photo by Sally McCay
As provost, John Bramley has seen UVM through the transition and stabilization of Edwin Colodny’s interim presidency and into the first years of Daniel Mark Fogel’s leadership, an era marked by a renewed confidence in the University and swift progress on an ambitious vision for the future. Bramley, a professor of animal sciences and of microbiology and molecular genetics, has served UVM as chair of the Department of Animal Sciences and dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences during his 16 years at the University. The provost, who will close out his tenure as UVM’s second-ranking administrator on June 30, sat down with VQ editor Thomas Weaver to talk about Bramley’s years at the University and the future, UVM’s and his own.
Q. You began as interim provost with Ed Colodny, a higher education outsider, as interim president. Then, a year later, Dan Fogel, in many ways a consummate higher education insider, became president. Could you talk about how your role changed with that transition?
A. Ed came into an institution in crisis. He knew that as interim president he didn’t have the time to learn the academic culture and its intricacies. He really focused on the external relations, on some financial sustainability issues, very much on creating good communication among the faculty, staff, and students, and on building confidence. He did all of those things brilliantly. But he relied on me for the academic leadership that the institution needed.
When Dan came on board, it was to some extent a different circumstance. The ship was righted reasonably well, we weren’t listing severely to port — or sinking, as some thought we were a year or so earlier. Leadership became more a matter of deciding where we wanted to actually sail this ship. Having Dan as a partner who understood the academic culture was a big advantage to me. Then it was the right time to start to think about the vision and plans and what the limitations were and what the opportunities were.
Q. You stepped away from this job once…
A. Tried to (laughs)…
Q. …but were persuaded to continue. What made you committed to stepping away this time?
A. Well, you know, it’s interesting. I never had an ambition to be a provost. I’d moved into the deanship of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. I was loving that job. In a sense that was the job that I really wanted.
Then the institution started to implode a bit. And I love this place, warts and all, so I felt it was the right thing to do when Ed Colodny asked me whether I’d be the interim provost, and I knew I had the support of the fellow deans to do that. My intent was absolutely to do that first piece — let’s get everything on an even keel, go out and do a presidential search, then it would be time for me to go back to the college. If somebody had said to me at that stage “we want you to be provost for five years,” I would have probably said no.
By the time I step down this summer, I’ll have worked one year as provost with Ed and four years with Dan. And I think that’s the right time for a change. This is a job that I’m glad I had the opportunity to do. Broadly, I think it has gone fairly well. I’ve learned a lot from doing it. I’ve gained a better knowledge of people and the institution. But it is the right time for the University and for me.
We’ve got the vision launched; we’ve got some of these major projects under way; we’re doing faculty recruitment; we’ve got an outstanding set of senior leaders and all of the deans in place for the first time in a long time at the University. This is the right time for Dan to go out and recruit the next provost who is going to serve him and this institution well for the next five or six years. That will give us a period of continuity and stability that this place hasn’t seen since the days of Lattie Coor.
Q. Will you be returning to your work as a member of the faculty?
A. I expect so. I enjoy my students. I enjoy research. So, that’s the most likely scenario, but I really want to spend a little bit of time thinking about it. There are all sorts of possibilities that are in the background, things that my wife Janet and I have talked about for years. Now that the kids are grown up, it would be the time to do it.
Q. Over the past two years, the institution has made some very fast strides toward realizing the vision detailed by President Fogel in 2003. Clearly, though, there is much yet to be done. What do you see as the major challenges ahead?
A. I think the biggest risk for us is trying to make it all happen a little too quickly. Our growth has to be a sustainable growth. The situation we had this fall where we got two or three hundred more students than we’d really planned for — it was a scramble. Due to the dedication and hard work of our employees, we solved it. We made it happen. But the biggest concern I have is that if we let that growth outstrip our ability to have decent classrooms, to have the faculty teaching students, then the bubble can burst. You’ve got to deal with the reality along with the enthusiasm and momentum.
For example, we enrolled 2,400 first-year, first-time students this fall. Our target for next year is 2,200. Two-hundred fewer. We can stick to that number and still be absolutely on target for the vision. The mistake would be to say, “Well, let’s go for 2,500.” That would be a mistake because we wouldn’t be able to deliver in terms of quality experience. Our retention would drop and so on and so forth. We overshot the mark a little bit in terms of numbers. Let’s settle down. Let’s make sure we’re still on the right trajectory and not overdo it.
