University of Vermont

Board of Trustees

Board of Trustees, Chair's Report

Ron E. Lumbra     
UVM Board of Trustees Chair’s Report
May 15, 2020

Good morning. Let me open the meeting by offering profound thanks to the administration, and our faculty, staff, and students. Faced with an extraordinary crisis, each in their own way have adjusted to achieve our mission and finish out the academic year despite profound challenges. I’m reminded of the famous British phrase “keep calm and carry-on”, and feel it nicely summarizes just what our colleagues on campus and students have done during this unprecedented crisis. Thank you all for hard work, commitment, agility, and for all you continue to do to support this great university.

Speaking personally, this is normally my favorite board meeting of the year. It’s a chance for us to close out the academic year, to participate in graduation, to see the myriad of happy graduating seniors and their families on campus and in Burlington, and to be reminded of our mission focused on student success and why we support this great institution. I would like to virtually offer my heartfelt congratulations and best wishes to our graduating students.

Although we are facing an unprecedented crisis where uncertainty and change abounds, let’s not lose sight of the full picture as the academic year comes to an end. Heading into the crisis we welcomed our new president, Suresh Garimella, who has hit the ground running and brought the energy, passion, and can-do attitude we expected. He certainly picked a tough year to start, but we surely appreciate and admire his resilience and commitment. I would also like to acknowledge the smooth transition that Suresh executed with Tom Sullivan. Tom and Suresh developed a warm and constructive relationship that allowed for the smooth handoff we had hoped for.

We also welcomed Patty Prelock into her first full academic year as Provost. She has hit the ground running, brought the right touch to the campus community, and partnered in a highly complementary way with Suresh, the Deans and Faculty.

Our announced tuition freeze was critically important, strategic, and well-timed. Taking concerns about the cost of higher education head-on, the decision has been phenomenally well received by families, government officials, and the community at large.

We’ve also increased our attention on sustainability and are taking another look at divestment. Our Sustainability Work Group, led by Carolyn Dwyer, has been formed and you will hear more from Carolyn on their progress today. We will follow-up on the work of the Sustainability Work Group and the Investment Subcommittee and intend to host a special board meeting later in the summer to address the issues of sustainability and divestment. Please standby for details on that meeting as the calendar firms-up in the weeks to come.

I’m also pleased with the strength of our incoming leadership talent, with the new College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Dean, Leslie Parise, new Vice President of Research, Kirk Dombrowski, and Chief Communications Officer, Nicci Brown, who will collectively serve to enhance our brand, and help us on our journey to become a stronger research institution. Achieving that goal of becoming an R1 institution is critical to the long-term standing and success of the university and the state.

With that as a backdrop, we entered an unprecedented period in early March with the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. This crisis is profoundly human. As you know, we lost our beloved fellow trustee, Bernie Juskiewicz, along with a foundation board member and others affiliated with the campus community. They will all be missed and we will offer a resolution in memory of Bernie during today’s meeting.

The COVID-19 crisis brings profound and evolving challenges, on top of an already challenging environment in higher education. As you know, at special board meeting in April we passed a continuing budget resolution in order to delay the firming of our budget for the next academic year until we get more clarity. We have a number of variables to consider including size of the incoming class, in- state versus out-of-state mix of students, cost to operate in new way given need for personal health protections, and potential need of families for additional financial aid, among other factors. We appreciate the hard work and dedication of Vice President Richard Cate and his finance team, and our Budget, Finance and Investment Committee in helping to work through and plan for a myriad of scenarios to help manage both our finances and risk.

We are dedicated to arriving at the right budget with the right cost structure to support the university for both the short and long-term. We have worked hard on administrative costs, which rank in the bottom decile relative to our peer group, the majority of our administrative leaders have taken voluntary pay cuts and made contributions in order to support the university in this time of crisis, we have worked with the UVM Foundation, vendors, and renegotiated major contracts in order to address our budget shortfall. More will be done in the weeks to come.

Finally, in closing, we will manage through this challenging environment, both prudently with the long and short term health of the institution at the top of mind, and with empathy and caring. Although sacrifices must be made, together we will get through this.

Last modified May 19 2020 09:10 PM