The University of Vermont has announced a single finalist for the top job on campus.
Suresh Garimella, executive vice president for research and partnerships at Purdue University in Indiana, is scheduled to visit UVM’s campus at the end of next week. He is the “sole finalist” to replace outgoing president Thomas Sullivan, according to an announcement Monday from UVM Board of Trustees chair David Daigle.
“We had over 90 outstanding individuals apply for our presidency. The search committee personally interviewed 10 of the most highly qualified candidates in this exceptional pool,” Daigle wrote. “Candidate confidentiality requirements necessitate that we not identify publicly the entire group of outstanding finalists."
While he’s the only finalist, Garimella isn’t guaranteed the job. Daigle’s release explained that the board will decide “if it has the confidence that Dr. Garimella will succeed in leading our University” after the February 13-15 visit, which will include "a series of meetings and open-forum interactions with constituency groups across the University." The board will then hold a vote on whether to hire him.
“I wouldn’t call it a foregone conclusion, but I would say that there has been an incredible amount of vetting," Daigle said during an interview Monday, "and we wouldn’t be taking this step unless we had complete confidence that this was the direction that was right for the university.”
In the past, the university has publicly released the names of a group of finalists. Before Sullivan got the job in 2012, the university announced five finalists, all of whom were made available for public forums.
Daigle said the decision to name only one finalist is consistent with national trends and is known as a "hybrid" model for hiring, in which the majority of the process takes place in private before a single finalist is named to the public for further review. He said the majority of the applicants in the "semifinal phase" of hiring were unwilling to participate in a public process.
Ultimately, Daigle said, the board had to balance its obligation to operate transparently with its need to hire the best possible candidate.
“It is quite clear based on all the information that we have that candidates that work at private institutions are much less likely to consider a public phase," he said. "So in our search, we could have excluded any candidates who needed confidentiality, but in doing so, we would have had a diminished pool.”
Daigle said the 90-plus candidates were all closely vetted, and a wide array of constituencies within the university were involved during the private phase of the search. Now, he said, the board is soliciting input from across the university community as it weighs its final decision. The university will soon release schedules for open forums and meetings with Garimella during his visit, according to Daigle.
A staff member at Garimella's Purdue office referred inquiries to UVM.
A mechanical engineer, Garimella was appointed by President Donald Trump to the National Science Board in November. The panel advises Congress and the president on science policy.
Garimella's engineering background is significant as UVM has been investing heavily in science, technology, engineering and math programs and, four years ago, adopted a budgeting model that favors those subject areas. Enrollment in the expanding College of Engineering has more than doubled in the past decade, making it the second-largest school at UVM, with 1,417 undergraduates.
At Purdue, Garimella heads up the university’s “diverse research enterprise,” according to his faculty bio, which says the program funds hundreds of millions of dollars in scientific research every year.
According to Garimella’s Purdue faculty page, he holds 13 patents, and he founded the Cooling Technologies Research Center. He has focused his research on thermal management, climate change and renewable energy. He received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley; his master’s degree at Ohio State University and his undergraduate degree from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras.