The Fogel Era Begins
"Try to be one of the people on
whom nothing is lost.
a July afternoon in Montpelier, new University of Vermont President Daniel
Mark Fogel invokes words of American poet Walt Whitman and numbers of
the United States Census Bureau with equal comfort, authority, and precision.
Fielding questions from reporters at the Associated Press offices, Fogel
shares personal history as a poet and his early-1970s stint teaching creative
writing in Mexico. Not quite Jack Kerouac, but intriguing stuff, especially
from a guy in a pinstriped suit. Noting that higher education leader and
prolific poet arent exactly compatible pursuits, Fogel says he now
lacks Whitmans famous description of the mindset for writing verse,
the opportunity to loafe and invite my soul. There are nods
and knowing smiles around the table; after all, inside many journalists
there lurks a poet.
Minutes and a quick walk along State Street later, Fogels audience
is a small group of business and government leaders gathered in a conference
room at the Vermont Bankers Association offices. The presidents
point is his universitys economic impact on the state, and he makes
it with census data that shows $1 million increased lifetime earnings
on average for a college graduate.
The teacher in him is on display as Fogel makes the numbers real and relevant.
He offers Rutland County, 1,550-UVM alumni strong, as an example. That
factors out to $15.5 billion of increased earnings over those residents
lifetimes. Or, to make it a bit easier to picture, thats $38.7 million
increased earnings each year in just one Vermont county. Speaking without
notes, Fogel spins out the numbers like digits on a combination lock until
he has made his case and the thing pulls open. Nods and knowing smiles
around another table.
Fogel is scarcely a month into the job but well into a statewide tour
that day in Montpelier. His round of visits already has given many in
Vermont a sense for the mans intellect, energy, and force of will.
He tells the group at the Bankers Association that the tour is, in large
part, a chance to listen, but he opens with comments that sound a bit
like a stump speech. Surveying the work before him, Fogel says, Im
not the kind of person who would have wanted to come and just run a well-oiled
Newtonian machine and watch the gears turn soundlessly. We have work to
do, but were building on a very solid foundation in an institution
that is a very valuable asset to the state of Vermont. As he often
does, Fogel closes the statement with the punctuation of a quick smile
and a steady gaze.
Another point made: If Dan Fogel thought being president of the University
of Vermont was going to be easy, he would not be here. For this poet,
professor, provost, and president a man who has spent much of his
life searching for the precise word or negotiating the labyrinthian prose
of novelist Henry James zest for a challenge that promises a worthy
payoff is a habit of being.
Complex jobs demand complex people. A university president does well to
bring the skills of a politician, a poet, and a numbers wonk and accompany
them with some impressive teaching and scholarly credentials. It also
wouldnt hurt to have the characteristic Fogel noted would be useful
in UVMs next athletic director a little touch of snapping
turtle. The particular mix that is Dan Fogel seems to have been
in the making for most of his fifty-four years.
Columbus. Ithaca. Baton Rouge. Burlington. Fogel has lived nearly all
of his life in four college towns, his childhood, teen, and college years
all spent within earshot of the hallowed chimes of Cornell Universitys
McGraw Tower. Family history with Cornell echoed in the air, as well.
Fogels father, an English professor and department chair, and his
future father-in-law, an economics professor and dean, had a combined
Cornell tenure of eighty-five years.
Given a house where the bookshelves were thick with James Joyce and William
Shakespeare, and a family where dads 1962-63 academic year sabbatical
in London meant you got to discover the Beatles before your friends, Dan
Fogel grew up in some fairly predictable ways. Drawn to child-friendly
biographies of presidents and generals, Fogel also dabbled in the harder
stuff. He recalls staying home sick from school and taking the Shakespeare
out of the bookcase, intoning the lines with dramatic flourish, or tackling
Joyces daunting Ulysses at age twelve after his father told
him that many considered it the greatest novel in the English language.
Could there ever have been doubt such a boy would make tenure, perhaps
by age fifteen? Yes, Fogel says, other paths beckoned.
For one, there was music. Fogel rubs the calluses on the fingertips of
his left hand, started at age seven and toughened once again that morning
with a session on the electric guitar. Critiquing his own vocals and strumming,
he has said, It aint high art, but it feels good.
Old cowboy songs and the sort of authentic American folk catalogued by
Alan Lomaxs mid-20th century recordings drew his first interest,
but Leadbelly and the Streets of Laredo lost some of their
pull on young Fogel that fateful day in England when he switched on the
radio and heard If theres anything that you want/If theres
anything I can do/Just call on me and Ill send it along/With love
from me to you.
That did it. I had recurrent dreams of being the fifth Beatle,
Fogel says, placing himself in the company of roughly 90 percent of his
generation. He sets himself apart from the crowd, though, with the Sixties
credential of seeing the Fab Fours Shea Stadium concert in person.
A bit less likely for a child of his era, Fogel remembers having a radio
stuck to his ear rocking around the clock to the 1960 national political
conventions. Fogel looks back and supposes that he drove everyone
crazy with the singular passion of a relentlessly optimistic, blonde-crew-cutted-12-year-old
on the campaign trail for his hero, John F. Kennedy. The political bug
held early into his undergraduate years at Cornell, where Fogel initially
studied government before following his bent for the written word.
Appropriately, right when Fogels passion for politics was strongest,
he met a debate partner to be reckoned with, Rachel Kahn, another Cornell
faculty kid seated across the table in seventh grade home room. Several
years would pass before they became a couple in high school, and then
theyd have a number of years on their own before reuniting and marrying
when Fogel was in graduate school.
Rachel Kahn-Fogel describes that first meeting of formidable 13-year-old
minds. We just used to argue all the time, very verbal. Did not
like each other, couldnt stand each other, in fact, she says,
laughing. She adds that a healthy dialogue has always been the way in
the Kahn-Fogel household. Family dinners with son Nicholas, a Stanford
law student, and daughter Rosemary, a teacher and writer in Baton Rouge,
were lively affairs.
While her husbands life work has been rooted in the written word,
Rachel Kahn-Fogel finds her expression in the visual world through painting.
Her large watercolors in vivid hues bring to mind still lives with a pop
art sensibility. One that hangs in Fogels office is shades of orange
and purple and depicts a pair of binoculars, a safety pin, an hourglass.
Although she describes herself as shyer than her gregarious husband, she
still shares his infectious enthusiasm for the, well, schmoozing that
is part of being president or presidents spouse. Looking ahead to
getting involved beyond campus, Kahn-Fogel eschews the organizational
board duty that often draws the attention of those in her position; shes
more drawn to front-line volunteer work. Im not big on meetings,
she says, Id rather be out in the community doing something
with art and kids.
Dan Fogels love for language is audible in his long sentences, often
seasoned with a literary quote pulled forth from a memory that is a bit
frightening for its depth and accuracy. And its visible in the new
floor-to-ceiling bookshelves lining the north wall of the Presidents
Office in the Waterman Building. A good deal of Fogels life is on
those shelves, and in the course of a ninety-minute conversation he steps
over often to find a well-worn first edition, a scholarly journal, or
a university planning report written with a clarity and flourish rare
in such documents.
In a perfect world, Fogel would be able to take the second volume of the
Norton Anthology of English Literature off the shelves a bit more
often. Neither the provost he was at Louisiana State nor the president
he is at UVM has time for sharing his passion for writing and literature
with students in a classroom, a reality that Fogel accepts with some wistfulness.
He notes that his favorite course to teach introduces students to Romantic
poets such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, and Byron.
My teaching is infused with my love of the material and my joy in
it. If the students didnt feel the soaring of the spirit that I
felt in encountering the spirits of those poets
As his words trail off, the look that follows finishes the sentence
then I wasnt doing my job.
I love to teach and truly feel like the guy in Frosts Road
Not Taken, Fogel says. Im sorry that I cant
travel both roads and be one traveler.
Fogel approached his scholarship with an intensity similar to his teaching.
He has focused his critical writing on late 19th- and early 20th-century
writers such as Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf,
and, in particular, Henry James. Just three years into his career at LSU,
Fogel made his presence felt in the field when he founded a new journal
and scholarly society centered on the study of James. It was a bold move
for an assistant professor, a career passage when most academics are absorbed
with finding their rhythm as teachers and producing the publications that
tenure demands. The combination of strategy, determination, persuasive
power, and chutzpah that enabled Fogel to pull it off was an early sign
that he would be well-suited to the demands of higher education management
Walk up to the third floor of Bailey/Howe Library and youll find
the Henry James collection at catalog number ps2123. Youll also
find, in the numerous volumes with the name Leon Edel on the
binding, ample hard cover evidence of the hurdle Fogel faced in starting
the Henry James Review. An eminent James scholar, Edel controlled
access to the James family archive and was known to be a somewhat crusty
character who had thwarted similar efforts.
Undaunted, Fogel set to work building on relationships with scholars Adeline
Tintner and Jim Tuttleton, who knew Edel well. He listened carefully and
stuck close to their advice on how best to work with Edel and receive
his all-important blessing. Fogels homework paid off and testimony
to the connection he built with Edel through the years is found in the
nineteen hours of videotaped interviews the young professor recorded with
the senior James scholar not long before his death.
Fogel walks over to his bookshelves and takes down a copy of the first
edition of the Henry James Review, dated 1979. He says, I
tend to take action by sticking my neck out and saying Im going
to do something; then Im driven to follow through by a deep sense
of not wanting to be shamed if I dont get it done. Fogel pauses,
then places his thought into something of an existential nutshell: Commitment
that isnt lived out isnt real commitment.
Fogel would apply that ethic throughout his career at LSU, which began
to turn from teaching to administration in the mid-1980s when he directed
the universitys graduate studies program in English. In the 1990s,
he went along the diverging administrative road in earnest with ascending
steps of responsibility dean of the graduate school, vice provost
for academic affairs, and executive vice chancellor and provost, a post
Fogel held for the past five years.
A number of his leadership achievements at LSU could serve as a roadmap
for the tasks ahead at UVM. As LSUs provost, he led an extensive
strategic planning effort targeting priority programs and backing them
with significant funding increases. Fogel was active in LSUs drive
to increase both public and private support, including a $22 million increase
in the university restricted state operating budget last year, and
a highly successful capital campaign. In addition, he led a wide-ranging
effort to enhance the intellectual climate for undergraduate education
at Louisiana State.
Answering a question about the particular challenges of leadership at
a university compared to a corporate setting, Fogel says, Ive
never been used to a command and control structure. Promoting a clear
understanding of issues and building consensus on how we ought to do things
from here on in is second nature to me. And he shares the story
of the day he called his father with the news of his 1992 promotion to
Graduate School dean at LSU. Ephim Fogel couched congratulations to his
son in a humbling reminder Dont you ever forget that
professor is the highest rank in the university.
Professor of Art Michael Crespo, a longtime friend and colleague from
Louisiana State, saw Fogels capacity for leadership firsthand. Im
convinced that Dan is such a wise and surefooted leader because for all
of his life he has witnessed the workings of the individual and the broader
social order through the unrelenting scrutiny of the poet, Crespo
says. More so, he had the ability to process his sightings,
his poetry into the most humane and efficient bureaucracy he could imagine.
He touched so many with such intimate concern and friendship. And we responded
by engaging more genuinely and passionately in the conduct of our university.
LSU has not been in a better spirit of working community, at least not
in the thirty-one years Ive been on campus. Its Dans
In most of his endeavors teacher, scholar, or administrator
a guiding light of Fogels career has been a simple sentence from
the master himself. Henry James was addressing fellow writers when he
wrote, Try to be one of those on whom nothing is lost, but
Fogel suggests that many, whether first-year students or university presidents,
would do well to heed that advice.
