President's Report to the Board of Trustees (October 11, 2002)

Mr. Chairman, members of the Board, colleagues, and friends, it is a great pleasure to open this report with heartfelt thanks to all of the members of the UVM family—Board members, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends—who have made me and Rachel so welcome in our new community and who have made our first hundred days at the University of Vermont (a milestone that we attained this Tuesday, October 8) so happy and fulfilling.

We and our colleagues here at UVM have been extraordinarily busy in the eight weeks that have elapsed since the last Board meeting. It was a thrill to see the move-in of our new students, assisted by 400 volunteers on August 23, one week after our last Board meeting. Colleagues in Student Affairs designed what promises to be a terrific new tradition, a candlelight induction ceremony for the first-year class, which was attended by the vast majority of our 1750 first-year students on August 25. The ceremony concluded with hundreds of students signing a commitment to the UVM ideal of Our Common Ground—a commitment to a truly diverse community, dedicated to respect, integrity, innovation, openness, justice, and responsibility. Week after week saw similarly signal events: the University Convocation on September 3, a moving and essential nondenominational memorial organized by UVM students on September 11, a staff recognition luncheon on the lawn by the Fleming Museum the following week that drew in the neighborhood of 900 colleagues on a beautiful afternoon, and then, last week, a thrilling Homecoming Weekend with some 2,500 registrants—alumni, parents, and friends—enjoying scores of events, many of them sold out, like the a capella concerts in Ira Allen Chapel, the play in Royal Tyler, and the season opener hockey game in Gutterson. The one week that was not marked by a major event here in Burlington saw a reception that drew nearly two hundred alumni and friends in Manhattan, followed the next day by a very successful meeting of the National Campaign Steering Committee. On all of these occasions, and on many others, we were impressed and buoyed by the vitality, optimism, and commitment to the University that seemed in every quarter to be energizing the UVM community.

In my Convocation Address early last month, I called on all members of the University community to weave a fabric of care and of high expectations of ourselves and each other at the University of Vermont. Everywhere, we see high expectations being set and met, and we are deeply impressed by the acumen and quality exemplified in a myriad of activities by our colleagues, students, and alumni. Among the achievements and milestones we would not wish to see go unnoted in the last eight weeks I would cite, especially, the following:

As we work together to raise the competitive metabolism of our wonderful university, it is essential that we expect the best of ourselves and of each other. It is especially important that as educators we expect and demand high performance from our students. I have been deeply gratified to find enthusiasm for the University of Vermont running very high among our students, but I’ve also had encounters from time to time—as I did with two students in the course of Homecoming Weekend—in which students told me that they are not challenged and stretched as much as they would like in their first-year classes. As we bring increasing numbers of academically high-flying students into UVM—larger numbers in every successive class who rival the best and brightest who have stood out in every cohort of students to come to UVM, like the 26 Green and Gold Scholars who entered this fall (marking UVM’s successful recruitment of just over a third of the top high school students in Vermont!)—it is essential that the faculty respond by offering all of our undergraduates a challenging, invigorating immersion in the life of the mind.

In short, we should be striving to challenge and engage all of our students like honors students. Without question, the intensive process of exploring the creation of an Honors College is a key step toward invigorating the intellectual climate of undergraduate education—and also, Provost Bramley and I hope, an important pilot process for the larger task of addressing curricular cohesiveness across all of our undergraduate programs: after all, ripeness is all, as we read in King Lear, and it is high time that this university got on with completing the important work on a core curriculum begun by the Committee on Baccalaureate Education during the Lattie Coor administration virtually a generation ago. It is important to note, please, that the Faculty Senate has yet to approve sending the proposed Honors College forward for consideration by the Board of Trustees. We must not take faculty approval for granted. Accordingly, I cannot be more urgent in urging our faculty colleagues to give this well conceived proposal a favorable reception. Let’s take special care not to make the perfect the enemy of the good: with resolution and boldness, we can launch an exciting Honors College next fall that will be a critical tool for advancing undergraduate education at UVM and also for helping us to sustain the qualitative improvement in the student body that has been so dramatic over the course of the past year.

Just as we must have expectations in our activities in undergraduate education, we need to raise the competitive metabolism of UVM by refocusing and intensifying our efforts in graduate education, especially at the doctoral level. Again, I am calling on the provost, the deans, and the faculty to undertake a very difficult task-to take a hard look at reducing the number of graduate programs at UVM: with a graduate enrollment of some 1,100, it simply doesn't make sense to offer 92 graduate degree programs, one degree program for every twelve graduate students. It doesn't make sense economically, and it doesn't make sense programmatically in terms of building the critical mass for truly distinguished graduate programs. At the same time, to sustain UVM's marvelous position in American higher education as the nation's smallest genuine research university, we must have a more intensive effort in graduate education, increasing the enrollment of advanced students, but concentrating that enrollment in a somewhat smaller number of better focused and better supported degree programs.

