University of Vermont

Board of Trustees

Board of Trustees, Chair's Report

David A. Daigle
UVM Board of Trustees Chair’s Report
January 31, 2020

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

As you know, this will be my last full board meeting, marking the end of a decade of service on our board. Although not without occasional challenges, the last decade was one of remarkable progress for UVM.

We have welcomed some of the most talented, diverse academic classes in UVM’s history over the last several years. Our enormously successful capital campaign marked an important milestone with respect to private underwriting of our University, establishing permanent resources to sustain ongoing faculty and student support. We completed the second successful presidential transition during my term, and we continue to build talented leadership throughout the University. Our campus looks spectacular after a sustained reinvestment campaign to address long-standing facility needs, and we have completed this investment without materially weakening our financial condition.

I wish to extend my gratitude to all our faculty, staff, students, alumni, and donors whose contributions, in so many ways during my term, made these advances possible.

I am confident in and optimistic about the future of our University. At the same time, we should acknowledge the very real challenges that confront higher education. We know that demographics are unfavorable, that affordability is challenging, and that confidence in traditional higher education is to some degree waning. Our success in responding to challenges will define UVM’s future success and demand creative, thoughtful leadership.

Addressing the demographic challenge will require UVM to broaden its appeal, locally and nationally, to continue attracting a healthy pool of talented students. Recent data show that college enrollment peaked in 2010 and has since slowly declined. The population of 17-year-olds in the U.S. has likewise been declining and is not projected to grow appreciably over the next two decades.

The composition of our population is changing, geographically and demographically, with the highest growth in the South and among Hispanic and Asian populations. The mean center of population in the U.S. continues to migrate South and West. Vermont itself, by some projections, may lose residents over the next two decades. To sustain recent gains in the academic quality of our applicants, we will need to capture the hearts and minds of a wider array of students.

The twin issues of access and affordability have received significant attention in recent years. Since I graduated from UVM thirty years ago, the real cost of attendance at colleges in the U.S. has doubled. Our historical pricing philosophy has positioned UVM in a precarious spot relative to peers, with out-of-state costs comparable to private universities and higher than all but the elite public flagships. Expanding financial aid has offset a portion of this cost escalation, but for families who do not receive financial aid the burden has increased dramatically.

The story for Vermonters attending UVM is far more positive, a reality we need to relentlessly highlight for our Vermont friends. Yet, with nearly 90% of our net tuition revenue from out-of-state students, UVM must focus on improving access and affordability for these families. Our efforts to strategically reduce growth in the cost of attendance, initiated under President Sullivan and now accelerated by President Garimella, are essential in positioning UVM as a more attractive option, and they have our Board’s unanimous approval.

Although higher education has expanded its reach over time, signs of waning confidence should not be ignored. A recent Gallup survey had only 51% of Americans labelling higher education as “very important”, down from 70% just six years ago. Declines were registered across every age cohort and for both women and men, but most surprisingly, the largest decline occurred in the age 18-29 cohort. Pew Research Center reached similar findings. The factors behind such trends are myriad and complex, but these patterns pose risks for enrollment and raise legitimate concerns about future political and private financial support.

With its rich history, incredible location, beautiful campus, talented leadership, and passionate faculty and students, I believe UVM is well positioned to meet these challenges. The paradox of UVM is that for us to maximize our contributions for the benefit of Vermont, consistent with our land grant history and mission, we may need to become a little less of Vermont as we move forward.

Let me share a few thoughts about the governance of UVM. Since 1865, when the private University of Vermont merged with the newly-created Vermont State Agricultural College, the core of our board has been a combination of private and public trustees. It is a unique structure in higher education, and one that I have grown to appreciate as a tremendous asset to UVM.

Reflecting on the trustees with whom I have served, and all the decisions we have collectively made, I can with confidence state that our trustees have acted with the University’s best interests at heart. To my fellow trustees I extend my deepest gratitude for your service to UVM; we are fortunate to have you as selfless supporters of this institution. It has been my privilege to serve with you, and an honor to serve as our chair.

I want to take a moment to extend a very special thank you to Corinne Thompson and Erin Dickinson, who do a fabulous job with board coordination and management. Your thoughtful, and persistent, guidance allows this board to function smoothly and effectively. I know that your institutional wisdom will carry over to Ron Lumbra and Cindy Barnhart and enable their success. On behalf of our entire board, please join me in expressing our sincere thanks to Corinne and Erin!

Finally, a few Board announcements. I would like to welcome two new trustees, whose terms will begin March 1. Our new student trustee is Berke Tinaz, a 2016 Skidmore College graduate who is now a PhD student at UVM, studying plant biology in CALS. Berke is also a graduate student senator and a crew coach. He is a native of Karsiyaka Izmir, Turkey, and attended high school in Istanbul. Welcome, Berke!

We wish to also welcome John Dineen, whose nomination will be formally approved by our UVM board this afternoon. A 1986 UVM graduate with bachelor’s degrees in biology and computer science, John went on to serve 28 years at GE in a variety of global leadership roles, spending considerable time in Europe and Asia. Since retiring from GE in 2014, John has served as an advisor to an investment firm, working with several private companies. Please join me in welcoming John!

In December, our UVM board appointed Cindy Barnhart to another six-year term, and appointed Ron Lumbra to serve the final two years of my term. This afternoon our UVM board will appoint Don McCree to an additional six-year term. Trustee Sidney Hilker will be retiring from the board with me, and we will celebrate her contributions a bit later.

In closing, let me simply state that this has been an incredible and rewarding personal journey. I truly admire and respect you all for your dedication and contributions to our University.

With respect and gratitude, thank you.

This concludes my final report.

Last modified February 10 2020 09:50 AM