Category Archives: Interviews

UVM CFO and Provost discuss upcoming budget cuts

The Cynic sat down last week with UVM Vice President of Finances and Administration Richard Cate and UVM Provost John Hughes to discuss the upcoming budget cuts.

The following is a full transcript of the interview.

Vermont Cynic: For starters, there’s been a lot of talk about what’s going on and what is the plan behind the action?

Richard Cate: You start with a baseline of a need to reduce the budget by $15 million.

All we did from that point is say that we would give everyone targets and, when I say everyone, it’s the major units — so the College of Education and Social Services, the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences — so that the colleges and the major administrative units, for instance my unit is the Division of Finances and Enterprise Services, so I’ve got all the people who take care of the buildings, all the people who do finance, all the human resource people, that sort of thing.

And they have a vice president for Student Life, who has all the residential activities and athletics, these types of things.

So each of the vice presidents and each of the deans was given a target and the way it worked is it was a 4.75 percent cut target for academic units and a 6.5 percent target for administrative cuts.

And the provost and the president, at best, could get the target to the leaders of these units and have them come back with a plan rather than sit here and say, well, that particular program in that particular college should go.

So the deans consulted the faculty and staff, I consult with my staff and then in the latter part of January, we all had to submit our plans to the provost and the president in terms of how we would reduce our budgets by that amount.

They are currently in the process of reviewing those plans and then, our original time frame was, in the last week of February they would render judgment on those plans and we would announce what we were going to do.

Most recently, because of some uncertainty about the size of the appropriation we get from the state, what we said is, we’re going to go forward with the bulk of those plans subject to the approval of the provost and president, but most of the layoffs associated with those plans would not occur.

And I say most, because there are some limited layoffs that have to occur in February that have nothing to do with this budget gap — there are particular parts of the organization that were running structural deficits before any of this budget situation came up, so there will be limited layoffs that you will hear about, not from the academic units probably, but mostly from the administrative units.

VC: So those layoffs are being put off because of the fact that the governor has said that he might not decrease appropriations?

RC: Right, the rest of the layoffs, other than those that I just described. What the president has said is that we will revisit this matter probably in April when we have a better sense of what’s going to happen with this appropriation.

The governor, actually, recommended an increase in funding for the University over this past year, but obviously they’ve got some major issues to deal with and we don’t know what the legislature will come up with as a result of that recommendation.

So what we’re hoping for is that, by probably early April, the House will have acted on the budget and sent it to the Senate — somewhere in that April time frame.

It’s not for me to judge, but just based on past experience, typically by that time, they will move the budget to the Senate and we will have a better idea of where things are headed at that point, it won’t be done, because it’s not over till it’s over.

The Senate has to act and then they have to have a committee to conference and then the government has to sign the bill, but we’ll know more than we do now.

VC: When will non-personnel cuts be released?

RC: We’re actually talking about that right now in terms of probably a lot of it will be available in February, early March.

For instance, there are a number of positions the deans have offered up and said “let’s not fill those positions,” so they’ll probably be aware of that within the next few weeks.

VC: What reasoning is there behind deciding what’s on the table to be cut and what’s not?  For example, why not filling positions, but not pay cuts for senior members of the administration?

RC: I think everything was on the table, the plans in front of the president and the provost are from the units, for instance, the example you just gave is something that would have to be decided University-wide.

We’ve got a list of hundreds of recommendations that people have sent to the president in terms of recommendations of what to cut and what’s not to cut.

That’s still on the list, that’s still out there — President Fogel hasn’t said absolutely this is going to happen or that’s going to happen.

John Hughes: Perhaps I can step in there, as Richard says, the recommendations come from the units and everything is on the table.

Some units chose not to fill [any] vacant positions others chose to fill vacant positions, some chose to fill some [positions] and not others. The whole goal is to preserve the academic mission as best we can and emerge faster and stronger than any other institution — and I’ll give you some background on that in the nation.

