University of Vermont

Board of Trustees

Board of Trustees, Chair's Report

David A. Daigle
UVM Board of Trustees Chair’s Report
February 2, 2018

Good morning everyone, and welcome to our February board meeting.

The title of Provost Rosowsky’s report, The Age of Disruption, appropriately captures the era of this new millennium.  Many of the threads of disruption can be traced to the technology and telecommunications revolutions that began a quarter century ago and ultimately rippled through both our economic and social order.  The report notes the paradox of challenge and hope that disruption reveals, and outlines several important implications for UVM.

My own career as an investor has largely paralleled this evolution.  I have had the privilege of watching, and occasionally participating in, the birth and growth of incredibly successful businesses.  I have also witnessed the endangerment or extinction of others.  Companies that did not exist 25 years ago are now among the largest in the world, while broad segments of the economy have been devastated by disruptive change.

If disruption itself is a paradox of challenge and hope, universities seem to be the embodiment of that paradox.  The challenges universities face from disruption are immense, and, in some cases, existential.  Yet the hope that universities can offer is equally immense, and arguably essential for solving global issues.  If universities are to survive these challenges and thrive as beacons of hope, I am convinced they will need to adapt more purposefully to this rapidly changing environment.

The evidence from the corporate world is crystal clear - inflexible, high cost, low value ecosystems will be targeted relentlessly by innovative disruptors.  A quote from a recent BCG letter titled Governing in the Age of Disruption, highlights one of these challenges:

“. . .systems of education are not changing fast enough.  Employers are increasingly dissatisfied with the workforce readiness of new employees, with 40% reporting difficulty finding people with the communication, critical thinking, and collaborative skills needed in the modern workplace.”

Wait, is this another call to vocational-ize universities and downsize humanities departments?  Not at all.  As was so eloquently argued in a recent Cynic editorial, written by the esteemed chair of our English department, English majors highly skilled in communications, critical thinking, persuasion and research have very bright futures.

Instead, it most certainly is a call to universities to be more proactive and willful in affirmatively teaching these essential skills, while simultaneously getting serious about doing so more efficiently.  Once again, we raise the value proposition question. 

If we look to companies that have been disrupted, frequently the disrupted had, ex ante, no real awareness or appreciation of the threat.  IBM consulting has found that executives who view the risk of disruption as minimal tend to work for underperforming firms.  Universities dismissive of the threat ultimately risk the erosion of their academic and financial standing, as innovative disruptors create alternatives for dissatisfied families and employers.

The following passage from Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises illustrates the dynamic that disrupted institutions frequently endure.  It is a favorite of mine, as it captures most institutional failures.

“How did you go bankrupt?”  Bill asked.

“Two ways,” Mike said.  “Gradually, and then suddenly.” 

How are we adapting and evolving at UVM?  Progress has surely been made, most notably in reducing tuition escalation and transforming the budget model to improve incentives.  Still, so much more is possible if our faculty, administration, and board coalesce around a shared vision of institutional reform.  If we seek to foster communication, critical thinking, collaboration and innovation among our students, we ought to collectively set an example by advancing those same principles in the management of the affairs of UVM. 

We need honest, data-driven assessments of our academic processes, academic outcomes, student satisfaction outcomes, and business processes.  Where we find opportunities for improvement, we need to act with purpose, conviction, and speed.

Let me conclude with a recent example.  I applaud the efforts on the part of the provost and the faculty senate to initiate reviews of our general education requirements, starting with the diversity requirement.  As we have heard from both students and faculty, there are issues that need to be resolved.  However, a three or four year review cycle is going to feel awfully long to a student who is here for only four years.  I encourage the review teams to act with purpose, conviction, and, importantly, speed.

I would like to congratulate Erin Dickinson, who recently celebrated her tenth anniversary with UVM.  Erin, on behalf of our board, thank you so very much for helping us achieve our objectives, and we wish you the best over your next ten years at UVM.

Finally, I would like to introduce three new trustees whose terms will commence on March first.

Sidney Hilker will be joining us as our new student trustee.  Sidney is a native of Shelburne, received her undergraduate degree at Harvard, and is now a graduate student in our Larner College of Medicine.

Jodi Goldstein, another Vermont native and a UVM graduate, is the managing director of the Harvard Innovation Labs in Cambridge.  Jodi was unable to attend, but she and her family visit Vermont regularly.

Finally, Otto Berkes, who is not a native Vermonter, but still a wonderful person, has spent his career in technology circles.  He is currently the chief technology officer at CA Technologies.  Otto has an MS degree from UVM in computer science and electrical engineering.  He also sits on the UVM Foundation Leadership Council. 

Please join me in a warm welcome for all of our new trustees.

This concludes my chair’s report.

Last modified February 02 2018 04:39 PM