UVM Selects Three Areas For 'Spires Of Excellence' Plan

05/20/10 5:50PM By Mitch Wertlieb
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AP File Photo/Toby Talbot
(Host) The University of Vermont's Board of Trustees meets this weekend, and a lot of attention will be focused on the size of next year's tuition increase at the state's largest University.

But the board will also take a closer look at a plan that could transform UVM's very core identity for years to come.

The so-called "Spires of Excellence" plan would re-shape UVM's Graduate and Research programs, and eventually affect undergraduate studies as well.  But as VPR's Mitch Wertlieb reports, not everyone at UVM is on board with the idea.

(Wertlieb) Under the "Spires of Excellence" plan, UVM would emphasize 3 research areas: food systems, complex systems and neuroscience, and behavior and health. These core areas would become priorities for decisions on future hiring, and resource investment.

UVM Provost Jane Knodell says the University has to be prepared for the challenges of the future: 

(Knodell) ‘It's hard to be good at everything. These 3 areas map out areas of trans-disciplinary knowledge, education and research where the University can make a real contribution to solving our 21st century problems.")

(Wertlieb) Knodell says an exhaustive process search process led to the spires choices. She says town meetings were held at the campus for faculty who wanted to make the case for their programs being considered.

But Doctor Stephanie Kaza, who chairs the Faculty Senate's ad hoc committee on the Spires proposal, says there was a lack of transparency in the process:

(Kaza) "The areas that were chosen were chosen by the deans and the administration, so our concerns was that many areas of good research going on at UVM might have been overlooked."

(Host) Kaza also says the process didn't take into consideration popular areas of undergraduate study like biology, chemistry and English.  And she says there's a need to understand where future dollars will go:

(Kaza)" ... to understand how a shrinking budget will support a brand new initiative when we're already overflowing with students in our classrooms and we know the undergraduate experience has suffered from budget cuts."

(Wertlieb) Knodell says other programs won't be neglected under the Spires plan, if they take a different view of how their disciplines can relate and become a part of the core:

(Knodell) "For example, in the area of food systems, we have philiosphers that are interested in the ethics of eating...howe do you create regional food systems in between highly localized small markets and the global agriculture-that's a geography question."

(Wertlieb) And Knodell says if the plan goes forward UVM will look like a very different university-not just in its graduate and research programs, but in undergraduate studies as well:

(Knodell) "I think it could lead to a University that it 20 years from now  looks significantly different than the way it looks today, but this is a change that all research universities are needing to make."

(Wertlieb) The UVM Board will examine a resolution on the spires proposal this weekend that, if approved, would authorize the administration to proceed with the spires plan.

For VPR News I'm Mitch Wertlieb.




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