University of Vermont

Office of the President

Opening Remarks - Campus Forum

University President's Report, Faculty Senate
March 16, 2009

Thank you, Robyn. Good afternoon, everyone. As I reported last week in a letter to faculty, staff, and students, over the course of the past two months I have intensified dialogue with all segments of the University community, above all with the leadership of this Senate through its Executive Council and its Financial and Physical Planning Committee. I have listened to the concerns of the community about a variety of important matters, including what is to my mind the most consequential for the well-being of the University and of Vermont: as we make the budgetary and operational changes required for successful navigation of today’s troubled economic waters, we must maintain UVM’s academic quality and distinction. I take this as the most sacred trust of my office, and with special gratitude both to the Executive Council and the FPPC, I can report with confidence today that we are securely on course to maintain the academic quality of the University for the benefit of students, faculty and staff, and the citizens of our State. It is also my firm belief that we continue to be well-positioned to emerge from this difficult economy stronger and sooner than many peer institutions.
I will return to that central issue of academic quality, but first I want to touch briefly on other topics addressed in last week’s letter.

  • I have heard members of the community express concerns about administrative compensation. Except for the University President’s housing and car allowances and deferred retirement compensation, administrative compensation next year will be confined to base pay, with no bonuses, no deferred compensation, no vehicle allowances, and no other elements of non-base pay for any administrators. My own total compensation will also be lower than in 2008. Because we are in the process of recruiting several deans and an Interim Provost, I can’t give you a precise budget number today, but it is not too early to say that I expect total administrative compensation in FY 2010 to total significantly less than in either of the two preceding fiscal years. The Board of Trustees, through its Executive Committee, will also be monitoring senior administrator compensation as an aspect of my own annual performance review—a protocol that I fully endorse.
  • I have heard members of the community express concerns about the size and cost of the administration. Size and cost must be held to the most moderate levels compatible with the continuing success of UVM as a competitive national university. We have initiated a benchmarking study comparing UVM senior staffing levels to peer institutions. The Senate will be updated on the status of the study and invited to comment on it in draft form. We will act to align UVM not only with common practice but with what we conscientiously discern to be best practice.
  • I have heard members of the community—both on campus and beyond—express strong views on the issue of Commencement speakers. I’m not only apologetic, but downright rueful, about my success in accomplishing the rare feat of affronting just about everyone. But I am also comfortable that the systemic solution I recommended to the trustees last week—and that they approved—will give us a more inclusive, participatory, and transparent community process for reviewing and selecting honorary degree recipients and Commencement speakers.
  • I have heard members of the community raise concerns about the timing of consideration of ideas for restructuring, even those that may have substantial merit. Once again, I assure you that nothing will be considered except through normal governance channels to which I am fully committed, notably the Faculty Senate, with ample time for reflection and deliberation. I do, however, look forward to the Taylor committee report, and to reflecting on it with you. One recommendation I hope will come out of the working group Professor Taylor is chairing is the need for the development and implementation of a University-wide core curriculum for undergraduate students.

As I said at the outset of these remarks, stewardship of academic quality is a sacred trust. In the short term, we are intensively examining what needs to be done to maintain, preserve, and even enhance academic quality in the light of budget reconciliation processes. Last week, Associate Provost Jane Knodell and Vice President Richard Cate met with the deans and determined that, in addition to the return of about $200,000 already committed to the College of Nursing and Health Sciences, we will need to make additional investments—perhaps well over a million dollars more—in faculty positions, teaching assistantships, and instructional support to ensure the quality of the academic experience for students and faculty next year. To be clear, the analysis to date suggests that those investments will not have a one-to-one correspondence with the areas and positions affected in current budget cut scenarios; instead, investments will be designed in the most strategic and effective ways we can devise to maintain the quality of the academic and student experience. That work will extend beyond the just-completed conversations with the deans to incorporate other information that may be forthcoming from chairs, from faculty, and from the work of the FPPC as we deepen and round out our picture of areas that may need attention in the coming academic year. In the longer term, we are committed to the academic-quality impact analysis of which President Warhol-Down wrote in her memo of last Monday to the faculty on behalf of the Executive Council of the Senate. Because the Executive Council suggested that I charge a committee comprising members of the FPPC and the Senate’s Curricular Affairs Committee, I am asking the chairs of those committees, Bud Meyers and Cindy Forehand, to serve as co-chairs of an Academic Quality Assurance Task Force that will be convened by Associate Provost Knodell; also on the task force will be three other members of each of the two Senate committees, nominated by the committee chairs, and, in addition to Jane Knodell, one other central administrator and two deans, to be appointed after I receive the Senate nominations.

The challenges we face as an institution are serious. I hope what I have just told you about the decisions already made and the measures under way reinforces what I have said many times—so long as we work together as a community, our challenges are not only manageable but also provide us with opportunities to continue building academic excellence. I continue to be inspired by our dedicated staff, our talented faculty, our marvelously engaged students, and our devoted alumni and friends. I continue to be inspired, too, by a vision of a university in which we continue to work together to advance our commitments to liberal education, environment, and health in a rich array of programs that are deeply rewarding intellectually for our students and faculty and that will promote solutions that support health and sustainability, locally and globally. Thank you.

Last modified March 18 2009 12:45 PM