As to cutting administrators’ pay, when things like this happen, people say, “Cut the football team and cut administrator’s salaries,” — it’s two knee jerk things that you hear across the nation. But as we look, we have been spending a lot of time trying to get the faculty up to the median salaries in their positions, we’ve used the OSU survey, the Oklahoma State University survey.

We believe that now in the latest contract we will be at the median for faculty salaries, and we think it’s very important that we can do that to attract people from around the nation.

And same for administrators, I get very nervous every year when I look at some of our gain salaries, they’re not near the median salaries and I think it’s important that we at least get to that area, so a knee-jerk reaction of cutting administrator salaries may not be the best answer, certainly it’s on the table, but it may not be the best answer.

RC: I think, also maybe another piece of this is I think we have to be careful not to presume that the ship can operate without the qualified people at the helm.

The president and provost put the academics of the institution far on ahead of everything, but somebody does have be looking at the whole picture and, I think if dig deeply, you’ll find that we’re actually light in administration compared to a lot of our peer institutions in terms of the way we’re set up.

Now, you can cut back anything in this life, but, the provost and I, we have to be careful in the message we send to anyone.

VC: Was there any concern at all when considering the message that might be sent to students with the specifics of what will be cut?

JH: There certainly is that, but what I would urge you to do, is take a look at the national picture — if we were the only one experiencing this I would be very nervous.

I truly believe we are in a much better position than the majority of other institutions. So, several weeks, or maybe a month and a half ago now, or two months ago, I spoke before the faculty senate and I stood up there and said, “I think every institution in the country of higher education except Harvard, is facing what we’re facing.”

And that very afternoon, while I was speaking, President Drew Gilpin Faust, of Harvard announced their salary freezes, their hiring freezes and the large problems that Harvard’s facing.

I would urge you to just hop on some Web sites — I’m a Dartmouth alum, and just this week we got the letter from Jim Wright, President Wright, outlining the problems at Dartmouth.

I don’t know if you’ve heard about that, but I suspect it’s on their Web site and I can even give you a copy of the letter, but don’t quote my numbers here until I give you the letter, but I think they have to cut 72 million or 70 million, 150 positions, 90 vacant ones, and I think 60.  But Dartmouth is just one — Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Cornell is facing some very, very serious difficulties.

RC: Arizona.

JH: Oh, Arizona is the worst, they were talking about cutting $600 million from their higher education budget, they’re talking about closing whole campuses.

So I don’t believe in delighting in the woe of others, if you read a newspaper, you watch television; you know what’s going on around the world.

I truly believe we will emerge from it stronger, many places are cutting salaries, freezing salaries, our faculty salaries are going up 5 percent a year for the next three years, and that will give us an advantage against those institutions that are freezing salaries or cutting salaries.

So, it is bothersome, but I like our position.

RC: I think the president’s been clear on our first and foremost priority; it really is about student-based issues.

And the data don’t demonstrate significant changes on average in class size or anything else. There are a few anecdotal instances, where partially because of the reorganization and partially because of the budget, there may be significantly larger classes, but on average, it looks like the average, our median class has got 19 students in it now.  It looks like it will have 20 or 21 after this, so there aren’t significant changes in what’s really happening.

The student experience is a priority across the board, but that doesn’t preclude a need to cut the budget.  I would argue that anything we do here has some effect on the student experience, even if we had fewer administrators.

JH: If it doesn’t, we shouldn’t be doing it.

RC: That would it affect it as well.

VC: I was also wondering, back to how other universities are experiencing similar issues, how does the endowment play into all of this in our school and in other universities?

RC: Well, the good news about the endowment is that we do not rely on it for a significant portion of our budget, so the income from the endowment is only about 1.5 percent of the operating budget.

So if you’re at Harvard or Dartmouth or Yale and you’re getting 30-40 percent of your operating income from the endowment and the value the value drops by 40 percent, you’ve got a problem.

