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“Acting Boldly to do What Must Be Done”

by Daniel Mark Fogel, President

The University of Vermont took a historic step forward in defining its future during the February meetings of the Board of Trustees. Discussion centered around a document I presented to the board that described my vision for the University in academic year 2012-13. (On April 3, I’ll be showing the Trustees a detailed financial plan for sustaining investment in the vision; by the second week in April, the financials will be on the web at www.uvm.edu/president.) I’m gratified that this proposed vision inspired the fruitful trustees’ discussion that I hoped it would. And the wider University and state communities added their voices when the vision was shared on campus and through the Vermont media. In the words that follow, my intention is to widen the circle again to the readers of Vermont Quarterly — alumni, parents, and friends of the University of Vermont across the country and throughout the world.

We have come to a critical moment in the history of the University of Vermont, approaching what many of us believe to be a tipping point that can carry us decisively and permanently into the first-rank of American universities — but only if we understand rightly who we are, how to define our special place within the constellation of peer institutions, how to make the most of our resources and opportunities, and how to be at once bold and smart, seizing the main chances, driving hard for competitive advantage, and making investments that will yield high return at acceptable levels of risk.

The ground that is ours to seize is lofty: the University of Vermont is positioned to establish itself as an internationally distinguished research university that offers undergraduates the human scale, flexibility, and responsiveness of a liberal arts college. The hallmark of all our endeavors must be quality — in our academic programs, in the student experience inside and outside the classroom, and in research and scholarship.

The foundation on which the entire enterprise must rest is excellence in undergraduate education. So we must offer outstanding programs in first-rate facilities with first-rate faculty, and the amenities of student life on campus must be as attractive and welcoming as they are among our strongest competitors. I’m convinced that to compete we must invest in faculty and staff; student scholarships; programmatic initiatives like the Honors College; attractive residence halls that promote community; new academic and research facilities; intercollegiate athletics; maintenance and beautification of the campus; and instructional technology.

These investments will require aggressive, efficient management of the University, the accrual of private resources to support faculty, students, programs, and facilities through the University’s development programs, appropriate public investment, and a long-term enrollment plan that allows us to minimize the institution’s historic economy-of-scale challenge while building student and programmatic quality.

Now I would like to briefly paint a picture of where I think UVM can be if we act to take the University past the tipping point. This is neither a blueprint nor a set of specific promises. Everything that follows is meant simply to be suggestive of a plausible, and in my view highly desirable, set of outcomes for the University of Vermont to achieve over the course of the next decade. Subject to contingency and offered to stimulate aspiration and discussion, this is Dan Fogel’s vision of what I believe UVM can achieve if we make the right moves now.

2012-2013 A Picture of the Future

Welcome to Burlington in the fall of the 2012-2013 academic year. At UVM you’ll see a lot of changes and a lot of continuity as well. Let’s start with the physical campus. The Trinity Campus is the thriving home of the College of Education and Social Services, of the Department of Geology, and of a high technology incubator that has already graduated a number of viable new Vermont businesses based on intellectual property generated by University faculty.

Across Colchester Avenue, the College of Engineering and Mathematics occupies a renovated and expanded Votey Hall and a renovated Perkins Hall. Billings has been adapted for multi-purpose use that preserves its historic nature, housing library special collections as well as the highly successful Honors College, which made its debut in the 2003-2004 academic year. Williams Hall has also been renovated for Art and Anthropology. As part of the University’s implementation of the campus master plan, the quadrangle between Fleming and Bailey/Howe now rivals the College Green in the beauty of its landscaping.

Just to the west of the Health Science Research Facility, where the Hills Agricultural Sciences Building once stood, gleams a large new life science research building serving the plant sciences and the Medical College. The Medical College, in alliance with units across the campus, has stepped dramatically to the next level as a center of world-class research, a step it could not have achieved without the capacity to accommodate high-powered scientists that the labs in the new research building have provided. Nearby is an astonishing construction housing both the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, a transparent cylinder wrapped around the water tower.

To the west, where the rugby field once lay between East Avenue and the Sheraton Hotel, arises a ten-thousand-seat arena. While there are multiple users of the arena, UVM is the indispensable anchor tenant, playing both hockey and basketball here, and also co-sponsoring many of the major concerts that the arena presents, featuring acts such as the Boston Pops, Bruce Springsteen, and Phish. The arena rocks for UVM hockey and basketball, with thousands of UVM students accommodated on a regular basis to cheer on their championship teams. (UVM students now have free entry to all athletic events, a practice that goes back to the ’04 fiscal year, when the athletic fee was increased.) With the ability to host mid-sized conventions, the arena has been an enormous jolt in the arm not only for UVM but also for the entire region — a magnet for entertainment, sports, and business activity, and a dynamic economic driver. The arena is a public-private partnership involving UVM and both private and governmental partners.

The Athletic renaissance continues at the old Athletic Complex. Not only has the University retained both the Gutterson Field House and the Patrick Gymnasium, but it has also created a new venue for soccer and lacrosse (replacing Centennial Field), a new field for softball, and a new one for field hockey as well.

Moving west from the Athletic Campus to the Redstone Campus, all of the residence halls have been renovated. Most of them, like the other residence halls across the campus, are residential colleges, rich with programming and with faculty-student interaction. Coming back toward the central campus, the Living and Learning Center has been renovated and now lies at the north end of a magnificent quadrangle defined by the four new residence halls to the west, at University Heights; by Austin and Harris-Millis to the east; and by the Patrick Gymnasium to the south. A wetlands water feature runs down from the University Heights residence halls on the west side of this new quad, across the quad, and into a pool with a fountain between Austin and Harris-Millis. The north-south walkways along the quad cross the watercourse on arched bridges.

But none of the additions to the physical campus have had the transformative power of the University of Vermont Commons, a vital student union that seethes with activity from early morning to late night. It is more than a physical change. The Commons has rewoven the fabric of community at UVM in ways that all agree are highly positive. It is the place to congregate, to see and be seen. It is the locus of thousands of informal and formal encounters daily among students, faculty, staff, alumni, prospective students and their families, other visitors to the campus, and significant numbers of members of the greater Vermont community.

The new student union’s attractions include a state-of-the-art bookstore with 70,000 tradebook titles selected for the academic community, retail services, student organization and career services offices, an art gallery, and handsome lounge and study areas. A state-of-the-art theatre within the Commons now serves both the campus and the community as a major venue for theatrical and musical performances as well as for marquee speakers. The theater is also thronged with students for regular film screenings, one of the many examples of the enormously enhanced student programs that draw students to UVM and help, along with strong academics, to keep them here.

Recruiters highly covet UVMers, for the quality of the University’s graduates is extraordinary. Credentials of entering students have soared: 30% of first-year students are in the top 10% of their high school class (as opposed to 18% in 2002); their SAT scores range from 1160 at the 25th percentile to 1320 at the 75th percentile (as opposed to 1090 and 1230 in 2002). Admissions selectivity and yield have risen dramatically — with 14,450 applicants for the class of 2016.

Recruiters are avid to hire UVM students for more than their academic aptitude. They also highly value their diversity, which has risen steadily over the past decade, from 5.8% ALANA enrollment in 2002, to 8% in 2007, to 13% this year. And recruiters talk with great enthusiasm about the communication skills of UVMers. The University-wide communication-across-the-curriculum requirement (part of the advance in curricular cohesion achieved in the last decade) has had its desired effects: UVM graduates are notable for their excellent skills in writing and in speaking, as they are for their strong work ethic. They continue to have much in common with earlier generations of UVMers: personal warmth, civility, and an engaging lack of pretense.

Enrollment is up along with quality and diversity. The 7,601 undergraduates of 2002-2003 had grown to 8,601 by 2008-2009, and this year, 2012-2013, undergraduate enrollment is approaching 9,600, the target for steady-state enrollment. The proportion of Vermonters in the first-year class has risen significantly, to 35%, for UVM is increasingly the school of choice for highly capable and academically motivated Vermont high school graduates; overall, Vermonters are now 47% of the total enrollment, up from 44% in 2002.

At the same time, graduate student enrollment has grown as well. Graduate and professional enrollment stands at 2,390, or 20% of the total (compared to 14.5% in 2002-2003). The largest increases have been in the doctoral programs, along with selected master’s programs.

UVM’s distinction as a center of research and graduate education has risen steadily, led by superb programs in biomedical sciences and environmental sciences and studies. The number of post-docs has tripled since 2002-2003, and among the faculty there are now twelve members of the national academies, a four-fold increase since the turn of the century. Research funding has grown at a steady clip, rising from $103 million in ’02-’03 to just under $170 million in 2012-2013. The faculty regularly garner major national fellowships and awards. Some 280 of them hold endowed chairs and professorships. Faculty and staff are more diverse than they were a decade ago; for example, the number of African American tenure-track faculty has nearly tripled, from 15 to 41.

The University is in the midst of its third comprehensive campaign, which was launched quietly in 2009, two years after the close of the very successful second comprehensive campaign. The goal this time, for completion by 2016, is $500 million. When it has been achieved, the University endowment will stand at approximately $1.2 billion, generating $54 million in spendable earnings on endowment annually, or 20% of the general fund budget of $270 million (compared to $9 million in spendable earnings on endowment in 2003, or 5.2% of the general fund budget).

Indeed, it is the steady growth in private resources, including increased annual giving as well as giving to endowment, that has allowed the University to stabilize its enrollment after a decade of driving budget growth with rising numbers of fee-paying students augmented by increases in tuition and fees that have averaged, annually, at just about half the national average.

UVM tuition is still high by public university standards, low by the standards of elite private institutions, but resident tuition is now only 110% of the median for its public peers (as opposed to 195%, or nearly twice the median, in 2002). The decisive turn, manifest in the high quality of annual record-breaking applicant pools, is that the value-price equation has shifted decisively in favor of value.

Students and families want to invest in a UVM education. Donors make their gifts to UVM with confidence that quality will be sustained and built over the long haul. Employers seek out UVM graduates, and the networks among UVM alumni are strong and highly beneficial to those who participate actively in them. In the scientific and scholarly world, UVM has a luster that is the envy of all but a handful of the other elite public flagship institutions. It is a premier center of biomedical research, and is widely acknowledged as the nation’s premier environmental university. Everything that the Board of Trustees planned for in the early years of the new century has been brought to fruition.

The plausibility of this bold vision rests on our recognizing the strategic moment, the tipping point at which we now stand, and acting boldly to do what must be done if we are not to fall back but to move upward — our recognition and our commitment to action being the absolutely essential and enabling premise of this vision. This is a tide that we can take at the full. Or, to cite John Keats’s favorite line in Shakespeare, from King Lear, “ripeness is all.” We’ve come to the moment of ripeness at UVM: let’s enthusiastically seize it.

I look forward to the thoughtful discussions that I hope these ideas will promote.


As the University of Vermont defines its future, President Fogel welcomes other perspectives and reactions to his vision for the University ten years in the future. Ever the English professor, Fogel has created five discussion questions to inspire and focus response. Readers may send their thoughts to President Fogel by addressing them to: president@uvm.edu or
President Daniel Mark Fogel, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT 05405.


1. Do you agree that UVM is at a “tipping point” from which it must advance or risk mediocrity?

2. Are there alternatives to increasing undergraduate enrollment as the dominant driver of funds to finance the vision — such as state appropriations, higher tuition, or other revenue-generating activities?

3. Are you comfortable with the scale of “right-sizing” proposed by the vision as regards graduate and undergraduate enrollments?

4. Are you comfortable with the level of quality and selectivity envisioned for undergraduate admissions?

5. Are you comfortable with the vision set forth for growth in the quality and quantity of university research and scholarship?