University of Vermont

Office of the President

President's Report to Board of Trustees February 11_2005

President’s Report
Board of Trustees, February 11, 2005

Chairman Pizzagalli, trustees of the University, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends, once again we are gathering with many pressing and important matters before us for deliberation and with much that is worthy of note in the unfolding life of the University of Vermont. But we come to this meeting bearing a weight of sorrow at the loss of life nearly two weeks ago at the Redstone Apartments due to carbon monoxide poisoning, and I know that all of you join me in feelings of profound sympathy and condolence for the family and friends of Jeffrey Rodliff, whose life was lost in that poisoning incident, and of continuing concern for Ginger Aldrich, who remains in critical but stable condition.

We do take heart that the UVM students and first responders who suffered poisoning symptoms that terrible Sunday morning have fully recovered or are well on their way to doing so. UVM Police did an excellent job managing the scene, and three UVM police officers, William Sullivan, Sue Roberts, and Jason Bellavance responded swiftly and valiantly to the crisis, stepping into harm’s way to remove victims and potential victims from the apartments. All three required medical treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning, and lives were saved because of their actions. I would like to commend them publicly for their valor and ask that they stand to be recognized this morning.

As you know, we acted immediately to relocate all of the residents of the Redstone Apartments to alternative housing, predominantly at the Sheraton Hotel and UVM Conference Center. By Sunday evening they were all in those temporary quarters. I want to offer heartfelt thanks to our partners at the Sheraton for extending themselves for the apartment residents that day and throughout the coming week. Even before the Redstone Apartment residents were moved off-campus, we had gathered them in commons areas of the residence halls on the Redstone Campus, where they were met by staff from Student and Campus Life, including counselors from the Center for Health and Well-Being. In acting quickly, surely, and, I believe, highly appropriately, the University demonstrated its overriding concern for the safety and well-being of our students and of all members of the campus community, as it has done in the actions taken since. During the days immediately following the crisis, our steps included inspection of all University facilities, off and on campus, the installation of hundreds of carbon monoxide detectors in University student residences and in academic/administrative buildings, educational bulletins to all members of the community about the dangers of carbon monoxide, a campaign to get CO detectors into students’ off-campus residences by making detectors available at cost through the campus store, and insistence that the owner install new mechanical systems and detectors in all of the Redstone Apartments before the University would sanction return to those quarters by our students.

All the resources I have already touched on, not to mention the multi-agency response from offices at UVM and in the surrounding communities, were coordinated by UVM using Incident Command System protocols developed by the federal government for crisis response. Through the foresight of Dr. Gary Margolis, Chief of the UVM Department of Police Services, the University had sponsored, just three weeks before the tragedy, a four-day training in crisis operations of the Incident Command System, including a simulation that involved the University’s senior leadership, its operational personnel from offices across the campus—including Police Services, Risk Management, Student and Campus Life, Physical Plant, Communications, and other pertinent functional areas—as well as EMS, police, and fire services from the surrounding communities. As a result, seamless cooperation and the marshalling of resources among the many responding individuals, offices, and agencies were coordinated smoothly and effectively and communications to all parties, including the parents of UVM students, were timely, accurate, and, we believe, very helpful. Thorough debriefings of all involved will help us to respond even more effectively in the event of other occurrences that call for us to use the Incident Command System (on which, incidentally, we have another training exercise scheduled in June). I want to acknowledge the open and cooperative spirit exhibited by the residents of the Redstone Apartments and the owner/manager, John Novarr, and I want especially to offer thanks on behalf of the entire UVM family to UVM Police Services, UVM Rescue, Burlington Fire and Rescue, the Burlington Police Department, the Vermont State Police, the Vermont Department of Labor and Industry, Fletcher Allen Health Care, and, last but far from least, to the City of Burlington and Mayor Peter Clavelle and to the State of Vermont and Governor James Douglas for outstanding cooperation and support in helping us to respond to this tragedy in an effective manner. As for our own personnel, led on the operational level by Bill Ballard, who commanded the ICS center, on the policy level by Provost John Bramley and Vice President Thomas Gustafson, and on the communications front by Enrique Corredera, I have for them only the highest praise and admiration. This terrible tragedy, this too-harsh lesson for all of us, was also one of UVM’s finest hours thanks to their unstinting and surefooted response.

While acknowledging the wonderful work of UVM staff and supporting agencies, we remain mindful of the tragic loss of life and of the one victim who remains hospitalized. Please join me now in a moment of silent remembrance for Jeffrey Rodliff and of hope and prayer for Ginger Aldrich.

