University of Vermont

Board of Trustees


Robert F. Cioffi
Board of Trustees, Chair's Report
February 4, 2011

Good morning, and thanks to all of you for your efforts to get here by braving some difficult, but apparently increasingly typical weather. We have a full agenda, so as usual I will try to be brief.

And in light of this latest storm and the requisite dumping of the white stuff, let us take just a moment to recognize and celebrate the following headline from the NCAA website: "Vermont has propelled to the No. 1 spot in the latest Ski Racing Magazine Power Rankings after its dominating performance at the St. Lawrence Carnival to open the 2011 EISA Circuit...... Vermont's 1,046 points are the most ever in a carnival by a collegiate ski team."

Congratulations to the coaches and members of UVM Men's and Women's Ski Team who I understand are up on the mountain practicing right now. We wish you great success during the remainder of the season especially at the NCAA tournament to be held in Stowe, VT. !

As I thought about my remarks today, I first read each and every word of the Board Book with intense focus and fascination, of course. And as did I noticed with interest Professor Burgmeier's Faculty Senate Report, in which he summarizes the recommendations of the TRI Ad Hoc Advisory Committee and the Senate Executive Committee's observations about them. (Of course, this not only illustrates how important I think the faculty are, but also shows that I actually read my Board Book).

Among the recommendations are:

  1. Identify the existing research strengths, associated costs, and needed investments at UVM using defined metrics.
  2. Assess specific areas of research strength for future investment that will be fiscally affordable and appropriate for the breadth of interests at UVM.
  3. Determine optimal directions for implementing interdisciplinary research initiatives at UVM

Clearly these are specific recommendations made with respect to a particular initiative: TRI. But I was struck by their relevance as a microcosm of what we must do as a University in order to remain competitive in this crowded marketplace of higher education. We need to identify our strengths and invest in them, and better understand how the sum of those strengths, combined with the unique cultural, geographic, and social aspects of UVM and Vermont roll up into what I will call our distinctiveness as a university. In other words: What is it that makes us special, so much so that a lifelong bond is created between UVM, its current inhabitants, and those who have been here and moved on to new challenges.

Let me share a couple of stories to illustrate what I mean. At a recent Development dinner, I met an alumnus from the class of 1959 who walked into the dinner with his Boulder jacket on. (I was most impressed that it still fit and hope I can say the same when I go to a dinner 30 years from now.) For those of you that don't know, Boulder is the Senior Men's Honor Society here at UVM His wife, who did not go to UVM, expressed the sentiment that whenever her husband talks about UVM, he just glows. She said, "If you could figure out what that is and bottle it, it would be amazing."

Story #2: A prospective student who I have met with in the past few months is from a family that has exclusively attended Notre Dame -- a University and alumni base known for their distinctiveness and love of their alma mater. But guess what? This young man and his somewhat confused and conflicted father both told me the same story. (And Dad added he had hoped his son would become another member of the fighting Irish family). When they visited UVM, it took about 1/2 of the admissions tour before the son knew where he wanted to go. His father put it this way, "Your campus and student body as well as the community of Burlington and the state of Vermont had something that resonated with him like no other campus that he has ever been on." That impressed me, and I'm happy to report that this young man will be in Burlington rather than South Bend next year.

Now, look: I understand that these are just two anecdotes, and that it is easy for an older alum to wax nostalgic about bygone days, or a young prospective student to have a wonderful first impression of a university.

I get that. But among us here we have heard scores of these stories, and have even been in them ourselves. And at UVM, we have something that makes us special and is a cornerstone to our future that will be even more important as the higher education marketplace becomes ever more competitive.

