University of Vermont

The 26th President of the University of Vermont

President's Report to Board of Trustees February 9 2007 President’s Report to Board of Trustees
February 9, 2007


Chairman Lisman, Vice-Chair Heath, trustees of the University, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends, welcome.

Last week marked the fifth anniversary of this Board’s offering me the presidency of The University of Vermont. This month also marks our farewell Board meeting for five dedicated and astute trustees to whom we owe great debts of gratitude for their service, including Kami Patrizio, who has crowned two-years of student trusteeship and her doctoral studies at UVM with multiple offers of tenure-track assistant professorships—congratulations, Kami!—and four trustees—Kathy Hoyt, Rick Hube, Tom Little, and Mark Young—who have served full six-year terms. Each of them has made many substantive and valuable contributions to the work of the Board during years that have been as momentous as any in UVM’s history. To our retiring trustees, I want to offer heartfelt thanks for all you have done.

Though the chronicles of the past several years will be rich with positive change in advancing the University in every dimension—academic programs, research and scholarship, stewardship and development of the physical campus, fund-raising (thanks to the generous alumni, parents, and friends who have already put us over our Campaign goal), athletic success, and more—the development of this Board as a cohesive, focused, problem-solving team intent on maximizing the value of the University for its students and alumni, for its faculty and staff, and for the State of Vermont is a very important part of the story—I would say it has been essential to our success to date, and I see it as key to the good odds we have of fulfilling the high expectations that UVM has now created.

They are good odds, but they are just that, and I’m convinced we must redouble our efforts to turn potential and promise into reward and fulfillment. The work in which we have been engaged together for the last few years has only just begun. We must be committed together to fulfilling the high expectations UVM has created. The Board’s invest-and-grow strategy has significantly increased the University’s value in support of the work of the faculty and staff in building programmatic richness on all levels—witness, for example, the Honors College, our new interdisciplinary graduate programs, the Vermont Integrated Curriculum in Medicine, our expanding residential learning communities, the new six-credit diversity requirement, and the solid foundations being laid for strengthening effective writing as a distinctive attribute of UVM graduates. We have forged a cohesive, shared understanding of institutional vision, mission, and distinctiveness. We have created institutional resources to support our programs of teaching, research and service in all arenas, from student life (think of the Davis Center and our significant investments in new and renovated student housing) to research (think of the National Transportation Center and the Vermont Advanced Computing Center) to new academic units (think of the Gund Institute and The School of Engineering) to expansion of the faculty (think more than 80 new tenure-track faculty lines ) to outreach and economic development (think of the UVM Institute for Artisan Cheese and the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies). As a result of these and many other initiatives, we are drawing record numbers of applicants, we are attracting outstanding faculty and staff, and, as we noted last fall, we lead small public research universities in the most recent NSF data on federal research and development expenditures.

We need shared commitment and resolve because in truth there are big challenges ahead. One challenge lies above all before the faculty and staff, though administration and trustees have supporting roles here—to ensure that our programs and initiatives develop with genuine distinction and distinctiveness aligned with the University’s vision and mission. Another challenge lies primarily before me, John Hughes, and leadership on the campus, including the deans and department chairs—to manage internal expectations, especially the sometimes painful paradox that while UVM will continue to see healthy growth in its resource base, those growing resources are already heavily encumbered in faculty and staff salary growth, in the new tenure-track lines, and in projected growth in financial aid expenditures, all of which are incorporated in the updated Strategic Financial Plan we will be discussing today and tomorrow. With salaries advancing well above national averages, with an expansion of the professoriate by numbers that would be significant even in a much larger university—and that on UVM’s scale are huge—and with student aid as a percentage of gross assessable tuition projected to rise from 32% to 38%, the glass is more than half full, and it will be our challenge to promote and balance that sunny recognition against the frustration that many in our community may feel at times because our incremental resources are largely already committed, with little or none left over for other purposes not recognized in the plan. And, as I said in the cover letter we sent you with the updated Strategic Financial Plan, the great challenge that lies before this Board remains the squaring of the circle on that plan, finding ways to sustain the invest-and-grow strategy within the fiduciary responsibilities of the Board in order to keep building value. These challenges, for the faculty and staff, for campus leadership, and for the Board, are substantive, compelling, and, to my mind, invigorating and inspiring, and they will require us to maintain focus, discipline, and morale and to work harder than ever to build both public and private support without which the odds of succeeding in our high aspirations for UVM and for Vermont grow very long.

You received in your Board mailing a new publication on UVM’s service to the State of Vermont, “Reaching Out to Vermonters” (there are additional copies here today for meeting attendees who would like to have one). That document reflects some of the ways in which what I told you as a candidate five and a half years ago remains more than ever true today: UVM cannot succeed without Vermont, Vermont cannot succeed without UVM. The invest-and-grow strategy that has built nationally recognized quality at UVM has created a window of opportunity for strengthening Vermont through innovation and sustainable economic development. We cannot simply be the greatest single engine for developing the human resources of Vermont, producing the vast majority of all advanced degrees in the state, well over half the bachelor’s degrees awarded annually to Vermont residents by public institutions, and well over a third of all the bachelor’s degrees awarded by our robust higher education sector through the work of more than twenty public and private colleges and universities. Because Vermont is facing such a sharp demographic challenge, and because it is by now well documented that the success of regional economies correlates directly with the strength of their research institutions, the flowering of UVM over the course of the past two decades as a nationally competitive research institution represents an indispensable asset for the long-term economic success of our entire state. Building on the University’s emergent capacity in support of state economic development is essential if Vermont is to succeed and thrive in the new economy. The rapid rise of competitiveness in research and innovation at UVM creates the window of opportunity, and the time is now for the University and the State to continue to invest in building capacity to support economic competitiveness. Some of that investment must come in the form of sustained and enhanced public investment in higher education to support both University capital infrastructure and programmatic activities important to the economic success of Vermont. The State can count on us to bring all of our resources to bear on meeting the Vermont challenge, but Vermont must count us in on focused public investment in the future of our State.

My message today is, I hope, bracing. Laurels we may have aplenty, but we cannot rest on them. The challenges ahead are very significant, for both our University and our State, and we must remain focused and build on our momentum if we are to sustain progress. We know that the success of the University has been the result of the disciplined pursuit of this Board’s invest-and-grow strategy. We must stay on track. There is an imperative to continue the work we have been engaged in over the course of the past year and a half embodied in “Signatures of Excellence”—to make our values and value real and effective in every dimension and facet of the University. If we can succeed in doing that, then The University of Vermont, through the countless contributions of its faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends, will succeed fully under the guidance of this Board in meeting the high expectations UVM has now created. So I end this perhaps shortest of all of my Board reports with an imperative: let’s get on with it. Thank you, Mr. Lisman. As always, if there are questions, I would be happy to try to answer them.

Last modified February 15 2007 07:51 AM

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