This past weekend I attended a meeting at which the Association of Governing Boards convened presidents and chancellors from across the nation to discuss effective Board operations, and I simply want to let you know that my perspective, deepened and more fully informed by the discussions at that meeting, is that this Board is doing just what a Board of Trustees should do (and that many boards are apparently hard-pressed to accomplish): this Board focuses on critical strategic and policy issues and does so as a highly effective work team in collaboration with the senior leadership of the institution.

In large measure because of your work, the state of your University today remains sound. UVM is well on its way to enhancing and securing for the long term its enviable position as one of the nation’s handful of public ivies, a reputation it has long enjoyed—in witness whereof I am circulating the cover of a recent “public ivies” college guide that ranks us in that elite company with a dozen and a half other very distinguished institutions. The enhancement of UVM’s academic quality, spear-headed by our innovative new Honors College and by significant progress on campus-wide initiatives like Service-Learning, Writing in the Disciplines, and a new Professors-at-Large Program (initiatives all propelled forward through recent action by the Faculty Senate) goes with an unwavering commitment to our critical role in serving Vermont students and in promoting the educational, social, cultural, and economic well-being of the State. We note with special pride that this month UVM is receiving for the second year in a row the State Merit award from the New England Board of Higher Education. Last year it was for our innovative partnership with Christopher Columbus High School; this year it is for our Center for Sustainable Agriculture, a program that exemplifies the commitment of UVM to our Land-Grant mission and to service to the citizens of the State. There is no question that recognition of the value of the University is deepening across the State of Vermont, and we believe that there will be strong legislative support for the 3% increase Governor Douglas has recommended in our appropriation; the Governor’s recommendation, in and of itself, represents a heartening statement of the University’s value at a time when state government is focused per force on fiscal challenges driven by Medicaid, corrections, and other social programs.

Bulletins from the enrollment management campaign are very good—applications for undergraduate admission are at an all-time high of 12,890 as of Wednesday morning, far above last year’s 11,400 and far above the old record of 11,900 set in 1987. About a thousand of these are applications from students of color, also an all-time record. Applications to UVM’s doctoral programs have also reached new heights. The news from the fund-raising campaign is equally good, with over $182.5 million now booked to the Campaign and with some major gifts in the immediate offing.

There are a number of challenges before us. The current federal budget, which was passed very late and only as we approached the halfway point of our fiscal year, entails a major slow-down in spending for research, a slow-down that actually amounts to cuts, and though our research awards grew last year at a faster pace than what we had projected in the Strategic Financial Plan, we are already seeing deceleration that may take hold for some time to come, illustrating the wisdom of the phasable approach to investment in research infrastructure that we adopted in the Strategic Financial Plan. The Strategic Financial Plan itself has evolved through our first full incorporation of the plan into a powerful new modeling tool, Hyperion Strategic Finance, as we have already heard this morning in Kathy Hoyt’s report for Finance and Budget.

Earlier this week, the Vermont Arena Commission concluded its work, approving the report of consultants on the feasibility of a multipurpose arena on or adjacent to the UVM campus. After voting to transmit the report to the University and to Governor Douglas, the Commission voted to disband. The report, though appropriately hedged with many conservative assumptions, shows that an arena with UVM as the anchor tenant is not only feasible but also that it would have significant positive outcomes for the cultural and economic vitality of the region and indeed the whole state, producing, for example, in a baseline scenario, about $2 million annually in tax revenues for Vermont, not to mention scores of jobs. I want to make clear that the first priorities of the University of Vermont are to support our faculty, staff, and students in all dimensions of their work and lives in the University, and, with respect to facilities, the top of the list includes deferred maintenance, new classroom and laboratory buildings, new student housing, and the Dudley H. Davis Center. As for the proposed arena, there are many issues that would have to be resolved before such a project could move forward, including questions about owner-ship, management, and financing. Because the Vermont Arena Commission study shows that the potential benefits of an arena are so great, the return on investment to the community so high, and the possibility of external investment from multiple sources very high as well (higher, in truth, than for facilities dedicated to instruction and research), we will continue actively to explore workable answers to the questions that would have to be resolved for such a project to move forward, and you can be sure I’ll keep the Board closely informed about those explorations.

We need to move on to the very substantive issues before the Board. Allow me just to note in closing that John Bramley and I will be issuing, next week, a set of responses to recommendations we have received from three presidential commissions con-cerned with the status of women at UVM, with racial diversity, and with equity for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered members of the campus community—recommendations and responses that we believe will strengthen the linkage between di-versity and academic excellence that the Board unanimously affirmed in its resolution at our last meeting. There is much more on which I might report, but we need to get on with our pressing business. I will be happy to answer any questions that any of you may have on the topics we have just surveyed together. Thank you very much.

Last modified February 11 2005 10:04 AM