University of Vermont

Former President Daniel Mark Fogel

The Road to Excellence—Advancing Academic Distinction at UVM

To: UVM Community
From: Daniel Mark Fogel, President
Date: November 20, 2009
Re: The Road to Excellence (and a Brief Budget Update)

The University is currently engaged in two initiatives that have great potential to enhance our academic distinction and the quality of the student experience at UVM. One initiative is the Transdisciplinary Research Initiative (TRI) that entails the mapping across the University of areas of current and emerging strength in research, scholarship, and creative activity. While the TRI may conceivably lead to the development of new graduate programs, it is focused right now on assessment of our opportunities and potential. This initiative holds great promise for improving the environment for faculty success, for strengthening graduate education and research, and for enriching and making more accessible an array of opportunities for undergraduate research experiences. Another initiative involves the creation of a General Education Requirement that we hope will make it easier for undergraduates to move from one major to another and to complete more than one major across college/school lines.

Both initiatives are deeply rooted in UVM’s long and distinguished history and in an analysis of UVM’s strengths and opportunities—an analysis that has been under development for many years. Last summer, to provide an exposition of that evolving analysis in the context of UVM’s vision of being one of the nation’s leading small research universities and also in the context of these important initiatives in undergraduate education and research, I drafted, with Interim Provost Jane Knodell and Vice President for Research Domenico Grasso, an essay, “The Road for Excellence.” I am writing today above all to share that essay with the campus community. “The Road to Excellence,” with its appendix (a spreadsheet that presents summary data on UVM and other small research universities) is available at the following link: The Road to Excellence.

I am also writing to update the community on the progress of these initiatives and, very briefly, on UVM’s budget status.  As to the General Education requirement, the Interim Provost has convened a work group led by Associate Provost Brian Reed and including five deans, seven faculty members, and the President of the Student Government Association. The group has been charged with identifying attributes and competencies that should be cultivated in the course of an undergraduate education at UVM and determining how to ensure that those attributes are in fact developed in our students. Further information on the progress of the work group, which we expect will bring its recommendations to the Faculty Senate next spring, can be found on the Provost’s website at General Education Initiative.

Eight faculty work groups are now developing proposals to identify niche areas of nationally and internationally competitive strength in research, scholarship, and creative activity under eight broad rubrics: biological sciences and bioengineering; complex systems (for an explanation of this exciting but for many still unfamiliar conceptual terrain,  please see What Are Complex Systems); culture & society; environment; food systems; neurosciences: basic, behavioral, clinical, developmental; policy studies; and public health/sustainable health/health policy. The work groups have already initiated faculty surveys and public forums to promote widespread input and participation in developing the proposals, which are due early in the spring semester. Proposals that survive an internal review in February will be evaluated by an external team that will come to campus in March. To date, six distinguished colleagues have agreed to be part of the review team (contingent on successful coordination of their calendars for the campus visit): Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University; James Duderstadt, President Emeritus, the University of Michigan; Vartan Gregorian, President of the Carnegie Foundation of New York (and former President of Brown University); Catherine Koshland,Vice Provost for Academic Planning and Facilities, the University of California, Berkeley; Shirley Tilghman, President of Princeton University; and Larry Vanderhoef, Chancellor Emeritus of the University of California, Davis. For further information about the Transdisciplinary Research Initiative, please see TRI Initiative.

We will be providing the campus community with a more detailed budget update in December, but I thought I would let you know that the situation is much as it was when we projected for the Board of Trustees last May -- an approximate budget gap of $9 million for the FY 2011 fiscal year, which will begin next July 1. The gap is manageable, but challenging. Two weeks ago, Jane Knodell and Vice President for Finance and Administration Richard Cate met with the Faculty Senate Fiscal and Physical Planning Committee to provide details on the work to date on the FY 2011 budget, and Vice President Cate has since met with the leadership of the Student Government Association. Similar meetings with other governance leaders will be taking place in December. As for the current fiscal year, it is already clear that as UVM has stretched to meet the needs of students and families produced by a recession of a magnitude unequaled since the Great Depression, our increased cost for student aid net of tuition beyond what we budgeted will be about 1% of the general fund. Accordingly, I have asked Jane to take immediate measures to reducing spending in other areas by about 1%, not through an across-the-board cut but through targeted reductions designed to preserve the quality of instructional programs and of the student experience.

By taking this measure now, we greatly strengthen the probability that our remaining work in preparing the FY 11 budget will be more manageable. To put our budget challenges in perspective, I recently visited the campus of one of our sister New England land grant universities that is projecting a $49 million budget gap for FY 2011; in addition, when I recruited Michael Crow to join the external review team for the Transdisciplinary Research Initiative we discussed the $155 million budget cut that Arizona State University has taken in the last year, which resulted in the redesign of many colleges and schools and the elimination as administrative cost centers (but not as intellectual clusters) of thirty academic departments.

UVM’s budget challenges are not of such scale. We are therefore determined to maintain the positive trajectory of the University and we believe that, with your engagement and support, we can do so. We enter into this next phase of work having seen record research awards and entering undergraduate, graduate, and medical classes of exceptional quality and diversity. These highly favorable indicators support our belief that UVM can continue to thrive in an increasingly competitive environment through disciplined, creative work based on a deep understanding of the University’s position and potential. That is why we offer for continuing discussion and development “The Road to Excellence.” We commend it to the attention of all members of the University of Vermont community—faculty, staff, students, alumni, friends, and the citizens of Vermont.

Last modified November 20 2009 04:05 PM

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