University of Vermont

Office of the President

President's Report to Board of Trustees May 18 2007 President’s Report to Board of Trustees
May 18, 2007

Chairman Lisman, Vice-Chair Cioffi, trustees of the University, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends, to everything there is a season. We gather here for the last meeting of both our academic and fiscal years on the threshold of UVM’s 203rd Commencement exercises. We have 2,494 graduates to celebrate, including 1,919 bachelor’s, 401 master’s, 57 doctoral, and 97 M.D. degree recipients, in addition to graduate certificates. We have our first graduate who has completed, ahead of the rest of her cohort, all of the requirements of UVM’s new Honors College—the first of hundreds we will honor in the next few years, and of thousands to come over the course of time. And we have the pleasure of greeting five new trustees, as Carl has noted. We also have a newly elected Faculty Senate President, Professor of English Robyn Warhol, who will succeed in 43 days our wonderful colleague Justin Joffe (thank you, Justin, for all you have done as a wise, tolerant, and delightfully witty leader of the UVM faculty), and new leaders of the Student Government Association, President Kesha Ram and Vice President DaVaughn Bryan, who have already accomplished the majestic, peaceful transfer of responsibilities from their predecessors, Seth Bowden and Ajay Schmidt, to whom we are also grateful. We don’t know who will succeed Eileen Hanerfield as President of the Staff Council—she is a candidate in an as yet incomplete election, so she may possibly succeed herself, but whatever the outcome, Eileen, we are grateful to you, too, as we are to Robin Collins, President of the Graduate Student Senate, who has just been succeeded by Jill Hoffman. Warm greetings to one and all!

What strikes me above all as I look back over the ground we have traversed this past year is that it has been a passage marked by frightening turns. The year began with my serious illness, and I remain enormously grateful to the Board and to the entire leadership team, most notably Acting President John Bramley and then-brand-new Provost John Hughes, for coming together to ensure that the positive momentum of the University was maintained during my period of leave. Then came the murder of Michelle-Gardner Quinn in the fall, an appalling and irremediable loss, yet that tragedy too demonstrated that UVM is a community with reserves of strength and resourcefulness that have stood us in good stead and that I believe will continue to do so. I am grateful to the diverse teams and persons who performed so ably in response to such significant and varied challenges—including Police Services (working with the lead agency on Michelle’s case, the simply exemplary Burlington Police Department), Student and Campus Life, Communications, Finance and Administrative Services, personnel in the Offices of the Provost and President, and our truly great student body, whose members supported Michelle’s family and friends and who stood together in grief, solidarity, comfort and support throughout the ordeal.

We all know that even our exceptionally safe and caring community cannot be fully immunized against the perils of a world that still has the power to appall us utterly, most recently illustrated by the horror of the lethal rampage at Virginia Tech. I want this Board to know that we take our responsibility of ensuring a maximally safe campus with the utmost seriousness and that we are, I believe, both exceptionally well prepared for crisis and also intent on doing even more as we move forward to minimize the probabilities of campus calamities and to improve our ability to respond to them should they arise.

With respect to students at risk, UVM has an experienced team of professionals who work collectively to provide education and outreach to students as well as to manage individual situations. When students apply to UVM, we ask about school disciplinary actions and criminal convictions. Positive responses trigger an in-depth case-by-case evaluation before an admissions decision is made. We also do a great deal of outreach to faculty and staff to let them know that they can contact the Counseling Center, Police Services, academic deans offices, and the Dean of Students Office if they are ever concerned about a student's well-being or behavior.

While we cannot prevent or predict all problem behavior, we have been able to respond effectively to some very serious situations: we have successfully advised students to withdraw and seek more in-depth counseling assistance, have referred them through our judicial system if their behavior is in violation of University policy, and have on occasion ended their association with UVM. We have a very low threshold for intimidating, hostile, or threatening behavior. Our coordinated model is considered best practice in the field of higher education and in fact we were requested to share this same information for hearings that were held in Washington D.C. recently.

Our principal public safety agency, UVM Police Services, is a professional police force. It is a fully accredited law enforcement agency (something rare among campus police services). The integrated teamwork of UVM Police Services with the Vermont State Police and the Burlington Police Department and other police agencies and emergency responders is embedded in policy and practice at a very high level and multiplies the effectiveness of our emergency response systems many times.

We regularly rehearse scenarios employing the federal Incident Command System model for handling a wide range of public safety emergencies. These rehearsals involve multiple agencies on and off campus and extend up to me and the rest of my senior leadership team. The week before the Blacksburg tragedy we had highly qualified external consultants on campus working with us for two days, culminating in a broad-based workshop to fine-tune coordination, emergency response, and campus safety practices and policies. As a result of this work we will be taking additional measures to improve the culture of our campus in areas that bear critically on public safety. For example, one of my personal objectives next year is to step up presidential advocacy for responsible behavior by our students, including the goal of greatly reducing the binge drinking that is so worrisome here at UVM and on college campuses everywhere. Such behavior is not only life-threatening in and of itself, but also impairs judgment, promotes disregard for the safety and welfare of others, and, far too often, correlates highly with acts of violence, including relationship violence and date rape. I intend to make it clear—and I call on our colleagues and students to make it clear to all members of the community—that such behaviors must never be encouraged, condoned, or tolerated at UVM.

