University of Vermont

Former President Daniel Mark Fogel

Commencement_Strategic Position

Commencement and the University’s Strategic Position

A message from President Daniel Mark Fogel to the University Community
May 25, 2004

This weekend’s 200th Commencement on the College Green was designed to celebrate our graduates and at the same time to demonstrate that while we are pursuing a vigorous program of positive change at UVM, the effort is grounded in Vermont ’s history, traditions, and values. The weekend also saw unanimous endorsement by the University’s Board of Trustees of the vision for UVM, as embodied in a Strategic Financial Plan of unusual depth, range, complexity, sophistication, power, and adaptability. I’ll say more shortly on the superlative efforts of the staff and faculty of the University to make the return of Commencement to the Green a success, but first I want to give everyone a sketch of the Strategic Financial Plan because all of us need to understand and support it if we are to succeed—as I am confident we will.

Advancing the Vision: UVM’s Strategic Financial Plan

In endorsing the Strategic Financial Plan without a dissenting vote, the trustees recognized that it is a boldly ambitious but workable and in truth necessary program for affirming and dramatically strengthening UVM’s position as a nationally competitive University affording high value to our students, our faculty and staff, the State of Vermont, and society at large. Critically, that assessment of the plan was also supported by astute, experienced, and tough-minded consultants in the higher education practice of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

PwC affirmed, and the trustees agreed, that pursuing a “status quo” scenario with stable enrollments was not an acceptable course because it would erode the financial and academic health of UVM. The consultants and the trustees also agreed that the Strategic Financial Plan embodies a far more favorable strategy. Here is the essential logic of the Strategic Financial Plan, more or less in the words of my report at the opening of the Board meeting (the full text of my remarks will be on the Web later this week):

“It’s become clearer to me than ever that UVM is positioned to achieve the powerful, competitive position it deserves in the landscape of higher education. To do so, the University of Vermont needs to invest in student life, seek diversity, optimize enrollment and revenue, [and successfully prosecute our] ambitious capital campaign. Enrollment management must figure prominently in the University’s future . . . . The University needs to take full and firm charge of the size and quality of both graduate and undergraduate classes.

“That’s what the Strategic Financial Plan tells us—but the language you heard is verbatim from “The Case for the Next President of the University of Vermont ” that the Board of Trustees developed in 2001 as it prepared to launch the search that brought me to UVM. My point is simple but important. The Strategic Financial Plan represents a richly detailed roadmap to guide our journey toward attainment of the goals in the Strategic Plan, which itself is closely tied to the Strategic Action Plan approved by the Board in 1999 and also to the goals the Board set for me as soon as I took office in 2002. The Strategic Financial Plan is about the means to an overriding end, which is building Vermont ’s University into a nationally competitive institution focused on the delivery of outstanding undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs, on world-class research, scholarship, and creative activity, and on service and outreach that really make a difference in the world.

“That is not Dan Fogel’s vision—that is YOUR vision, our vision, embedding in the Strategic Financial Plan we are looking at today the very same values, goals, and strategic and tactical imperatives inscribed in the case statement detailing what you wanted the next president to do long before you knew who he or she would be.

“We are doing, I’m convinced, just what you set out to do, but with a degree of detail, clarity, mastery of complexity, and confidence that up until now has not been available to us. The journey we will undertake together if we make intelligent use of the roadmap constituted by the Strategic Plan and the Financial Strategic Plan can carry us to our overriding goals of providing Vermont and Vermonters with a competitive national university that ranks with the best and of building financial strength as the foundation for academic excellence.

“The PwC study makes clear that the engine to build that strength over the next ten years is high- quality undergraduate enrollment growth. Grant a few simple propositions—of which the first is that revenue sources other than enrollment growth will not be there for us in the next decade with the cash flows required to sustain and build:

  • high-quality undergraduate and graduate programs

  • an outstanding student experience

  • competitive research and development that will advance knowledge, bring great benefits to our regional economy, build institutional prestige and visibility, and help us to attract excellent students and faculty

  • a campus as well maintained and as competitive as we would like it to be with respect to our fiduciary responsibilities as stewards of precious physical assets and also with respect to the investments peer institutions are making in their classrooms, laboratories, residence halls, and student life facilities

  • and compensation programs that will let us retain and attract the talented, dedicated, creative, enthusiastic faculty and staff we must have to attain the curricular quality, research capabilities, and quality of student experience essential to our success

“And grant another simple proposition—that to pursue this indispensable enrollment growth in the context of the declining demographic in New England and the Middle Atlantic States, we can no longer be primarily a regional University, that we can only serve Vermont well, and can only achieve our vision and mission, by building quality to levels that will position us as a truly national University, drawing students as capable, as talented, as eager to learn and grow, as endearingly without pretense as our current students in larger numbers than ever before from the centers of population growth in the South, the Southwest, and the West. Quite simply, we must become, in our quality and appeal, a school of choice for students in Florida and Texas , in Arizona and Nevada , in Colorado , New Mexico , and California .

