University of Vermont

Board of Trustees


Robert F. Cioffi
Board of Trustees, Chair's Report
May 18, 2012

Good morning, everyone and welcome to our annual graduation week Board of Trustees meeting. This is of course a time for celebrating our graduates and indeed our University, and I hope that all who are will partake in the celebration over the next couple of days. Not only do we have a talented, capable, well-educated cadre of students graduating on Sunday, but we also have a very impressive group of honorary degree recipients this year, including our speaker, Cyma Zarghami, who represents UVM very well as President of Nickelodeon. She and I had lunch last week, and I know she is looking forward to Commencement. Please come if you can!

Before the celebration begins, however, we have business to attend to as a Board. To begin, I'd like to first recognize our four newest Trustees. Lisa Ventriss, Rob Brennan, Richard Gamelli, and Dennis Mahoney: Welcome to all of you and thank you for agreeing to serve UVM in this critical role.

As the academic year comes to a close, I think it is important for us to look back over the past year to reflect and appreciate the position of strength we are now in. If we think back to last May, you may recall that it wasn't an easy time for our University and for this Board. I learned more than I wanted to about speaking to the media and arguing our case in the court of public opinion. I still bear a few scars from my several weeks as spear catcher late last spring and early summer and I know some others around this table bear some of those scars as well.

At that time, we not only needed to face the immediate challenges before us, but had real concerns about our University's status, reputation, and potential dysfunction going forward. It was a time of uncertainty and angst, with worries of losing the forward momentum we had enjoyed for some time.

Fast forward to May, 2012. We did not lose ground or experience paralysis but instead, we have made significant strides forward. Let's look at a few examples:

  • Our relationships in Montpelier have been revitalized and are much stronger. Thanks in part to our Interim President, our legislative colleagues and our staff in the Government relations office.
  • We have had one of our best private fundraising years ever. In fact, we may close the fiscal year in June with a record level of donor commitments in the history of the University. Thank you Rich to you and your entire staff.
  • The Governor's committee, Chaired by Nick DiNofrio, has been working effectively and is working toward issuing its recommendations and from some of the work I have seen, I think these are going to be very thought provoking and meaningful recommendations.
  • We won a seventh straight America East Academic Cup in Athletics, as well as a national NCAA Championship in Skiing, and a league championship and first round tournament game in Men's Basketball.
  • The Strategic Initiatives Process has been highly engaged in examining options for revenue enhancement, cost reduction, and reinvestment
  • Applications and enrollment remain healthy and stable and the Class of 2016 looks like another stellar group of students. Thank you to Chris and his entire team.
  • We continue to make progress in terms of becoming a more diverse institution in terms of faculty, staff, and students, as well as being a more culturally aware community. This is the result of hard work by many across the University, and we are most grateful to them for their efforts.
  • The Spires of Excellence are gaining strength and recognition, and the door is opening to develop more.
  • Our students competed for and won several prestigious national scholarships which John will expand upon in his remarks.
  • Our faculty and staff have continued to work hard every day to sustain our momentum, for which this Board is most grateful.
  • We completed our Presidential Search very successfully and have found an outstanding new leader in Tom Sullivan. Transition planning is going well, and I am confident that it will be a smooth one.

These are just a few examples of the progress we have continued to make, and there are many more that highlight the position of strength we are in. Oh, wait. There is one more example of why we are in a strong position. His name is John Bramley. Without his steady leadership, it is hard to imagine how we would have enjoyed the astonishing year we have had. John, it has been our great good fortune that you were able willing, and, yes, available to step in to the Interim Presidency. We are very pleased that you are so crummy at retirement. And speaking of which, I have a small token of our esteem. It is a golden watch (notice I did not say gold watch! - these are tough times). Such gifts are given when one retires. Judging from your track record, we are not sure you ever will, but if and when you do, you will be able to sport the appropriate timepiece...

On behalf of the Board, and the entire University community, thanks to you, and to Janet for all you have done, and all you have sacrificed on behalf of UVM. (applause). Former Trustee Ben Forsyth is fond of saying, "Choose your predecessor carefully." Clearly Tom Sullivan made an excellent choice. And so did we.

Let me sound another note of appreciation to someone who has served this University and this Board, Fletcher Allen (and University Health Care before that) very well for some 32 years. Ted Winfield is retiring in just a matter of weeks, and I want all of us to take a moment to that him for his tireless and outstanding work on behalf of the University of Vermont. Ted, you have met every challenge with grace, good humor, and persistence. We thank you and wish you well. (applause).

In closing, I will repeat the words of another Chairman of the Board: "It was a very good year." A very good year indeed when we think about all that has happened in the past 12 months. And yes, we are in a position of strength. But this University, and all of higher education, face what I believe are unprecedented challenges, which will absolutely require new approaches. We have serious questions before us, like:

Will students and their families be willing or even able to pay for higher education in its current form? You need only look at the front page of the New York Times last Sunday to know that this is a national discussion that will continue expand and increasingly impact us and all of our colleagues in higher education in the future.

Will public support continue to shrink? If so, our current model cannot continue. If the current model is unsustainable, or as some say, broken, what will emerge in its place?

Questions like these are just the tip of the iceberg. I believe we have challenges ahead the likes of which we have not seen before, with transformational implications. I firmly believe that my children will not receive their higher education in anything resembling its current form, and their college years are only a decade away. I hope that my seven year old son may some day be a Catamount but I believe that what he learns and how he learns it will be in many ways unrecognizable to today's students. And very importantly: we are going to have to be much more responsive than we have been in the past to addressing and accommodating the varying needs and priorities of our students as they pursue their educational objectives.

There are interesting times ahead. We will need to work together creatively and effectively to stay ahead of the curve and continue our record of success. This ends my remarks.

Last modified September 21 2013 06:48 AM