University of Vermont

Office of the President

President's Report to Board of Trustees President’s Report
Board of Trustees, October 29, 2010

Chairman Cioffi, trustees, vice presidents, deans, faculty, students, staff, alumni, and friends: good morning. My report has two major themes: our care for each other and the sustainability of our University.

We cherish each member of our community. Our care extends to those who have retired—or who one day will retire—from University service. As you know, I received some three weeks ago the final report of the University Benefits Advisory Council (or UBAC) on post-retirement medical benefits (or, for short, PRMB). We all owe thanks to the members of the UBAC and its chair, Dr. Jan Carney, to the staff who supported the Council’s work, and to the many members of UVM’s faculty and staff who entered into dialogue with the UBAC through correspondence and participation in public forums. The good work of the UBAC will inform us as we seek to modify the PRMB program.

Allow me to make just a few quick points on this challenging process. First, I believe it is now evident that modifications to the program will be required because the current trajectory is not financially sustainable. Second, in order to ensure UVM’s long-term viability most members of the current work force will likely be affected in some way by program modifications. Third, we plan to make recommendations for addressing the PRMB challenge that will be very mindful of the interests of current retirees and those eligible to retire. Fourth, my recommendations will seek maintenance for current benefits-eligible personnel of a PRMB program in which no one covered by the program will exhaust the benefit by outliving it. And, fifth, we will seek means to provide access to retiree benefits programs for employees who may not, in the future, be eligible for a defined retiree benefits plan with employer-subsidized premiums. We will seek, in short, to keep UVM sustainable and competitive while also ensuring that we remain a humane and equitable organization that values the well-being and security of those who have devoted their professional lives to UVM.

With more than 13,500 students and some 3,800 faculty and staff, our campus community of more than 17,000 people would rank among the most populous cities in Vermont. Given that scale, losses each year are sadly inevitable. Such knowledge, however, does not reduce the grief we feel when faced with the tragedy of deaths that are by any measure premature. Since this Board last gathered on our campus in May, we have mourned the passing from a variety of causes of six currently or recently enrolled students. I would like to ask, please, for a moment of silence in remembrance of these precious members of the UVM family.

We have no indication that any of these tragic events were the result of bias incidents, bullying, or foul play, but the academic community nationally has been shaken of late by several student deaths—notably those of gay members of other campus communities—that were the result of cruel and malicious acts of harassment. I want to say once again what was affirmed in a memo that went out nearly two weeks ago from Chief Diversity Officer Wanda Heading-Grant and me: our campus, with its strong commitment to the values of Our Common Ground, holds acts of intolerance and cruelty to be wholly unacceptable. Let the word go out to any who would perpetrate or allow such acts: This community stands strong in condemning such behavior. There is no place for you here. And let me add that for any members of our community who are struggling and need help, our campus resources are numerous and available to you.

Looking to what we hope will be the increasingly effective and influential intersection between the sustainability of UVM and of our planet, UVM subscribed in 2007 to the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. As you may recall, as one of our first steps in the Climate Commitment we modified our Green Building Policy, which had simply required LEED Certification in all new buildings and major renovations, to require a minimum LEED Certification of Silver (a standard we have exceeded in every subsequent project). Our investments in green buildings, along with continuing and increasing energy upgrades, have paid off, accounting in significant measure for the 14% reduction in energy costs we have achieved while expanding the campus by some 25% since the turn of the century.

We will submit in December the next step in the Climate Commitment: a preliminary climate action plan aimed at carbon neutrality by 2025 that will have four pillars: continuing pursuit of energy efficiency, increasing reliance on renewable sources of electricity, a move away from fossil fuels for heating and cooling toward more diversified energy sources, and finally, after we have taken all of those efforts as far as we can, the use of market mechanisms to offset remaining carbon sources and achieve net zero emissions. Developing and implementing such a plan is in my judgment an indispensable element of sustaining our reputation as a leading environmental university.

The benefits of climate planning, however, go well beyond averting risks to our environmental values and reputation. Climate planning means that UVM will be prepared for possible economic and weather disruptions related to climate change; means that we will be able to reduce substantial business risks incurred through reliance on fossil fuels; and means that we will be able to incorporate long-term energy and carbon costs into annual budgets to reduce future burdens. After submission of our preliminary plan in December, next steps will include integration of climate-related planning into UVM’s strategic, capital, financial, utilities, and campus master plans, into our next capital campaign, and into work plans and performance appraisals at the vice presidential level. Accordingly, we intend to develop a new Climate Action Plan based on these planning processes. Planning will need to engage the Faculty Senate through its Financial and Physical Planning Committee. And planning will call for the engagement of this Board as a whole and through its committees: I hope that we will be able to place this topic on our agendas in February as we work toward completion of a New Climate Action Plan by 2012. We welcome comments and questions about the Climate Commitment, which should be directed at this stage to Richard Cate.

Caring and sustainability are also the thematic poles around which I would submit the challenging issue of tuition-setting revolves. A joint work-group of administrators and trustees charged with examining long-term tuition strategy is continuing its deliberations.  From my perspective, there is little doubt that tuition will long remain the primary source of funds for UVM. We also know that we all must hold ourselves accountable for constraining the growth of educational costs for students and families. We can affect tuition growth for students from Vermont and other states of the union by developing other revenue sources. We can also reduce upward pressure on tuition by intensifying our efforts to implement rigorous, creative, and innovative strategies to contain operating expenditures. At the same time, we must deploy increasingly effective and sustainable financial aid strategies to address student needs and to maintain the quality and diversity of the student body, as well as accessibility for Vermont students. Without question, moreover, we have an obligation to our alumni, our students, our faculty and staff, and the citizens of Vermont to maintain the value of a UVM degree: in this regard, we must safeguard the University’s academic quality and reputation. We must be good stewards of the human, physical, and fiscal assets entrusted to us. We can only serve our students well by continuing to provide them with excellent faculty, with dedicated and supportive staff, and with a learning environment adequate to their intellectual, professional, and personal development. In short, within the highly competitive field of national universities, we must sustain academic quality at levels that justify students’ commitment of years of their lives and of hard-earned dollars. In this perspective, we must always balance our interest in keeping student cost increases down with the equally important goal of maintaining competitive quality. It is a complex and high-stakes balancing act with no magic formula that will relieve us of the difficult task of determining annually where that balance lies.

Our care for the future sustainability of UVM also extends to our efforts to build the University’s philanthropic resources through both current-use giving and endowment gifts for the long-term. With appreciation for the hard work of University faculty and staff and with gratitude to our very generous donors, I would note that FY ’10 saw voluntary support that exceeded every other year but one, and that was 2007, the climactic year of our last campaign. In 2010, we had a 4.2% increase over 2009 in voluntary support and a 14.6% increase in unrestricted annual giving. I am pleased to report that former trustee and alumnus Eugene Kalkin has agreed to chair the steering committee that will become the Board of the new UVM Foundation we plan to incorporate in calendar 2011. I also want you to know that since June we have briefed 140 individuals, engaging them in probing conversations about the future of UVM and the role of philanthropy in shaping that future. These discussions are an essential step in laying the groundwork for UVM’s next campaign. Our campaign consultants are already in the process of interviewing a little more than half of that number—roughly 75 individuals—as the basis for the campaign feasibility study that we should receive in mid-January and that we intend to bring to this Board and to Foundation leadership in February. Student scholarships and endowed faculty positions top the list of opportunities for giving we are discussing in these briefings—once again, as in our last campaign, the people who have made UVM such a distinctive and distinguished institution of higher education are our highest priority.

It is the people of the University on whom and for whom my twin themes of our care for each other and the sustainability of our University converge. Under the guidance of our wonderful faculty and staff, our students are achieving at extraordinarily high levels, as witness Rob’s report a few minutes ago on the record graduation rates achieved this spring—76.3% overall and, for our Vermont graduates, a truly stunning and gratifying 80.4%. I would like to close with a few quick vignettes of the exceptional people who are the University of Vermont.

