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The 26th President of the University of Vermont

President's Report to Board of Trustees President’s Report
Board of Trustees, May 20, 2011

Chairman Cioffi, trustees, vice presidents, deans, faculty, students, staff, alumni, and friends: good morning. Once again our May meeting ushers in the Commencement weekend when we celebrate the accomplishments of our fine students. The weekend will see the award of more than 3,000 degrees, including 2,475 bachelor’s degrees, 392 master’s degrees, 97 doctoral degrees, and 111 medical degrees. I know all of us join in celebration of our graduates’ accomplishments and in appreciation of all that has been invested in time, in effort, and in precious resources by the graduates, their parents and other benefactors, and the outstanding faculty and staff who have worked to bring them to this joyous moment.

As the academic year draws to a close, there are other milestones, both for our institution and for some of the individuals who serve it. As to the individuals who serve, there are faculty and staff too numerous to recognize and thank individually who will be retiring; I wish to convey our heartfelt gratitude to you for your many years of dedicated service. The institutional milestone to which I alluded is this year’s 220th anniversary of the chartering of UVM by the State of Vermont. We are, moreover, just a little more than a year away from another significant anniversary, the 150th year since passage of the federal Land Grant Act that bears the name of its sponsor, Vermont Congressman (and later U.S. Senator) Justin Morrill. Acceptance of the Land Grant transformed UVM, beginning the process whereby our distinctive University over time has become a modern center of knowledge creation and application around the core that was—and that in many respects remains—a classic New England liberal arts college. As Vermont’s only research university—and one dedicated to public service in the Land Grant tradition—UVM proudly stands among the array of public universities nationwide that award some 80% of the bachelor’s degrees in the United States and 60% of the doctoral degrees, including 66% of those in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Today our public universities face serious challenges. A May 11 ABC News story headlined “Universities Slash Budgets Nationwide” opens “Colleges across the country are facing layoffs, program cuts, tuition hikes, and possible campus closings,” and goes on to report on $500 million cuts (that the story says may double) to each of California’s great systems, Cal State and the University of California; on a 52% cut in state appropriations for Penn State, which would entail over 400 layoffs; and on a two-year 32% tuition hike at the University of Washington, among other illustrations of that headline.

At UVM we are faring far better. We owe great thanks to the legislature and the Governor for the care they took in this year’s legislative session to protect Vermont’s publicly supported colleges and the University. Absent the loss of nearly $2.6 million in federal stimulus funding no longer available to the State, UVM has been level-funded. At a time of intense competition for limited and diminishing resources, we are grateful for this affirmation by our state leaders of the value of higher education to the people of Vermont. And we were once again deeply appreciative of the way that value was expressed in the outstanding work of UVM alums in Montpelier, from cabinet secretaries in Governor Shumlin’s new administration to current and former legislative trustees to alumni like the Speaker of the House.

I also want to thank the generous donors who have kept giving to the University at the high new level we reached after the close in 2007 of the Campaign for the University of Vermont. This year will end on another high note, and we are very grateful both for material support and for the confidence in UVM’s rising academic quality to which that support is a testimony. Today we will hear a report from campaign consultants that will support our request for Board approval to take the next steps in planning UVM’s next campaign. In addition, under the leadership of Vice President for Development Rich Bundy, of members of this Board, and of other passionately committed volunteers we are making rapid progress in laying the groundwork for the new UVM fundraising foundation that many of us are now convinced will be a key to building the University’s philanthropic capacity in the next campaign and beyond. The initiation of a new campaign and the launch of the Foundation will be further major milestones for UVM’s 220th year.

UVM has made progress this year on many other fronts too, despite the challenges of navigating the post-recessionary new normal. Last fall U.S. students of color exceeded 10% of overall enrollment for the first time ever. Undergraduate student outcomes are at or near record levels, like last year’s all-time high 80%+ graduation rate for Vermont undergraduates. And as our dashboard indicators demonstrate, student satisfaction is steadily climbing too, as shown by data in the latest Recent Graduate Survey. These outcomes are not accidents. They represent hard work over many years by faculty, staff, administration, alumni, and this Board, and they make manifest that we have strengthened and enriched undergraduate education even as we have fortified and invigorated graduate education and research. Anyone who has doubted that undergraduate education, graduate education, and faculty research, scholarship, and creative activity are inextricably linked would have seen that integration abundantly affirmed by attending last month’s annual Student Research Conference, in which hundreds of student participated. I think you will get a sense of what I mean later this morning when two undergraduate students will offer presentations on their research. Not content with the gains we have made in the quality of student outcomes and experience, we are intensifying our work on Student Success and Satisfaction, or, as we say, S3, and we expect that effort to continue to build an outstanding student experience next year and beyond.

