Dean Eleanor Miller Welcomes Back Students
Release Date: 09-08-2010
Dear UVM College of Arts and Sciences Student,
I write to welcome you, or welcome you back, to the scholarly community that is the College of Arts and Sciences here at the University of Vermont. I hope that by this time you have a roster of classes and co-curricular activities that you find stimulating and challenging and that you have begun to do the work associated with those commitments. I would like to take the opportunity provided by the launch of a new academic year to emphasize your role in advancing the mission of the scholarly community of which you are part. In all of your classes, your instructors are scholar/teachers. They seek to advance knowledge and to use that knowledge to solve some of the most pressing problems that confront the globe at this point in its history and to inform you about, and engage you in, that enterprise. Our expectation is that you will participate in all of your courses with a sense of shared responsibility for this mission. No faculty member in the College, no matter how distinguished, has all the answers, even in his or her specialty. We all have more to learn. There are new ideas and novel points of view to consider; foreign cultures, even here at home, to learn about; new music to hear; new art to view; new emotions to be moved by. Your active participation in these learning experiences will illuminate your life and the lives of those with whom you share the planet; it will allow us all to consider innovative ways of thinking, learning, and, ultimately of making the world a kinder, gentler, more sustainable place. In short, we, the members of the faculty, need you to help us do the unique work of a university, because for as long as you are here, and even as a UVM graduate, you are an integral part of this scholarly community.
I urge you to take this responsibility seriously. You should plan to spend, on average, three hours of dedicated study for each hour of class. You should come to class prepared to contribute because you’ve done the work assigned, reflected on what you are learning, and tried to relate it to your past experiences and other sources of knowledge. It should seem as utterly absurd for you to be texting in class or surfing the web as it would be for you to barge into an operating room. Because you are part of a community engaged in the very serious work of knowledge creation, you also need to be very respectful of the space and time of your colleagues. Here I include every member of the community of scholars, from fellow students, to clerical staff, to faculty and administrators. You need to respect their time, their need to be able to focus, their need for dedicated space. In practice, this translates into your understanding that as the great sociologist, Max Weber, pointed out in his essay “Science as a Vocation,” the call to scholarship is a sacred calling, a vocation.
The culture of the College has four distinct emphases; it is, and aspires to remain: intellectually rigorous, personal, progressive and pragmatic. Your experience here at UVM should be challenging; you should expect that your academic work will be held to the highest standards and that, as a result, good grades will not be come by easily. As a result of rigorous assessment, you should, at least on occasion, feel the joy that every scholar feels when he or she has mastered material that at first seems impossibly difficult or has figured out how to see a problem differently and perhaps crafted a creative solution in response. Although most of the information you need to plot your course of study is available on the university or CAS website, you have been assigned faculty advisors whom you should not hesitate to see about how best to learn what you most passionately want to know. I would also encourage you to talk to them about your intellectual development and how it relates to your career goals. You may also have heard about UVM’s Transdisciplinary Research Initiative, an effort to focus investment in a handful of distinctive areas of research specialty, where UVM already has a solid reputation, concentrate the energies of large numbers of the UVM community on concrete problems that might be solved by transdisciplinary research in these areas, and thus push the university to the forefront nationally and internationally. There will be room in the TRI focus areas of Complex Systems, Neuroscience and Behavior, and Food Sustainability for undergraduates to get involved along with world-renowned researchers. In fact, there already are opportunities. I would encourage you to talk to faculty about how you might get involved if these areas are of interest to you. In the meantime, you should absolutely seek out other opportunities for research partnerships with faculty either formally, through the programs offered to all undergraduates through the Honors College, or by simply approaching a faculty member and asking if there is some research you might help with. We hope that the education you receive in CAS will also be progressive and pragmatic. Before you graduate, we hope that you will participate in an internship or a service-learning opportunity, study abroad or complete the research required for an honors thesis. I guarantee that each of these educational opportunities will inform your classroom learning and, in turn, be informed by it. The four characteristics I mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph are an outgrowth of the rich heritage of UVM as an educational institution, one whose founding fathers thought that its students, through their active engagement with the world, could fashion themselves into citizens whose value to their societies would be beyond price.
I realize that I have written to you at length. I did so because I am communicating to you about educational issues about which I feel passionate. My message has been a serious one because I feel deeply that the world will so need people of the sort that UVM has historically produced and, with your energy and dedication, will continue to produce. I could end by saying that, of course, you should also have fun. However, I believe that what I’ve described is the road to an undergraduate career and a life that really is fun in the most fulsome and genuine sense. Besides, I realize that no one needs to tell you to enjoy all that UVM and beautiful Vermont has to offer you by way of the truly extracurricular.
With my sincere wishes for an amazing year,
Eleanor M. Miller, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences