Monday was the first official day on the job for the new president of the University of Vermont, who held a news conference to outline his vision for the university.
Thomas Sullivan succeeds Daniel Fogel, who resigned as president of UVM last summer after a nine-year tenure.
Sullivan takes over the reins at a time when rising tuition and sparse public funding present new challenges for the state’s largest university.
The former University of Minnesota provost said he’ll spend the first few weeks on the job preparing for the new school year by visiting with community leaders around the state.
Sullivan says he thinks UVM is well positioned to face the challenges of higher education now and into the future, but he said there has to be a frank accounting of how to align the goals, expectations and values of the University, "and to align those with the budget realities. And the risk, associated is that we could get a risk alignment of the budget realities of our goals and aspirations."
During Dan Fogel’s presidency UVM took on a number of infrastructure building projects, including the large Davis Student Center.
Sullivan says any first rate facility needs that kind of growth, but his emphasis-at least initially– won’t be on adding structures:
"My emphasis initially will be not on new buildings but on renewal of present structure and to make sure that we have terrific facility and infrastructure to support the learning environment for our students," he said.
Sullivan says that will include work on the research labs and classrooms. Asked about the possibility of a new arena for Catamounts sports teams, Sullivan said that won’t be an initial focus, although he’d be open to private fundraising for those kinds of projects.
Over the past nine years, the undergraduate student population at UVM increased to 10,000, and with that increase came tuition hikes for both in- and out-of-state students, drawing criticism that UVM has become unaffordable for many potential students.
Sullivan says he’s committed to find a way to make the university price tag less daunting, especially for Vermonters.
"One of the highest priorities in my presidency will be the question of financial access and affordability," Sullivan said. "I want to make sure that we have the right balance between tuition and fees on the one hand, and financial aid and scholarship packages on the other."
Sullivan says financial aid and scholarships can help defray some of those tuition hikes, and he’ll look to provide as much access as possible to that kind of financial aid.
Ending the press conference on a lighter note, Sullivan said he and his wife Leslie are settling in nicely along with their dog, an Australian Shepherd named "Harry Potter", a name he says the dog already had when they adopted it.