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New University of Vermont President Starts Work

UVM President Suresh Garimella talks to reporters during his first day on the job.
Pat Bradley/WAMC
UVM President Suresh Garimella talks to reporters during his first day on the job.

Boxes lined the hallway and workstations leading to the office of the University of Vermont’s president. Monday was the first day on the job for the college’s new leader, and he spoke with a roomful of the region’s reporters about his priorities for Vermont’s largest college.  WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley was there.
His office has only a few books and knickknacks so far but Dr. Suresh Garimella’s priority is getting to know the campus, its people and students.  While it’s his first day on the job he’s already been studying the campus and its history and meeting with staff, students and officials.  “It’s clear that UVM has had a stable successful leadership now for years and great stewardship from the Board of Trustees. And so really my sense is UVM is in a great place, upward trajectory. I think there’s just great potential and opportunity. I’m just very optimistic about UVM which is why I took the role and I guess what I’m committing to is that I will work tirelessly to take UVM to an even better place.”

Garimella has reviewed UVM’s mission statement and says his focus will be on student success.  “We wouldn’t be a university if we weren’t focused on our students and their success and the quality education that they get. So I think we have to continually be looking at how to improve their the offerings that we have, how to keep up with new areas and new experiences that we need to give them. And so obviously a top priority has to be student success. And you know there are things like affordability. I mean student debt is second only to health care costs in terms of a financial concern so we need to be very prudent and think about how to make higher education more accessible more affordable for students. I think the university’s done well, that tuition increases have been kept fairly low historically. But we need to do more.”

He adds that a key concern is keeping higher education affordable especially as data indicates Vermont public colleges are among those with the highest in-state tuition rates.  “We will do all we can to make that among our top priorities. There’s no magic bullet to this thing. I mean we want to do more. We want to educate in newer ways, you know laboratories etc that are expensive and you know our state support is what our state support is. That will be a very important priority for me to not only ensure higher education is affordable but also accessible to a broad diversity of students.”

Over the past few years the UVM campus has see anti-racism activism and protests and part of Garimella’s conversation focused on such social justice concerns.  “One of the things that attracted me about UVM and about Burlington and Vermont is that you have a very engaged community and my sense is that a fair amount of change has been brought about.  The work of social justice is never done. And so we continue to work on it.  I need to understand more. You know in some of my lunches actually I was trying to probe a little more about you know what is the actual challenge, the core of it. And so I need to understand more of it. But diversity leads to excellence. But diversifying the population is one thing at UVM but also inclusivity. Those that are here. Everyone should feel welcome and valued.”

Dr. Suresh Garimella is the University of Vermont’s 27th president.  He was previously the Executive Vice President for Research and Partnerships and a Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University.   In 2018 he was appointed by President Donald Trump to the National Science Board, which oversees the National Science Foundation.