University of Vermont

Board of Trustees


Robert F. Cioffi
Board of Trustees, Chair's Report
May 22, 2010

Good morning. I want to begin by thanking all of you for the trust and confidence you have placed in me by electing me Board Chair. I am humbled and honored by this opportunity, and grateful to be following in the footsteps of an extraordinary leader in Ian Boyce. I also want to thank my fellow Board members for all of their work on behalf of our University and I only ask that you continue to work with me and the administration as we navigate the road ahead of us.

As most of you know, I have been on the Board for some time, and in different roles, including being a student Trustee or as I like to say, a Trustee who happens to be student. I would be remiss if I did not mention just a few of the past Trustees and Chairs, in addition to Ian, who have greatly influenced me and who will have my eternal respect and admiration. I have been honored to call these individuals colleagues and friends, they include people like Jack Candon, Eugene Kalkin, Bruce Lisman, Martha Heath, Pam McDermott, Fred Hackett, Carl Lisman, Jim Pizzagalli and the late Steve Waltien. My nearly 2 1/2 terms on this Board have been rewarding, and along with many successes have also at times come problems (expected and unexpected), disappointments, and controversy however, I believe that that is the nature of this business. I only hope that in some small way I can accomplish my goal of paying back this institution for all that it has given to me and my family.

I plan to take a bit of a different slant on the Chair's reports during my time in this role. Dan does a terrific job at summarizing important events and milestones that have transpired on our campus since we last met and I will leave that to him. It is my hope that I will be able to do a few things in these reports including: 1. be brief; 2. focus on broad, strategic issues; and 3. directly, and perhaps provocatively, express some perspectives on issues of importance to this enterprise, to Vermont, and to this Board.

So, here we go. As a Vermonter who now lives outside the state, I believe that Vermont, and UVM, have the reputation, the "brand" if you will, that is the envy of people across the country. Of course there are fiscal challenges and worries about the future, but that is unfortunately true everywhere. But this is a very special, I think unlike any other place.

On the wall of my office, I have a photograph of a wonderful Vermont farm and a quote on the bottom of the photo is from Frank Bryan, one of my mentors during my time at UVM. The quote says, "Vermont without farmers would be a very good place, but it could never be Vermont and while there a lot of good places, there is only one Vermont." I would argue that the same can be said about UVM and also about the relationship between Vermont and its University. There is only one UVM and it has a very unique and unmatched relationship with the state in which it resides.

Today, understandably, Vermonters are deeply concerned about the state's economic viability and future prospects. Many individuals around the state are working diligently to attract and nurture entities that will bring clean, well paying businesses and job opportunities into the state to help fuel what is a rather fragile economy. Such enterprises are the gold standard of the type of economic development renaissance that Vermont envisions. I certainly do not need to tell my legislative colleagues how critical it is for Vermont to find more of this type of entity.

Well, indulge me for a moment while I describe one such enterprise that in my opinion, Vermont would love to have. This enterprise is clean and green, with several thousand well-paying jobs with good benefits and its employees pay taxes, pay rent, buy homes, and keep the economy running. This enterprise attracts hundreds of millions of dollars, largely from out of state, to Vermont and those dollars stay right here in Vermont. This entity also creates many other jobs through the millions of dollars of goods and services it purchases year after year from Vermonters. All told, over $1 billion of economic activity could be attributed to this organization's activities and presence in Vermont.

Moreover, this enterprise educates some 12,000 individuals each year to attain the skills and degrees they will need to be successful in the future. And for those who need assistance paying for this education, substantial levels of financial aid are available, so much so that this institution actually charges nothing to over 30% of the Vermonters who choose to be educated there.

Of course I am speaking of The University of Vermont. I believe that if the economic development professionals from around Vermont heard of an institution such as this, they would be working day and night to attract it to move to Vermont. Fortunately, it is already here and it is an enterprise that is absolutely critical to the future prospects of this state and its people. An organization that has worked hard to be better and more successful, and one that is a huge asset, not a drain, to Vermont's bottom line. A place that must remain strong and viable not only to survive in the highly competitive national and global higher education marketplace, but to remain an absolutely indispensable element of the survival of this special place that is Vermont. And unlike most state agencies, we must attract students, faculty, and many other employees from across the nation. Students today have literally thousands of options of where to attend college, and remaining a viable national university demands that we not rest on our laurels or depend on the status quo.

To succeed we must continue to focus on our strengths, as we have been working hard to do this year. The Transdiciplinary Research Initiative is a direct result of the Board's charge to the administration, coming out of last year's retreat, to focus on a set of compelling academic strengths. The outcomes we are looking at today are the result of an extensive, highly consultative process, and they are the start, not the finish, of this important initiative to reach the goals that the Board is seeking. Likewise, the progress that has been made on the General Education Requirement is impressive, and responsive to our desire to offer a more coherent academic experience to our students as recommended through the NEASC accreditation process of last year.

We need to be as efficient and creative as possible in delivering an outstanding and well rounded educational experience to our students, successfully competing for research dollars, seeking resources from a variety of sources and spending them wisely, and attracting and retaining the very best faculty, students, and staff possible.

We must provide high value in all that we do, whether that is in a classroom or a laboratory, in a volunteer program in the community, on the athletic fields, or in our residence halls. This is a tall order, and it isn't easy. Controversy is to be expected, but our progress continues. I firmly believe that if UVM is allowed to erode, so will Vermont. Fortunately, I have every confidence that together we have the intelligence, commitment, and collective will to do what is necessary to sustain the success of this great University.

I look forward to working with all of you and when I say all of you, I do not just mean those individuals around this table, but indeed all of those in this room and those others from the important constituent groups across the institution. I hope that we can all work together effectively to get this important work done.

Let me wrap this up with three important news items.

First, I am pleased to announce that the University has successfully executed a restructured agreement with the Steven and Beverly Rubenstein Foundation in conjunction with the settlement of Steve's estate. This agreement will bring an accelerated flow of funds to the University in the next four years, including $2 million that will be applied directly to the Greening of Aiken Project. This was accomplished in no small part due to the tireless efforts of Ian Boyce, working cooperatively with Beverly and Andy Rubenstein, and I wish to express my thanks to all of them for helping to bring Steve's vision into reality.

Second, let us take a moment to recognize a very important person, in many ways an unsung hero, who is joining us here for the last time, at least in his official capacity. Fred Curran has worked tirelessly and with distinction at UVM for 42 years. Fred, I hope I got that number right, since you always get the numbers right. He is retiring at the end of June. His service to our Board, and to our University, has been extraordinary, and will be greatly missed. Fred: thank you for all you have done for UVM.

Finally, let me note that we share this weekend with Commencement. In addition to celebrating the successes of our 2,400+ graduates, we have an extraordinary slate of honorary degree recipients, including a heroic and inspirational Commencement speaker this year in Eric Shinseki. In fact, all are genuine heroes in their own right, and we will honor them at dinner tomorrow night.

And another Vermont hero will be honored tomorrow afternoon at the dedication of James M. Jeffords Hall. I had the privilege of working with and for Jim Jeffords in his office during my last two years at UVM, so it is particular honor for me to be a part of UVM's honoring of Senator Jeffords. I will be at all of the weekend's festivities, and I hope that you will as well. It's a great time to be on this campus.

This concludes the Chair's Report. Thank you.

Last modified September 21 2013 06:48 AM