Getting behind President Fogel

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(Host) UVM’s new president, Dr Daniel Fogel, plans to spend at least half his time fund-raising for the University. He also wants state government to increase its support by another million dollars a year. Commentator Tim McQuiston contemplates the intellectual as salesman.

(McQuiston) Welcome to the real world of higher education. Endowed chairs, technology and lavish – and I mean lavish – facilities for students is that reality. Students are paying more than $100,000 for a college education. They demand facilities that match that investment. Colleges are as competitive to lure students as students are competitive to be accepted.

UVM wants to hold down tuition to an increase of 3.5% a year. But its budget is increasing faster than that, and it already receives $34 million a year from the state.

So new UVM President Dr. Daniel Fogel will be putting his salesmanship skills to the test by asking corporate America for $250 million over the next several years. And by trying to convince the Legislature to give him a million dollars more a year, at a time when state government is in a budget-cutting mode, having lost $100 million in the last 18 months.

Fogel must have a lot of chutzpah. But he also seems like the real deal. For the first time since legendary UVM president Lattie Coor left for sunny Arizona State University in 1989, do I have the feeling that UVM has the right person in charge. What I remember most about the ill-fated tenure of former UVM president George Davis, Coor’s successor, was not the famous ladder photo. Davis’s short tenure was marked by falling enrollment, deep budgetary problems and the takeover of his office by students displeased by the University’s lack of diversity. The ladder photo was taken as Davis endeavored to negotiate with students by crawling in the window of his own office. Yikes.

But what I remember best about Davis’ tenure was his suggestion that UVM eliminate the engineering and mathematics department. This was during the first boom of the high-tech revolution, and just before web sites and email rewrote our dictionaries. So at the very moment that high-tech was becoming the church, and engineers the preachers, Davis proposed to cut the department. But although the department survived to limp along, it still hasn’t really recovered. Enrollment has plunged in the last 20 years from about 1,000 to under 500 today. Its budget has been slashed with the falling enrollment.

Fogel will be out raising money to make the University a better and more attractive institution of higher learning. He also needs more non-state, non-tuition funding. Private donors are the only ones to fill that bill. And here’s the bottom line: The academic community is behind Fogel. They’d rather have bright students and shiny equipment than just sit around in moth-eaten cardigans as enrollment and facilities disappear. I’m behind him too. My last thought is, I wonder what he can do for the hockey team.

This is Timothy McQuiston

Timothy McQuiston is editor of Vermont Business magazine.

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