“And grant one more—that we cannot be complacent about our current successes. We cannot be content with the status quo. The baseline scenario tells us that. And our PwC consultants agree with what I said in the cover letter to the feasibility study, that the baseline is really far worse than it looks.

“The broad way forward is clear, and the roadmap toward our goals of quality and service to Vermont and the world at large is very clear in the Strategic Financial Plan. It is a map replete with alternate routes and lay bys so that we can adapt to contingencies and changing circumstances with course adjustments that will still carry us forward toward our destination and with changes in speed as required.”

That is the gist of what I said to the Board last Friday. By pursuing the Strategic Financial Plan to advance the vision for UVM, we will not only be building the foundations for academic quality and improved service to Vermont and the world, but we will also be one of the few institutions—one of the very few among publics—in control of its own destiny and with a growing base of support for all members of the campus community.

There is no question that the way forward will be challenging and that it will call on great commitment to quality and productivity in the work of every member of the faculty and staff, most especially in our work building outstanding undergraduate programs, including superb academic advising and career counseling, and in continuing to enhance the quality of student life outside as well as inside the classroom—for it is undeniable that high-quality undergraduate enrollment growth is the engine that will drive the advancement of graduate education, enhanced research, scholarship, and creative activity, growing support for our faculty and staff, and a greatly improved professional working and learning environment for all of us.

The complete Strategic Financial Plan, including the PwC report, is available through the Provost’s office in hard copy and will soon be posted on the Web. We will be developing an executive summary that should be sufficient for all but advanced students of higher education strategic planning, who may well want to immerse themselves in every one of the more than 140 pages in the study. While the challenges ahead are significant, the way to success is clear, and the rewards lie in greatly enhanced value for our students, for the statewide community in Vermont , and for each one of us who works here at UVM.

What’s next? A great deal—including concerted efforts by faculty and staff to enhance student advising, career counseling, student life, and retention; ongoing curricular reform by the faculty, as exemplified by the new Honors College and the newly approved integrated biology program, with special emphasis going forward on curricular cohesion and on what I hope will become a signature of undergraduate education at UVM, programs to ensure that all of our students graduate with very high level communication skills; ongoing and intensifying dialogue about what it means for UVM to be “the environmental university,” to be a leader in health and biomedical sciences, and perhaps most challengingly to be on the forefront of liberal arts education in the new century; the development of new, interdisciplinary graduate programs, with emphasis on doctoral education in priority areas; concomitantly, the further definition of research areas in which UVM can be on the cutting edge globally, not neglecting the humanities, social sciences, arts, and our leadership in education and social services and at the same time developing the R&D capacity in science and technology that can keep Vermont vital in the world economy; and a range of major capital projects, leading the way with those essential to success in the high-quality undergraduate enrollment growth agenda.

The work on the Strategic Financial Plan was done by many hands: many thanks especially to staff in Finance and Administration, Institutional Studies, the Office of the Provost, and many other areas, including University Communications, Research and Graduate Studies, Development and Alumni Relations, and the Medical College . Gary Derr’s work with John Bramley in preparing the feasibility study for presentation to the Board of Trustees bears special mention, as does Corinne Thompson’s expert facilitation of all the activities of the Board. I would especially note that Ted Winfield and his team in Finance and Budget bore an unusually heavy share of intensive labor on this project throughout the year—given the enormous positives in their work for all of us at UVM, we collectively owe them a heartfelt vote of thanks. Finally, we would not be in the position in which we find ourselves today without a Board of Trustees that has been unwaveringly committed to the advancement of academic quality at UVM and that has benefited enormously from three extraordinary chairs in succession (Bruce Lisman, Dean Maglaris, and Jim Pizzagalli) and from the wisdom and energy of every single trustee.

The Bicentennial Commencement

 Commencement on Sunday, May 23 rd, was a remarkable moment in UVM’s history. It was carried off, in its new setting on the Green, with great grace and style and in a manner that I believe left our graduates, their families and friends, and most of us, the faculty and staff of the University, prouder than ever of the University of Vermont and more deeply appreciative of its values, traditions, and commitments. (If you were not able to attend, a commemorative video/DVD is being produced and should be available soon.)