Our faculty, too, continue to win more prestigious national honors like this year’s NSF Career Award to Assistant Professor of Physics Madelina Furis and a Department of Energy Young Investigator Award to Assistant Professor of Engineering Mary Dunlop. We will, however, see a significant dollar decline in sponsored program awards (and so, we think, will universities nationwide). For UVM, the decline tracks both the end of federal stimulus funding to the granting agencies and the Congressional moratorium on directed federal appropriations (which have been developed over the course of many years with great integrity and care by our stellar federal delegation to support programs of very real importance to Vermont and her people, especially in agriculture, education, engineering, medicine, and nursing, programs that are at risk as these funding channels shut down).

Even so, the University’s upward trajectory remains strong. We have made substantial progress on three critically important academic initiatives. First, we have developed an innovative and distinctive program of General Education, Phase 1 of which was approved by the Faculty Senate this week. Second, as this week’s important conference co-sponsored by UVM, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Sandia National Laboratories demonstrates, we have further developed the boundless potential of the Transdisciplinary Research Initiative, stimulating faculty innovation and funding success through the opportunities the initiative creates for collaboration and cross-disciplinary synergies; gaining faculty buy-in to the promise of this essential new development, in which UVM has come to be seen as a national leader; and building excitement and richness of engagement in the Transdisciplinary Initiative among both undergraduate and graduate students, which was abundantly evident at the Student Research Conference. And, third, we have made significant progress not only in building multi-ethnic United States diversity at UVM but also in conducting a campus-wide dialogue on internationalization of curricula, of research partnerships, and of student recruitment. As a result of that dialogue, the Board can expect to see specific initiatives on internationalization brought forward in October.

As always, we face both short-term and long-term budget issues. In the short-term, we are seeking your approval of a General Fund Operating Budget for 2012 that includes a 5.8% tuition increase. That increase, combined with another $2.9 million in cuts (bringing cumulative cuts over the last three years to nearly $20 million dollars), will allow UVM to continue a full program of tenure-track faculty recruitment; to invest modestly in key academic initiatives, notably General Education, the TRI, diversity and internationalization, and student success and satisfaction; and to address what remains the biggest growth item in our budget, student financial aid. While state funding is down by the $2.6 million in one-time stimulus funds, we have had outstanding success once again in enrollment management—plaudits to our admissions and financial aid team and to all of the faculty, staff, and administrators who have worked brilliantly to bring in what promises based on our complete enrollment deposit cohort to be the best entering class in UVM history, somewhat smaller than we had projected—by perhaps 85 students—but with net revenues on budget, with record diversity (currently at 10.4%), and with an average combined SAT score of 1186, tying the all-time record attained only once before, in 2008.

No one is happy about raising tuition by nearly 6%, but deeper cuts right now would risk severe set-backs in academic quality. And we take considerable satisfaction in what this budget represents: enrollment strength with rising quality and diversity; continued investment in new tenure-track faculty; and targeted investment in academic initiatives to sustain UVM’s academic trajectory—all while holding the sticker-price increase in cost of attendance, including room and board, to 4.6% for Vermonters and to 5.1% for out-of-staters. We therefore ask the Board to support this budget.

That said, we know that over the long term we cannot continue to raise tuition nearly 6% per year. We also know we must continue to build quality in order to remain competitive for motivated, capable, diverse students and outstanding faculty and staff. The Financial and Physical Planning Committee of the Faculty Senate agrees we must find a new way forward. “In order to maintain the current quality of education,” the Committee wrote last week, “the administration should identify long-term structural initiatives that will result in future cost savings to better match projected net revenues.” If, without a radical course alteration, we simply do the things we should doing over the course of the next five years, including prudent stewardship of the existing physical plant and essential investments in academic quality, then even with annual tuition increases of 4.5% we will have a cumulative budget gap in five years of as much as $120 million. I have therefore charged Provost Knodell with leading a process, along with all of the deans, vice presidents, and other senior leaders, to analyze our costs swiftly but comprehensively; to identify those deemed essential to our core enterprise and those which are less so; and to make recommendations for reducing costs and reallocating resources over a multi-year period to support the core. Essential to this project is identification of the resource needs and funding sources (including new revenue sources) for our most important academic priorities and initiatives. With rising faculty interest in helping to address this challenge, we have begun a dialogue with Faculty Senate leadership about how best to involve the faculty in the process. We expect to be able to make a substantive report on our progress to the Board in October.

Our request for your approval of the short-term solutions laid out in the proposed 2012 budget is thus tied to our working with the utmost seriousness and effort to design solutions to the long-term budget challenge with a full awareness that business as usual is not an option. I have much to do in my final year as president, but this project is my number one priority, both for the benefit of the University now and to create the best possible prospect for UVM’s continuing success under the president who comes after me. We can all take great pride in what we have achieved together over the course of the last decade. Now we must bend every effort of thought, ingenuity, and will to ensuring that UVM’s advance is sustainable. Thank you.

Last modified May 20 2011 08:24 AM

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