Lattie F. Coor was inaugurated as the university’s twenty-first president on September 24, 1976, two days shy of his fortieth birthday. Coor was born in Phoenix, Arizona, on September 26, 1936. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees with honors from Northern Arizona University. In 1964 he was awarded a Ph.D. degree in political science from Washington University in St. Louis where he remained for the next decade as a faculty member and eventually as vice chancellor. He married Ina Fitzhenry in 1964, and they had a family of two sons and one daughter when they came to Burlington in 1976.
Since the trustees had restricted enrollment growth, Coor faced a different challenge from that of his postwar predecessors. He had three basic objectives when he became president. The first was “to strengthen the undergraduate education program in terms of quality and reputation . . . and to craft an effective research and graduate program to compliment the undergraduate experience.” During the intellectual iconoclasm of the late 1960’s, the Arts and Sciences faculty had basically abandoned the core curriculum. Shortly after Coor arrived, he established a Committee on Baccalaureate Education to study the academic curriculum, and the faculty later strengthened the distributive requirements for undergraduates. In addition, Coor improved faculty salaries, and he was also able to secure funds for two new endowed chairs, the Bishop Robert F. Joyce Professor of Gerontology and the John L. Beckley Professor of Business.
President Coor’s second priority was to initiate selective building improvements, which included the 1980 expansion of the Bailey/Howe Library, the 1981 expansion of Patrick Gymnasium, the 1982 construction of the Aiken Natural Resources Building, the 1985 expansion of the Fleming Museum, the 1986 expansion of Billings Student Center, and the 1988 construction of Kalkin Hall to house the business school.
Coor’s third major objective was to strengthen the university’s financial base, especially by improving relationships with the state, and he organized a group of distinguished alumni into the Vermont Council in an effort to achieve this end.
President Coor’s major problem involved UVM’s relationship with the state. When he became president, the state appropriation of $11.2 million covered 20 percent of the total UVM budget. By 1989, when Coor resigned to become president of Arizona State University, the state appropriation had increased to $29 million, but this covered less than 13 percent of the university’s total budget, the lowest percentage of state support in the nation. In addition, relations with the city of Burlington deteriorated as many students took up residence in city apartments when the trustees decided not to build any more new dormitories after 1980.
In his final interview in the Burlington Free Press, Coor spoke very candidly about this issue. “I have not developed an effective political base in Vermont or in the community. I have not succeeded in helping the state and the community to understand how important this university is to their very character.” Yet, while Coor may have shared some of the blame for this situation, it would be unfair to hold him completely responsible. Burlington’s political leadership had become quite aggressive during that decade, and the state had taken on so many new financial commitments that it had become increasingly difficult for it to fund higher education adequately.
As a result of increases brought about by inflation, improved services, and a greatly enlarged research agenda, by the time Coor left UVM, the university had grown to more than three thousand employees, and the 1990-91 operating budget was more than $232 million. In order to help cover these costs, in-state tuition increased to $4,200, and nonresident tuition jumped to $12,800.
After Coor left for Arizona, Interim President John W. Hennessey announced an agreement had been reached with the city of Burlington on the issues of housing, parking, and traffic. In the fall of 1990, it was revealed that $58 million had already been raised towards the Campaign for UVM fundraising goal of $100 million. Hence, despite all the challenges, UVM was planning for the future with optimism and confidence.
This tradition was captured beautifully by President Lattie Coor in his last interview in Vermont Quarterly when he stated, “We always have to work harder than other places. There are times when adversity seems greater for us because we don’t have as full a tool kit as many others — and yet there is that combination of will and determination and mutually reinforcing collective commitment that allows triumph to happen.”