Gov. Peter Shumlin and Thomas Sullivan, president of the University of Vermont, held a joint press conference Wednesday at UVM to announce that they plan to restructure the relationship between the state and its only public university. John Bramley, one-time interim UVM president and longtime UVM faculty member, will oversee the organizational reforms.
In June, the governor’s higher education advisory group released a report recommending, among other changes, that UVM double the size of its engineering school, tweak its tuition structure, and shake up the ratio of public to private trustees, and that the state appropriate funds to specific programs rather than the university’s general fund.
Bramley, who is also a member of the advisory group, now has the job of making sure the report doesn’t “sit on a shelf.” Bramley will be paid $20,000 for a role that, by his own estimate, he will serve for 18 months.
In his introduction, Shumlin described Bramley in the way he often talks about himself: “He’s a common-sense pragmatic leader who gets things done.”
Shumlin and Bramley both characterized what’s at stake for the state in dramatic terms. The changes are necessary, they said, in order to build a future for the university and the state at a time when the world economy is increasingly shifting toward globalization.
“UVM must be a world class research university and it must be able to attract and support businesses and if it doesn’t do that, then Vermont’s future economic success is threatened,” Bramley said.
The state currently gives $40 million a year to UVM, which amounts to 5 percent and 7 percent of the university’s budget. Ten million dollars is for agricultural and engineering programs, another $10 million goes to the medical school, and the remaining $20 million supports the financial aid program.
Shumlin emphasized how serious he is about putting the report’s recommendations into effect, but he stressed that given its budget deficit, the state would have a limited role to play in funding the reform measures. Though many of the recommendations — doubling the engineering program, for instance — won’t be cheap, Bramley said, “Some of them are noble and expensive, some of them are noble and not so expensive.”
How much Bramley can accomplish will depend in part on the cooperation of the state Legislature and UVM’s board of trustees. One of the proposed reforms — to reconstitute the board of trustees to include more private seats and fewer public ones — would give legislators less direct say in operations at the school. But, Shumlin, who, as governor, is an ex-officio member of the board, said this would allow the board to tap more private funders, and if another of the reforms — to allow the state to control which programs its appropriation goes to — were put into effect, this would preserve a measure of public accountability.