The beauty of it is that we’ve shown that we can attract diverse, good quality students at the highest levels outlined in the vision. I think that we’re in very good shape.
I think that the enthusiasm the University is engendering around the place generates a hundred ideas a day of what we could do, should do, shouldn’t do, and whatever. That’s good, but we must not lose focus. We must not get seduced by it all and start spending money unwisely or on the wrong things or lose that direction, because it is serving us well. We know where we want to go and we’ve got to keep going.
Q. If you could leave a bit of advice to your successor, what would it be?
A. I think probably the most important thing is to have a passion for the place and a sense of humor. If you don’t have the passion, you won’t put up with it for very long. And if you don’t have the humor, you’ll go nuts. This is a job that never stops.
Also, you need to find ways to remind yourself why you are here. Whether that be sitting down and having a cup of coffee with a group of students or going to a scholarly lecture, but remember what the institution is about. The job is such that you can get bogged down with all of the tasks that you’ve got to do and all of the meetings, but you’ve got to find time to keep reminding yourself of why it matters, why we’re here. (up^)
Diving into disaster
Alice Fothergill ’89 was eager for fall. With a semester on research leave, the UVM assistant professor of sociology had an exquisite vision of herself holed away with long-awaited books and postponed projects. But then Katrina. As flood victims sought comfort and stability in the aftermath of the hurricane, Fothergill, a disaster sociologist, turned her life upside down to join them.
“It’s the tough part of being a disaster researcher,” she says. “It happens and you have to go. It’s too compelling.”
Fothergill had already planned to focus a future project on children (her first book examined how women rebuilt their lives in the aftermath of the 1997 North Dakota floods) and when the storm hit, despite some pangs for that quiet office, she knew this was the one. Fothergill secured an emergency grant and headed for the Gulf Coast to study the impact of disaster on children and how families reconstruct devastated lives.
What she found was a mix of the harrowing and the hopeful. In one intensive week on the ground in Lafayette, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans, Fothergill interviewed parents, children, teachers, mental health professionals, and shelter workers. She heard excruciating stories of loss, but she also found families making a life, even in shelters. At the Cajundome, where the Lafayette school bus makes a regular stop, a mother lovingly makes her child’s bed, teddy bear placed just so. Beside the bed, a plastic storage bin is covered with a cloth and on it sits a framed picture. “Families are sort of settled,” Fothergill says. “They’ve made it their own space.”
There is much data to be analyzed and she plans to return for follow-up interviews next year, but early impressions suggest that children who were evacuated with family and friends they knew from home may fare better, as may those who quickly get into routines like going to school. But it also depended on the degree of the loss and the child’s age. “With age,” Fothergill says, “came more anxiety.”
While not to be compared with the ordeal of victims, disaster researchers face unique challenges. The need to collect perishable data means moving quickly, but that leaves little time for planning a study. Innumerable practical details and ethical dilemmas arise, like where to sleep when so many people are homeless. And there’s the emotional toll. “It’s absolutely isolating and painful to do this kind of research,” Fothergill says.
Yet she has hope — and this is the point — that the work will translate into better policy when the next disaster strikes. “In a way I feel lucky,” says Fothergill, “because I get to go and do something. I wish I could do more, I wish I were a nurse or something, but I hope in some small way that doing research contributes.” (up^)
—Lee Ann Cox
“Temperatures are changing because of humans.
We’re in charge now. The change now is mostly us.”
Richard Alley, professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University,
in a Sept. 14 campus talk, part of the Burack President’s Distinguished Lecture Series.
“There’s no evidence to support global warming — none. It’s essentially cultural anthropology.”
Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives,
in an Oct. 6 talk at Ira Allen Chapel sponsored by the UVM College Republicans.
Pianist brings Holocaust-era works to light
In the moments before he sits at the piano bench, gathers himself, and begins sending the composer’s notes aloft with all the skill and sensitivity he can muster, Paul Orgel would rather not speak, and he would prefer that his audience focus exclusively on the music.
But his central project of the last several years, a program of music from four composers imprisoned in Czechoslovakia during the Holocaust, makes those preferences untenable.
“I’m of the belief that music has to exist on its own merits,” Orgel, an affiliate artist in the music department, says. “To pay attention to music because of where it comes from historically or what emotional state the composer was in is a side issue. The music has to be abstract from the situation… but this music puts that notion to the test.
