tapestry of care and high expectations feel supported and at home. Make no mistake about it: Today diversity and academic excellence are inextricable. One cannot have the latter without the former. This is an area in which I will personally insist that everyone from the top down is held accountable for making significant progress.

Students, too, must be part of this progress — are indeed essential to it. Let me turn now to our students. I have been impressed with every one of you whom I have met since my first candidate visit to the campus last January. Our undergraduate students are bright, engaged, eager to learn and succeed, and intent on becoming effective, contributing members of society. Without them we would not have a university. Their quality is an essential element of the enviably strong position in which UVM finds itself today. And yet they too, with our help, must do better. We look to our strong class of 2006 with high hopes that its members will outpace the classes that have come before them with significant gains in persistence toward earned degrees. We look to all our fine students and urge them to have the highest possible expectations of themselves and of each other. Expect yourself to make the most of the precious opportunity for intellectual and personal growth represented by your college years. Expect to go to class, of course, but beyond that essential but minimal expectation, expect to go beyond the required readings. Expect to take time to make every assignment and project the very best you can accomplish. Expect to seek out members of the faculty for informal as well as formal dialogue. Expect the most of each other. Care for each other. Please don't ever put me in the position I was in one August morning just five years ago of interrupting my morning exercise at 5:30 a.m. to take a call from the dean of students informing me that a student had died of alcohol poisoning. Had his friends intervened sooner, before he passed out or afterwards, he would have made it. Please take good care of yourselves and of each other. Seek to elevate the value of moderation and good sense. Expect high levels of citizenship from yourselves and each other. Expect yourselves to respect our neighbors, the good people of Burlington. Respect their property and their right to a night's sleep. If you are ever in a group walking up the hill to the campus past darkened houses, and anyone raises a voice beyond a low conversational level, expect to step up and hush them up — imagine that the citizens sleeping in the houses you are passing are your own parents, trying to get a good night's sleep and to recover from a week of hard work put in to earn your tuition. Above all, expect yourselves to make the most of the opportunity UVM offers you to delve deeply and widely into the world of thought and discovery — don't succumb too early to over-specialization — remember that while UVM prides itself on excellence in professional education, the hallmark of an undergraduate education at UVM is excellence in the liberal arts. Expect to make the most of the prime and probably only chance of your life for a superb liberal arts education — nothing is more important than for you to attain a broad command of the ways of learning and knowing represented by the sciences, the social sciences, and the arts and humanities as you prepare for leadership in our democratic society.

At this moment of new beginnings, I ask all members of the university community to bend their efforts to creating a community of care and of high expectations. There are a number of agenda items that, in the near to mid-term, I hope that we will all address with a high sense of urgency, among others the creation of an Honors College that will support and complement our superb existing honors programs; the pursuit by the faculty of true curricular cohesion across the university's undergraduate colleges and schools, a project that goes back at least as far as the Committee on Baccalaureate Education that did significant good work during the Lattie Coor administration; the enhancement of residential life, including the creation of new residence halls and the renovation of existing ones to operate as living/learning communities; expansion and enhancement of campus programming for students; the pursuit of an ever-more successful inter-collegiate athletic program, fielding winning teams of superb student-athletes, with the accent in "student-athletes" on student; focused investment in strengthened graduate programs in priority areas; the development of a campus master plan and of an information technology master plan; the re-engineering of administrative processes to make them as transparent, as efficient, and as facilitative as possible; and the development of a more diverse campus community with a campus climate that is genuinely supportive of success and happiness for all of its members. All of these agenda items, among many others, are essential steps in raising the competitive metabolism.

I will be working closely with Provost Bramley to support him in the key parts of this agenda that lie primarily in the domain of the faculty and the academic leadership. But for the most part, I will be working to articulate a vision of the university that we will all pursue together to create that fabric of care and high expectations — a vision that your voices, individually and collectively, will help to shape — a vision in which we will all take increasing measures of pride and satisfaction. I will be working, too, to build the resources of the University through efficient internal management and increased public and private support, including successful completion of UVM's second capital campaign, so that we will have the resources to invest in excellence and to support our students, our staff, and our faculty in all dimensions of their work and lives within the university at the levels they so richly deserve. And I will be working with all members of the campus community to build a culture of accountability for meeting our high expectations with effective and timely action. I am not a patient man, and I am intent on unleashing the power of our marvelous faculty and dedicated staff so that together they can ensure that we advance this great university with a generous and bold sense of what is possible.

I am not patient, but I am a person who takes great joy in his work, and who sees it as a form of play for mortal stakes — a phrase that many of you will recognize as drawn from Robert Frost's wonderful poem "Two Tramps in Mudtime." And since I wish for every one of you — and above all for our students — the same joy in your work that I take in mine, let me close with the last stanza of that marvelous poem:

But yield who will to their separation,

My object in living is to unite

My avocation and my vocation

As my two eyes make one in sight.

Only where love and need are one,

And the work is play for mortal stakes,

Is the deed ever really done

For Heaven and the future's sake.

Let us make sure that our deeds are "really done," shaped by care for each other and by high expectations. Please accept my fervent best wishes for happiness, joy, and achievement in the year ahead. Will you please stand and join us in the singing of the alma mater, Universitas Viridis Montis.

Last modified September 05 2002 02:40 PM