Larry Forcier Retires from RSENR after 36 Years of Leadership at UVM
- By Shari Halik
Associate Professor Lawrence Forcier confessed in a recent interview that he had violated his personal 70-Rule. Larry had vowed he would do no more teaching after he reached the age of 70. But he had only taught NR 103, the Rubenstein School’s Ecosystem, Ecology and Environment course, once before he turned 70, and he wanted “one more crack at it.” So, fall semester 2013, he taught the class once more before retiring after a very full 36 years of leadership and teaching at UVM.
Larry led a long and illustrious career and was a leader in many regards. “A dean. A teacher, advisor, and mentor. A passionate believer in higher education, a student advocate, and an individual who understands and relishes the ‘meaning’ of Vermont’,” is how Kate Baldwin, long-time staff member who worked closely with Larry, describes him.
He grew up in Jaffrey, New Hampshire and attended Phillips Exeter Academy, Dartmouth, and then Yale where he earned degrees in forest ecology. He took a job as an assistant professor at the University of Montana’s School of Forestry in 1970, the year of the first Earth Day.
“It was a time of enormous upheaval over traditional forestry on national forests, among other environmental concerns,” stated Larry, who found himself front and center in the culmination of what was called the Bitterroot Controversy. That year, Arnold Bolle, dean of the University of Montana’s School of Forestry, and colleagues produced what became known as the Bolle Report that helped stimulate new national forest guidelines on clearcutting, multiple public use, and the passing of the National Forest Management Act of 1976.
In parallel with the Bolle Report, Larry worked with the Montana faculty toward greater integration of their School’s natural resource disciplines. He taught forest ecology and other environmental courses and coordinated graduate studies.
In 1975, Larry took a position as associate professor in the College of Natural Resources at the University of Wisconsin – Steven’s Point where he was academic director of a summer field session and helped coordinate a program accreditation by the Society of American Foresters. He grew to miss major involvement with graduate education and research, and he returned to the University of Montana in 1976, soon becoming acting dean of the School of Forestry.
Before long, a job opened up at the University of Vermont under Director Hugo John and in 1977, Larry became associate professor and the first assistant —then associate — director of the School of Natural Resources (SNR). In 1983, Larry became acting director. After a national search, he was selected as director of the School and, in 1985, was appointed dean.
“The 1980s were a time of low enrollment in natural resource schools across the country,” explains Larry. Larry led the gradual build up of SNR’s enrollment through integration of the School’s disciplines and by focusing on student educational needs and outcomes. He rejuvenated the student advisory board (SAB). “I found student leaders thoughtful and mature. With a better sense of their hopes and perspectives, I became a far better administrator, and with faculty help, we moved the School forward.” The School’s integrated undergraduate core curriculum came onboard in 1985. During his tenure, Larry also pushed for the School to excel at and regularly review its academic advising.
"Larry was an exceptional academic advisor and teacher,” notes David Seekell (NR ’09), who is finishing up his doctoral work this spring in ecosystem ecology at the University of Virginia. “He is an advocate for the students and this has made him tremendously popular among them. Personally, Larry was instrumental jump-starting my own career as an ecosystem ecologist by guiding me to the right opportunities outside of UVM and creating opportunities within UVM when appropriate ones were not available. There is no doubt that Larry's legacy — the school he helped shape and the students he taught — will have a lasting impact on environmental research and policy in Vermont and beyond.”
Larry valued a diversity of opinions, and he brought many people and groups together to help review and strengthen the School’s programs. To encourage fresh ideas and provide a sounding board, Larry created the School’s Board of Advisers with founding members Lola Aiken, Gary Black, the late Herb Bormann, Eugene Kalkin (UVM ’50), the late Steve Rubenstein, the late U.S. Senator Bob Stafford, Ann Swanson (WFB ’79), Ross Whaley, and others.
“Larry...has spent most of his career committed to the University of Vermont, its students and its faculty,” states Ross Whaley, long-time Board of Advisers member and former professor and president of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. “This kind of commitment has contributed to the reputation of the Rubenstein School and the University of Vermont soaring over the past couple of decades."
To make sure the School addressed the needs of the state, Larry worked closely with the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and Connie Motyka, former commissioner of Vermont’s Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, and Vermont’s U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy and his aide at the time, Bob Paquin.
"Over the course of his multi-faceted career at UVM, Larry has been an early, positive force for Vermont in so many arenas one can hardly list them for fear of omitting something critical,” notes Bob Paquin, now Vermont State Director of the USDA Farm Service Agency. He lists several of Larry’s countless contributions including: strengthening the role of public policy in natural resources education; civil dialogue in public lands management, particularly Green Mountain National Forest planning and the Northern Forest Lands Council; forest health monitoring and establishment of the Vermont Monitoring Cooperative; establishment of the Lake Champlain Basin Program, Research Consortium, Rubenstein Ecosystem Science Laboratory, and ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center in concert with Senator Patrick Leahy. “Throughout it all, he never lost sight of the vital University role of research in public policy development,” sums up Bob.