This special occasion was the work of hundreds of individuals, including a number of faculty, and far larger numbers of staff whose efforts were indispensable. Discussions of moving the event to the Green permanently, beginning with the Bicentennial Commencement, got under way nearly a year ago. They involved Vice Provosts Youngblood and Coleman; Vice President Lauck Parke; faculty, including Mark Starrett and Tom Visser; student leaders, including SGA President Joseph Thibault and Senior Class Council President Kelly Kisiday; and Leslie Logan. John F. Gates provided significant leadership and vision for the move of Commencement back to the Green (John, incidentally, sets aside his chief of staff role next week in favor of special projects as assigned by the president and provost along with his continuing appointment as Lecturer in the College of Education and Social Services).

Administrative and Facilities Services played a critical role in the planning and execution of the redesigned Commencement. Many thanks to Bill Ballard and Linda Schneider for their leadership in this effort. I personally know at least a dozen names of others who contributed significantly, but to name them would inevitably entail leaving others out, so I will only say that there were scores of individuals throughout A&F Services, from Transportation and Parking to Purchasing, from Physical Plant to Police Services—and, in fact, in every single area of the division—who worked hard and well to make the Bicentennial Commencement a success. Their contributions constitute a shining example of the simple truth that success in UVM’s strategic agenda depends on the commitment, intelligence, and whole-hearted efforts of our marvelous staff.

On the faculty side, Michael Gurdon inaugurated the new tradition of having the Faculty Senate President serve as University Marshall; emeriti Marion Thorpe and Bill Daniels provided stirring opening and closing reflections; and Jeff Modereger, chair of the Theatre Department, organized the entire production, deploying a crew of twelve throughout the Commencement site to ensure that everything ran smoothly—and it did: at the end of the conferral of degrees, the script noted that the time would be 10:47, but there we were at 10:40, healthily ahead of schedule. Now that is a triumph of logistics, considering the thousands of graduates and guests on the Green, and the numerous participants with speaking parts on the platform. Our distinguished speaker, playwright, screenwriter, and director David Mamet, recognized that the entire event was a complex theatrical production and had nothing but praise for its execution, beauty, substance, and honesty. There was, he observed, not a false note.

I also want to acknowledge a special crew that worked closely with me on developing my Commencement remarks, which entailed the coordination of a series of visual projections with commentary celebrating the class of 2004 and the place of its members in UVM’s long and rich history. Bill Daniels, Bob Stanfield, Connie Gallagher, and Tom Weaver listened first to what I wanted to accomplish and then offered telling and compelling advice on both the content and form of the presentation, with Tom working to refine and hone down the first draft I provided to make it really workable. Wes Graff and his team in Instructional Television Services worked closely with a variety of University departments—among others, Library Special Collections and Photography Services—to put together the visual track. I am personally grateful to everyone who assisted me in this effort.

Wes worked closely with Vermont Public Television in the production of the event. We are deeply appreciative of their good work, as we are of the contributions of other key partners, including Sodexho , Vermont Tent, Landworks (a firm that worked closely with Rose Leland and her colleagues on the preparation of the Green and that also designed the column banners that hung from the façade of the Waterman Building ). The Pipes and Drums of St. Andrew’s Society of Vermont led the academic procession in thrilling style.

Our Student Ambassadors and Community Service Scholars worked very hard to help us with logistics, including meeting, escorting, and tending to the needs of our seven distinguished recipients of honorary degrees. Other students made notable contributions—for example, Tyson Valyou, Class of 2005, who stirringly played the field drums with an alumnus, Jeffrey Salisbury, Class of 1991, and the students who played in the University Brass Ensemble. All of us who were there will long remember how we were led in song by the strong and gorgeous renditions of “The Star Spangled Banner” and the alma mater by Nathaly Filion (Class of 2005). Many thanks go, too, to Alan Parshley, who directs the Ensemble, and to David Neiweem, for his contribution as University Carillonneur.

The Commencement Program included a page of thanks to the faculty and staff of the University. I only wish I could conclude this memo without a nagging sense that someone who should have been singled out has been omitted, and I will ask now for forgiveness, please, for my inadvertent oversights. One person, however, deserves special mention in closing, and that is Leslie Logan, Administrator of University Events, who juggled the complexity of directing the complex Commencement effort with numerous other special occasions (for instance, three events on one day connected with the memorial service for Dean Joseph Warshaw, and, practically on top of Commencement itself, all of the events associated with last week’s historic meeting of the Board of Trustees). Many thanks to her and to one and all for all that you contributed to Commencement and for all that you do every day in the ordinary course of your work to support our students, faculty, and staff and to help us advance the vision of making UVM the nation’s premier small public research university. Best wishes to everyone for a happy, relaxed, productive summer.


Last modified June 03 2004 11:29 AM

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