Board Approves TRI, Four Percent Tuition Increase
Release Date: 05-26-2010
Contact: University Communications Staff
Phone: (802) 656-2005 FAX: (802) 656-3203
(Photo: Sally McCay)
The UVM Board of Trustees took action on two high-profile items in its meeting May 21 and 22, electing to increase tuition four percent for the 2010/2011 academic year and giving the go-ahead to the Transdisciplinary Research Initiative, a far-reaching program gaining attention in the national press that will focus a portion of future investment in three areas of interdisciplinary strength at the university.
With some critics calling for a lower tuition hike lower than four percent, including Governor Jim Douglas, who attended the Committee of the Whole meeting Friday afternoon and advocated for no increase, President Daniel Mark Fogel addressed the university's challenging financial position in his report to the full board Friday morning.
"If we could, we would do with less than the 4 percent tuition increase the budget proposes," he said. "But after all the belt tightening the plain fact is that that increase is required simply to cover our bare bones increases in financial aid for students as well as planned increases in total compensation for faculty and staff (with salaries remaining frozen for the second consecutive year for non-union-represented staff who earn more than $75,000)."
Newly elected board chair Robert F. Cioffi, in his first report to fellow trustees, stressed that the TRI was a response to a clear board mandate and represents a beginning, not an end.
"The Transdiciplinary Research Initiative is a direct result of the board's charge to the administration, coming out of last year's retreat, to focus on a set of compelling academic strengths," he said. "The outcomes we are looking at today are the result of an extensive, highly consultative process, and they are the start -- not the finish -- of this important initiative to reach the goals that the board is seeking."
In another significant move, the board gave the university the go-ahead to take all steps necessary to create an affiliated fundraising foundation, following the recommendations and rationale of a trustee work group. Centering UVM's fundraising activities in a non-profit foundation, as many other universities do, will be a historic step for UVM, Fogel said, and will greatly facilitate philanthropic giving as the university prepares to launch its third capital campaign.
"I believe that our chances of success in an appropriately ambitious campaign for UVM will be greatly enhanced," he said, "if the third campaign and the UVM Development Foundation start up concurrently in the course of the next twelve months."
Budget, Finance, and Investment Committee
The bulk of the discussion in the Budget, Finance and Investment Committee focused on the proposed tuition increase and the passing of a $289 million budget. Trustee Susan Hudson-Wilson argued against deviating from the Strategic Financial Plan, which called for a six percent increase. The university has built a quality brand based on a successful high tuition/high aid business model, she said. Lower increases could cut into quality and risk stalling UVM's momentum.
Hudson-Wilson also opposed the use of an unexpected $2.58 million from the State of Vermont, a one-time allocation over and above the university' base budget appropriation, to reduce tuition. Some committee members said they felt comfortable with a 4.8 percent increase -- the plan prior to learning of the additional state funds -- but were concerned that lowering it further would cut things "too close to the bone."
Robert Vaughan, director of Capital Planning and Management, gave a brief update on current capital plan projects, including the renovation of 9,000 square feet of space in the Rowell Building. Committee members voted to move forward with the $2.3 million Rowell Renewal project, which centers on the Clinical Simulation Laboratory. The new laboratory is designed to offer real-world and simulated training opportunities for health professionals to learn, practice and demonstrate competence in specific patent care skills. The renovation will be financed though 100 percent non-debt funding from College of Medicine and Nursing and Health Sciences donors and one-time funds.
In other action items, the Socially Responsible Investment Work Group briefed committee members on recent investments and received a vote of reaffirmation for divestiture from Sudan and from companies that manufacture or distribute cluster munitions and military items using depleted uranium.
BFI members were also informed that the university is looking into potential changes to post-retirement medical benefits and has hired an actuarial firm to conduct an analysis of UVM's current base and to calculate the annual costs of three existing groups of employees: current retirees, active employees with 15 years of service and active employees with less than 15 years of service. President Fogel will charge a task force made up of senior administrators, faculty and staff to study the issue further and bring a recommendation to for plan changes by Aug. 1. Fogel will present a plan based on these findings and other inputs to the Board of Trustees at its October meeting.
Educational Policy and Institutional Resources Committee
A resolution regarding the Transdisciplinary Research Initiative (TRI), also known as Spires of Excellence, was high among agenda items the EPIR committee considered. Through the program the administration sought to focus investment in three core areas of academic strength: Complex Systems; Neuroscience, Behavior and Health; and Food Systems. While a number of trustees voiced concern over the undergraduate student experience under the TRI model, interim provost Jane Knodell assured the committee that the university would continue to recruit faculty who are both outstanding teachers and researchers.
"I would caution against making strong dichotomies between research and the undergraduate experience," Knodell added. "There are opportunities for undergraduates to get involved in research, to learn how new knowledge is created. They are all part of a whole."
The TRI resolution, which passed unanimously, accepted the report from the administration on the status and progress of the initiative, and authorizes the administration to proceed with next steps consistent with the report and as required by customary governance channels. Administrators agreed to bring the board more detailed accountability metrics for TRI at the October meeting.
A report on service learning and internships noted that in a calendar year, 720 courses had an internship component, representing more than 10 percent of classes at UVM over a wide diversity of disciplines.
Brian Reed, associated provost, presented a broad description of plans for more rigorous academic program review, which will now include graduate along with undergraduate programs, as well as an update on progress of the general education program. Both initiatives recognize that UVM's continued advance will need to rely on student success and retention, now that the university has reached its target enrollment and can no longer count on increasingly large entering undergraduate classes.
The committee voted to approve a bachelor of arts in linguistics degree and to eliminate a minor in studio art. Committee members also approved the transfer of the Department of Communications Sciences from the College of Arts and Sciences to the College of Nursing and Health Sciences. The action included a change of the department name to Communication Sciences and Disorders, as well as the approval of the creation of a new bachelor of science in that department, and renaming the graduate degree to the master of science in communication sciences and disorders.