I had the opportunity to address the UW System Board of Regents last Friday at the final Regent meeting I will attend as chancellor. It was a humbling and bittersweet experience.
While I am excited about taking on the next phase of my life after I retire on Aug. 18, I will miss working with the Regents, System President Ray Cross and everyone else who works for UW System. I thought I would share the remarks that I made to the Regents:
Thank you Regent President Peterson, President Cross and all of the Regents for this fine recognition. I am humbled beyond words.
I want to take a few minutes to publicly thank some people who have been so supportive of me during my time at UW-Stout. Of course, President Cross certainly deserves my thanks for allowing me to be part of his leadership team, as well as for all of his support during the last five years. These have obviously been challenging times, and I have always felt that he has had my back.
I have been privileged to work with excellent board presidents, including Mike Falbo, Regina Millner, John Robert Behling and now Drew Peterson. They have all been strong advocates for UW-Stout and public higher education in Wisconsin, and I have valued their contributions, as well as the contributions and support from all of the Regents I have worked with during my 32 years at UW-Stout.
I have come to see firsthand what a demanding job — and it is a job, albeit with no pay — serving on this board is. I really want to thank you for your service to the UW System and the state of Wisconsin.
I also want to thank the UW System employees who support both the president and the Regents. These are the people who do much of the work behind the scenes and really don’t get much credit, but I want you to know I appreciate and value your efforts. I am also grateful to have worked with such a fine, dedicated group of chancellors and leaders in this system.
As I leave, I wanted to share just a couple of brief observations and suggestions — or hopes.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said that there were three characteristics of good public speaking, which are: Be Powerful, Be Succinct and Be Seated. I’ll try to follow his advice.
The most daunting observation I have is that our fiscal trajectory is not sustainable. We cannot maintain our quality of education and meet the growing needs of our students and employers with diminished enrollments, frozen tuition and lackluster state aid increases. While I am thankful we have improved the salary situation of our faculty and staff, we still remain below our peers.
I have often touted UW-Stout’s employment rate, which has risen every year that I’ve served as chancellor and stands at 98.7%. The real credit for that achievement should not go to the chancellor but rather to UW-Stout’s terrific staff that works day in and day out to prepare graduates to succeed in meeting our employers’ many needs.
That is why I’m pleased our governor and our Legislature chose to provide our faculty and staff a raise package in each of the next two years. This is movement in the right direction, but it is not enough.
I often quote William E Kirwan, past president of Ohio State University, who once said: “You become a great university because you have great programs. You have great programs because you have a great faculty and staff.”
President Kirwan’s statement is as profound as it is simple. The faculty and staff that I work with at UW-Stout are truly extraordinary. They deserve to be paid above, not below, the median salary of their peers at other institutions — and it would be my recommendation that we pursue that as a priority.
I also believe that we must continue to work with our elected officials, so that they understand the value of a diploma from anywhere in the UW System and help them believe that investing in the UW System is a wise use of tax dollars.
We estimate that last year’s graduating class alone at UW-Stout earned $68 million in starting salaries. That is evidence of the incredible talent development going on at UW-Stout, and an indication of the economic development power that is enjoyed across the UW System.
Our graduates become tomorrow’s inventors, scientists, entrepreneurs, business leaders, managers, engineers and designers. They are the creators of the “next economy.” As an example, since its creation UW-Stout’s Discovery Center has generated more than $800 million in client reported impacts through the staff and student projects it has managed.
And UW System’s impact on Wisconsin’s economy was $24 billion in 2018 alone (that’s “billion” with a “b”). That’s a 23:1 ROI for every dollar invested by the state.
I agree with those who concluded that Wisconsin missed an opportunity when it failed to approve Gov. Evers’ proposed capacity building funding. Clearly the UW System would have leveraged that investment to increase the talent pipeline and grow the state’s economy. So, it is my hope that our state leaders invest in capacity building for UW System in the near future.
In closing, I want to say that the UW System and the state of Wisconsin have so much potential. It is my hope we fully realize that potential.
Like the great Lou Gehrig, today I consider myself the luckiest person on the face of the Earth. There is nothing more satisfying than having worked with the dedicated and talented faculty and staff across this great system who are transforming the lives of students and impacting Wisconsin’s economy on a daily basis.
So, thank you for the opportunities, the treasured memories and the great moments together. It has been an enormous privilege to have worked with you and to have served as a chancellor in the UW System. I will always be Stout Proud!
University Communications also sent out a news release about my appearance. You can find the link here.