Select Page

As it is every new academic year, it was a privilege to address dozens and dozens of University of Wisconsin Oshkosh colleagues during our 2017 Opening Day awards ceremony and Convocation.

You can read my remarks below, watch a video that encapsulates our remarkable work to help transform the lives of students and see a Facebook Live video recording of the entire event.

__________________

Good morning.

To colleagues new to this institution, welcome. We are thrilled and proud to work alongside you.

To colleagues returning for another new fall semester and academic year, welcome back. And, yes, we are thrilled and proud to work alongside you, too.

I hope you are all rested. I hope you feel recharged and excited like me.

I imagine more than a few of you had a busy summer with teaching, research, work and conferences, on top of soccer and baseball practices, or (hopefully) a vacation.

Well, here we are, back for a new academic year, and, with it, a new opportunity for us as individuals and as an institution to start fresh.

 

… That opening video was fantastic in highlighting the great educational opportunities provided to our students, but I am compelled to point out the obvious.

There are no pictures, no clips, no students, no successes to populate that video if we don’t have you—your teaching, your research, your work, your service, your advising, your leadership, your volunteerism, your daily contributions at and for UW Oshkosh.

We all have been honored with the awesome responsibility of the stewardship of this great institution. I know you take your service to UW Oshkosh very seriously. I know that you want only the best of our students and each other.

You have the opportunity to greatly influence the outcomes of this institution due to your service, and that is the theme for me today:

You transform lives.

Higher education changed the trajectory of my family generations ago when my grandfather became a teacher instead of a farmer. That decision put me on the course to be standing before you as a committed educator. I believe in the work we do and have devoted my life to it because I know first-hand what that generational transformation means.

As we begin the academic year, I want to underscore the privilege we have to be a part of a thriving intellectual community, one that cares about the world in which we are preparing our students for. In this spirit, I want to address a few national issues this morning.

First, DACA. President Trump is reported to issue his decision today on the status of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. This Obama Administration executive order allows undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children to come out of the shadows and attend a college or university without fear of deportation. I, like the vast majority of the leaders of institutions across this country, fully support DACA and hope the president will allow it to continue.

As educators, we recognize the immense power and foundational nature education has played in the evolution of human civilization. We must lower the barriers of access to anyone who seeks to better themselves and their communities through education.

Second, Charlottesville. I want to read you the statement shared by Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Support of Inclusive Excellence Dr. Sylvia Carey-Butler and posted on the website for UW Oshkosh’s Center for Equity and Diversity. I wholeheartedly agree with this statement and will have more to say in the days and weeks ahead as the students return to campus.

“Our team at UW Oshkosh’s Center for Equity and Diversity is appalled and saddened by the violence that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia. Bigotry, racism, homophobia, sexism and anti-Semitism have no place in the United States. Nor do they have a place on college campuses where people come to learn and grow intellectually, emotionally and socially. We fail as colleges and universities if we do not help students grapple with big ideas, moral and ethical responsibilities and strategies for effective action and advocacy. We must seize now the opportunity to help students become part of the solution, to play a role in creating a better tomorrow for us all.”

I would like to reaffirm UW Oshkosh’s commitment to our core value of being an inclusive community, one that affirms and celebrates diversity and fosters academic success and personal development.

I am honored to stand here today to say we are on the right path to making UW Oshkosh stronger.

We are stronger today than we were when you welcomed me to this community almost three years ago; strengthened by change, innovation and, yes, adversity.

From this crucible of adversity, we are now in a unique position to drive cultural change at UW Oshkosh through the example we will set with openness and transparency, collegiality and cooperation, and competent and ethical leadership.

The walls that have traditionally separated the leaders at all levels at this institution will now come down. The silos will disappear. We will begin to work as a team and will bring about positive change, vitality, creativity, effectiveness, accountability, and yes, workplace joy for this campus. At the center of our efforts will be the students that we all serve.

And while I will address some of the challenges we are still facing, the passion this community has for the mission of this institution will help us face these challenges with renewed strength and optimism. I see and feel a sense of openness and resolve like I have not before. You are the reason we are on a road to becoming a healthier university.

I often hear comments such as “We have change fatigue”… or … “When will the changes stop?”

Today I want turn that on its head and tell you that a sign of a truly dynamic institution is one that keeps changing, keeps improving, keeps learning and keeps growing. That is the new UW Oshkosh that you are a part of.

