How does a university president thank a campus community for its work in helping to keep the institution thriving during a pandemic?
That leader writes a letter. Not just any letter, but one that is humble yet full of praise. One that is forthright yet transparent. One that is retrospective yet offers hope for the future.
When President Suresh Garimella delivered his eloquent correspondence as the University of Vermont’s fall semester began, he made sure to sprinkle in five important words that showed his appreciation for those he has been serving since October of 2019: “Proud. Thankful. Grateful. Optimistic. Honored.”
And yet, amid the reverence extended to Vermont’s family, Garimella took the opportunity to highlight the many accomplishments of the university that deserved to be recognized, a strategy that has been employed by presidents in similar messages during this time.
Garimella has a right to beam. For one, his university has been a stalwart on vaccinations, testing and low positivity rates—he mentioned that a third of all tests in the state were administered at UVM—allowing it to remain open since the first COVID-19 cases hit the Green Mountain State.
“How could Vermont be #1 in vaccination rates in the entire U.S. without all of us stepping up to do our part?” he wrote. “We were fortunate to be able to maintain in-person classes and many other activities for which I am thankful, but our usual routines and enjoyable rituals of campus life were disrupted or significantly modified. Such times can be unfamiliar, even disorienting. But I remain confident that we are better poised than most in higher education to handle the ‘next normal,’ and indeed, to thrive through it.”
Surely. These were some of the extraordinary accolades achieved by this now 230-year-old institution, all of them records or unprecedented achievements at UVM, that Garimella mentioned in the letter:
- Three Fulbright scholars chosen among 14 finalists, along with two national finalists for Truman Scholarships
- A 75% increase in the number of internships year over year
- A 92% placing of graduates in jobs or in graduate programs
- A tuition freeze for the third consecutive year and the leveling of room and board for the first time in 30 years
- $200 million in outside support
- 111 new faculty hires over the last year, including 40% being faculty of color
- More than 25,000 applications received from prospective students, most in UVM history
Proud of his university’s success with faculty hiring and accessibility for students thanks to that tuition freeze, Garimella said, “In my installation remarks, I quoted Jefferson’s notion of an aristocracy of achievement arising from a democracy of opportunity. That democracy of opportunity must be available to everyone, regardless of color, gender, identity, or economic means.”
Those opportunities are coming at UVM, where its core academic programs have been supplemented by a significant increase in online offerings, a new general education curriculum and a heavy dose of partnerships to get students on pathways to success.
Garimella’s letter was punctuated by his recognition of dozens of individuals and stakeholders for their efforts during COVID-19, including the continued pursuit of research. He opened by saying he was filled with “enormous pride” and closed with this: “I am honored to lead this institution and devoted to seeing it rise to even greater heights in the years ahead.”