A BOLD SENSE OF WHAT IS POSSIBLE
There are times when and places where it appears that being a university
president might not be too hard and could even be a little fun
sitting on the podium at graduation or in the bleachers at a conference
championship basketball game, for instance. Meeting with residents in
a Burlington neighborhood thickly populated with college students generally
wouldnt fit the scenario.
Its Dan Fogels first week on the job, a hot day in early July,
as he stands in Pomeroy Park, at the corner of North and Booth streets.
Fogels on a day-long tour with Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle;
stops have included happy convergences of town and gown such as the Rubenstein
Ecosystem Science Laboratory and the adjacent Champlain Basin Science
Center, where academic research meets public outreach and education. And
now the tour has arrived at this spot that is not so happy. The neighborhood,
given its location roughly equidistant from the UVM Green and downtown
bars, rates a sort of epicenter status in Burlingtons battle to
prove that college town and peaceful city are not mutually exclusive terms.
Many of those gathered in Pomeroy participate in the Neighborhood Action
Project, an initiative the university has been involved with that has
brought improvements. Yet, theres a sense that more could be done.
Sandy Wynne, a Willard Street resident and UVM alumna, tells Fogel, We
need a can-do attitude from the university and that hasnt been the
Weve got a can-do attitude now, the president pledges,
and urges Wynne to give his administration time, given that he is just
some seventy-two hours into the job. As he walks down Isham Street, he
also promises to return to the neighborhood in the wee and perilous
hours for a firsthand glimpse of the challenges neighbors face.
(Fogel made good on the promise from midnight to 2 a.m. on September 7
when he joined a Neighborhood Action Project walk.)
In August, Fogel and Clavelle made another public appearance together,
this one at Burlingtons City Hall, to affirm past progress on off-campus
student behavior and related city quality of life issues, and unveil plans
to further that work. Nine new initiatives for the fall 2002 semester
include stepped up roles by UVM Police Services in typically noisy areas,
late night university-run off-campus shuttle buses, and more aggressive
university oversight of off-campus student behavior.
On-campus as well, early signs indicate the Fogel administration will
move forward swiftly. In August, at Fogels first board meeting as
president, trustees urged moving forward with a plan to establish a university-wide
honors college beginning with the next academic year. It is the sort of
enhancement that the new president sees as essential in stepping up the
intellectual climate on campus for undergraduates. Measured against the
sometimes glacial pace of change in higher education, the honors college
is being pursued by administration and faculty with notable speed.
Delivering his convocation address opening the academic year in September,
Fogel speaks forcefully, in a booming voice that on first meeting reminds
many of former UVM president Lattie Coor. I am not a patient man,
Fogel tells the faculty, staff, and students in Ira Allen Chapel, and
I am intent on unleashing the power of our marvelous faculty and dedicated
staff so that together they can ensure that we advance this great university
with a generous and bold sense of what is possible.
Fogel shares an equally generous and bold sense of what currently is at
UVM. He frequently cites evidence student application rates, admissions
selectivity, significant recent increases in external research grants
and awards that UVM is better than it has ever been. Yet, he makes
it clear that higher aspiration is essential. The nations top student-centered
research universities places like Tufts, Brown, Washington University,
and Princeton provide models for that aspiration. Fogel adds that
UVM can go them one better by bringing its public character and
long tradition of civic engagement to the table.
Fogel may not be interested in playing caretaker for that well-oiled
Newtonian machine, but its also clear he wouldnt be
interested in leading a university that he didnt think had the potential
to step up among the nations elite. UVMs new president feels
fortunate to be here as he embarks on the next and what he hopes will
be the last step of his career in higher education.
One afternoon shortly after his move to Burlington, Fogel walks past the
Ira Allen statue on the Green and toward the top of College Street. He
stops in his tracks and says, Look at that! gesturing at Lake
Champlain and the Adirondacks beyond. Its a newcomers exclamation,
made by most when they first set foot on this campus. But as Dan Fogel
says it, one has the sense he will be saying it with the same enthusiasm
for years to come.