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photo by Michael Sipe

Defining academic values is key work ahead

In May, with our Board of Trustees’ unanimous endorsement of the strategic financial plan underlying the ten-year vision for building and strengthening the University of Vermont, this institution took a tremendous step forward. We now quicken our pace to advance the facilities developments and enrollment management plan that are critical elements in bringing our vision for the University of Vermont in 2013 to fruition. Time is of the essence on these closely linked initiatives — enhancing our facilities fuels our ability to attract students, and high-quality enrollment growth is the only plausible engine to drive our pursuit of excellence over the course of the next ten years. But the most critical, most central, and most important dimensions of the vision remain to be shaped and defined — and many voices are essential to that process.

I mean the academic vision for the University. How will we define and develop innovative liberal arts programs for the new century? What is the full range of implications for our work together — for our teaching, research and scholarship, outreach, and institutional practices — of our drive to be the environmental university? What will our niche areas be within the vast domain of the health, life, and biomedical sciences? How, with our strategic focus on environment and health, will we ensure the continuing vitality at UVM of the arts and humanities, the social and physical sciences, along with business, education and social services, particularly when they don’t intersect (as they sometimes do, but often do not) with our focal themes? We hope to engage such key questions in open dialogue with our faculty, staff, students, and alumni over the coming months and years.

As we seek answers to these questions, let’s begin by being clear about ends and means. The ends we’re working toward are all about academic quality as expressed in the vision statement in UVM’s Strategic Plan:
“To be the nation’s premier small public research university, preeminent in liberal education and the study of the environment and health, and dedicated to providing students with extraordinary opportunities for learning and personal development and to enhancing the cultural, social, and economic life of Vermont, the nation and the world.”

Every word in that statement is important. It expresses our identity as a research institution, dedicated to the life of the mind and the advancement of knowledge; our aspiration to be the best of our type, the nation’s premier small public research university; our commitment to preeminence through focus, in pursuit of excellence, on liberal education, the environment, and health; our dedication to the intellectual and personal development of our students; and our determination to make a difference by contributing to the betterment of the world through all of our activities in teaching and learning, research and discovery, service and outreach.

Let’s never confuse the ends for which we are working with the means. There are multiple means: building financial strength for UVM so that we can take good care of our classrooms, laboratories, and other facilities and build new ones to create an environment in which all of us can succeed; so that we can provide scholarship support for students, building a diverse, talented student body with ample access for students from low- and middle-income backgrounds; and so that we can be competitive in the support we offer to talented faculty and staff.

Without financial strength and excellent facilities we can’t achieve our goals, but current operating dollars, a growing endowment, well-maintained buildings complemented by essential new facilities, and a carefully managed plan of enrollment growth are all means to ends — they are not the ends in themselves. Though we necessarily concentrate a great deal of energy and resources on creating, maintaining, and executing the means, it’s not about numbers of students, or bricks-and-mortar projects, or fund-raising milestones — it’s about the value and values — academic values at the core — for which we all are working.
—Daniel Mark Fogel