President’s Report
Board of Trustees, November 18, 2005

Chairman Lisman, Vice-Chair Heath, trustees of the University, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends, earlier this week in Chicago I gave the keynote address to about 850 admissions and enrollment professionals from around the country and from several other nations. It took place in a large, dazzlingly chandeliered ballroom at the Chicago Hilton, a venue you would perhaps recognize if you saw the movie The Fugitive, the closing scene of which was shot in that room. And while I didn’t feel at all like Harrison Ford, the story I had to tell did seem like a thrilling and at times hair-raising adventure despite its somewhat dry title, “An Invest-and-Grow Strategy for Institutional Advancement: The Presidential View of Enrollment Management.” The keynote was designed to set the stage for this largest annual national meeting of admissions deans and directors and also, of course, to impress them with the quality of UVM since, after all, they represent one-third of the votes on the academic reputation of national universities in the U. S. News & World Report annual rankings. It was, in short, the story of the very rapid turn-around we have achieved together at the University of Vermont over the course of the last four years. Most of the telling was devoted to the first seven months of my presidency in which the administration and the Board developed together a deep understanding of the realities of UVM’s place in American higher education and began to develop the analysis of the strategies that could address the challenges before us in order to create here, for the benefit of our students, our faculty, our staff, and the people of Vermont, academic excellence at the highest competitive national levels.

That story had two climaxes: issuance of the Vision Statement in the middle of the 2002-2003 academic year, and an account of where we stand today on some measures of our success to date. I thought I would share with you this morning two-and-a-half of the closing paragraphs from that keynote address, along with several slides that were shown with it, beginning with some closing observations about the Vision:

“The Vision then moved on from changes in the physical campus to programmatic changes. It described the new Honors College. It foreshadowed the aggressive expansion of service-learning programs and the creation of a Writing-in-the Disciplines program as signatures of distinction at UVM. [Slide50: Vision Master Slide] Above all, the Vision Statement made clear the centrality of high-quality enrollment growth as the engine driving the transformation of the University, generating the resources for investment in academic excellence. [Slide 51: Enrollment Management in the Vision] Toward the end of the Vision, I wrote that “Credentials of entering students have soared: 30% of first-year students are in the top 10% of their high school class (as opposed to 18% in 2002); their SAT scores range from 1160 at the 25th percentile to 1320 at the 75th percentile (as opposed to 1090 and 1230 in 2002). Admissions selectivity and yield have risen dramatically—with 14,450 applicants for the class of 2016, the University admitted only 48% of its applicants (as opposed to 71.5% of applicants for the class of 2006), and with a yield rate of 31% (as opposed to 25% for the class of ’06) precisely hit its target of 2,150 first-year students.” The Vision also projected growth in graduate programs, particularly doctoral enrollment, and significant advances in research productivity.

“Today I am happy and even a little astonished to report that we are well on the way to exceeding all of those projections. [Slide 52: Current Performance and Trends] The student center, new academic facilities, and new residence halls are all in construction, some with completion dates in the next 30 to 60 days. Research productivity has risen by some 50%, from the mid-80 millions in annual awards to the mid-120 millions, with significant increases now being recorded quarter-to-quarter against stagnant national trends (and with amazingly high density of quality, registered for example in about $190,000 in annual sponsored program awards per FTE General Fund faculty member). Doctoral enrollment stands at an all-time high. So do undergraduate and overall enrollment, and the ten-year Strategic Financial Plan, now extended through 2015, shows strong results in operating returns and growth in net assets in every year throughout the planning period.

“On the critical undergraduate enrollment side of the equation, we enrolled this fall an entering class of 2,394 students, far above the 2,070 in the Strategic Financial Plan projection for 2005 and far ahead, too, of the 2,150 I had set down in the Vision for fall 2012. What’s more, this entering class had the second-highest total SAT score in the University’s history (with the scores in earlier eras transposed to the new recentered scale to provide an apples-to-apples comparison), just one point behind the peak in 1986, and with a quantitative score that is the highest ever recorded by a first-year class at UVM. At the same time, the rising excitement and satisfaction of UVM students were expressed in the high level of success of the class that entered a year ago: the first-to-second year retention rate this fall was the highest in the University’s history, at 88%, and as you will have already inferred a good portion of our dramatic enrollment growth comes from increases in continuing students compounding the growth from surging first-year classes. As for application volume, we had 13,015 applications for first-time undergraduate admission this fall, exceeding the record of 11,953 set in 1986. And for fall, 2006 (the class of 2010), we are almost certain to exceed the 14,450 I’d predicted in the Vision Statement for fall 2012 (the class of 2016): as of last Friday, we had more than 6,200 early action applications, 2,500 ahead of last year’s record pace, which appears—knock on wood—to augur a jump of several thousand applications at a minimum!” [Slide 53: Class on the Green]

