Liberal arts an important part of a polytechnic university education

Anyone following higher education issues in Wisconsin is by now familiar with the controversial proposal at UW-Stevens Point to eliminate 13 humanities and social science majors, including English, history and political science, because of declining enrollment and a budget deficit. The administration also wants to add or expand 16 majors in science, technology and other fields.

My intention here is not to comment on what UW-Stevens Point administrators have proposed; it is hard enough being a chancellor of a UW campus these days without having to worry about colleagues weighing in on what I might have proposed here.

However, the debate swirling around the UW-Stevens Point proposal — and a similar one earlier at UW-Superior — has raised questions about the value of the liberal arts on campuses that are trying to align their programs with shifting employer demands. In fact, some faculty members have asked me to state my position on where a liberal arts education fits into a polytechnic university. I’d be happy to oblige.

First, I’d like to point to a section of my last commencement speech, delivered Dec. 16. I said: “One of the many misconceptions about polytechnic universities, at least in areas like the Midwest where they are a rarity, is that we are some type of glorified technical college. I’m a former technical college president, and I’m here to tell you that UW-Stout is not a glorified technical college. We are a regional university that offers a comprehensive curriculum in many fields, including the liberal arts. In fact, one of the best-kept secrets about UW-Stout is that we have the largest arts program in the entire state. Our students graduate with a well-rounded education; we just make sure there is an applied learning aspect to how we go about our business — and that they get a good-paying and challenging job once they graduate.”

Furthermore, we would be doing an extreme disservice to our graduates — and the employers who seek them for their businesses and industries — if we did not ensure that our students leave UW-Stout with a solid foundation in the liberal arts, which help develop the so-called “soft skills” or “essential skills” so necessary in today’s workplaces such as critical thinking, communication, creativity and the ability to work collaboratively to solve problems.

In fact, Atlantic magazine in a recent article called for a new educational hybrid that blends liberal arts education and technical education. I would argue that we already do that at UW-Stout, and we will continue as long as I am chancellor.

Our mission statement refers to UW-Stout as a “comprehensive polytechnic university” that uses a variety of approaches, including “humanistic understanding,” to educate our students. I believe we can’t do that without the liberal arts.

WACTE Conference, ATEA Conference participation

On March 16, I attended the Wisconsin Association for Career and Technical Education annual professional development conference. WACTE includes more than 600 teachers, counselors, school administrators, teacher educators, support staff and business/industry partners who promote career and technical education.

I served on the CTE Executives Panel to discuss “accelerating partnerships in CTE.” The purpose was to recognize that demand for CTE graduates continues to grow and to explore ways educational institutions can engage in effective partnerships to meet this growing demand.

Many effective partnerships are underway, and the discussions identified new opportunities for partnerships and ways to eliminate barriers to partnerships. Also serving on the panel were Bryan Albrecht, Gateway Technical College president, and Bethany Ormseth, LakeView Technology Academy principal. Paul Gabriel, executive director of the Wisconsin Technical College System Foundation, facilitated the panel.

On March 21-23, UW-Stout co-hosted the American Technical Education Association’s 55th national conference at Gateway Technical College in Kenosha. I was proud to serve as emcee for the award dinner, introducing several speakers, including: Keith Simpson, national education director for FESTO Didactic Inc.; Morna Foy, WTCS president; Rebecca Kleefisch, lieutenant governor; and Winnie Tu, business administration director for Foxconn Technology Group.

I also had the pleasure of serving on another panel regarding Pathways and Partnership that included: Clark Coco, dean of Washburn Tech, Kansas; Ormseth; and Al Bunshaft, senior vice president of Dassault Systems Americas Corp. The panel was moderated by Jaime Spaciel, Career Pathways and Program Effectiveness director at Gateway Technical College.

Some of our CTE professors also were on hand, including Barb Bauer and Sylvia Tiala. UW-Stout students Anna Stamschror, Erik Olson and Derek Doescher also attended.


This photo was taken at the ATEA 55th National Conference and includes (from left to right) Bryan Albrecht (Gateway Technical College President), Bob Meyer, Barb Bauer, Anne Stamschror (front row), Eric Olson, Derek Doescher, and Sylvia Tiala.   


Faculty Senate held fitting tribute to Chancellor Emeritus Sorensen

Career Conference impressive; Rube Goldberg always fun; happy spring break 

I’d like to express my appreciation for the efforts of our Faculty Senate on Wednesday to honor the memory and achievements of the late Chancellor Emeritus Charles W. Sorensen. It was a deeply touching event, which included a moment of silence as well as time for those in the audience to share their stories of working with the man who served as chancellor for 26 years.

I had a chance to talk about the impact he had on the university’s growth and improvements throughout his administration. The words that came up often during the ceremony were “vision” and “drive.”

It certainly was my perception that Chancellor Emeritus Sorensen had a keen vision for where he wanted UW-Stout to go, and he was driven to achieve that vision.

The Faculty Senate event, chaired by Petre “Nelu” Ghenciu, was a fitting tribute.

I’d like to thank everyone who participated. More information on the event is available here 


Spring Career Conference a total success  

It’s hard for me to leave the semiannual Career Conference that our incredible staff at the Career Services office puts on in the Multipurpose Room of Johnson Fieldhouse. That’s because I keep running into alumni who want to talk about their experience as students and how that translated into a satisfying career after graduation.

I spent quite a bit of time Wednesday, Feb. 28, at the second day of the Spring Career Conference and was pleased to see a lot of our exceptional partners there: Greenheck, Cobblestone Hotel and Suites, Sleep Number beds, Market & Johnson and Menards, just to name a few. The conference is a great way to match our job-ready graduates with an employer, either for a co-op or a full-time job. The only complaint I ever hear is that employers wish we could send more graduates their way.

Erin Oman, talent acquisition program manager for Sleep Number, said she couldn’t be happier with the Career Conference and how it was organized. “The students are amazing, and the Career Services employees are amazing,” she said, adding that the UW-Stout conferences are the best ones she attends each year. “This is my favorite,” she said.

I love to hear those words, and I would like to thank Career Services Director Bryan Barts and his staff for a great two-day event. More information on the conference is available here 


Rube Goldberg event teaches important skills 

As an engineer I really enjoy attending the annual Rube Goldberg contest on campus. High school teams from around the region attend the technology and engineering challenge to create machines that are intended to use the most steps possible to accomplish simple procedures.

I attended the event last Friday in the Memorial Student Center and watched the teams fashion contraptions to pour a bowl of cereal.

The teams are judged on creativity and functionality, and the participants have a lot of fun while learning valuable math, technology and engineering skills. Congratulations to Elk Mound High School, which won this year’s contest. More information is available here 


Have a great spring break 

Finally, I want to wish our students and employees a great spring break. For those of you who are traveling, I hope you stay safe and enjoy your time away from campus.

I intend to be away from campus most of the week and recharge my batteries because the pace of activities picks up considerably as we head to commencement May 5.

SkillsUSA students impressive; new state senator visits campus

For 35 years, UW-Stout has been hosting the Regional SkillsUSA competition, and I can’t tell you how impressed I was by the talent and ingenuity I saw on display last week as 380 students from high schools across Wisconsin came to campus.

The competition is sponsored by the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Management and involved 75 of our students and 25 faculty and staff volunteers. Brian Finder, a professor in the operations and management department, is the glue that holds the event together.

A new competition this year involved students using remotely controlled robotic vehicles to search a simulated building for artificial ordnance. The course was built by a UW-Stout student, majoring in mechanical engineering, and his father.

SkillsUSA is intended to help participants get career information as well as learn about technology and develop leadership and technical skills.

As an engineer myself, I really enjoyed visiting with the students and seeing them getting even more excited about the STEM fields. It was great seeing a longtime colleague and alumnus, Brent Kindred, the technology and engineering education consultant at the state Department of Education. Brent was back at UW-Stout to participate in the event as the SkillsUSA Wisconsin executive director.

More information about the SkillsUSA is available here.


We welcomed Sen. Schachtner to campus for the first time 

Last Monday, I had the pleasure of welcoming our new state senator, Patty Schachtner, to campus for the first time since her election in January. She replaces Sheila Harsdorf, who is now secretary of the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Sen. Schachtner, who also is on the Somerset school board, met with the Stout Student Association, our governance leaders and my Cabinet, and I was able to spend a half hour with her. I was very impressed by her willingness to dive right into the important higher education issues in Wisconsin, especially our need for increased salaries for our faculty and staff and more operational and bonding flexibilities.

