University of Vermont

Office of the President

President's Report to Board of Trustees December_2008 President’s Report
Board of Trustees, December 5, 2008

Chairman Boyce, trustees, faculty, students, staff, alumni, and friends: we are meeting at a time of extraordinary challenges for our University, our State, the nation, and the world. I am deeply sensitive to the anxiety and uncertainty that have gripped our campus community as the dimensions of our budget challenge and its implications have begun to sink in. There are questions we can answer today and questions that we cannot. I would dearly love to be able to say that every job at UVM is safe, but I cannot say that in good conscience. We will nonetheless seek to keep the number of persons who lose employment at the University as low as possible, consistent with strategic priorities and resource constraints, and we will actively assist employees who are adversely affected. Despite the challenges, I am determined that there will be no diminishment in the academic quality of the University and that UVM will preserve and continue to build upon the gains we have made in recent years. We will address our challenges in open and collaborative ways and, in that spirit, we will begin next week to post on the UVM web site answers to the most pressing questions that are being asked by faculty and staff, by students and their families, by our alumni and friends, and by the citizens of Vermont.

The budget issues facing the University of Vermont have, broadly speaking, two sets of causes. The first set of causes is internal to the University, and the second is external to UVM, the macroeconomic forces fueling the headlines that have preoccupied us all. The key internal factor was a longstanding practice of making multi-year spending commitments that were not included in the base general fund operating budget. We were also not as diligent as best practice dictates in the establishment of financial internal controls. As President, I am accountable for the administration of the University, and I acknowledge my responsibility. It little matters that for many years, when financial markets were at their height and when a period of unprecedented enrollment growth regularly produced tuition income beyond what we had built into the budget, we were able to cover with unbudgeted revenues obligations that our new colleague Richard Cate has oxymoronically dubbed “one-time recurring commitments.” With ground we thought firm rapidly and treacherously shifting beneath us, the last nine months have taught us a hard lesson about the liabilities we incurred through our own past practices. For these internal shortfalls, I take full responsibility.

There is no question, however, that the challenges we face have been greatly magnified by macroeconomic forces. The complexity of the puzzle we must solve has been compounded by many circumstances—the illiquidity of our short-term Common-fund investment assets; projected cuts in state appropriations of more than $10 million by FY 2010; the depressed state of earnings on short-term assets (also a loss of millions); the escalating costs of employee healthcare benefits and fuel; the decline in endowment value and earnings; and a deteriorating environment for philanthropic support.

And so we have, in the convergence of the internal and external factors, a perfect storm far greater in its intensity and magnitude than even the most sage of fortune-tellers could have predicted. Despite this most stormy of seas, I remain convinced of the essentials I conveyed to you in my essay “Continuing UVM’s Advance,” which I sent to you in April (which seems now so long ago). I then observed that UVM has significant competitive advantages that will enable us to continue to build academic quality and value—foremost our faculty, staff, and students, our alumni, parents, and friends, and the indomitable people of Vermont. I am deeply grateful to my colleagues across the campus, to our academic and governance leadership, to the ad hoc work group of strategic budget advisers, and to this Board for the good faith and goodwill that so many have contributed as we have worked together to navigate successfully through these troubled waters.

In these times, we must make and implement difficult decisions that will enable us to build upon our competitive advantages. We must with a sense of high urgency devise and embrace more efficient ways of operating that preserve and enhance academic quality. To paraphrase a remark the future Chief of Staff of President-Elect Obama, Rahm Emanuel, made earlier this week, we cannot afford to waste a serious crisis. Drawing through open and collaborative processes on the resilience, resourcefulness, and courage of the UVM community, I am confident that we will discover and realize opportunities to build the value of the University of Vermont for our students, faculty and staff, and the communities we serve.