Flying home on Tuesday, I reflected on the multiple causes of these extraordinary outcomes, and I have to say there are simply scores of contributing factors all of which reflect smart, hard work by the faculty and staff of the University, by the administration, by this Board, by our deeply engaged students, and by our alumni and friends—hard work in laboratories and classrooms, in residence halls, in admissions and University Communications, in our financial and treasury operations, on our construction projects, in our fund-raising efforts—hard, good work across the board. And I was moved to think that all of these factors are synergistic—greater than the sum of their parts—and that that was perhaps the most astonishing thing about the high returns on investment we are reaping, that the outputs represent multiples of the inputs. I was also moved to reflect that the work that lies ahead of us as we move from turn-around mode to sustained, continuous improvement will be a work of decades and that I personally look forward to taking part in that work for at least another decade or so— just as I’d said in the Vision Statement—because it seems to me more and more clear that the University must have sustained, stable leadership to fulfill its extraordinary potential.

I look to this Board, too, to play a sustained and absolutely critical role in pursuit of the Vision of academic excellence for UVM for the benefit of our students, faculty, staff, and the citizens of Vermont. If my recent review of the last few years convinced me of anything, it is that we must continue to pursue the invest-and-grow strategy inscribed in the University’s Strategic Plan, including its foundational operational document, the Strategic Financial Plan. And while we know that the plan shows strong operating returns and growth in net assets every year over the next ten years, we also know that our critical capital projects needs are powerfully challenged by the terms and measures of the prudent debt policy we have adopted. The Board will have a myriad of things to attend to over the next few years. I hope, for example, that there will be new curricular initiatives, ranging from undergraduate baccalaureate completion requirements like the diversity proposal now under consideration in the Faculty Senate and the Writing-in-the-Disciplines program that will be led by a senior faculty member whom we are currently in process of hiring to new interdisciplinary cross-college-and-school graduate programs, particularly at the doctoral level. But if there is one Big Thing that I would propose the Board should take on as the centerpiece of its efforts over the next few years, it is to work together to figure out how to square the circle on the Strategic Financial Plan, how to find a way within the bounds of fiduciary responsibility to get done the projects that we believe are critical, indeed essential, for the well-being of the University. When the Board endorsed the Vision some two years ago, it expressed a conviction that a failure to commit to sustained investment in excellence would carry unacceptable risks for the University. Recent experience has shown how dramatically high our return on investment has been, in a much shorter time than many of us had imagined possible. And so I would propose that we take on that one Big Thing not by constructing it in our minds as a dilemma—not by asking ourselves, How are we going to fix this problem that’s out of control?—but as an invigorating and critical challenge—asking ourselves, How are we going to make it possible for the University to achieve aspirations that are clearly so indispensable to the fulfillment of its mission? We simply must succeed in doing so, and when we do we will produce, beyond bricks and mortar and beyond any particular organizational or curricular reforms, academic excellence that will be of incalculable value to individual students, faculty, and staff, to the University itself, and to the larger communities we serve.

Finally, I want to spend a moment on what always needs to be at the center of our attention. Teaching a course on the Modern Tradition in Poetry once again this fall, I have found myself invigorated and inspired as ever by the profoundly transformative greetings of the spirit that can take place in the classroom between students and teachers. When we speak about academic excellence, it is sometimes easy, perhaps, to let the words trip off our tongues without endowing them with the substantial reality of the experience that is the heart of the University, the life-changing exchange and creation of knowledge when committed faculty members and engaged students get down to the University’s real work of learning and discovery. Yesterday evening, nearly all of our deans and vice presidents joined no less than eight trustees at a reception honoring this year’s winners of UVM’s highest recognition for teaching, the Kroepsch-Maurice Awards. I was greatly moved by the four recipients, a social worker, Julie Richards; a jazz flautist and music theorist, Patricia Julien; a scholar of early modern Spanish literature, Juan Maura; and a vascular surgeon, Steven Shackford. Provost Bramley read their awards citations before the assembled company of colleagues, family members, and friends. It was easy to see that many of us were stirred at the recognition of how richly these exceptional teachers represented, on behalf of all of their colleagues, the variety, range, and power of the attainments of our distinguished faculty. On behalf of John Bramley and me, two long-time teacher-scholars who feel exceptionally privileged to serve the wonderful faculty, staff, and students of this great University, I want to take this moment of closing to reassert our unwavering belief that the work of the faculty is central to our shared enterprise and absolutely critical to our success, as is the work of our talented and dedicated staff. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.