With us, the endowment dropped, it didn’t drop as much as a lot of endowments did, but the degree that which we rely on it is much less.

A lot of people say, “Cure the problem by spending from the endowment,” and the bottom line issue with that is, we have a structural problem that is going to go on forever unless we fix it.

So it’s not like we can take $15 million out of the endowment and solve the problem, because we would have to take it out next year and we have a commitment to those donors that those assets will be preserved in perpetuity for the benefit of the institution. So that’s really not an option.

Most of out state peers at other state universities rely more heavily on the state, so state budget cuts hurt them. Our private peers rely on endowment, so the endowment declines and the stock market decline has affected them.

In some ways, we’re fortunate that we’re more dependent on tuition.

VC: You mentioned that the effect on class sizes will be fairly small — are there any places where the effects of the cuts might be felt more by students, faculty and administrators?

RC: I think that there are some classes, based on what I’ve heard — and this is still anecdotal — but there are some classes that were larger classes anyway that are going to be much larger.

I wouldn’t argue, necessarily, that that makes it a negative student experience, but it will make it a different student experience, and of course it depends on how it’s done.

I have heard of some classes that have been 80 that are going to be 150, but that’s a very limited number on it of classes of that size on campus to begin with, so I think there is something like that.

You know, in terms of affecting faculty, one thing that’s going to affect faculty and staff on this campus is that custodial services will be different. We won’t be doing things quite the way we have been, because there won’t be as many people doing the services, because we won’t be back filling some positions.

Some people may have to engage in some part of the custodial services on their own, those types of things.

But mostly, this is — a lot of it is — about trying to do things differently and not bringing in quite as many more people to do them.

VC: Is that a trend that might prevail for a long time?

RC: I don’t think class sizes are going to decease dramatically.

I think the provost and the president have been trying to get the ratio up between 16 and 17 for some time — and the strategic plan has called for that — and so, I think after this, we’ll be where we have been trying to get to all along.

But I don’t think the average student is going to detect it on a regular basis.

There may be one class where a student says, “This is bigger than it used to be,” but most cases, again in comparison to our peers, we are still in the land of small classes.

JH: Our student-faculty ratio, as Richard said, was our target in 2004 — 16-1.  We never got there because it is more fun to add faculty and times were good.  We did not have to.

16-1 puts us among the lower if not the lowest in public higher education.

I recently completed a comparison for our board of our top 25 competitors in terms of cross-admissions.

In other words, UNH is our top competitor among students that apply both here and there, and, if we compare our top 25 among those, in the publics we are second to lowest in student-faculty ratio.

Delaware does 13-1, I don’t know how they do it.  I assume they get a huge state subsidy.

I decry what is happening in higher education, but I certainly like our position and our leadership through this better than the vast majority of institutions.

Even the mighty are falling — Stanford, Cornell, Harvard, Yale.

VC: Is there concern how hikes in tuition will affect incoming students?

JH: Every other night I wake wondering how students are going to pay for it and then every other night I wake wondering how we do it so inexpensively.

Our 6 percent tuition increase puts us in the lower half of publics, and my guess is way lower half.

Because a lot of schools are solving the problem by —it takes so much to run a university and when the state cuts back it has got to come from somewhere — and they choose to do it by raising tuition.

The average among publics last year was 6.6 percent and we raised 10 percent lower than that at 6 percent. But keep in mind that when we raise tuition by 6%, that only increases our recovered money by 3.8 percent, because a third of it, or little more than a third, immediately goes to financial aid.

So if you are receiving financial aid and tuition goes up by 6 percent, we raise your financial aid. So out of that 6 percent, a third immediately goes to financial aid, so we realize, 4 percent, or in this case 3.8 percent, so it’s not a draconian increase, because we plow a third of it right back to you, and you and your colleagues.

RC: What we are finding in the analysis we’re going through right now is that on a proportionate basis we actually are going to have to drive more money to financial aid — we’ll be putting up more financial aid on a proportionate basis because of some of the impacts that incoming students are feeling.