There are a number of pressing imperatives that I believe the campus community must embrace as challenges that we will surmount together with determination and with joy. Among those imperatives, I count as especially important the following:

I have been giving a great deal of thought to the way in which I would like my administration to be organized in order to advance the University as effectively as possible as we seek to respond to these imperatives. Early next week, I am aiming to announce to the University community a plan for restructuring the central administration that will entail a number of new and reconceptualized positions-but no growth, you may be assured, in the total number of personnel. It is not too early to say, however, that we are launching searches for several key positions, including a Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School and a Vice President for Finance and Administrative Services-nor is it too early to say that these will be national searches with a very high premium placed on advancing the University's critical goals in diversity and in the pursuit of excellence-goals that, as I have argued elsewhere, including in the Convocation Address-are inextricably linked with each other.

In all of my encounters with members of the UVM family far and wide, I have been deeply impressed with the commitment people have to the University of Vermont. It was only after the last Board meeting that I completed the Vermont travels that took me all over our fascinating state in my first two months on campus. I found an enormous appetite across the State for a vital, productive relationship with a University in which Vermonters can take great pride, and a deepening recognition of the value to Vermonters of having a flagship research institution that serves as a center of innovation and problem-solving, as a driver of economic development and social well-being, and as the portal of access for the people of the State to a university education at the highest competitive national level. On campus, my deepening acquaintance with our students provides more examples every day of their commitment to their own growth, intellectually and personally, and to their extraordinary quality as scholars and as human beings deeply engaged in the welfare of their University, the communities in which they live, and the larger society. I have also been deeply impressed with the leadership our students have shown in working with our colleagues in Student Affairs to develop more rewarding programming on the campus, including more late-night activities, from concerts like the Jurassic 5 gig in the Patrick Gymnasium that drew 2,800 students to late-night movies in the Cook Commons and open mike coffee houses in the North Lounge of Billings. Students have been key players in our efforts to assess and improve the student experience on campus, and I urge all students to follow the lead of our outstanding SGA leaders by becoming actively engaged in this process.

As for our faculty and staff, I cannot say enough about how grateful I am for the enthusiasm, the commitment, the genuine passion for advancing UVM, and the quality that I see exemplified again and again in the work of countless colleagues. As for my closest colleagues in leadership at the institutional level, led by Provost Bramley and the rest of the top administrative team, I have boundless confidence that the University will be in good hands whenever-and increasingly-I am engaged in the critical tasks you hired me to take on as UVM's president, many of which-for instance the Comprehensive Campaign to raise private funds to support our enterprise better, with special emphasis on building resources to provide our faculty and students with the resources they so richly deserve-will take me increasingly off campus and, often, out of Vermont. In fact, I have concluded that the University will realize its highest return on investment if I devote something on the order of at least half of my time to the Campaign in the next few years, and I am eager for the imperative for my doing so to be well understood by everyone in the campus community, so that students, staff, and faculty alike will understand why it is not only appropriate but also absolutely essential that I not be available for every event and every meeting where you might have like to have seen the president in an earlier era. Accordingly, I hope you will accept with pleasure and with the high confidence in them that I have come to have that as often as not-probably more often than not-you will encounter my colleagues in my place.

Finally, one of my primary aims since my appointment was announced last winter has been to invigorate the intellectual and cultural life of the campus for students and faculty. Drawing on bequests to the University available for one-time use in the President's Discretionary Fund, we are going to create a President's Lecture Series designed to bring to campus, in response to competitive proposals from faculty, twelve to fifteen lecturers every year who represent the best that is thought and known in disciplines across the campus. Presidential lecturers will be members of the national academies, Nobel Prize winners, and others of similarly high attainment. They will be asked to make two presentations in the course of their visits, one a major lecture designed for the general public and one a departmental symposium designed especially for students and faculty within each lecturer's discipline. The visits will also feature special occasions when the Presidential Lecturers interact with students without competition from faculty and staff. They will be designed not only to expose the campus community to a steady stream of the intellectual leaders of our time, but also to expose our visitors to the extraordinary quality of the University of Vermont. I will be providing full details of this exciting new program to the Faculty Senate when I meet with them at their next meeting, this coming Monday afternoon.