We now live and breathe the old cliché, “The only constant is change.”

I want us to all embrace that so UW Oshkosh can continue on this trajectory while keeping our mission at the heart of our work.

As I do on this day every year, I am asking you today to join me in rededicating ourselves to that mission.

It’s time to remember the beauty and simplicity of our mission and the principles within it.

Here they are:

  • Provision of a high-quality liberal education for all students.
  • Preparation of successful leaders and citizens in an increasingly diverse and global society.
  • Innovative teaching, research, economic development, entrepreneurship and community engagement.
  • And the fostering of an inclusive learning environment.

These principals are the true building blocks of UW Oshkosh.

So, what are we doing to advance our mission?

Let’s start with senior leadership. Simply put, leadership at UW Oshkosh today is different—and leads differently—since our last Convocation only one year ago.

As of August 1, 2017, we have, essentially, a new Cabinet. While acknowledging the incredible contributions of previous Cabinet members, I now have the team in place that will make UW Oshkosh a stronger institution. Each member is uniquely qualified, tempered by his and her own experiences. And the members are genuinely kind people with a passion for UWO.

Of course, key roles in the new Cabinet are not the result of my doing. This is all the result of well-coordinated and collaborative Vice Chancellor search-and-screen panels that involved dozens of you over the last year. Let me pause right here and say thank you to Search and Screen Committee Chairs Lane Earns and Darryl Sims, supported by Malissa Bonlender and Rae Ann Wetzel, and the dozens of others who helped facilitate these critical Vice Chancellor leadership searches.

I am thrilled today to follow up on past announcements and, in person, introduce you to our new leaders.

Please join me in welcoming Mr. James Fletcher, our Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services, who joined us in May.

As we shared late this spring, Jim comes to UW Oshkosh from, most recently, Idaho State University where he served as vice president for finance and administration from 2007 until 2016. Jim’s resume is incredible. He offers years of invaluable experience in higher education finance and administration at institutions throughout the U.S. I could go on about Jim’s background and service, but I am excited for the opportunities you will have in the weeks and months ahead to personally meet and work with him. He is kind. He is guided by ethics. He is going to help us as we move forward. Jim: please stand and be welcomed!

Next, please join me in welcoming Dr. Cheryl Green, our Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, who joined us on July 1.

Cheryl, too, offers 25 years in higher education, with 14 of those years in administrative roles. Cheryl joins us after most recently serving at Tennessee State University as assistant vice president of student affairs since 2012. Cheryl has valuable experience in student development, career planning, counseling and crisis management. And Cheryl’s focus on students and the value she places on her service to students truly sets her apart. We have had the benefit of having Cheryl on campus throughout the summer, and I’m glad that many of you have had a chance to meet her and work with her. Those of you who haven’t yet, will meet a leader who is gracious, collaborative and already helping set the stage for a great year of service to UW Oshkosh students. Cheryl: please stand. Welcome!

I also want to thank Associate Vice Chancellor of Administrative Services Lori Worm and Associate Vice Chancellor of Enrollment Management Brandon Miller for their service in interim roles during difficult times as we conducted the searches for our two new Vice Chancellors. Lori and Brandon, thank you.

Finally, please join me in welcoming to the role of Interim Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs our own Dr. John Koker.

John is stepping in after the retirement of Provost Emeritus Lane Earns.

I am delighted to have a colleague of John’s caliber and dedication to serve UW Oshkosh in this critical role. John has served as dean of the College of Letters and Science (COLS) since 2006 and has contributed to UW Oshkosh in so many other ways since first joining the faculty in 1991, be it in the classroom, in the community or even on the theatre stage.

We anticipate launching the national search for a new, permanent provost next year. Until then, we can feel confident in that we have a strong, trusted leader at the helm of academic affairs and the institution.

So John: please stand. Welcome!

How else are we advancing our mission?

Let’s turn to our Strategic Plan, aptly titled “Transforming UW Oshkosh.”

Today, we are about a year into our new strategic plan.

We are committed to improving retention rates for all students. We are looking at lowering credits to degree and reducing the time students take to graduate. THAT is the biggest driver of cost for our students.

We must continue closing achievement, or as I call them, opportunity gaps, improving campus climate, strengthening student and employee diversity and broadening our impact on community engagement and regional economic growth.

These are very real and meaningful goals built into the strategic plan. And as I share them with stakeholders throughout the region and Wisconsin, people are impressed with the way they honor the institution’s mission and meet the needs of the state. I’m challenging us all—myself included—to meet these and other strategic goals by our sesquicentennial in 2021.

How else are we advancing our mission and moving our strategic plan forward?

With significant investments and a lot of hard work, I am pleased to report to you today that we have turned around a five-year trend of declining first-year enrollment.

We have dedicated people who are collaborating like never before to ensure our enrollments are strong and stable. Not every UW System institution enjoys our standing. It’s tough sledding out there. It is right to acknowledge and celebrate the hard work of our Admissions team and the University Marketing and Communications team for leading this charge.

As we continue to fight against demographic challenges to stabilize our enrollment, I challenge us to consider is this: In these conditions—conditions all UW institutions are operating within—how can we be the best institution at any size? How can we control our own financial destiny and be deliberate in our enrollment?

Next, I am delighted to applaud and affirm our commitment to the new budget model we affectionately refer to as UB1.

It is a budget structure and process that shines light on how and where we distribute resources throughout the institution.

This new way forward is the result of a home-built budget structure and process based on some well-researched, national best practices. Let me pause again and ask you to join me in thanking the members of the University Budget Development Committee, chaired by Ryan Haley, for their effort to develop the new structure and processes.

A few thoughts on the budget model and why we believe it’s the right way forward:

Number One: It deploys shared governance into the process by establishing a university budget committee to elevate the level of accountability and transparency.

Number Two: This new budget process has been built by us—in house—and it requires your input to run. The budget model gives the campus community greater opportunity to help set UW Oshkosh priorities by means of discussion and engagement from you.

Today, UB1 is currently running parallel to our traditional budget process.

When we feel we are prepared to “flip the switch” and make a full transition to the new model, we’ll do it, hopefully by next summer. But we want to be confident—to be fully and completely ready.

This process will not be flawless, and that’s okay.

This budget model is, by design, not on cruise control or autopilot. It’s a hybrid, and a stick-shift, and, yes–we’re going to inadvertently grind the gears every once and a while. Let’s just agree to work through it together.

Certainly, expect more on that to come as we move into 2018.

I’m really thrilled that tomorrow we will be dedicating our new Honors College at UW Oshkosh!

Let me take a moment to thank Dean Larry Carlin, his predecessors, and the faculty teaching in the Honors program for years of hard work to develop the program and the experiences to this point.

The Honors College will provide a world-class honors experience to our students and serve to attract high-performing students who seek a more challenging academic experience, brimming with high-impact practices.

I also want to update you on another new endeavor that I am very excited to see launch this year and push us further down the path of sustainability, one of our hallmarks.

This year will be the first full year for our UW Oshkosh Sustainability Institute for Regional Transformations, and I want to thank, the first-ever leaders: Director of the Institute, Dr. Kevin Crawford, Assistant Director, Dr. Za Barron and the members of the Sustainability Council who have helped conceive and drive this new entity.

The Sustainability Institute for Regional Transformations brings focus to our teaching, research and work in all the pillars and dimensions of sustainability: environmental, social, economic and political. This will help our campus community and the external world best engage with the academic programs, the facilities and expertise we have to offer at UW Oshkosh.

We have committed to the institute because it is such a foundational and strategic element of our mission and overall identity at UW Oshkosh. We will be looking forward to the strides the Institute will take and the many ways they will help further advance sustainability—in ways we can’t even imagine right now.

Now, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t discuss workplace joy. For those who are new to UWO, we have been engaged in a campus conversation for more than two years. Given that you spend a significant portion of your life at work, it is in everyone’s interest that you find ways to derive joy from what you do. I often say that no one is ever happy with their compensation; they are often unhappy with it. You must find other ways to derive joy at work.

We have discussed other ways that include, in addition to compensation: Recognition, Innovation, Investment, and Engagement. You will, no doubt, hear more from me on each of these.

Under that heading, let me address one of the key dimensions that I remain committed to—compensation.

Some good news on this front. I am pleased to report that the state budget for 2017-19 includes a “2+2” pay plan increase for UW System employees. In other words, a 2 percent increase in the first year and a second 2 percent increase in the second year.

We are still working out the details of distribution and have questions about the timing of the adjustments, but I am truly glad that the stage has been set by the Governor and the Legislature to better compensate the hard-working and passionate UW workforce.

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know when I say this will not make up for years of lost ground in compensation, and I pledge to you right now that I will continue to advocate for a proper investment in you.