So that is going to be another budget challenge that we’ve got to deal with.

VC: Will you be able to make the enrollment targets of 300 additional students?

RC: Well right now we have record applications — about 22,000.  I don’t think there is any doubt we can fill the positions.

The challenge is always about maintaining the academic excellence of students and the diversity of students.

And that is what is driving this additional financial aid, because as the enrollment management folks bring forth that quality and diversity, basically it is costing more financial aid to maintain that this year.

But I think the president, the provost and I are all confident that the students will be there.

VC: What about housing for those students?

RC: So, obviously, they are not all going to be first year — maybe about a half of them — 140 of them, perhaps, will be first-year students.

And what we took to the Board this weekend was a proposal to renovate a dorm over on Trinity Campus, that will hold about 160 students.

VC: Will there be more dorm crowding?

RC: Well, what we are doing is talking about adding more room than the increase in on-campus students so we should be staying neutral.

We have another project that is a couple years out that we call Redstone Two, which would add another 400 beds that would hopefully alleviate some of the crowding we have now and then perhaps down the road perhaps yet again more dorm rooms.

JH: One exercise I might suggest you try — Do you both live on campus?  In doubles or triples?

Well, we’ll choose the example of a double.

If you go down Williston Road and choose a cheap hotel, motel, call them up and see what their rates are — it will  be $89, $99, $79 a night.

Add the taxes and calculate what it would cost you to live in that room, double occupancy, for 224 nights.  If you do that, you’ll find about $22,000 to $24,000 a year.
What do you get?  You get a room, double occupancy, maybe a color TV.

If you come to UVM as a Vermont student, you get a room — double or single occupancy — you get world-class education, you get a library with millions of volumes, you get health care, you get counseling, you get a marvelous faculty, you get admission to NCAA sporting events, you get an art museum and a geology museum, you get computer labs, you get wireless, you get access to computers, you get transportation and oh, food! You get three squares a day.

As a Vermonter on the average it costs you $9,000.

That is what keeps me awake — How can we provide that for you for $9,000, on the average, as a Vermonter?

Yet if you went and made that comparison, I think you would find that interesting.

VC: Has the ratio between in-state and out-of-state students changed at all over the past few years?

JH: It has been fairly constant.  We are going to keep an eye on it over the next few years because people like you are getting more and more rare.

Vermonters are, the number of Vermont high-school graduates is declining, the decline starts this year.

And we are getting larger and stronger pools of Vermonters as we become more attractive to in-state students.

So we hope to buck the trend of there being fewer and fewer of you in the demographics, and attracting more and more by simply being a desirable place to be, which we have seen happen in the past few years.

I don’t know what the buzz was in your high school, but we are hearing that people are thinking that UVM is a stronger and more desirable place to go these days.


IRA compensation bill tabled

A bill brought up for consideration at the Inter-Residence Association’s (IRA) bi-weekly meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 11, was to provide compensation for the seven student members of the IRA executive board.  The full text of the bill can be found here.

According to Sarah Rouhan, the Cynic’s reporter covering the meeting, the compensation bill was tabled until the IRA constitution is revised, which may happen sometime before the end of the semester.

A transcript and audio of an interview with IRA President Bob Just and the bill’s creator, Peter Cesiro, can be found here.

Quoted is the text of a speech by UVM student Jimmy Candon that he delivered at the meeting:


My name is Jimmy Candon. I am here speaking on behalf of myself, one of your constituents, an on-campus resident who pays the IRA fee each semester. I apologize for writing this, but please understand I need to choose my words carefully so that my role right now as an “IRA fee-paying on-campus resident” doesn’t get confused with my two other roles, an RA and SGA Senator.