With the Senator’s help, Larry brought the Vermont Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and the Lake Champlain Sea Grant into the School to make sure the School was reflecting a mission of integration of disciplines. Early on, he worked with Steve and Beverly Rubenstein, benefactors for both the Rubenstein Lab and later the Rubenstein School. He hired Professor Alan McIntosh to strengthen the Environmental Sciences program in the School. With former Professor Don DeHayes as graduate program coordinator and former Professor Alan Cassell as associate dean, they began to strengthen the graduate research program in the School.
Larry worked with benefactors Crea (a long-time Board of Advisers member) and Philip Lintilhac and others, including long-time former Captain Dick Furbush, to put a new Melosira research vessel on Lake Champlain. He also helped to attract former Professor John Todd, renowned ecological designer, to UVM to establish a foothold in ecological design which held much evolving student interest.
“We all owe Larry a great deal,” acknowledges long-time Rubenstein Professor Bob Manning. “He's been a valued leader, supporter, teacher, mentor, colleague, and friend. Larry has helped lead the School from its very beginnings — a small group of faculty, staff, and students joining together to advance the scientific and interdisciplinary objectives of the Environmental Movement — to the accomplished, influential, and advantageous position the Rubenstein School now occupies.”
While serving as dean of SNR, UVM called upon Larry to simultaneously serve as dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), as well as director of UVM Extension, from 1991 to 1998. He is credited with streamlining the College’s academic and administrative structure, providing sound fiscal management, strengthening its curricula, building an alumni program, resurrecting strong relations with the Vermont legislature, and revitalizing a board of advisors and student advisory board. To honor Larry for his accomplishments as dean of CALS, the College created the Lawrence K. Forcier Outstanding Senior award, given annually to a CALS top graduating senior who has distinguished himself or herself through academic achievement and outstanding service.
"I can honestly say that my best UVM years were spent working with Larry,” shares Catherine Donnelly, professor and former interim and associate dean of CALS. “He was a leader from that era where institutional interests were put above self-interests, and everything he did reflected his love for UVM. He skillfully guided the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, UVM Extension, and the Rubenstein School through a critical period of change, and [these] organizations continue to thrive as a result of his leadership and insights. Larry cared deeply about UVM students, faculty and staff, and their well-being. A consummate steward of the environment and Vermont's working landscape, his 36 years of service to this institution have left a legacy about which he can be proud.”
In 1998, Larry stepped down as dean of both SNR and CALS and, while retaining his post as director of UVM Extension, took on the position as senior advisor to then UVM President Judith Ramaley and as UVM liaison to the Vermont State House.
In 1999, SNR Dean Don DeHayes announced the establishment of the Lawrence K. Forcier Scholarship, to honor Larry and to enhance educational access for undergraduate students who exhibit a commitment to natural resource stewardship, appreciation of Vermont’s working landscape, and ability to communicate clearly and directly. The scholarship is now the Lawrence and Anne Forcier Scholarship to honor Larry and also his wife Anne Trask Forcier (UVM ‘79), executive director of board relations at the UVM Foundation, for their commitment to students beyond the academic setting.
“What I will always appreciate about Larry and his wonderful partner Anne, is that they always managed to make time to be supportive in so many ways, whether it was attending a student life event I had planned or providing me with a home away from home by including me in their plans for Easter dinner,” states Dana Gulley (ENVS ’10) who runs the community outreach, advocacy, and volunteer programs for the non-profit Riverkeeper in Ossining, New York. “I think part of what makes Larry's level of engagement so meaningful and unparalleled is the fact that he has played an equally important role in the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of other students throughout his career. That's something to be extremely proud of."
Throughout his career, Larry never wavered from one purpose over all others: to improve and impact the lives of his students. In 2003, he returned to the Rubenstein School as a member of the faculty. Following in the footsteps of the legendary John “Doc” Donnelly, Larry took over teaching NR 1, the School’s introduction to natural resource conservation for all incoming students. During the ten years he taught NR 1, Larry became a legend himself as he led some two-thousand first-year students on outdoor labs and introduced them to the natural wonders of Vermont.
“After his very effective diversion into Vermont agriculture at CALS and Extension, it was so fitting that Larry returned to his true passion — introducing students to the academic world of natural resources through the rigorous courses he taught and internships he coordinated,” points out Bob Paquin. “What a full, sustainable career circle."
With the encouragement of two UVM alumni, Larry created the Charles Ross Environmental Public Service Practicum course in honor of the late Charlie Ross, a political and environmental leader and UVM lecturer in political science. With Larry as instructor and advisor, students interned with members of the Vermont State Legislature in Montpelier and worked on environmental issues. The class culminates in a trip to Washington, DC where students have an opportunity to compare federal and state level natural resource and environmental policy.
Former Charlie Ross Practicum intern and teaching assistant and recipient of the Forcier Scholarship, Josh Benes (ENSC ’11) states, “Throughout my undergraduate studies, Larry was always there cheering me on, guiding me through tough challenges, and enlightening me with his ideas and worldview. His principles of ecosystem science have shaped my perspective and helped me discover the impact I want to have on the world. Anyone who knows Larry knows they can trust him for guidance and inspiration. I hope I can make half the impact to the communities I work with as Larry has had to the Rubenstein School.”
“I will miss the students the most,” admits Larry. “My hope for the environment has been uplifted by my interaction with them. I got the most pleasure out of a student getting something he or she didn’t understand before and becoming a superstar in his or her own endeavor, big or small.”