I also am pleased that Sen. Schachtner has secured a seat on the state Senate’s higher education committee, which former Sen. Harsdorf chaired for many years.  I look forward to working closely with Sen. Schachtner in the years to come.


With his passing, we celebrate Chancellor Emeritus Sorensen’s amazing legacy

In my public communication announcing the Feb. 23 passing of Chancellor Emeritus Charles Sorensen, I stated that “I am fortunate to have worked with Chancellor Emeritus Sorensen as a UW-Stout faculty member, program director, college dean and special assistant to the chancellor for state and federal relations.”

I also mentioned that “not a day goes by that I don’t apply something that I learned from Chancellor Emeritus Sorensen as I try to carry on the legacy that he established during his 26 years at UW-Stout.”


Chancellor Emeritus Sorensen provided me some very special opportunities to serve him and this incredible university, for which I will be eternally grateful. His visionary leadership qualities that I try to emulate are his passion, determination, persistence and commitment to UW-Stout’s polytechnic mission.

These characteristics were key ingredients to his and our success throughout his tenure as chancellor.

He championed continuous improvement and moved the university forward in many dimensions, including new programming, updated facilities, staff excellence and innovative approaches to teaching, research and service.

With his passing we celebrate this amazing legacy for which generations of students have and will benefit. Thank you, Chancellor Emeritus Charles Sorensen!

To honor the legacy of Chancellor Emeritus Sorensen, I have asked that the Bowman Hall bells be rung in the funeral toll mode at 12:20 p.m. Thursday, March 1. This marks the start of a class period, and I believe it would be appropriate for instructors to ask for a moment of silence at the start of class as well.

A UW-Stout web page has photos, stories and more looking back at his career that I would encourage everyone to visit.



Fantastic news: Student employment rate hits 98.2 percent

I have some fantastic news to share: The employment rate for our 2016-17 graduates has increased to 98.2 percent!  I can’t tell you how proud – and somewhat surprised – I am that our employment rate has increased for each of the four years I have been Chancellor.  Once the rate hit 97.4 percent for the 2015-16 graduates, I frankly wondered what the ceiling was and whether there was much room, if any, for improvement.  So, I was overjoyed when Bryan Barts, our excellent director of the Career Services office, came in last week to personally deliver the news that our employment rate had hit this new milestone.

Career Conference Spring 2017

I must mention that many institutions are now touting the employment rate for their graduates.  They know how important job prospects are for students and their families.  But it is important to note that our survey has an 80 percent “knowledge rate,” meaning that our statistics are extremely accurate and reliable.  I also was pleased to see that the median starting salary for our newly employed graduates increased to $43,000 from $42,500.  A number of our programs had starting salaries at or very close to $60,000 a year.

We will be issuing a news release very soon about this report, as soon as we get all the details finalized and posted to our website.  We also are considering ways to leverage this fantastic information in our ongoing marketing efforts.

I want to thank everyone who helped our graduates achieve this tremendous employment success.  It starts with the faculty and staff who do such a great job in the classrooms and laboratories in preparing our students for the world of work.  It also includes everyone who is involved in student services – very broadly defined – and who help our students choose a career path, secure that all-important co-op or other internship, and work with our students as they apply for and accept their first job.  Everyone who works at UW-Stout is responsible in some way for the employment success of our students, so this new employment report should be celebrated across campus.

School of Hospitality Leadership ranked eighth in the world

Speaking of success, I want to make sure everyone is aware that our School of Hospitality Leadership has been ranked eighth in the world by CEOWorld magazine.

bergquist,brian1The school moved up from a 10th place ranking last year.  You can read the details of the ranking here. This is a tremendous honor for everyone who works for the school, as well as the alumni who have supported the school over the years.

Pay raises for employees close to finalized

Finally, we have been told that the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Employment Relations is scheduled to meeting the morning of Wednesday, Feb. 14 to consider the pay package the Legislature approved last year for UW System employees.  That package will provide eligible employees with a 4 percent pay increase, 2 percent effective July 1 and another 2 percent effective Jan. 1, 2019.  The committee’s consideration of this package is the last step in the implementation of the pay package.  We will be reaching out to our legislative delegation to ensure they know how important these increases are for our faculty and staff.

