Convocation 2005 Closing Reflections: President Daniel Mark Fogel
Thank you so much, Governor Secretary Ambassador Professor Kunin, for those inspirational words. Governor Douglas, Chairman of the Board Lisman, trustees of the University, Mayor Clavelle, President David Feeney (of Champlain College), faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends, I think that Madeleine Kunin, now in the second of at least three years as a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Vermont, has put to us a central facet of what makes UVM such a distinctive institution in American higher education. This is a place of learning and discovery, a center of vital activity in service to our State and to the world; while those are characteristics that we share with the nation’s other great public universities, Vermont’s university is especially distinguished by the fierce and sustained determination of generations of UVMers to make a difference in the world.
It is an important part of UVM’s history and identity that we were the first institution to admit women and African Americans to Phi Beta Kappa. Here, right beside the Ira Allen Chapel where we are gathered today, lie the mortal remains of one of American’s greatest thinkers, John Dewey, UVM graduate, philosopher, psychologist, educator, champion of women’s rights, academic freedom, social welfare, racial justice, and a wide array of progressive causes. Through these halls have passed numerous individuals whose lives have made and continue to make a difference in the world, including our Medical College graduate, John McGill, who was President of the United States branch of Doctors Without Borders when that organization won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999, just two years after the same prize was won by 1972 UVM graduate Jodie Williams for leading the international campaign against land mines.
We have had intellectual giants among our faculty colleagues—witness, for example, Professor Susan Hasazi, whose distinguished scholarship has established UVM in the front line of educational leadership and research on the vocational and transitional experiences of youth with disabilities (just check out the National Institute on Leadership, Disability, and Students Placed at Risk, which Susan created in partnership with colleagues around the nation); witness Professor Emeritus Raul Hilberg, the founder of the discipline of Holocaust Studies (and check out his great 2003 expanded edition of his classic work The Destruction of the European Jews); witness, too, Professor Emeritus Bernd Heinrich, who has been in the vanguard of understanding of animal behavior and intelligence (check out his lead OpEd piece in last Friday’s New York Times); witness Professor Susan Wallace, whose cutting-edge research on DNA mutagenesis and the identification of lesion-repairing enzymes blazes an important trail toward the understanding, treatment, and cure of cancer (check out the amazing description of her work on the web site of the UVM department she chairs, Microbiology and Molecular Genetics); and witness Professor Wolfgang Mieder, the greatest living authority on proverbs (you can check out Wolfgang’s scholarship, but you probably can’t keep up since he brings out new books every few months). The loss of a wonderful colleague, James Petersen, chair of Anthropology, whose murder nearly three weeks ago in Brazil near the site of his field work in the Amazon basin has set in high relief the world-class stature of his scholarship, reminds us that the remarkable contributions of UVM’s faculty are not simply the work of our most senior colleagues but include exceptional contributions by rising generations of scientists, scholars, and creative artists. The entire community is invited to join us here in Ira Allen Chapel at 9:00 a.m. on Friday, September 23rd, for a memorial and celebration of Jim Petersen’s life and work. Our loss of Jim Petersen was preceded, in the twelve months since our last Convocation, by the deaths of several other beloved and much admired faculty colleagues, including Linda Backus, Charles Russell deBurlo, Jeremy Felt, Joan Smith, and Willard Miller.
The University stands out for distinguished faculty, talented staff, and exceptional
students who choose to make a difference, two of whom have addressed us this
afternoon, and we stand out also for our unusual institutional commitment to
social justice and equity and to environmental and community leadership. These
are wonderful attributes for any institution to claim, and in truth they set
the bar high with standards and ideals that are hard to live up to. To do so,
we have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
Last May, UVM walked the walk with other universities in the vanguard of equity and diversity when students, staff, faculty, administration, and the Board of Trustees agreed on a new policy protecting students and employees from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression. That policy is now in effect. It is a cornerstone of the values we call on all members of our community to embrace as the UVM family strengthens its commitment to UVM’s Common Ground of respect, integrity, innovation, openness, justice, and responsibility. Talking about diversity is one thing—walking the walk is another. We have set the bar high, and our challenges are great. We hope to make progress this year as the Faculty Senate and the Deans consider a proposed six-credit diversity requirement that is part of the fabric of curricular cohesion we intend to weave across the campus.
We have also set the bar high in our quest to become the nation’s environmental University. A recent Cornell University survey of leading public and private universities showed we are already well positioned to pursue this aspiration, with The University of Vermont ranking second only to Harvard among thirty-five institutions mentioned at least once by survey respondents when they were asked, “To what institutions do you look for leadership in the environmental field.” Here, too, we must walk the walk, and we are doing so by policy and by deed. In May, the Board of Trustees gave its blessing to UVM’s new Green Building policy, which says that every new building and major renovation will be designed to attain, at a minimum, LEED certification, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. That policy has been in force all summer, and today, as a matter of public ceremony, we are formally signing it before this assembly [sign policy with a flourish]. We are hereby committed to LEED certification at a minimum for all major building and renovation projects, including those now under way on campus.