Because I believe in transparency and your right to stay informed on the overall health and wellbeing of this campus, I want to address our current financial standing.

Over the past several years, we have worked hard to manage both a declining student enrollment paired with reductions to our state funding. While I am pleased to report that we have made some strides to stabilize our financial situation, there is still a great deal more to be done.

We are so fortunate to have Vice Chancellor Jim Fletcher with us as we navigate these challenges. Through his fresh perspective and thorough analysis, we have a solid picture of where we stand and what we need to do.

Over the next several weeks, Jim will be giving campus leadership a detailed overview of his analysis, but to summarize for you:  we need to better control our spending.

Quite simply put: we have fewer students here than we’ve had since 2012 but we continue to spend at the levels we did with a much larger enrollment. We need to bring our expenses in line with our revenue.

I have asked the vice chancellors, led by Provost Koker, to develop a plan to bring our expenses in line with our revenue. This plan should be guided by a few simple principles:

  1. Act in accordance with our mission.
  2. Live within our means.
  3. Act with ethics and fiscal integrity.

A draft of this plan will be presented to Leadership Council tomorrow for comment and input. The vice chancellors will also engage our shared governance groups to ensure a high level of transparency and consultation.

We must act quickly to strengthen the current fiscal position before it reaches a crisis point. Just like in your home finances, revenue and expenses must meet with reduced dependency on fund balances to carry us from year to year.

And finally, I’d like to end this morning by addressing an issue that I know many of you have been concerned about.

I’d like to talk about the UW Oshkosh Foundation matter—where we are and where we are going.

First, I really want to share my appreciation and deep gratitude with all of you for your patience as we’ve spent the last year and a half working through the difficult and complex situation involving the Foundation.

As you know, on January 18, the UW System issued a public release acknowledging and detailing its and the Board of Regents’ request to the Wisconsin Department of Justice to pursue civil legal action against former Chancellor Wells and former Vice Chancellor Sonnleitner, alleging improper financial transactions related to five real estate projects.

Since that time, we have worked hard. The Foundation has worked hard. The UW System and Department of Justice have worked hard. No one had, or has, a crystal ball. Naturally, you and our students and advocates have had many logical questions, and, in our state of limbo, we have not had as many answers as you or I would have liked.

To make things more complicated, we learned on August 17 that the UWO Foundation filed a reorganization petition under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy law. After months of extensive effort between all parties to secure the future of these investments for UWO, the parties were unable to reach a settlement and the Foundation ultimately chose this action.

This situation continues to have a significant impact on our campus. We have built a national reputation for the innovative and academic use of biodigesters, creating a training program that brings in students and professionals from around the nation. We have also enjoyed a new and successful front door to campus in this beautiful building we’re in right now, bringing in thousands of visitors each year. Losing any of these facilities would be a blow to the campus community.

I want to thank Interim Advancement leader Bob Roberts, Assistant Chancellor of University Marketing and Communications Jamie Ceman and the University’s Foundation staff for their incredible work and commitment under difficult conditions. We owe them our gratitude for their service to UW Oshkosh as they continue to help maneuver us through this uncharted territory.

Through this situation, my primary focus has been and remains on an invigorated commitment to ethical behavior. I am working to implement ethics training for supervisors and the leadership team, as well as incorporating it into new employee onboarding processes. I challenge you to question every process and look with new eyes on how we function at all levels of the institution. Just because we’ve always done something a certain way does not mean we’ve been doing it correctly.

Please ask the questions.

You may wonder what I hear “out there” about the Foundation matter as Chancellor.

I believe it’s important for you to know that I don’t hear criticism. I hear compassion.

And that is a credit to you, your dedication and your work as stewards of UW Oshkosh.

Even with the challenges still in the forefront, UWO is moving forward. We are a strong University that transforms the lives of our students and improves quality of life in this community and beyond.

We have increased enrollment in our first year class, despite the demographic odds against us.

We have a new strategic plan being operationalized throughout campus.

We have a new Honors College and Sustainability Institute now in operation.

We are finishing renovations to Fletcher residence hall and Reeve Memorial Union, and I look forward to their dedications in October.

We have so much to be proud of and so much to offer. The situation is unfortunate and a challenge, but it has not defined us.

I ask you all to join me rededicating yourself to our mission as we embark on an exciting new academic year.

Once again, I am so glad to work alongside of you all.

I wish you a tremendous semester and new academic year. And I thank you.