Paul Hines, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, is among the faculty whose research and teaching involve complex systems, designated as one of our three initial areas of focus as a Transdisciplinary Research Initiative. Professor Hines is one of the nation’s leading experts on power systems, the vast electric grid. Working with Seth Blumsack, a colleague at Penn State, Professor Hines recently co-authored an article published in the journal Chaos that has challenged recent assertions about the relative vulnerability of the nation’s power system. Their work promises to guide the allocation of resources devoted to protecting the electric grid from sabotage. The study drew extensive national media attention, including U.S. News &World Report and many other outlets. 

Thanks to the TREK program, nearly 250 of our new students arrived on campus in August wonderfully sweaty, dirty, worn out, and—most importantly—connected to new friends and UVM’s rich undergraduate experience. For nearly half of TREK’s 31 years at UVM, it has been led by John Abbott, our director of outdoor programs in Student Life. John is joined in this effort by Lu Mulvaney-Stanak, who oversees the community service aspects of TREK. Together, John and Lu work with their student leaders to plan the myriad logistics behind sending hundreds of young people out for a week of hiking the Long Trail, kayaking Lake Champlain, or working on Habitat for Humanity projects. Thanks to their efforts, TREK participants hit the ground running at UVM with strong ties already established to their fellow students, the University, the local community, and the State of Vermont.

Katie St. Denis, a twenty-two-year-old senior majoring in biology, has excelled in her coursework and in the research lab while balancing the challenges of raising her four-year-old son, Kieran. Professor Joseph Schall, one of the truly outstanding teachers at UVM, has been a mentor to Katie. He advised her as she conducted research in his lab through the McNair Scholars Program in the summer of 2009. Professor Schall saw in Katie what he considers the fundamental characteristics of an excellent scientist—curiosity, academic honesty, and a strong work ethic. Building upon their work together, Katie and Professor Schall co-authored an article published in the Journal of Parasitology that goes a long way toward substantiating a commonly held—yet unproven—belief about how to distinguish malaria parasite species. As she completes her senior year, Katie is in the process of deciding where to continue her studies in biology, with the goal of earning her PhD.

Karen Sentoff is a master's student in Environmental Engineering. Her work, funded by UVM's Transportation Research Center and led by Engineering Professor Britt Holmén, compares the toxic tailpipe emissions of hybrid and non-hybrid vehicles in northern climates. She collects her second-by-second data using state-of-the-art equipment and instruments that fill the backseat and trunk of the vehicles at the Transportation Air Quality Lab. Karen was named Outstanding Student of the Year by the Transportation Research Center, an honor that was acknowledged at a banquet at the National Academies Transportation Research Board meeting in Washington, D.C., and that was accompanied with a check for $1,000 and a plaque from the U.S. Department of Transportation. This week Karen is at a conference in Portland, Oregon, presenting her work on emissions along with the full research team.

Nicholas Aunchman is a Vermonter in the College of Medicine's Class of 2011. Nick, driven by his interest in providing care to underserved populations, volunteered for one of the first relief missions from Vermont to earthquake-ravaged Haiti earlier this year. This was Nick's second trip to Haiti, where he'd traveled long before the earthquake to work at a rural clinic as part of a group from the College of Medicine's Department of Surgery. This year, Nick spent a month in Port-au-Prince and surrounding provinces, helping to treat medical conditions of a range and severity rarely seen in Vermont. Nick hopes to put his experiences to use after receiving his M.D. by treating underserved populations in the Green Mountain State.

Paul Hines, John Abbott, Lu Mulvaney-Stanak, Katie St. Denis, Karen Sentoff, and Nicholas Aunchman are a just a few representatives of the compelling human face of UVM. In their work, in the value they create every day, they embody and represent the overriding care we must take for the sustainable quality and vitality of the University of the Green Mountains, for their and for the future’s sake. I join Rob in heartfelt appreciation to Governor James H. Douglas for his commitment to education, his work on our Board, and a lifetime of public service to the citizens of Vermont. If there are questions, I will be happy to try to answer them. Thanks very much.

Last modified October 29 2010 08:53 AM