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Ringing in the Year
Campus gathers for opening tradition

From the interweaving of diversity and excellence in academic communities to the lines of a Russian poet raging against the sun, speakers at the University of Vermont convocation ceremony on September 8 at Ira Allen Chapel chose diverse themes to capture the moment and mission of the beginning of a new academic year.

This marked the third opening convocation since Edwin Colodny revived the tradition during his interim presidency at UVM. With a address by Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University and a leading voice in defense of affirmative action in higher education, at the center of the ceremony, a large crowd filled the chapel to near capacity.

In his previous role as president of the University of Michigan, Bollinger was a party to two precedent-making Supreme Court decisions widely regarded as victories for affirmative action. Bollinger’s address traced both why and how his university sought to defend race as a consideration in college admissions.

Before Bollinger argued how the contemporary drive to maintain diversity within higher education is part of a modern American legacy that began with Brown v. Board of Education,
the 1954 Supreme Court decision holding that school segregation violates the 14th Amendment, UVM President Daniel Mark Fogel’s remarks expounded on “the idea that lives at the heart of the agenda we have set for the University of Vermont”: quality. Academic quality of life, Fogel said, requires vitality, passion, intellectual liberty, civility, and open communication. Quality, he said, is accompanied by a commitment to diversity.

“Inquiry lives upon discussion, on debate, on variety of points of view, life experiences, backgrounds, and traditions,” Fogel said. “The very air of the academy should be electric with difference.” He closed his remarks by introducing Bollinger, a staunch defender of that ethic.

Taking his audience of UVM faculty, staff, trustees, and students through the six-year trajectory of the affirmative action suits from their filing in 1997 to the Supreme Court decisions this summer, Bollinger spoke in a relaxed, conversational style, offering a glimpse of the law school professor he once was.

Bollinger said that the suits were filed at a moment when affirmative action was under fire nationwide, so he and his colleagues first had to decide whether or not to fight the suit, and then what tactics to use. The University of Michigan, of course, elected to fight.

“I believe I will never again have another chance to be engaged in work as important to society,” Bollinger said of the period where he and his colleagues mustered a defense of the role of diversity in educational policy and marshaled allies from other institutions, corporations, and the military.

Bollinger said that he advocated for vigorous public discussion (it is unusual for a defendant in a suit to publicly discuss the matter) as well as a broader defense that, while based on the admonition in the Court’s 1978 Bakke decision that non-quota racial considerations are acceptable for educational purposes and not as a redress for past ills, also included context on the country’s continuing legacy of slavery and segregation. “We needed a sense of history,” Bollinger explained.

The Columbia president closed his talk by urging the audience to discuss and debate affirmative action and equal opportunity anew with each class, each generation, of students, so that they can maintain (or reject) the role of diversity in education, and the role of racial consideration in augmenting diversity.

After Bollinger left the podium to a standing ovation, English Professor Huck Gutman delivered his closing reflection, reading with gusto a poem by Vladimir Mayakovsky in which the 1920’s-era Russian poet, maddened by heat and repetitive work, confronts and ultimately reconciles with the sun.

Gutman ended with an echo of the poem’s final stanza that served as advice and admonition to faculty, students and staff as they prepared for another new semester of work: “Always to shine,” Gutman said. “To shine.”

Quote Unquote

"Obviously I’m proud of having received the Nobel Peace Prize,
and it’s made my parents finally recognize that I actually
can do something meaningful on this planet. All this
anti-war stuff, helping the poor, they didn’t kind of get it …"

Jody Williams, UVM Class of 1972, speaking at Wesleyan University’s commencement ceremony on May 25, 2003.

Truth, Beauty, Exit

When it came to the quarter century’s worth of discarded student drawings he had salvaged and saved, Ed Owre didn’t have a lot of good options. The landfill was unthinkable; cabinets in his already art-crammed house were improbable. And besides, he wanted the work “to have a life,” to be seen.