New video advertisement highlights UW-Stout

Our University Marketing Department has worked with UW-Stout alumni in Eau Claire to produce a new video advertisement aimed at bolstering our enrollment.  The advertisement, produced by Knorth Studios, includes much of the same video that Knorth used to produce the highly popular “Stout Proud”  alumni video last year.  The founders of Knorth are UW-Stout alumni Chris Bartlett and R.T. Vrieze.  Our marketing staff has secured very favorable rates to air the new advertisement locally during the upcoming Super Bowl and Winter Olympics events, both on WEAU-TV.

Campus Aerial Photos

The video focuses on our emphasis on producing career-ready graduates. You can preview the advertisement here.  This advertisement is part of a broader effort to increase enrollment. We obviously don’t want to publicly disclose all the facets of this plan for competitive reasons, but it also includes the new UW-Stout external website that was unveiled recently, along with the adoption of a new customer relationship management software for enrollment services and other offices.  I have made enrollment a top priority for my administration, and my Cabinet will be receiving monthly updates from both enrollment and marketing leaders.

A big thank you for snow removal efforts

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone who worked so hard last week to keep our campus open during the extreme snowfall that we experienced last Monday.  Our Facilities Management personnel, as well as those who work for University Centers and elsewhere, did a great job ensuring that our students, employees and guests were able to navigate campus as safely as possible.  I am proud to work with people who are so dedicated to their jobs.  Thank you!

Campus Snow

Getting to know Sen. Schachtner

We also are working to establish a good working relationship with our new state senator, Patty Schachtner, a Democrat from Somerset.  Sen. Schachtner is busy getting her office in the Capitol set up, and she is scheduled to visit campus in February.  I am looking forward to getting to know Sen. Schachtner, ensuring she becomes familiar with UW-Stout, and working with her during the upcoming 2019-21 budget debate.

Welcome to a new semester; portraits of leaders finally get permanent home

Welcome to a new semester and the first blog of 2018. I hope everyone had a great holiday season and had time to spend with family and friends.

I had the privilege of opening the new academic year with an address this morning that highlighted some of the accomplishments of 2017 and looked ahead a bit to the new year. As I mentioned, the major event for 2018 will be the announcement of the public phase of our $35 million comprehensive fundraising campaign, which is about 60 percent complete. We anticipate that the announcement will be held in September or October, and we certainly will make sure the campus is kept informed.


I also elaborated on our recent efforts to increase the salaries we pay to faculty and staff and the fact that our past efforts have exceeded those of most other comprehensive campuses. I am pleased that within the next year eligible employees will see three salary increases: a supplemental increase on Feb. 1, a 2 percent increase on July 1 and another 2 percent increase on Jan. 1, 2019.

While these increases will help address our salary disparities with our peers, I am committed to doing whatever I can to increase salaries even more in the future.

Another topic I discussed was the total redesign of the UW-Stout website, which should greatly enhance our marketing efforts. I will not go into a lot of details about the redesign, other than to say that I am pleased with the results. I want to thank everyone who worked so hard on the project. You can find the details here.


Finally, I want to reiterate a thank you I expressed during my address for everyone whose efforts ensured that our Memorial Student Center reopened as soon as possible after a pipe burst in December, sending water flowing from the ceiling above the Terrace dining area through to the first floor, in an area primarily occupied by student organizations and Stoutfitters bookstore. Because of these efforts, the Terrace is expected to be open by the time students come back Monday, Jan. 22.

Again, I hope you have an enjoyable and fulfilling semester. I truly enjoy working alongside every one of you!  

Portraits of university leaders finally get a permanent home 

Last week I had the opportunity to visit University Archives on the fifth floor of the Robert S. Swanson Library and Learning Center to view the new and permanent home of the portraits that have been painted over the years of the seven previous leaders of UW-Stout: James Huff Stout, Lorenzo Dow Harvey, Burton E. Nelson, Verne C. Fryklund, William J. Micheels, Robert S. Swanson and Charles W. Sorensen.

University Archives

These portraits never have been in one place at the same time, and it was incumbent on us to settle the question of where they should reside.

Most of the portraits have hung in the Louis Smith Tainter House, but we felt there was a need to find a more suitable public space. I became convinced that the remodeled space in University Archives, open to the public during normal business hours, was that suitable public space.

I would encourage you to visit the Archives and check out the portraits.