“If they hadn’t been (in a concentration camp), I still would be playing them because I believe in the music. I think that is very important. I always wonder, though, is there some level of crassness about this? The Holocaust attracts interest because it is so horrifying; am I trading in that in some way? It’s a moral dilemma. It has to come from some purity of motive, which means the music.”
The pieces, which Orgel has played in concerts around the world and now in a new compact disc recorded at UVM, miraculously survived the war even though three of its four creators —Viktor Ullmann, Pavel Haas, Gideon Klein, and Karel Berman — all prisoners at the Theresienstadt camp (also commonly called Terezin, after the Czech town), did not. Then the work languished in obscurity for 50 years before being rediscovered in the early 1990’s. Even then, the compositions remained obscure and were rarely performed or recorded — and never with the care Orgel believes their quality demands.
Orgel finds the music and history of the Czech camp deeply moving, compelling, at times overwhelming. In concert, he narrates the performance, making the challenging cognitive leap from spoken exposition to musical expression to try to explain the terrible backdrop to the pieces and his personal connection to them.
“My mother was a refugee from the Holocaust,” Orgel says. “Her immediate family all escaped, they all got out of Vienna in 1938, going to Yugoslavia, then to England, then to here. However, there were branches of her family that died at Terezin, who were Czech Jews from this exact part of the world. When I look at the faces of these composers, I see part of my family. It is very personal, very moving to me, almost unbearable.”
UVM’s rank in a Men’s Fitness
magazine list of the fittest colleges
and universities. VQ’s editorial
staff resisted the urge to test
the data by ordering a random
sample of the student body to
“drop and give us 20.”
Clean-living BYU took top honors.
For 14 years, they’ve annually run out of bowls or come close to it at the Living/Learning Empty Bowls Dinner, says Joan Watson, coordinator of the pottery studio. The event, which raises awareness of and cash to fight hunger, gets student and staff potters busy throwing handmade bowls that are given away at the supper. ($7 buys you soup and a bowl to take home.) And the soup in those bowls is also the work of student volunteers. This year’s dinner handed out nearly 300 bowls and brought in more than $2,000 for hunger agencies in the Burlington area. (up^)
Tucked into a corner of the Living/Learning Center, Alice’s Store (Alice’s Café these days) has long served UVM students desperate for a snack or some daily necessity. And Alice Sutton, the store’s founder and name inspiration, is still going strong, warmly greeting customers more than three decades after she opened the original Simpson Hall Store in 1974.
Beyond being a pioneer and an expert in the business of on-campus convenience stores, Sutton has made her mark with the University’s dining contractor, Sodexho, through her initiatives to fight hunger in the local community. “Hunger hurts because there’s not only a pain in your stomach, but there’s also one in your mind as you wonder where your next meal is coming from,” Sutton says. “I was brought up very poor and it’s a feeling you never forget.”
Propelled by those memories, Sutton has spent much of her life trying to support others dealing with the kinds of problems she once faced. Her “Caring Cans” program (which began years ago when she placed a box outside her store for holiday food donations) collected 4,500 pounds of food from the UVM community last year. The effort also earned her Sodexho’s 2005 national “Hero of Everyday Life” award, an honor that came with a $5,000 award for the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf.
“It’s hard to believe this all got started with a cardboard box,” Sutton says. “I’ll keep doing this as long as I live, because I can see the difference it makes in people’s lives.” (up^)
Eyes on the sky
Anastasia Yarbrough and Natalia Fajardo spent their summer days waist deep in field grasses at Shelburne Farms. Far from a vacation idyll, the pair of undergrads were conducting research on bobolinks with Professor Allan Strong, studying the grassland birds’ song and language, breeding patterns, and nesting areas. “The hardest part was getting up at 3:40 in the morning every day,” says Fajardo. “Just very long days, especially mid-July when the full bright sun is right on top of you.”
Tougher yet, says Yarbrough, is the business of scaring up bobolinks. “You have no idea how hard finding a bird can be. It may sound simple, but it is not,” she says. Yarbrough, a junior from Memphis, Tennessee, and Fajardo, a senior originally from Colombia, were two of ten UVM students who took part in the 2005 McNair Scholars Program, a federally funded effort designed to increase the numbers of people from under-represented groups in scientific fields and doctoral programs.