So the recent emeritus professor and art guerrilla decided to create a gallery or, rather, galleries, in the dingy corridors of the Waterman sub-basement. The product of months of after-hour efforts — huge wall friezes composed of hundreds of student drawings affixed to the walls with wallpaper glue — opened this summer.

Starting with the basement stairs adjacent to the Waterman Café, and continuing into the hallways near the Computer and Informational Technology offices, the collages of drawings form three distinct gallery spaces. Though the lighting is far from professional, a fuzzy 40-watt fluorescent tube is one space’s only illumination, it suits the pieces.

The student drawings, Owre says, work well in a transitory hallway setting, perhaps because most of them do not demand (or command) the attention of a painted canvas. As the professor surveys his handiwork, he can’t resist pointing out that many museums have taken to displaying drawings in hallways. But Owre says the basement setting is no reflection on the quality of the artwork, which includes everything from awkward exercises to confidently visualized pieces.

“These are all good drawings, provocative drawings,” he says. “The beauty of student art is that there are always more questions than answers.”

Close Encounters of the Academic Kind

Research is a team effort, particularly at a university where a lead investigator often draws on students for help with the heavy-lifting of data management or lab work. Those students, in turn, gain invaluable experience and opportunity that can lead to amazing places. Look no further than the case of Jocelyn Bell, who was a graduate student at Cambridge University in 1967 when she took a major role in one of astronomy’s great moments. Bell was the first to detect the existence of pulsars, a discovery that would earn a Nobel Prize for Professor Anthony Hewish, who headed the investigation.

UVM Physics Professor Joanna Rankin was a graduate student herself in the 1960s when the Cambridge discovery happened. “Pulsars fascinated the astronomical community,” she says. “The surprise was not that neutron stars existed, but that they were the source of radio emissions.” She estimates that a full thousand of the ten-thousand astronomers in the world shifted their research focus to pulsars. Rankin was among them and still is, but her colleagues’ numbers have thinned. She now counts herself as “the residue of the truly fixated,” continuing to investigate the source of pulsars’ radio emission, a mystery that the Cambridge scientists first speculated might be extra-terrestrial communication.

Though the numbers of astronomers studying pulsars worldwide has slipped, they are going strong on the fifth floor of the Cook Science Building, where Rankin has spent the summer working with a circle of undergraduate astrophysicists who boast a potent combination of brain power and commitment to their pursuit. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had a coterie of students this passionate about astronomy,” says Rankin.

The group includes Zuzana Srostlik, Stephen Redman, and Kirsten Bonson. Last spring, Srostlik and Redman accompanied Rankin to Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, site of a gargantuan radio telescope, and a mecca to those studying pulsars. For the students, it was a chance to gain a deeper understanding of a research scientist’s life and all of the patience, attention to detail, and focus it requires.

A little sleep deprivation in the name of science is well worth it for Redman, a Vermont Scholar from Milton. He says that the mystery of the skies intrigued him from a young age; less mysterious is the pull pulsars have on him now. “It’s impossible to talk with Professor Rankin and not get excited about this subject,” Redman says. “Pulsars are so exotic, fascinating objects. The biggest revelation for me has been that there are so many questions that branch off, there’s so much left to discover.”

Rembrandt Etchings Make Fleming Stop

The Fleming Museum’s Andy Warhol exhibit had barely closed this June when Rembrandt van Rijn, packing three centuries of fame and counting, moved in. “Rembrandt and the Art of Etching” is the latest in a string of big name shows at the Fleming featuring artists that are going to get nods from the collector, the dilettante, or even the guy on the bus reading The Sporting News.

The Vermont stop is the lone North American visit for this Rembrandt House Museum traveling show, which has primarily been displayed in South America. After it closed in Brazil, it had nowhere to go, hence, the early stop at the Fleming, where the rare works went into dark storage for a couple of months as the museum staff prepped for the September opening. After the Burlington show, which runs through December 14, it’s back to Amsterdam.