Some of you may be familiar with who I am because of my initial role publicizing your executive board’s proposed bed waiver compensation. I have come tonight to express similar disapproval for an increase in compensation now. I primarily opposed the compensation last semester due to the reallocations of money compared to the previous year your executive board made, then you approved, in order to create an additional $40,000. The Readership program was reduced from $35,000 to $7,000. There was a reduction greater than 50 percent in the cumulative amount of money allocated for Social, Educational, and Community Service Programming and no money was allocated for Co-Sponsorship, Sponsored Programs, or the Resident Support Group. For an organization whose role it is to represent all on-campus residents, I found it hard to justify that this was in the best interest of the students. 

My disapproval tonight falls upon the same ethical question: is this right? What areas of IRA have suffered financially to make this a possibility? Would the on-campus student body approve of IRA spending almost one fifth of its working budget towards their seven executive board members? Did the Board of Trustees intend for the IRA fee to be used this way when they approved the fee?

As I told your President last semester before I went public with their proposed compensation package, “I don’t feel like the on-campus student body would approve of this use of money.” Despite untrue excuses of misinformation, I say with confidence, I was right.

It might interest you to know that SGA Senators like myself receive no compensation, the President of our largest club, the Outing Club, receives no compensation, the President of the WRUV radio station, even the President of UVM Rescue receives no compensation. There is a quote in The Adventure of the Norwood Builder where the fictional character Sherlock Holmes says, “The work is its own reward.” I ask that the IRA executive board look to this philosophy for compensation instead of continuing to attempt to further their own.

As Sarah Glassman put it last semester when she was explaining to me why she single handedly voted down the bed waiver compensation, “I thought of it as an ethics check.” So it’s up to you, I urge you to make the right decision. As your President Bob Just stated in the Cynic interview, his name may not be on this legislation but he did help to create it. I urge you to disregard your executive board and make the decision based on what you believe will be the best for the organization.

I wish I could stay, but I have to get back and study for an exam tomorrow. I will T the P, trust the process. I trust you will all make the right decision tonight. I look forward to reading about it in the Cynic next week, Sarah Rouhan does a great job keeping the rest of the campus informed on this topic. Thank you very much for your time. 

UVM’s president responds to questions about commencement speaker Ben Stein

UVM President Daniel Mark Fogel spoke with members of the media Monday, Feb. 2, about the withdrawal of Ben Stein as UVM’s commencement speaker. The following is a full transcript of the interview. To read UVM’s press release about Stein’s withdrawal, click here.

When, in the press release, you say “profound concerns,” what in particular do you mean?

Fogel: I think the fundamental concern of the people that wrote to me was that, while they are quite open to having a speaker with Mr. Steins views on campus, they felt that he should not be honored at the commencement ceremony when so many of his views seemed to be affronts to the basic premises of the academy, about scientific and scholarly inquiry and collaterally, people were deeply disturbed by his views on the roll of science in the Holocaust.

Did you know about his views before you asked him to speak?

Fogel: I was vaguely aware of them. I want to put together a much better consultative process that will help to identify such concerns in the future and I hugely regret that I did not anticipate the depth and the complexity of the concerns.

Of course I did not go see ‘Expelled,’ why would I? I am myself a believer in science.

When he spoke last year here, at the Kalkin lecture, he did not address any of those concerns. He talked about the economy. He talked about an area of his expertise.

He was received enthusiastically by the audience and, of course, the interest in those topics has intensified during this economic turbulence we have all experienced. So it seemed timely, and I was frankly insufficiently attentive to this other area.

In the press release, when you say “affronts of tenets of the academy,” what are you referring to?

Fogel: I am referring to the belief in the academic community about, let us say, the moral neutrality of science and the scientific method.

Is the correspondence between you and Professor Richard Dawkins authentic?

Fogel: It is authentic; I admire his work greatly. I have read his work and I have been deeply instructed by it, as I said to him. I was really quite honored to have an e-mail from him directly.

What was the first e-mail from him about?

Fogel: It was to discuss his dismay and concern along the lines we have already discussed.

And also to give me some of his more person background that I had certainly been unaware of. I did not know that he was shown in the movie ‘Expelled’ and that he had been manipulated by the producers and that his words had been used out of context.

Did you know Stein before he came to speak last spring?

Fogel: Oh yes. You know, I had never met him before he came. I did not know him personally, but there is a personal connection. He was the college roommate of my wife’s sister’s husband and they have been best friends ever since.

When he lectured, as invited by the business school, I developed a warmer relationship with him as a visitor to the campus than I might have otherwise, because of that personal connection. But that is the first and only occasion I have met him.

What was the reaction last year?

Fogel: No. Not that I know of. I think the film had just come out and the depth of his affiliation with viewpoints that were so disturbing to so many members of the academic community had not been fully in focus for people. There were one or two questions from the audience about the movie, although it was not in his talk.

Did you call him and ask him to withdraw?

Fogel: I did not ask him to withdraw. I wrote to Ben and, because his talk last spring was about the economy, I had always assumed that that would be the subject of his talk.

And I simply wrote to him and said it would be helpful to me, in view of the concerns of faculty here and members of the academic community elsewhere about his views on creationism and intelligent design and the Holocaust, to confirm that he was going to speak about the economy.

That being said, Jon, I do have a better appreciation at this moment, and one I should have had earlier, about the symbolic importance of the commencement and of the commencement speaker.

Obviously this should be a time where we celebrate the graduating seniors and their accomplishments and we should be identifying speakers who pull the community together, not who divide it amidst heated controversy.

I clearly erred in doing what I did and I am very sorry. I did not appreciate fully all of these dimensions of the situation. I think a better process that is more consultative going forward and selecting the commencement speaker will serve us well in the future.

Will you have a committee with some faculty representation?

Fogel: Well, we do have a committee with faculty representation. When I arrived here, I was told that the selection of the speaker was the president’s prerogative.

And I had personally invited people every year and, by in large, the speakers had been fairly well received. I think that members of the community were extremely proud that we brought people like congressman John Lewis, an others.

But clearly, in this case, we would have been much better served by a consultative process and clearly that is what I intend to put in place in the future. There are faculty, students, trustees and alumni on the honorary degree selection committee now.

Which faculty in particular made concerns that were persuasive to you?

Fogel: I am very attentive to the views of all faculty members.

They wrote to me, personally. I’m not sure that I should say that some carry more weight than others. I can say that I heard from faculty senate officers. I heard from faculty that I have team-taught courses with and have very strong relationships with.

And, of course, I heard from very distinguished members of the scientific community like Richard Dawkins as well.

What was the tipping point?
When did the reaction become significant?

Fogel: Well, let me be clear, I did not ask Ben Stein not to come. I had invited him and I was not going to retract the invitation. But I was not going to let him be blind-sided by the controversy. And, as I said, I asked him to confirm that he would speak about the economy and it was at that point that he withdrew.

So he had accepted the invitation?

Fogel: Yes. It was at that point that he said, “Look, I’m not going to come, you have plenty of time to find another speaker.” Personally for me, I think the tipping point was Saturday morning, when I got a lot of e-mails.

How many e-mails did you receive?

Fogel: I would say hundreds. I have not counted them. I did compose a response and someone has been responding to them for me with the response that I composed.

I only got a few from UVM, but I understand that there is a great deal of conversation about this on faculty listservs that I am not on, notably the United Academics listserv that I am not on.

So, the faculty members that wrote to me were perhaps half a dozen. The hundreds came from blogs and websites that were bemoaning this misstep.

But I have to say, the issue here, and this is important, is not freedom of expression. Ben Stein has come to our campus to speak, and some of the faculty that are colleagues here wrote to me to say that they have no objection to him coming here to speak.

It was the legitimate concern among members of the community regarding the implications of granting an honorary degree to someone whose ideas fundamentally ignore the basics of scientific inquiry.