My confidence in our future continues to rest on our competitive advantages. These include a UVM community deeply dedicated to a shared vision and mission; our continuing attractiveness to talented and diverse students; our core commitment to liberal education at the center of a program array that includes highly ranked offerings in life, biomedical, and environmental sciences and studies; our educational outcomes, validated in rankings like the Wall Street Journal’s (placing UVM in the top echelon of schools for sending our graduates to the nation’s elite medical, law, and business schools) and Business Week’s (placing our bachelors’ graduates in the top tier for mid-career salaries); the distinction of our faculty; our number one rank in research expenditures among public universities with 15,000 or fewer students; the quality and character of our learning environment (witness our ranking among the top 7 out of 164 public national universities in U.S. News by percentage of small class sections); the value proposition evidenced in Kiplinger’s rankings of top values in public and private higher education, which documents our comparatively low net cost to students after financial aid; the attractiveness of campus facilities such as the Davis Center, the U-Heights Residence Halls, and the state-of-the-art life science instructional labs under construction in Jeffords Hall; and our incomparable setting in the greenest—and healthiest!—state in the nation.

We will make the most of these advantages. But we can do so only if we continue to be bold, smart, and increasingly focused on the ends toward which we are working. Our first priority remains academic quality, including the quality of the student experience; the maintenance of high-quality, diverse enrollment; and the quality of faculty research, scholarship, and creative activity. Our decisions and their implementation will be strategic, adopting the courses of action most effective in promoting unit and University mission and goals.

We will always be mindful of the impact our decisions will have on the people of this community. Insofar as layoffs must occur, we will initiate an active in-placement program to ensure that UVM personnel whose positions are terminated receive every appropriate favorable consideration for hiring within the University, as well as supportive counseling services.

We have suspended the searches for new deans in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and in the Rubenstein School, asking the search committees to develop the strongest and most diverse pools possible of internal candidates for these important appointments. We also have under active consideration the disposition of several other senior searches.

We are declaring a moratorium on requests for Board approval of new capital projects that require the use of debt. At the same time, we are building into the base general fund beginning in the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years non-debt investments in deferred maintenance.

Finally, we must, under the banner of academic quality, work together to establish policies that simultaneously enhance the student classroom experience and make the work of the faculty more productive and rewarding. Next semester, we will—in consultation with the Faculty Senate—develop a class enrollment minima policy, targeting implementation of that policy for next fall. We will also work with the Senate to set for degree programs enforceable and consequential minimum thresholds in enrollment, degree production, and credit hour production.

As these various steps are completed, I believe that UVM will accrue strength and build academic quality. We are already moving swiftly to enhance internal controls, improve the financial management of the institution, and thus build a fiscal foundation based on best practices. Our budget is carrying, and will continue to carry, the just burden of investments that I view as essential to the quality of our future—investments such as competitive salaries for faculty; programmatic investments such as those we have made in the Honors College, residential learning communities, and interdisciplinary graduate programs; and investments in the physical campus represented by the Given Courtyard, Jeffords Hall, University Heights, Delahanty Hall, and the essential building in which we are gathered today. Without these investments, I am convinced we would not be seeing today the powerful response from prospective students to the rising academic quality and reputation of this University. As of December 3, undergraduate applications to the University for fall 2009 are up 11% over last year’s record pace, standing, as of Wednesday, at over 14,000, with a 32% increase in ALANA applications, and with increases also in SAT scores (by 10 points) and in average ACE score. Transfer applications are also up. It is this position that we must be resolute in defending and advancing so that we can come out of the downturn sooner and stronger than our competitors.

As I reach the end of my remarks, I want to express my gratitude to all of our vice presidents for their exceptionally hard work. I also want to acknowledge Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School Fran Carr for five and a half years of service that have seen historic advances in UVM’s research productivity, in research infrastructure, and in graduate education, including, this past year, record production of doctoral degrees. Fran, thank you very much.

I ask that we remember together several members of the UVM community whose deaths we have mourned this fall: three students—third-year students Katherine Bichsel and Charles Ryan Frazier and second-year student Dustin Lussier—and two colleagues, Dale Kleppinger, Adjunct Professor in the School of Engineering, and Sarah Cooley, Senior Research Administrator in the Office of Sponsored Research. May we close the President’s report, Ian, with a moment of silence for these members of the UVM family?

Last modified April 20 2011 10:20 AM