The scholars followed up their time in the lab and the field with another academic test, presenting their findings at a campus symposium. Yarbrough and Fajardo weathered the passage from the grasslands to the jungle of a seminar, taking the podium in a room filled with senior faculty.
Beyond the McNair Program, Yarbrough and Fajardo both intend to carry through with their research, turning it into their honors theses. And they don’t plan on stopping there, not in terms of scientific study at least. Yarbrough isn’t afraid to think big, eager to push in new directions through interdisciplinary study of animal biology, sociology, and philosophy. Fajardo’s interests are wide-ranging and passionate. Considering what’s next, she bursts out with “Compost! I love compost. I might go through the agricultural side of things.”
No matter their paths, a summer in the field has given these two McNair Scholars a glimpse of their futures, something that, for an undergraduate, can prove even tougher to capture in your sights than a small, elusive bird. (up^)
—Corey Christman G’06
ROTC alumnus killed in Iraq
Several years older than his fellow ROTC cadets, Mark Procopio ’04 could connect with his military studies professors as a peer and earn the tongue-in-cheek nickname “Dad” from his classmates. Remembering Procopio, friends and former teachers invariably mention the Burlington native’s strength of conviction, high energy, and outgoing personality. “It was almost to an extreme how full of life he was,” says Alan Rivoir ’04. “I still can’t believe he is gone.”
2nd Lt. Mark James Procopio was killed on Nov. 2 while serving with the Vermont Army National Guard in Iraq. Procopio’s patrol hit a roadside bomb as they rushed to assist U.S. soldiers in a downed helicopter. He is survived by his wife, 1st Lt. Erika Gilman Procopio ’03, who was serving with the Vermont National Guard in Kuwait at the time of her husband’s death. Procopio is the first graduate of UVM’s ROTC program to die in Iraq.
Retired Maj. Al Knox was an assistant professor of military studies and student advisor when Mark Procopio joined the sophomore ROTC class. Knox remembers him as a student who had found his way after some false starts in college. Procopio came to know the military studies faculty well and was a frequent visitor to the department’s offices to talk about the military, politics, or life. Knox says Procopio’s commitment to ROTC and his family’s tradition of service with the Vermont Guard was strong. “He liked being in charge more than being a follower,” Knox says. “He wanted to be the kind of guy who did things right.”
Rivoir recalls that Procopio was always the first one to reach out and welcome a new cadet. Procopio earned his nickname not only due to the years he had on his classmates but also because of his personality, “generous, always willing to help or give advice,” says Rivoir. Not long before his death, Procopio e-mailed Rivoir and a circle of friends, reporting on his duty in Ramadi and asking how others were doing. The signature on the message, “Dad.”
Funeral services for 2nd Lt. Mark Procopio were held at Ira Allen Chapel on Nov. 12. The chapel was filled to capacity with mourners, and Vermont leaders including Sen. Patrick Leahy, Gov. James Douglas, Vermont National Guard Adjutant General Martha Rainville, and UVM President Daniel Mark Fogel honored Procopio in their comments at the ceremony. (up^)
Answers in the wind
A small-scale wind turbine installed on the UVM campus this fall promises to annually harvest enough energy to power an energy-efficient home. Though that power will flow into the Burlington Electric grid, those 3,000-some kilowatt hours aren’t really the point so much as the learning opportunity they offer.
The turbine, located near the corner of East Avenue and Main Street, features a data logger enclosed at the base of the tower. Data collection and display are at the heart of the wind turbine’s educational utility, says Charles Ferreira, a faculty member in the department of Community Development and Applied Economics who was responsible for overseeing the educational components of the installation.
The project is part of the Vermont Department of Public Service Wind Development Program, which supports the installation of turbines to demonstrate the benefits of wind energy. Funding for the installation was provided by a $30,000 matching grant from the DPS, a portion of $1.5 million in U.S. Department of Energy funds secured by Senator James Jeffords for wind projects. (up^)
A new home for medical education
The UVM College of Medicine’s Vermont Integrated Curriculum, notable for its integration of basic science and clinical learning from the outset of med students’ experience, is at home in a building that fits it well. With the completion of the academic health center’s new Ambulatory Care Center and Medical Education Center, the college has just moved into a facility tailored to the needs of today’s medical education.
It’s a classic case of form following function, says Dr. Lewis First, senior associate dean for medical education. “The curriculum is designed to provide the knowledge, skills, and professional attitudes to be a physician in the 21st century,” First says, “and our new facility enables those objectives to be achieved by incorporating within our large-group and small-group rooms the ability to utilize the most effective state-of-the-art learning methods possible.”
