University of Vermont

Board of Trustees

Board of Trustees, Chair's Report

David A. Daigle
UVM Board of Trustees Chair’s Report
February 1, 2019

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

At our meetings over the next two days we will discuss a number of updates, many of which are quite positive and exciting.  A few, like our capital campaign and capital projects progress, are truly milestones in the long arc of UVM’s history.  Others may not make it into the current chapter of UVM’s history, but nonetheless represent important accomplishments in our quest to enhance the positive impact UVM has on our students and this state.

Meaningful progress can only be achieved by faculty, staff, and students working together, day after day, to advance UVM’s interests.  Each of these groups plays a vital role in advancing UVM; after all, this is an organization that is comprised almost entirely of human capital.  To each of you, for all of your contributions, our Board thanks you.

In October, I referenced Board discussions regarding strategic planning that occurred at our retreat.  We agreed that initiating a new strategic planning process is an essential, early task for our new president.  Like the presidential search itself, we anticipate that such a process will require broad input from multiple University constituencies.  It is our hope and expectation that this will be a living plan, with periodic reviews at appropriate intervals to ensure maximum utility.

As we develop that plan, what will be our true North?  Will it be moving up in national rankings?  Will it be centered on measures of financial health and wellbeing?  Will it be the pursuit of an ideological vision?  I submit that our true North should be one that is simple in principle, but undeniably elusive in practice.  What if our true North was simply doing, persistently, that which is in the best interests of our students?

At our retreat, this was the singular recurring theme that emerged in our strategic planning discussions.  We deeply believe that a new strategic plan should be framed around student success, defined broadly.  Students are the center of our universe; they form the essential core of our University.  The tuition they pay accounts for the vast majority of our general fund revenues, which cover the vast majority of our operating expenses, the vast majority of which are faculty and staff compensation.  They deserve the best we can deliver with the finite resources we have; after all, they have alternatives.

Importantly, doing what is in the best interests of students and doing what students want are not always the same thing.  Our task should be to think critically about everything we do, from academic programs to student services, from health and wellness to advising, through the lens of providing our students the best possible development experience.

If our UVM community can coalesce around a dynamic, student-centric strategic plan, I am confident that we can take our University to an even higher level of academic and financial success.  I firmly believe that most people associated with UVM are engaged in their roles because they have a deep desire to help our students develop and grow, to shepherd them into becoming successful adults.  As one of our search finalists stated: “If we are not doing this for the benefit of the students, why are we here?”  What if we framed every decision around this simple question: “is doing this in the best interests of our students?”

Stress fractures in the current higher education system are becoming more evident with each passing year.  We see evidence at other universities, but the signs of stress in our model at UVM are clear.  These stresses will not simply diminish or vanish on their own; the root causes need to be identified and treated.  After decades of tuition increasing substantially faster than the rate of inflation and incomes, universities will need to evolve.  Placing student interests at the heart of this evolution will serve us well.

Hyman Minsky, a noted economist, developed an idea that he termed the financial instability hypothesis.  He argued that long periods of stability in financial markets ultimately become the cause of instability.  Perceived consequences of risk diminish during times of stability, leading to overconfidence and, ultimately, poor investment decisions.  Adapting the model to higher education, the last several decades have been a period of relative stability, economically, for many universities.  The status quo may continue a bit longer, but the odds of a period of instability are rising, and the consequences for UVM may be profound.

We need your help; our new president will need your help.  Together, we must set UVM on a sustainable, student-centric course that can withstand the forces of change and instability.  It is our duty to the State of Vermont, to future generations of students who will benefit from access to an affordable and valuable education, and to all of those whose efforts and contributions have brought UVM to where it is today.

Let me conclude with an update on our search for UVM’s 27th president.  We had over 90 completed applications for the presidency, and on December 3rd and 4th in New York we conducted finalist interviews.  We interviewed an impressive, accomplished, highly diverse set of candidates.  Since then, we have worked with a number of candidates, getting to know them and helping them to better understand the opportunity.  We hope to soon be in a position to provide additional information, and at this stage I would simply ask for your patience and understanding as we work through our process. 

This concludes my chair’s report.

Last modified February 04 2019 09:40 AM