It's official. University of Vermont trustees have hired Suresh Garimella to be the school's 27th president.
The announcement Friday was not a surprise. The senior administrator and mechanical engineering professor at Indiana's Purdue University had been the sole finalist for the job to succeed current president Thomas Sullivan, who will step down in July.
Garimella's contract is effective July 1. He'll earn a base salary of $480,000 and an additional $50,000 annually in deferred compensation for each year he stays on the job.
On top of those payments, Garimella will receive a $100,000 annual payment toward a retirement fund, according to his new contract.
Garimella's appointment comes just 18 days after the university announced he was the sole finalist for the top job on campus. Some faculty objected, saying the process prevented them from weighing in. Previous presidential searches included three to five different candidates who were publicly vetted before a decision was made.
But trustees praised Garimella as an innovator who will point the state university in the right direction.
“Dr. Garimella clearly possesses the intellect, vision, leadership skills and academic credentials to be a highly successful president at UVM,” David Daigle, the chair of the board of trustees, said in a statement. “He is a passionate educator, a highly accomplished researcher, an effective relationship builder and a gifted administrative leader. He has a well demonstrated ability to attract external investment and support, and he has a deep and abiding passion for the land-grant mission.
"Importantly, Dr. Garimella is sharply focused on the quality of the student educational experience as well as student success during and after college.”
Garimella, executive vice president for research and partnerships at Purdue, returned the compliment.
“I am deeply honored to be selected the University of Vermont’s next president," he wrote in the statement. "I appreciate the Board’s confidence and trust, and am eager to begin our important work together."
The new president comes to Burlington as the university faces an identity crisis. Long known for offering strong programs in English literature, history, political science, world languages, classics and other humanities subjects, the school has seen cuts and declining enrollment in its College of Arts and Sciences.
Students and faculty staged a protest last week against the cuts while Garimella was on campus for a series of public meetings and forums. Many of them criticized the controversial incentive-based budgeting model, which allots funding based on enrollment at UVM's various colleges. It has shifted funding from the liberal arts to science, technology, engineering and math.
During interviews on campus last week, Garimella defended the budget model but also pledged to support the humanities at UVM.
Not all were reassured. Sarah Alexander, president of United Academics, the labor union that represents faculty, questioned the hiring process and the ultimate decision to offer Garimella the job.
"By only bringing one finalist to campus, the search failed to demonstrate a commitment to transparency and shared governance," Alexander said in a statement. "A few faculty and students were able to ask Garimella questions at the one-hour open forum last week. But many faculty didn’t get a sense that the Board of Trustees and the Search Committee have any real interest in faculty feedback. Furthermore, Garimella’s answers to questions at the forum were often quite vague."
She also questioned some of Garimella's research partnerships at Purdue.
"I was able to glean two pieces of information from his performance at the forum: first, that he will not disavow fracking; and second, that he is very proud of his partnership at Purdue with Rolls Royce," Alexander continued. "Fracking and Rolls Royce. These are not the values that I associate with UVM."