University of Vermont

Office of the President

President's Report to Board of Trustees August 26 2005 President’s Report Board of Trustees
August 26, 2005

Vice-Chair Heath, trustees of the University, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends, there have been a number of very positive developments for the University of Vermont since our May meeting, but before turning to them, I want to begin on a somber, memorial note. All of us were shocked by the appalling tragedy that deprived us of a marvelous colleague, Professor James B. Petersen, chair of the UVM Department of Anthropology. Hundreds of Jim’s family members, friends, students, and colleagues gathered earlier this week at a memorial service at The Shelburne Museum, and we will honor Jim and celebrate his life on campus at a memorial on September 23 at the Ira Allen Chapel.

The shock, anger, and grief that we feel at such an untimely loss are tempered by our deepening appreciation of what an extraordinary individual Jim Petersen was. As a human being who inspired deep love and affection, as a teacher who engaged the interest of his students so profoundly that he demonstrably changed lives, including those of the many students who followed him into archaeology, and as a scholar whose work shaped understanding of past societies in compelling and startlingly redirectional ways, he exemplified qualities that we cherish throughout the academy: a commitment to discovery and learning, an ethical engagement with the intellectual and personal development of students and colleagues, a passionate concern for social justice and equity, and a love of service, all expressed with great energy, humor, and generosity. Please join me now in remembering James Petersen with a moment of silence as we open this Board meeting.

The loss of Professor Petersen diminishes us all. I can report to you today, however, that the state of Vermont’s university is extraordinarily good. Not only has the vision for UVM rapidly become a reality, but we are now, individually and collectively, building on that new reality with an intense focus on quality, value, and high dividends for Vermont and the world. Our invest-and-grow strategy is yielding impressive returns in so many domains that I will not begin to enumerate them here today. I do want, on a personal note, to express my thanks to many others, beginning with the Board itself, for the opportunity to serve UVM—every day my satisfaction in the work we are doing together deepens as more and more colleagues, students, alumni, and friends, throughout Vermont and beyond, give expression to the good feelings they have about The University of Vermont and the rising pride and excitement they feel about the quality and value of all we are doing here. Nothing feels better to Rachel and me and to all of us at the University than those swelling chords of enthusiasm for UVM resounding in so many quarters.

The rising pride and excitement go along with some very big, very substantive recognitions of the caliber of the University and of its ability to deliver on focused investment, not least of all the award of $17 million in the federal transportation bill signed into law earlier this month, including a National University Transportation Center under the sponsorship of Senator Jeffords. The National Center is an investment in extraordinary faculty and programs in many sectors of the University, including, notably, the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences and the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources. Without outstanding academic leaders and faculty colleagues, the University would not have received its National Center designation. That designation also would not have been achieved without one of our colleagues to whom very special recognition is due. The prominence of The University of Vermont in the fed eral transportation bill is simply the crowning achievement among many achievements, representing months and years of smart, intense effort led by Karen Meyer as UVM’s Vice President for State and Federal Relations. Among the many thanks that we all owe to our colleagues, Vice President Meyer stands out at this moment of triumph and recognition for Vermont and its University.

What Karen and her team have achieved with the National Center designation is a watershed in the history of the institution—and in many respects is an unprecedented one—but that should not obscure the extraordinary contributions being made by other senior leaders: by Fran Carr in the development of new interdisciplinary graduate programs, the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies, and the Vermont Advanced Computing Center, among other initiatives; by Lauck Parke, along with many colleagues and students working in the admissions effort with Don Honeman, in the extraordinary success we are all enjoying in enrollment management and in new undergraduate initiatives ranging from the Honors College to the growing momentum for a residential college program; by Michael Gower in innumerable areas—the ERP implementation, the unprecedented building programs on campus, the central bank, the central chilled water facility and the move toward trigeneration, and many others; by Fran Bazluke in providing superb counsel to the whole campus and to this Board while attending to critical special projects such as our ongoing policy project; by Tom Gustafson in covering all of his bases, regular and interim, ranging from communications, master planning, and student life to his interim role in development and alumni relations, where he is building on the successes achieved under Ian deGroot that have brought us to the $200 million mark in the Campaign for the University of Vermont—and Tom of course is supported in his student affairs role by a great team led by Dean of Students David Nestor and including Annie Stevens, Stacey Miller, and Patrick Brown, all key to building the student culture that is driving our great gains in student satisfaction and retention; by Vice Provost Willi Coleman, notably in her superb work in leading the development of a proposal now in the hands of the Faculty Senate and the deans for a campus-wide diversity requirement, one that I believe has the potential to be very important for the University and that is very important to me personally; by Jill Tarule, who has moved from her deanship to her new appointment as associate provost with extremely pressing responsibilities around, among other areas, institutional accreditation and institutional effectiveness; and above all by our superb provost, John Bramley, whose passion, intelligence, commitment, leadership, and love of UVM are registered in every major program and initiative under way at UVM today.

Recognition has come to the University in more than federal appropriations (which, for this past fiscal year, will have nearly quadrupled over the $4.2 million recorded three years ago). The University has set its sights not only on being, in the words of your approved vision statement, the nation’s premier small public research university but also, even more ambitiously perhaps, on being a cutting-edge leader and global exemplar as the nation’s premier environmental university. We know we have a lot of work to do to secure that positioning, but a recent survey, completed by Cornell University in May, and received by us in June, suggests we are well on the way. The “Peer Campus Sustainability Survey Final Report,” a survey of 28 leading institutions (including all of the ivies, Stanford, Duke, and top public research universities), notes in the abstract with which it is introduced that “The case study institutions, University of Colorado at Boulder, Duke University, Harvard University, University of Michigan, and University of Vermont, have emerged as strong leaders in the field, with very effective campus sustainability programs.” And the Cornell report shows that in response to the question, “What institutions do you look to as leaders in the environmental field,” The University of Vermont ranked second, behind only Harvard, on a list of thirty-five institutions mentioned at least once by survey respondents. The Green Building policy that the Board blessed in May—and that will have a ceremonial signing during our Academic Convocation on September 1—will only strengthen this signature positioning of UVM in the vanguard of a critical planetary priority.

We have been joined this summer by two extraordinary academic leaders—by Eleanor Miller, as our new Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and by Fayneese Miller, as our new Dean of the College of Education and Social Services. I know that we all extend a heartfelt welcome to both of them. We look to these distinguished educators to play key roles in advancing the academic excellence and unlimited potential that drew them to UVM. I should say to both Deans Miller that you join an extraordinary group of deans, and I want to add our sitting deans to the litany of thanks that mark the president’s report today.

As senior academic leaders our deans are critical to the success of UVM. Just think of the extraordinary things they and their colleagues, faculty and staff, have accomplished in the past year. In the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Dean Rachel Johnson, working closely with Provost Bramley, then-Dean Jill Tarule in the College of Education and Social Services, and Cynthia Belliveau in Continuing Education (among other collaborators) brought to UVM a national Food Systems Leadership Institute, a joint project with The University of North Carolina and The Ohio State University, sponsored by the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges and underwritten by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. In Arts and Sciences, Interim Dean Jane Knodell played a key role for the University in many domains, including our smashing success in enrollment management—with the majority of the gains in her College—and the initial stages in an important University-wide Writing-in-the-Disciplines initiative: we are all deeply grateful to Dr. Knodell for the wonderful work she has done in our largest college, at the heart of this fine University. In Business Administration, Dean Rocki-Lee DeWitt has made great gains this year, with a very good accreditation outcome from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, highly collaborative programs with other colleges and schools, and valuable outreach activities to business and industry around the State of Vermont. Under Cynthia Belliveau and Carol Vallett, Continuing Education has transformed its operation, building on the reorganization of the Division some three years ago, adding programmatic richness in many domains, including, to cite just two examples among many, this summer’s very successful Media Institute and the Sustainable Business Program. In Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, Dean Domenico Grasso hit the ground running on his arrival on campus only eight months ago, quickly winning the approval of his faculty, of the Faculty Senate, and of this Board for a significant reorganization of his College that holds great promise for added value to students, faculty, and the citizens of Vermont. As Interim Director of Extension, Doug Lantagne has stabilized the Service in the face of the very challenging flattening out nation-wide of federal support for Extension, continuing to provide an astonishing array of services to agriculture and rural communities throughout Vermont, service that was recog nized in this year’s Excellence Award from the New England Board of Higher Education for the Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Dean Robert Taylor led the Honors College through an inaugural year that exceeded even the high expectations all of us had for this exciting new initiative. As Dean of Libraries and Chief Information Officer, Mara Saule has provided campus-wide leadership in many areas, in, for example, the development of the information technology master plan and in now bringing together the learning resources group to focus on institutional priorities; Mara has also brought great credit to UVM through her work with the National Library of Latvia. In Nursing and Health Sciences, Betty Rambur has spurred forward a number of exciting new initiatives, including a significant award, through Senator Leahy, to address shortages in psychiatric and mental health nursing and a simply superlative accreditation visit from the Collegiate Commission on Nursing Education. In Medicine, John Evans has led the College through a very successful accreditation process under the Liaison Committee for Medical Education, has played a key role in the creation of a highly positive new affiliation agreement between Fletcher Allen Health Care and UVM, and has brought the beautiful and beautifully functional Education Center project to fruition; and in the Rubenstein School, Dean Donald DeHayes has spearheaded UVM’s advance as the nation’s premier environmental university, including the recent award of a Kresge Foundation grant to support the “greening” of the Aiken Building as a facility that will not only be on the cutting edge of environmental/ecological design but that will also in and of itself be a powerful tool for teaching and research. Our colleges and schools are the most important cultural units within the University, and I count UVM and myself as very lucky in having such talented leaders at their helms.

It is through the work of these senior administrative and academic leaders, through the work of our extraordinarily talented faculty and staff, and through the achievements and quality of our wonderful students that UVM has continued to win high accolades. I am providing you with copies of the descriptions of UVM in three recently published college guides. The predominantly superlative write-ups in the Princeton Review and the Fiske College Guide suggest why UVM stood out among the more than 2,400 four-year colleges and universities nationwide as one of the nation’s “25 Hottest Schools” in the just released Newsweek Kaplan College Guide. Also in your materials is Fred Curran’s tabular summary of UVM’s longitudinal movement in the annual rankings published by U.S. News and World Report, where we improved in a number of categories, including our overall score, but slipped slightly in rank order. The U.S. News Rankings, with changing methodologies over the period covered in Fred’s table, are very tricky to predict since they are relational against several hundred other institutions, but I will risk predicting improvement over the next few years. Meanwhile, we are looking forward to a full analysis of very rich data we have just received from what is probably the most meaningful and substantive assessment of the quality of undergraduate education, the National Survey of Student Engagement (or Nessie), a survey in which we have in the past scored well above per norms; we look forward to sharing the new data and analysis with the Board.

Looking at student achievement, first to second year retention rates have been improving steadily, but this year we are anticipating unusual progress, perhaps to an all-time high of 88% or greater. We have emphasized in recent communications to faculty and staff the critical importance of our bending every effort in this year of record-high enrollment to promoting a richly rewarding collegiate experience for our students with the priority on student success. Many important challenges lie ahead of us this year, among which I would number, first and foremost:

    • Continuing work with the Faculty Senate on curricular innovations that add value and promote cross-college cohesion, including, in addition to the already mentioned diversity proposal, the development of Writing-in-the-Disciplines—next Friday Provost Bramley and I will be charging the search committee for a senior professor to lead this effort—as well as prospective campus-wide requirements for environmental and health literacy
    • Development of a residential college initiative that we expect will have three pilot programs in place by next fall (an Honors College unit, an environmental residential college, and a “global village” residential college)
    • Continuing development of interdisciplinary graduate programs
    • Intensifying efforts to make significant contributions to Vermont’s economic well-being and its position in the national and global economies
    • Implementation as a key part of our research infrastructure of the Vermont Advanced Computing Center
    • The launch of new management information systems as the ERP “goes live” in January
    • Continuing efforts to build on our fund-raising success to date with a stellar penultimate year for the Campaign for the University of Vermont, including a year of focus on the New York City metropolitan area being kicked off with a campaign event in the City next month and preparation for next year’s focus on Vermont as we bring the Campaign to a close in 2007
    • Ongoing renovation and new construction within the framework of the nearly completed campus facilities master plan, which the Board will review shortly and which we hope to bring back to you in November for approval after discussions this fall with campus governance groups
    • Close attention to ensure that our speed of growth does not outstrip our ability to deliver high-quality programs
    • Successful completion of negotiations with various bargaining units, which I anticipate will be done in a highly constructive and collegial manner and to the reciprocal benefit of all parties
    • Ongoing recruitment of key personnel, including faculty in new lines created through the invest-and-grow strategy—the provost has already allocated 52 of the 80 new tenure-track lines included in the Strategic Financial Plan—and new senior leaders, including a chief information officer and a vice president for development and alumni relations (we have just had, by the way, an acceptance by our first-choice candidate, Barbara Johnson, of the position of associate vice president for human resource management)

This is, in truth, only a partial and highly selective list of the critical next steps that lie ahead of us. Even so, as the enormous popularity of UVM among college applicants and the stellar college guide write-ups demonstrate, together in the last few years this institution, building on the deep quality and reservoirs of talent it has always had, has accomplished a remarkable turn-around, and I would suggest that without losing any sense of excitement or urgency in our work we can look to the years ahead as a new phase of consolidating gains and making sure we sustain the very strong momentum we have built together as we focus on academic excellence, high value, and extraordinary service to society at large and especially to the State of Vermont.

I want to close by taking note of two new developments in relations among the University administration, this Board, and key campus governance groups. First, after consultation among Carl Lisman, Faculty Senate President Justin Joffe, and me, we have agreed that Carl will respond to an invitation from Justin by attending a Faculty Senate meeting each semester to deliver a “View from the Board” report. In addition, we will be asking faculty members to make occasional presentations to the Board about their work in scholarship, teaching, and service. Some of you may recall my father’s admonition to me, when I first became a dean, many years ago, “Just you remember, professor is the highest rank in the University.” These measures will in my view strengthen the University by deepening both faculty appreciation of the important work done on behalf of the institution by the Board and Board appreciation of the central and indispensable work of the faculty.

Second, equally indispensable to the success and advancement of the University is its staff. We are blessed with marvelously talented and dedicated staff colleagues. On a direct and personal level, I know that I could not do my job, nor could John Bramley do his, without the extraordinary support we receive from Gary Derr as chief of staff, from our administrative assistants Michelle Atherton and Jan Gregoire, and indeed from innumerable staff colleagues. The members of this Board know well that the Board could not accomplish its complex and demanding work without the ceaseless, admirably professional work of Corinne Thompson. And, on a note closer to home, I know that Rachel could not perform her regular service to the University as hostess of hundreds of events for the campus and the larger community without Leslie Logan’s superb support. These are of course examples only, ones drawn from the immediate sphere of operations I see every day: but in truth all of our efforts to recruit, educate, and support students, to build financial strength at UVM, to improve the physical campus, and to manage an organization that is a cross between a half billion dollar corporation and a medium-sized city depend for their success on the caliber and commitment of our staff. It is fitting, then, I think, that we are instituting at this meeting a new tradition of regular reports to the Board by the Staff Council president. In addition, we have implemented with the Staff Council a new formal process to ensure that the recommendations of the Council are forwarded to the administration for timely response, and we have already seen developed, as a result of this process, collaborative approaches to new and revised policies on smoking on campus, on bereavement leave, on staff vacation time redistribution, and on staff grievances, among other matters. I want to commend Kathie Merchant and her colleagues on the Staff Council for the highly effective work they are doing on behalf of their staff colleagues throughout the University. As always, I thank Rachel for her unwavering support, tireless efforts, and wise counsel. Madam Vice-Chair, I will be happy to take questions, if we have time, on these matters or on any other issues the Board would like me to address.

Last modified February 11 2006 08:09 PM