The small-group and lecture hall instructional spaces are all wired through interactive video technology to link with the instructional wet lab next door or researchers around the world. The Medical Education Center also includes new space for the Dana Medical Library. Located directly east of Converse Hall, the new center connects Fletcher Allen’s Ambulatory Care Center and UVM’s Given Building. (up^)
Professor’s stories take the fictional road home
Although Nancy Welch swore she’d never return to the small Ohio town she left at age 17, the associate professor of English hasn’t exactly been able to keep that promise.
While Welch hasn’t set foot in the town since high school — or rather, vocational school, as this expert in rhetoric and composition wasn’t considered “good enough” to stay at the high school — she has returned again and again in her writing, drawing from both her memory and imagination of the Rust Belt town in the twelve short stories collected in her first book of fiction, The Road from Prosperity (Southern Methodist University Press).
With a penchant for teenage, female narrators in particular — characters inspired by the friends of her adolescence — Welch catalogues the disillusionment felt across middle-America during post-1970s layoffs and shutdowns that left families grasping for a sense of stability.
There’s Cassie in “Running to Ethiopia,” growing up next to a women’s prison, serving as her mother’s confidante while her father focuses on trouble at work; Noreen in “Thanatology,” who knows her mother’s married boyfriend will leave before her mother does; and Portia in the title story, fleeing her father’s steady slide into depression, a classmate’s suicide, and the drudgery of her vocationally tracked high school education in Prosperity, Ohio.
Welch also draws heavily from her own family’s experiences as inspiration for the book. Just how heavily? “My father would tell you ‘Quite a lot,’” she jokes. Because so much of her family’s history permeates the book — both her father and sister have suffered “layoff after layoff after layoff” — sharing the work with them wasn’t easy for Welch.
“When the collection came out, it actually arrived at our house on the same day my parents were arriving for a visit from Ohio,” she says. “I was at the grocery store… and my parents came early, so I walked into the house to find my father sitting in a chair reading the book, which was my worst nightmare.” Welch’s fears were mostly unfounded; her father’s first instinct, she says, was to fact-check the names and geography, as in, “‘Hey Mom! She’s got Zachariases in here,’ or ‘Yup, yup, that’s right, that’s where the women’s prison was.’”
Later, the book was reviewed in the Columbus Dispatch, the newspaper her parents read. “My mother called me up and said my father was crying — it was a good review, it wasn’t a bad review — but crying just because I wasn’t supposed to grow up to be somebody who would write a short story collection. Sometimes he still thinks that I’m the kid who went to vocational school who was the problem child, so he was just really, really pleased.” (up^)
—Amanda Waite ’02 G’04
NATO, Russia and Kosovo
by John Norris G’91, Praeger Publishers
In this detailed account of the negotiations between Russia and the United States during the war in Kosovo, alumnus John Norris, former communications director for Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, offers an unprecedented look into the minds of the key players, from Bill Clinton to Boris Yeltsin. Richard Holbrooke, assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs under President Clinton, calls it “the definitive book on one of the most important American military actions since the end of the Cold War.”
Poverty, Work and Freedom
by S. Abu Turab Rizvi and David P. Levine, Cambridge University Press
“Poverty is not just about lacking money or goods; it is about not being able to lead satisfying lives,” says Abu Rizvi, associate professor of economics and associate dean of the Honors College. Behind this statement lies a new approach to the study of poverty policy and the thesis of Rizvi's recently published book, co-written with David Levine, professor of economics at the University of Denver. Although the subsistence-based mode of understanding poverty is prevalent, Rizvi and Levine look at the psychological needs — particularly the opportunity for creativity — of those attempting to escape or avoid poverty.
The Long Light of Those Days
by Bruce Coffin ’65, The Elm Tree Press
Born and raised in Woodstock, Vermont, alumnus Bruce Coffin has reconstructed the mid-century existence of the town where he spent his childhood for The Long Light of Those Days, a memoir that, in its detail, is as much about the habitability of memory as it is about Coffin’s youth and a bygone era. Even though historic preservation efforts have kept intact the quaint village of Woodstock, its striking architecture, and elliptical green, Coffin’s memoir points to the significant changes that make the Woodstock of the ’40s and ’50s a different place today. (up^)