University of Vermont

Office of the President

Convocation Address_September_8_2003

Convocation Address
President Daniel Mark Fogel

September 8, 2003
Ira Allen Chapel, University of Vermont

President Bollinger, Board Vice-Chair Heath, members of the Board of Trustees, vice presidents, vice provosts, distinguished deans, honored faculty, our newest distinguished visiting professor, Governor Madeleine Kunin, staff, students (including members of our impressive honor societies, Tower, the Boulder Society, and Mortar Board), alumni (including Dale Rocheleau, president of the Alumni Association), fellow presidents John Brennan of Green Mountain College, Roger Perry of Champlain College, and Richard Schneider of Norwich University, friends, members of the community, including Mayor Peter Clavelle of Burlington and Senator Jim Condos, Chairman of the City Council of South Burlington, I too want to welcome you to our annual Convocation, a ceremony in which we have occasion to reflect on the value and meaning of our lives in the academy as we embark on the new academic year. On behalf of all members of the community, I extend a special welcome to the class of 2007, a cohort that brings high achievement and very rich diversity to the University of Vermont, to our new transfer, graduate, and professional students, to faculty and staff who have just joined the University, and to some key new members of the leadership team working with me and Provost John Bramley (who returns from a trip to the United Kingdom later this week), notably two new vice provosts serving with John, Willi Coleman and Denise Youngblood, a new chief of staff serving both the provost and the president, John Fitzgerald Gates, our new athletic director, Robert Corran (who joined us in the academic procession wearing his doctoral hood in affirmation of the primacy of the academic at the University of Vermont), and two vice presidents whose work will be key to the advancement of the University of Vermont, Frances Carr, Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School, and J. Michael Gower, Vice President for Finance and Administrative Services.

I want to thank everyone who has made this occasion possible: our student Ambassadors; the many faculty who donned academic regalia to join the academic procession; Professor Judith Cohen, who as Vice President of the Faculty Senate has assumed, in President Michael Gurdon’s absence, the mantle of University Marshall, marking a new tradition at UVM that recognizes the importance of faculty governance; Professors Willi Coleman and Huck Gutman, whose opening and closing reflections grace this occasion; those who have provided music, including Professor David Neiweem, University Carollineur, Mr. William Hannon, and the University Brass Quintet; the many dedicated and hard-working staff members in Administrative and Facilities Services who have managed the physical logistics of the event and who have ensured that the campus looks its Vermont best on this special day; and the individuals in the Offices of the President and the Provost who have organized the Convocation, notably Leslie Logan, John Gates, Gary Derr, and Vice President Lauck Parke. Thank you and welcome, one and all.

These are heady days at the University of Vermont, and it would be tempting to mark this event by ticking off the great things our faculty, staff, and students accomplished last year and then by enumerating the major milestones we expect to attain as we progress through the academic year just getting under way. But instead, since this is an occasion for reflection, and since together over the course of the last year we have launched the University on a rising trajectory that may strike a restrained Vermont sensibility as possibly too strong, too bold, too high, too altogether flashy, I’d like, before I introduce President Bollinger, to spend just a few minutes considering with you the idea that lies at the heart of the agenda we have set for the University of Vermont.

That idea draws on what virtually every Vermonter I’ve met in my first year here values most—quality of life—for what we are striving for in everything we do and aim to achieve at UVM is quality. It is a commonplace that Vermonters value quality of life above other considerations, and we all feel that the many surveys that rank our community among the top ten nationally for quality of life—many placing us at the top of the lists—are simply on target. But just what do we mean by the phrase “quality of life,” and how does our commitment to quality play out in the life of the University?

First and foremost, the quality of life in an academic institution goes to the vitality and passion with which we are committed to the life of the mind, to intellectual liberty, to civility, to the disinterested pursuit of knowledge, and to sharing the successes and failures of our inquiries freely, fully, and enthusiastically with all members of the community on our campus and beyond: and the quality of our shared life in the University requires of all of us a profound sense of the privileges and responsibilities of being members of an intellectual community.

Scarcely less important to the quality of our intellectual community is our commitment to diversity. Inquiry lives upon discussion, on debate, on variety of points of view, life experiences, backgrounds, and traditions. The very air of the academy should be electric with difference. We are richer as an intellectual community for all of those characteristics that mark difference, including differences among the academic disciplines, among methodologies and theories within the disciplines, and among us as human beings who bring to the feast of intellect each a unique set of aptitudes and life experiences shaped by heredity, by upbringing, by national origin, by gender, by race and ethnicity, by the ways in which we are differently abled, by sexual orientation and gender identity, and by our kaleidoscopic mosaics of spiritual, religious, and philosophic traditions. Quality in the academy therefore depends vitally on diversity and on respect for differences.