I fully recognize that being competitive means more than being distinctive or special. We must face some difficult budget realities, which we will be discussing later today. Within those realities we have to fund adequate financial aid to remain accessible and affordable to our students. We must be competitive in our ability to recruit and retain high-quality faculty and staff. We have essential facilities to build, improve, and maintain. We must deal with costs that are hard to control, from energy to health care to competitive salaries. Our commitment to academic quality must remain strong and vital, and we must find ways to invest in strategic imperatives like the Transdisciplinary Research Initiative, the General Education Requirements, and the newly-forming UVM foundation for fundraising,

But on top of all of this, we need to understand what attracts and keeps our students, and what it is that we could put in that bottle and amaze people with. I'll wager that if we asked everybody in this room and each of the 10,371 undergraduates, 1,516 graduate students, and 460 medical students (How are my numbers, Dan?): "What is it that makes UVM distinctive and unique?" We would get many different answers. Yes, the alumnus who I mentioned earlier who proudly wore his Boulder jacket some 51 years later would talk about that Senior Men's Honor Society or his fraternity. Sam might talk about football or meeting his wife. Frank might talk about his Presidency of the Student Body or lobbying the Vermont legislature. Bill might talk about that special Professor who ignited a passion for Art. Deb would likely mention her time as a Student Trustee. David might talk about the education he received that allowed him to be a successful teacher and legislator. The list could go on and on but I am also confident that they would include some of the same themes: a sense of place, a community, a well rounded individual, a quality academic experience, and engagement in something that they were passionate about.

I understand that there is a retention study currently underway that will help us figure out what this uniqueness is, and because I don't think we can bottle it; this is important work as it will help us continue to be competitive. Because competitive and uniqueness, or distinctiveness, or what is special (you know what I mean) must go hand and hand. And while it is important for us to understand why some 10% of our first year students leave UVM, I would argue that it is also essential that we understand better why 90% stay here. Why they have great experiences that are remembered and celebrated all of their lives, so that we can build on those, and preserve those strengths. And at the risk of stating the obvious: as we determine our strengths, and what makes us unique, we should apply those determinations to make decisions on what we aren't and therefore should not be investing in.

This effort will be unsuccessful if it is placed solely on the back of the administration. This Board, the faculty, our staff, our alumni, and student body should also work to consider what it is that makes UVM distinctive, and what does it mean to be a UVM graduate going forward. We must determine these deliverables and, of course, deliver them to our students.

As Board Chair, I want to be clear: This is very, very important work and I look forward to seeing the outcomes of these critical tasks that will strengthen our competitiveness, highlight our strengths, and give us a better understanding of the distinctive personality of our University.

I will take just a brief moment to welcome our newest Trustee, in absentia: Governor Peter Shumlin. I think we all know about the daunting challenges and the full plate that Governor Shumlin and all of his colleagues in Vermont have before them, and I for one also recognize the courage, will, and creativity that will be required to make headway in these difficult times. On behalf of this Board, I want to welcome the Governor and wish him well. And I also wish to reinforce how important UVM is to the future of Vermont, and that this Board, and Vermont's University will do all we can to be a trustworthy and effective partner as we face the many challenges and opportunities ahead. I hope we will work in an environment of mutual support that recognizes the importance of mutual success.

We will be recognizing departing Trustees in detail at dinner tonight and tomorrow morning, but I want to recognize the group now in front of so many members of the UVM community. First, Adam Roof, thank you for your tireless service and many contributions as a student Trustee. Adam, I fully expect that you will be back at this table in 20 or so years as is becoming somewhat of a tradition with former Trustees who happen to be students during their FIRST terms. Thanks, Adam.

Next, Claire Ayre. I'd like to specifically highlight Claire's stellar leadership of the EPIR committee during a very busy few years for that committee. TRI, a new provost and Gen ED have kept Claire's plate full. For all you have done, we thank you.

Joey Donovan. We deeply appreciate your distinguished service to this Board, and I must note here how much I am anticipating the rebuttal of your brother and former Trustee, Jim Leddy at dinner tonight, after you spoke so eloquently, and hilariously, about your sibling a few years back. Thank you, Joey.

Bill Botzow. For your always dependable and thoughtful work, especially as Secretary of the Board, and in your leadership role with the Audit Committee, during some very tying times, many thanks.

And finally Frank Cioffi, for your longtime and generous service to us as Vice Chair of the Board, Chair of the Governance Committee, and numerous other roles, you have our gratitude. To all of you, thank you again.

This ends my report.

Last modified September 21 2013 06:48 AM