Turning to the business at hand, I want to make a pledge to you that bears on the presentation you will hear shortly from Mike Gower: by the time two critical projects being presented today to our Educational Programs and Institutional Resources committee—the construction of a new Plant Science Building and the renovation of the portion of the Colchester Research Facility recently vacated by the tenant that was in place when we purchased the building—come before the Budget, Finance and Investment committee and the full Board in September, we will have developed a mechanism that will convey to you and to the broad campus community in clear and transparent terms the criteria that underlie the rank order and timing of projects proposed within the Strategic Capital Plan. The squaring of the circle on that plan, our ability to prosecute it effectively and to maintain this Board’s invest-and-grow strategy, remains, as I suggested in February, the greatest single challenge we must surmount if we are to meet the high expectations UVM’s advance over the course of the last five years has created. The next steps in that plan—projects such as the Greening of Aiken to create a showplace exemplifying UVM’s environmental leadership; the Given Courtyard infill to expand UVM’s capacity for basic and clinical translational research; the restoration of our most cherished architectural gem, H. H. Richardson’s Billings Library, as the home of Library Special Collections and of the Carolyn and Leonard Miller Center for Holocaust Studies and the Center for Research on Vermont; and the renovation and expansion of space for the physical sciences and engineering—must be prosecuted as rapidly as possible if UVM is to maintain its competitive position.

We see the advance of UVM manifested almost everywhere we look, and acknowledging the many elements of that advance should be part and parcel of the celebration we enjoy this weekend. The advance is evident in the exceptional work of the Faculty Senate in developing and approving unprecedented initiatives over the course of the last few years, from the Honors College approval four years ago to the strong work now under way on implementation of the six-credit diversity requirement and the creation of new interdisciplinary matrix centers, the first of which, in clinical translational science, will be brought to the Board for approval in September. The advance is registered in the heartening generosity and enthusiasm of our community of support that has already brought our Campaign for the University of Vermont to some $264.5 million dollars as we sprint to the June 30th finish line, with many records falling as we sweep forward, including the first time ever that our commitments through the UVM Fund have exceeded $9 million and that our Parent’s Fund has exceeded $2 million in cash donations. The advance is punctuated by the academic prowess of our students, from our winning student-athletes who for the second year in a row walked off with the coveted America East Academic Cup to two of our Honors College students, Kesha Ram and Laura Balzer, who this spring won the first Truman and Goldwater Scholarships at UVM in more than a decade (in fact, Kesha, the new SGA President, is not with us today because she is in Missouri for the first meeting of her cohort of Truman Scholars).

The decline to date this year in the dollar value of research awards to UVM notwithstanding, the University’s advance can be seen in the scholarly productivity of our faculty as it registers in measures less dependent on changes in the external funding environment, notably, for example, in forty-five invention disclosures (so far already three over last year’s total), in twenty-five US patent applications filed, in seven patents issued (with others pending), and in four licenses/options signed (with seven more in negotiation). Note well, too, that a key part of this advance in innovation aimed at commercialization of University research in order to support Vermont’s economy by creating new businesses and new jobs has been our creation of new mechanisms for identifying and supporting the development of valuable intellectual property through the Seed Grant Fund and the Innovation Grant Fund that are central elements of our new agency, UVM Ventures, while faculty research is also being supported through the successful launch of UVM’s National University Transportation Center and the Vermont Advanced Computing Center.

UVM’s advance is also seen, of course, in the transformation of the physical campus, with new state of the art residence halls at University Heights, renovated classrooms and instructional labs throughout the campus, the new Carrigan Wing of the Marsh Life Science Building, and of course the nearly completed Dudley H. Davis Center. And yet, even more important than these built structures are the programmatic richness that has been built by faculty, staff, and students together, not just the Honors College but new interdisciplinary graduate programs, new undergraduate majors and minors, a cutting-edge new curriculum in a Medical College ranked seventh in the nation this year in primary care, thriving new residential learning communities, the rapid expansion of service-learning and other forms of experiential learning, and the development by faculty of problem-based learning communities in response to the stimulus of our collaborative exercise in visioning the curricular development of the University embodied in Signatures of Excellence. And, finally, the advance of UVM is recorded in our enrollments—the highest in our history, with student credentials equally or exceeding the high-water marks of past eras, with more medical, more graduate (including more Ph.D.), and more under-graduate students than we have ever had—in our applications, at an all-time high, and in the largest enrollment deposit cohort of undergraduates we have ever seen, with a 5% increase in Vermonters and an even larger increase in non-residents.

This advance has been recognized throughout Vermont, as has been UVM’s role as our State’s one research university, which was heralded, for instance, in a Burlington Free Press editorial this month, “Higher Education Calls for Higher Investment.” That piece, calling for enhanced state support of all of Vermont’s publicly supported post-secondary institutions, noted that “There are other ways that schools, especially a research university like UVM, act as an economic driver,” observing further that ideas developed at the University have been “spun off into the private sector, creating jobs.” The Rutland Herald really said it all in the headline of a marvelous editorial in March: “Building Quality at UVM Benefits All Vermonters.” We are extremely grateful to our legislative colleagues on the Board, to the entire General Assembly, and to the Governor for the generous expansion in this legislative session of state appropriations to higher education, including a 3.5% increase in the base for all of higher education, historic investments in scholarships for Vermont students, Next Generation investments in workforce development and, importantly, continuing investment in UVM’s capacity to produce research important to the economic development of the State. The fruits of our work together to advance UVM—this Board’s work, the achievements of our students, and above all the work of our talented faculty and dedicated staff—have been recognized not only in Vermont but also in the national press including a front-page story in the New York Times this week.

So, as we noted at our last Board meeting, all of our hard work together has built up very high expectations of UVM. We will have to work very hard to fulfill the promise.
Thanks very much for your attention and for all that the members of this Board do for UVM. Let’s continue to move forward together.

Last modified May 22 2007 09:18 AM