Dan Fogel of UVM

Well Schooled

Part of Dan Fogel’s aspiration for UVM is to see that the university is recognized among the finest small research institutions in the nation

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

Daniel Mark Fogel brought just what was needed to rebuild confidence in the University of Vermont after what he calls “a period of perturbation and malaise.” Five and a half years since he was installed as its 25th president, his 10-year vision is taking shape.

When Daniel Mark Fogel started his first year of college at Cornell, he thought he would study government. “I really wanted to be a politician,” says the man who, for the last five years, has been president of the University of Vermont. By the end of that first year at Cornell, though, he decided to become an English major.

In hindsight, he says, it was probably inevitable that he should end up in higher education. Fogel grew up in Ithaca, N.Y., surrounded by Cornell University, where his father taught.

“My dad was passionate about literature,” says Fogel. “He loved ideas; the novel. He had four kids, and I’m the only one who followed in his footsteps as a literary scholar.”

Fogel earned his undergraduate degree and, in his senior year, “got certificated to teach, as they say in the education business, and obtained one of the last teaching deferments that kept me out of the Mekong Delta, where my college roommate was killed.”

He taught high school in Connecticut for two years, and then, wanting to write poetry, followed his muse west, “roaming around for the better part of a year and a half.” He stayed a while at a friend’s ranch and eventually landed at Instituto Allende, an arts school in Mexico.

By the fall of 1972, Fogel had left Mexico and begun graduate school at Cornell, where he earned his master of fine arts in creative writing in 1974 and a Ph.D. in English in 1976. He then headed to Louisiana State University “as a newly minted assistant professor,” he says.

By that time, he had married Rachel Kahn, whom he had known since seventh grade homeroom, where they were seated side-by-side in alphabetical sequence. “We didn’t like each other at all,” says Fogel. “We argued intensely. She says I was the first boy who ever spoke to her seriously.” Kahn had joined him briefly in Mexico in ’72, and they married in June 1973. 

Michelle Atherton and Gary DerrFogel’s day begins at 5 a.m. and is tightly scheduled, often into the evening. Michelle Atherton is Fogel’s professional executive assistant; Gary Derr is chief of staff and executive assistant to the president and provost

Fogel spent the next 26 years at LSU, rising steadily through the academic and administrative ranks. By the time he was interviewed by the University of Vermont, Fogel had risen to executive vice chancellor and provost. 

Fogel took office at UVM in July 2002 and quickly identified three major challenges. “One was simply strengthening the university’s position in the hearts and minds of both its immediate constituencies — the UVM community, broadly defined, and the people of Vermont. Ed Colodny [acting president before Fogel’s arrival] had done a terrific job stabilizing the university after a period of perturbation and malaise, but the university was not at its highest level even after a good year under Ed’s leadership.”

Fogel’s first challenge was to rebuild “the confidence that the university would play, for Vermont, its full potential role as the only research university in the state as a driver of economic prosperity.”

Building that confidence, he says, entailed the second challenge: innovation to create programmatic richness and distinctiveness of the university that would build both the quality of education at UVM and the perception of that quality. 

“There was a broad array of things there, from giving research and graduate education a higher profile to creating a new honors college to creating residential learning communities to strengthening service-learning programs.” 

The third challenge was taking care of the physical campus. “There was a huge backlog, not so much around our many 19th-century buildings, but increasingly around the buildings from the middle of the 20th century that are now 40, 50, 60 years old and have mechanical systems and are not state-of-the-art teaching facilities.” 

There was, he says, an enormous agenda to address deferred maintenance and create new facilities such as the new University Heights residence halls connected to residential learning communities, the Dudley Davis Center, a laboratory and faculty offices, the purchase of Trinity College, Research Park in Colchester, “just working very hard on issues around campus master planning and the stewardship of long-term development of the physical campus.”

Susan Bitterman, Leslie Logan and Corinne ThompsonUVM employs about 3,700 people and is home to more than 12,000 students. Susan Bitterman (left) is budget manager; Leslie Logan is the administrator of university events; and Corinne Thompson is the trustees administrative coordinator

These challenges formed the core of Fogel’s 10-year vision for the university and its “invest-and-grow” strategy, although he allows that some of his aspirations reach beyond the 10-year planning horizon.

 “I think we have an incredibly important role to play in the state of Vermont,” Fogel says. “No region can thrive socially, culturally and economically without strong research institutions. We have only one research institution in our state; only one doctoral granting institution. That is one of the things that attracted me to the University of Vermont.”