The Cornell environmental survey is not the only one that has placed UVM way up among the nation’s leading institutions of higher learning. This spring, U.S. News and World Report placed the UVM Medical College ninth among the nation’s 125 medical schools in primary care. In June the Princeton Review published a book featuring UVM as one of the nation’s most socially committed campuses, Colleges with a Conscience: 81 Great Schools with Outstanding Community Involvement. And just last week the Newsweek Kaplan College Guide released its annual hottest schools list, ranking UVM in the top 25—among some 2,400 four-year colleges and universities nationwide—in a list Newsweek describes as the schools that are “creating buzz” nationwide and “preparing students well for a complex world.” These recognitions also challenge us to live up to very high expectations. In letters this summer to our incoming students and to our faculty and staff, I have stressed the sense of urgency I have that we all take active and ethically engaged roles in ensuring that UVM creates an extraordinary academic environment for everyone, as an outstanding place to work and grow for faculty and staff and as a place that offers the richest and most rewarding possible collegiate experience for students. The vision for UVM is nothing if it is not centered on people, and it will be as long as I have the privilege of serving this institution as your president. In the vision statement written in early 2003, I outlined numerous investments the University must make in order to be competitive and successful. The very top of the list reflects the importance of investing in people: our students, faculty, and staff. All of us most do our parts, and once again I urge students, including especially our newest students, to follow the Provost’s advice, to be engaged actively in academic and co-curricular activities and to do all you can to make the most of the rare privilege of your college education, with a determination in the great UVM tradition to give back and to make a difference.
The proposed diversity requirement is not the only thread from which we hope to see the faculty weave a fabric of curricular cohesion. Eight months ago, the Faculty Senate gave its blessing to the University’s pursuit of a Writing in the Disciplines program designed to make sure that all UVM graduates are prepared for leadership with well-honed analytic and communications skills. Tomorrow, Provost Bramley and I will charge the search committee that will help UVM recruit a distinguished scholar to lead that effort. And we are looking to the deans and the faculty to develop proposals for University-wide requirements on environmental literacy and on health literacy. In all of these efforts we are aiming to strengthen UVM’s distinctive signature as an institution that prepares students to be leaders who solve problems and make a difference in the world.
For the world cries out for the service for which we are preparing our students, on every continent, and today, dramatically, at home in Florida and, especially, in the Gulf Coast states of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. I am sure that all of us are moved by the unspeakable tragedy that has befallen our fellow citizens as a result of the horrific devastation of Hurricane Katrina. As long-time residents of Louisiana, my wife Rachel and I are stunned almost beyond belief by the destruction of New Orleans and smaller communities throughout the wide path of the storm. It has been terrible to see the poor and dispossessed huddled in the Superdome like steerage passengers below decks on the Titanic. It is sobering to think that there is a very real likelihood that human activity has created the planetary phenomenon of global warming, intensifying the extent and force of storms like Katrina, while more local mismanagement of precious wetlands and river basins has laid the stage for this vast human and ecological disaster. The gruesome spectacle before us is a vivid reminder of why UVM’s commitments to social justice and environmental stewardship must be expressed above all in the preparation of students who will be leaders committed to making a difference in their lives and work. I know that in the days ahead we will be giving careful thought to how we can contribute, individually and collectively, to alleviate the immediate suffering and contribute to the long-term well-being of the millions who have felt the scourge of Katrina. I can report to you that we have already begun to explore how we might be able to help students and faculty based in New Orleans at Dillard and Xavier Universities, two of the nation’s leading historically black colleges, so that they can sustain their studies and programs until their campuses are able to re-open. I had a discussion this afternoon with Michael Lomax, 2004 UVM honorary degree recipient, former president of Dillard, and now President of the United Negro College Fund, and he will be facilitating our outreach proposals to the two institutions. If you wish to make donations to the HBCUs under crisis because of the hurricane, you can do so through the UNCF Web site at uncf.org.
We will not deserve, nor will we retain, our place of national leadership in higher education if we do not take a strong stand in support of academic freedom, the autonomy of the faculty, and the authority of discipline-based faculty over their courses and curricula. We must do so more than ever today, in the face of rising irrationalism and looming threats of unwarranted political encroachment on traditional academic prerogatives, and you have my personal pledge that we will unwaveringly take a strong stand for academic freedom.
Allow me to close these remarks with some words of warm welcome. Welcome, first, to the deans who have joined the University since our last Convocation a year ago—Eleanor Miller in Arts and Sciences, Fayneese Miller in Education and Social Services, and Domenico Grasso in Engineering and Mathematical Sciences. Our new deans join an extraordinary group of senior academic leaders, whose accomplishments I hailed in my report to the Board last week (for which I refer you to the UVM President’s web site). Welcome, too, to the faculty and staff who join—and in some cases rejoin—the University in this new academic year. And welcome, finally, to our new students in the Medical College, the Graduate College, and our various undergraduate colleges and schools. The undergraduate class of 2009 is the largest in the history of the University and it will surely be one of the best—though there too we are setting the bar high since so many great classes have come before them. To all of our students: we are proud that you have chosen UVM, we are pleased that you are here with us, we are committed to helping you succeed, and we welcome you with open arms and great enthusiasm. Together let us embrace with joy and a high sense of urgency the challenges that lie before us as the most engaged of all public universities, as a community that chooses with passion and intelligence to make a difference in the world. To each and every member of this community, we offer best wishes for a stimulating, productive, and deeply rewarding academic year.