The heart of the show consists of 84 Rembrandt etchings and also includes 31 prints by his predecessors and followers. Fleming Museum Director Janie Cohen says that Rembrandt’s name generally evokes thoughts of his paintings — a vast canvas like “The Nightwatch,” the mastery of light and shadow — but there’s much to be said for the humbler mediums. “The works on paper are always close to my heart because of the intimacy,” Cohen says. “There’s a formality that is a part of painting, but in these sketches you can see the artist thinking and working things out.”

Rembrandt’s highly realistic works offer a window on 17th-century Dutch life, often a highly personal window. Cohen smiles as she describes one of her favorite prints. As with many of his works, Rembrandt’s wife, Saskia, was the model who posed nude to depict the mythological Susanna at her bath. Look closely, Cohen advises, and you’ll see the imprint of Saskia/ Susanna’s sock on her ankle. “The reality of the person and his relationship comes through with Rembrandt. He didn’t idealize,” Cohen says.

Sharpening the Cats' Claws

Chris McCabe, it’s safe to say, is the only administrator at the University of Vermont who can casually drop a sentence like this into conversation: “Listen to your audience, that’s the
key thing I learned from Vince McMahon.”

McMahon, of course, is the impresario who founded the World Wrestling Federation. McCabe, a 1991 UVM graduate and Hall of Fame lacrosse player, returned to his alma mater last February as assistant vice president for athletic marketing and business development after stints as an executive with the WWF and Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp.

McCabe’s history of developing innovative and profitable marketing, sponsorship, and merchandising efforts in the corporate world makes him confident that he can build revenues and visibility in academia. His work will focus on athletics at first — exploring more comprehensive corporate sponsorship opportunities, revamping logo apparel and other merchandise, assisting feasibility studies for a potential arena, and improving the marketing of athletic events and the experience of the fans who attend them.

It’s been a whirlwind eight months back in Burlington for McCabe, who is already seeing some initiatives to fruition — most notably an extensive sponsorship agreement with Banknorth Vermont and the introduction of a new line of UVM clothing tailored to students’ style preferences and built around a more dynamic V-Cat logo.

A key test awaits this fall as McCabe and colleagues strive to bring more fans — especially students — to the Catamount games. A new comprehensive athletic fee means students won’t have to pay at the door, creating hope that more will take themselves out to the ballgame, whether it be at Gutterson, Patrick, or Centennial.

If they do, McCabe says they’ll find more entertaining events — from a bagpiper’s clarion beckoning them to hop on a shuttle bus for weekend men’s soccer games to pumped-up sound systems to a JetBlue-backed basketball promotion that will give students a chance to win Spring Break plane tickets for themselves and their friends.

Inevitably it’s all about creating buzz, McCabe says. “How are you going to tell the kids?” he asks rhetorically and fields his own question, “Ultimately, they’re going to tell each other.”

But, speaking as a guy whose perspective on sports marketing is to some extent guided by his own experience as an athlete, McCabe stresses that no promotion will draw fans like a winning team. If the Catamounts can keep building on some of the recent successes in sports like basketball, baseball, and skiing, he believes that UVM athletics will boost school spirit not only on campus but throughout the state.

“It sounds like a strange comparison, but if you live in Nebraska, you love Nebraska football, whether you went to college there or not,” he says. “On a smaller scale, we have that opportunity in Vermont. There’s no close competition.”

What's New

Sir Martin Gilbert will deliver the 12th annual Raul Hilberg Lecture, “The Holocaust: The Christian Clergy as Rescuers,” at 8 p.m. on Monday, November 3, on the UVM campus. The author of eight books on the Holocaust, including The Macmillan Atlas of the Holocaust, The Holocaust, and The Boys, Gilbert is also well-known for his eight-volume biography of Winston Churchill. This public event will take place in the Billings Campus Center Theater with overflow space available in Ira Allen Chapel.

Bob Pepperman Taylor, professor of political science and director of the College of Arts and Sciences John Dewey Honors program for the past five years, will lead the University’s new Honors College as dean. A University-wide Honors College has long been discussed at UVM and bringing it to reality was a high priority for faculty and administration during the last academic year. “I am delighted that Dr. Taylor has accepted this important position,” said Provost John Bramley. “The Honors College will not only attract and retain great students for the University, but also will be a catalyst for curricular innovation.” UVM will officially launch the Honors College in the fall of 2004.