Fogel quotes Bill Gates addressing a convention of state legislators a couple of years ago. “He said that they should throw out everything they know about economic development — all of the tools, tax incentives, enterprise zones — and concentrate on investing in their research universities. I think that’s broadly borne out by studies in the regions of the country that are prospering, whether it’s Route 128 in Boston or Research Triangle or the new chip consortium around Albany. They are all built around the engine of research universities.

 “The whole Northeast quadrant of the country, because it’s so rich in institutions both public and private, simply doesn’t have the situation you find in Vermont: only one medical school; one place where PhDs are awarded; and where there’s a big research agenda that builds capacity for creation of new enterprises and jobs.”

Fogel hopes to enable UVM to fully play out its destiny in fulfilling that role by “raising the competitive metabolism” so the university is recognized among the finest small research institutions in the nation.

“We’re well positioned now in many ways,” he says. “Our medical school was ranked Number 7 in the country in primary care last spring by US News, one of the magazine’s two rankings for medical schools, and it’s the one for education. Of course, I’d like to see our new dean, Frederick Morin, take us into the top five,” he adds.

Frank Cioffi, president of Greater Burlington Industrial Corp., who has been on the UVM board of trustees since Fogel was hired, says this enthusiasm has made it tremendously exciting working with him. “Dan came to Vermont and UVM with a dynamic vision and a passionate dedication to advancing UVM’s mission as one of our nation’s premier public universities,” says Cioffi. “His energy and passion have been infectious, and he has energized students, faculty, staff, alumni and members of the Vermont community, instilling a sense of pride in UVM and everything that our university does for our state.”

Continuing to serve Vermonters “extremely well” is high on Fogel’s list of objectives. “We have a relatively low percentage of international students on our campus,” he says. Enrollment figures show that diversity is increasing. Applications in spring 2006 from students aspiring to the Class of 2010 showed a 63 percent increase in applications from African-American, Asian-American, Latino and Native American prospects and a 19 percent increase in applications from Vermont students.

Asked about recent rumblings over the rapidly rising cost of higher education, he identifies it as an “extremely pressing national issue” to which he does not see a quick resolution.

“At UVM, we do a great deal to mitigate the problem of high cost for students and families through very, very aggressive use of financial aid,” he says. “We discount tuition more in the manner of a private institution than a public, spending about $45 million this year of our own budget, more than the state appropriation.”

He cites Kiplinger’s ranking of the top 100 values in public higher education. “One of the columns is net student cost after financial aid. They show that, unlike our sticker price, which is at the top, the net student cost for financial aid for Vermont residents is under $10,000, room and board as well — right in the middle of the country, ranked 49th. And while our cost for nonresidents is much higher than for Vermonters, even that, with financial aid, takes us from the top and puts us 18th out of the hundred in the publics.”

UVM, Fogel continues, offers students something very unusual in that it combines the mission of a public university with the quality of “a very competitive private institution — and a lot of the feel of a private institution — where 49 percent of our class sections have 19 or fewer students in them, and fewer than 2 percent are taught by graduate students.”

The bottom line, he says, is that the only way to lower cost to students and families is to have much higher levels of public investment, “because the cost of producing quality in our institutions is very high, and particularly at research institutions, precisely because it’s not our goal to have the best chemists or computer scientists in Vermont; we have to have people among the best in the world. Our faculty has to stand critical pressure and be a contributor to the advance of knowledge when it’s read in Beijing or Moscow.”

Listening to Fogel, it’s easy to hear the politician within the educator, an indication that he’s melded his early career aspirations with his current one. It’s also quite evident that the world of higher education is his oyster. An authority on Henry James, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, he is the founding editor of the Henry James Review and has published dozens of articles and reviews and produced seven books. He shares his passions with the community, giving talks, for example, on Henry James at area libraries and organizations here and in other parts of the country.

“You know, I love teaching; I love the sharing. My wife and I feel so lucky to be in Vermont. We love the out-of-doors; love the cultural life of the community; like just to be out on the Church Street Marketplace or go to events on campus.

“I guess all of it’s work, but all of it’s work and play.”

Fogel and Kahn, an artist, are careful to carve out private time. Both of their children are grown. “Cooking is recreational for me” he says. “And when I really want to blow off steam, which is really every day, I have guitars, crank them up — and my amps — and make a lot of noise.” •