One week after officially becoming president of the University of Vermont, Tom Sullivan checked out a couple of noisy late-night student parties in the company of Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling.
Sullivan (pictured) mentioned that October 12 ride-along as part of a talk this morning to the Burlington Business Association.
His top priority, Sullivan said at the breakfast gathering, is to "make progress in affordability and financial access for students." He didn't provide specifics on how that can be achieved at UVM, ranked as the third most expensive public college in America. But Sullivan declared that he wants UVM to be "a talent magnet" that draws top-quality students and faculty to Burlington.
The new UVM chief also said the school is moving ahead with plans to build a $65 million "multipurpose events center" on campus. And he added in an interview that the university now intends to decrease its undergraduate enrollment following a student body growth spurt in recent years.
"Neighbors of mine on South Prospect [Street] had urged me to get out and see what the neighborhoods are really like after dark," Sullivan told the roughly 75 BBA members gathered in Waterman Manor, a fifth-floor dining room in the main UVM administration building. He didn't give his listeners details of his two-hour, Friday night cruise with Schirling. Sullivan did acknowledge that "many folks would like to see more students living on campus, and he pledged that "the university wants to be — must be — a good neighbor."
Sullivan noted that the university has added 1300 on-campus student beds in the past decade. More than 60 percent of undergrads now live on campus, he said. None of the nine other universities where he has worked "even come close to that percentage," Sullivan said.
In an interview following the president's talk, Schirling described conditions on the night of the neighborhood tour as "about average." He recalled that the evening got off to a lively start as he and Sullivan watched police officers pursuing a domestic violence suspect on foot.
The UVM president accompanied Schirling as the police chief knocked on doors to remind revelers of the city's noise ordinance. "Everybody was very civil, very cooperative," Sullivan said in a separate interview following his talk. He added that he didn't talk to any of the students' neighbors, but noted that he does live in the city and will soon move into Englesby House, the UVM presidential mansion on South Williams Street that has been undergoing a $1.3 million fixup.
The pressures on families living downtown and in the Old North End may ease slightly in the coming years as the university moves to reduce its undergraduate population. Sullivan indicated that enrollment has already fallen by about 300 from a peak of 10,459 in the fall of 2011. He said the school is planning a further reduction but cautioned that it "won't be very significant." The aim, Sullivan said, is to "re-balance the student-faculty ratio," in part by hiring more professors.
In a presentation filled with dollar figures, Sullivan noted that UVM had spent $405 million on campus construction projects during the past eight years. That includes the current $13 million renovation of a former fraternity house on the corner of Summit and Maple streets that is being transformed into a facility catering to UVM alumni. The renovated building, constructed 120 years ago in the Queen Anne architectural style, will also be rented out for public events such as wedding receptions and bar mitzvahs, Sullivan said.
UVM is meanwhile seeking "major donations" for the "desperately needed" multipurpose arena that would cost at least $65 million, Sullivan added. He emphasized that the center would not house only athletic events but would also be used for "social, cultural, academic and wellness" purposes. "We can't do it on our own budget," Sullivan said, adding, "We're hopeful" that the money will eventually be raised.