And yet, along with our celebration of difference, we also celebrate community, and our sense of belonging to a community is also an indispensable aspect of the quality of the University. Might we say that the dialectical interplay of community and difference is an essential defining element of the academy? I, for one, would say so emphatically. When we assemble, as we have assembled today, to affirm our shared values and to celebrate our differences, we know that the quality of life on our campus and beyond depends on our commitment to each other in a community of learning, of creative endeavor, and of care for another.

There are many other aspects of the quality of life in the University on which I will not dwell in the interest of keeping these remarks very brief—the quality of our built environment, the physical campus, its design, maintenance, and upkeep, and the way in which they support our work and our community, all of which will be issues as we actively pursue campus master planning in the coming year along with exciting new projects such as the design and construction of the new residence halls on University Heights, the new University Commons on Main Street, and a new life science research complex; the quality of our natural environment, so precious to us here in Vermont, so vital to the future of the planet, and so central to the teaching, research, and service agendas of this institution; the quality of our academic programs that will be enhanced by initiatives such as the University of Vermont Honors College and new interdisciplinary graduate programs; the quality that depends on our sense that our campus is a safe place, secure from threats of discrimination, harassment, and violence, a community where we are not at risk, where we avoid risky behaviors, where we take good care of ourselves and look out for one another, and where, importantly, we respect the rights and sensibilities of our neighbors in the communities around us; and the quality of the artistic and cultural life of the campus and of the extraordinarily vital community around us.

Throughout last year, my first at UVM, my appreciation of the special values vested in the University of Vermont deepened steadily. It is probably safe to say that there is not a public flagship research university in the United States that does not take as central to its mission teaching, research, and service. Most, perhaps all, have added to that venerable trio commitments to economic development and diversity. But I think it is also safe to say that few, perhaps none, share, as openly and passionately declared institutional values, the commitment of the University of Vermont to environmental stewardship, to social justice, and to equity, commitments in which the values of the State of Vermont and the University of Vermont powerfully converge.

As an institution, we also have a deep commitment to intellectual liberty, rooted in our founding by heroes of the American Revolution. It is in the context of those values and commitments that we welcome today our keynote speaker, Lee C. Bollinger. President Bollinger has served as president of two of the world’s great universities. From 1996 to 2002, he served as the twelfth president of the University of Michigan. In June, 2002, he became the nineteenth president of Columbia University in the City of New York. Earlier, from 1994 to 1996, he was Provost of Dartmouth College (a period during which he lived in Norwich, Vermont, where he and his wife Jean have kept their house: we can be sure that the Bollingers know whereof we speak when the topic is quality of life in Vermont). Before going to Dartmouth as Provost, President Bollinger was dean of the School of Law at the University of Michigan.

Lee Bollinger is a renowned scholar of free speech and First Amendment issues. His 1986 book The Tolerant Society offered, among its arguments, the view that society is strengthened by the extraordinary self-restraint required to tolerate extremist views, a teaching with special historical application for this institution, which, like many other distinguished centers of learning, unhappily strayed, at the height of McCarthyist hysteria, from its historic commitment to intellectual liberty (if you don’t know the history of the University’s shameful dismissal of Professor Alexander Novikoff in 1953, it is retold once again in Brent Hallenbeck’s feature story on page one of yesterday’s Burlington Free Press). President Bollinger is also the author of Images of a Free Press (1991) and co-editor of Eternally Vigilant: Free Speech in the Modern Era (2001).

He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an honorary fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge University, and a member of the Boards of the Gerald R. Ford Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and the Royal Shakespeare Company of Great Britain. President Bollinger is the recipient of several awards for his strong defense of affirmative action in higher education, including the National Humanitarian Award from the National Conference on Community and Justice. He was a central figure in the University of Michigan’s successful defense of affirmative action in college admissions in two historic Supreme Court cases that were decided this past June, Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger. Please join me in welcoming one of the true heroes of intellectual liberty, free speech, and diversity in American society and in higher education, President Lee C. Bollinger.

Last modified September 27 2003 12:59 PM