Four UVM faculty have been selected for the annual Kroepsch-Maurice Excellence in Teaching Awards for 2003-2004. The winners are Glen Elder, associate professor of geography; Todd McGowan, assistant professor of English and film; Dan Baker, lecturer of community development and applied economics; and Walter Poleman, lecturer of botany. The awards memorialize Robert and Ruth Kroepsch and her parents, Walter and Mary Maurice, all four of whom were teachers themselves.

Tangled up in green
Exploring where environment meets politics

The popular environmental movement shapes daily life — think of bygone Styrofoam and the proliferation of recycling bins — but it has largely whiffed on national elections.

The paradox fascinates Deborah Guber, an assistant professor of political science. To explore the environmental movement’s enduring strength and confounding weakness, she methodically explored the movement’s roots in public opinion. After analyzing every modern poll conducted measuring public attitudes about the environment, she wrote The Grassroots of the Green Revolution (MIT Press, 2003), which seeks to explain why this social force is largely a political farce.

Part of the problem, she argues, is confusion. Since politicians don’t run on anti-environmental dirty air and water campaign platforms, most races feature two candidates speaking eloquently about preserving the earth. (Guber points out that in the 2000 presidential election, Earth in Balance author Al Gore spoke less frequently about the land than did his opponent, a former oilman from Midland, Texas.)

“Opposing the environment is like kicking a sick puppy,” says Guber. “No one goes there. So the trick is to try to differentiate yourself without appearing to be an extremist, and that’s very difficult to do.”

The task is complicated by several factors. Guber’s book argues that, while the support for green ideas is broad and long-lived, it isn’t particularly deep. The huge pluralities favoring green goals plummet when citizens are asked about trade-offs, like higher taxes for clean-ups. And issues like employment, education, and crime rank ahead of the environment when voters rank their preferences. Even worse, complex environmental issues are hard for citizens to understand.

“Most people just don’t know very much,” she says. “They think most oil spills are caused by big business, when most are caused by day-to-day activity.”

The knowledge gap leaves voters vulnerable to “greenwashing” — presenting hostile policies as helpful ones — or just confused. Guber, who is personally sympathetic to environmental goals while often critical of the tactics of environmental groups, would like to see more market-based incentives that provide immediate rewards for Earth-friendly actions and better public education about ecological issues.

“A lot of what the movement does is not grassroots. It’s scary direct mail,” she says.

Check It Out

“Because I Said So!”
Family Squabbles and
How to Handle Them

by Lauri Berkenkamp G’90 and
Steven C. Atkins, Nomad Press

This book might save a life or two. Alumna Berkenkamp, an educator and seasoned mother of four, and her co-author Atkins, a developmental psychologist, offer tips on easing the “kid-induced friction” that can make family life feel like a circle frightening beyond anything Dante envisioned. Tattling and whining, sassy mouths and sloppy rooms, all of that good stuff is dealt with humorously and insightfully. Our favorite suggestion: If the kids are fighting in the backseat and you and your partner are in the front, pull over and start kissing. The sheer gross-out factor, the authors advise, will produce immediate silence and make the kids think twice the next time their evil alter egos start to surface.

The Lost New England Nine
by Will Anderson, Anderson
& Sons’ Publishing

You can’t blame a Red Sox fan for looking back. And there was no finer era for the BoSox than 1912-1916 when they won three World championships. Key to a number of those victories was Larry Gardner, a UVM alumnus who is among the great, if sometimes forgotten, New England ballplayers celebrated in Will Anderson’s new book. Gardner was the rare college boy turned major leaguer in his day, but he excelled in Boston as he had in Burlington. In New England Nine, Anderson has Gardner as starting third baseman on his line-up card. Another UVM alum, Ray Collins who pitched for the Red Sox from 1909 to 1915, makes honorable mention in this volume rich in baseball lore.