Thomas K. Harden introduced himself to the UW-Green Bay community and addressed a wide range of topics in remarks to the annual Faculty/Staff Convocation Aug. 26.
“I think we’re on the precipice of great things… coming to, and coming out of, UWGB,” Harden told a near-capacity audience of about 500 assembled in the University Union’s Phoenix Room. He spoke directly of concerns about the recession, tight budgets and rising challenges for higher education.
“We need to proceed with optimism, and that’s sometimes hard to do, but I am optimistic,” Harden said. “I do believe we’re going to come back, and come back very strong… We will emerge a greater university.”
The new chancellor used the occasion to share thoughts on the shifting landscape for public universities, the innovative history of 40-year-old UW-Green Bay, recent campus milestones, and possible priorities for the coming year. He even used what he called the “F word.”
“The hottest topic of the summer? Furloughs. I didn’t know whether to drop the ‘F Word’ here or not,” Harden said, eliciting laughter with regard to a sore spot. “But I did. Let’s get it out on the table.”
Harden said he was impressed that most faculty and staff, though frustrated, understand the circumstances of this biennium’s 3 percent salary reductions in the form of unpaid leave mandated for all state employees. He also said UW-Green Bay has thus far weathered the budget storm better than most, thanks to solid financial management by campus leaders including his predecessors, David Ward and Bruce Shepard.
Harden went on to highlight a lengthy list of institutional achievements from the previous year. That’s not something he’ll do in future fall-convocation talks, he has indicated, but did so this time to credit the “exceedingly capable” leadership of Ward and Interim Provost William Laatsch.
“Dave was exemplary as interim chancellor and was certainly not merely a caretaker,” Harden said as he acknowledged Ward, who attended Wednesday’s kickoff gathering and received a warm round of applause. “It’s truly remarkable, the way this University sustained its forward momentum during a year of significant change, challenges and transition.”
Harden said UW-Green Bay needs to continue to position itself for the inevitable return of public investment in higher education. He warned, however, that while state support “that left in a hurry” with recent budget cuts will come back, it will be a slow process unlikely to involve unconditional restoration of previous budgets.
“That money will come back differently, in allocations for new and targeted initiatives,” he predicted. Current political reality appears to favor funding of creative new ways to foster more graduates, contain costs for students and families, expand access, and promote job development and economic development.
He spoke of the ongoing national debate over access, cost and quality, with elected public officials often drawn into criticism of colleges and universities.
“I have to tell you,” Harden said, “I think we in higher education are losing that debate and we should pay better attention to it.”
UW-Green Bay must be faithful to its core educational principles but also responsive to public needs, Harden said. “We are a University, we are creative, and we are problem solvers. Let’s work together.”
The chancellor also…
- Invited employees to contact him if they have suggestions for quick win/quick fix ideas — low-cost or no-cost changes to improve various element of campus life. He cited initiatives already under way to offer more flexible work hours and telecommuting for some staff members, to improve the convenience of handicapped parking, and to better advertise position openings.
- Promised additional detail shortly on a major new gift to the University that will conclude the $25 million Campaign for UW-Green Bay in successful fashion.
- Said he will advocate a systematic and comprehensive approach to diversity. Immediate steps will include embracing the strategic initiative known at the UW System level as “Inclusive Excellence,” and more targeted efforts to recruit minority applicants and advance qualified candidates to the interview stage.
- Expressed an interest in an updated assessment of UW-Green Bay’s somewhat atypical organizational structure. “Is our (current) structure arbitrary, chosen, or a compromise?”
- Said he would like to see development of a succinct vision statement as a blueprint for moving forward as an institution;
- Shared an update on the status of the Growth Agenda. “I’m being asked, “Is it dead or alive?… Well, it’s alive but in a coma, I think. How do you move forward in this (current fiscal) environment?” He said he supports the general concept of enrollment growth and knows the recent history of the campus-and-community campaign for additional resources. He offered a most-likely scenario in which FTE count (full-time equivalents) and course enrollments would remain relatively stable, but headcounts could climb with an upward trend in part-time and returning adult students.
A videotape of Chancellor Harden’s Aug. 26 remarks will be archived to his website this week. The Chancellor’s Office also intends to distribute the new “Conversations” newsletter next week as a follow-up to his convocation address.