‘Powers of the Phoenix’: Miller shares flight plan for UW-Green Bay ascent


New UW-Green Bay chancellor Gary L. Miller heard plenty of praise during his formal installation ceremony Friday (Nov. 14) at the Weidner Center on campus.

Speakers from the UW System, the University and the Green Bay community described the University’s new leader as an ideal fit for an institution with big expectations as it approaches its 50th anniversary next year.

Miller, in turn, praised campus and community. He told a Cofrin Family Hall audience of about 600 that UW-Green Bay’s history as one of America’s great higher education innovators of the 1960s “will serve as the foundation of our future.”

He spoke of a recent dinner with Marge Weidner, the widow of founding Chancellor Ed Weidner, where they talked about the early history of the University.

“The question I asked her,” Miller said, “was why in the world Ed would leave a promising career at the University of Kentucky to come to Green Bay to start this university? After all, at the time he accepted the position, there was no faculty, no curriculum, no strategy, and no operational foundation of any kind.”

Not only that, Miller added, some in state government were lukewarm on the idea of building and funding another university, and a regional battle was brewing over site selection for the new campus.

Miller shared that, in response to the question “What was Ed Weidner thinking,” Marge Weidner just smiled and said, “Ed loved a challenge.”

In the turbulent world of 1960s America, Miller told Friday’s audience, “I believe Dr. Weidner also understood better than most the powers universities have in navigating times of change, in fostering the American dream and, most importantly, in creating solutions to complex problems. “

Weidner’s UW-Green Bay, Miller said, persists as one of the most important innovations in higher education — an entire university organized around the idea that the college education was about solving great problems.

“I believe this founding principle is even more relevant and important today,” the new chancellor said. In an era of rapid change in a global economy, he added, the University has a duty to equip its students to lead that change.

He spoke of three great powers — “The Powers of the Phoenix” — and went on to describe in detail the powers of Innovation, Transforming Lives and Place.

The Power of Innovation

Miller noted that the Phoenix, a mythical bird said to be periodically reborn or regenerated, is a fitting symbol in a world where new technology and exponentially expanding access to information are affecting how we teach, learn and work.

“We are living in an interdependent world and a growing innovation economy. To prosper in this world, our students must be entrepreneurs in their careers. They must exhibit extraordinary creativity, collaborative abilities and flexibility. They must not fear the world and its complexity. They must embrace it. UWGB was designed to give students these abilities.

“They are like the Phoenix. They must periodically reinvent themselves.”

The University must also adapt, Miller said, and turn a critical eye to the very innovations that marked its creation 50 years ago. He said the University must re-examine its array of academic programs; continue to pursue advances in program delivery; and structure itself in such a way as to capture innovations from the private sector, foster creativity internally, and promote innovation and entrepreneurship by students.

He said the Invent the Future of Green Bay initiative will require partnerships with the Regents and UW System, businesses, and the state’s technical colleges and two-year UW campuses.

“The Power of Innovation is our birthright at UWGB. It must be part of our future.”

The Power to Transform Lives

College graduates enjoy substantially greater earnings and opportunities, both personally and in giving back to their communities, Miller noted. “It is the personal transformation that comes from hard intellectual work in collaboration with inspiring and accomplished faculty”

UW-Green Bay will continue to work to expand access to those opportunities, the chancellor said, citing the success of the Phuture Phoenix pre-college program. He was interrupted by applause from the audience when he pledged to expand scholarship aid to Phuture Phoenix students who enroll at UW-Green Bay. He said the University will continue to work with technical colleges and the UW Colleges to promote easy transfer, to develop new graduate programs, serve working adults, make college more affordable, and promote work and internship experiences for students.

“The Power to Transform Lives is a very special power,” Miller said. “It will be part of our future.”

The Power of Place

“The UWGB of the future will embrace Green Bay and this region. We will look outward,” Miller said, mentioning partnerships with business, government and the non-profit sector that add value and new partnerships that anticipate the needs of a changing innovation economy in the region.

He said the university will support entrepreneurism and commerce. “We must become a leader in the innovation economy.”

He drew more applause when he said UW-Green Bay should extend its music and arts programs to every part of this community — “If we embrace the arts, we embrace our humanity” — and he also said the University would continue to connect with the community via NCAA Division I athletics.

There was another ovation when Miller voiced support for efforts by Mayor Jim Schmitt (who spoke earlier in the program) to revitalize downtown. Miller said the University would do all it can to contribute to those efforts. “We need to be open to the possibility of extending its physical presence in some way to downtown Green Bay.”

In closing, the chancellor said, “all these powers are within us.”

“They are part of the UWGB heritage. We cannot apply these powers if we are afraid. We have to have the courage to ask hard questions and make difficult choices. We must do this with optimism and joy and, most of all, with love and respect for each other. Ed Weidner would have loved this time. And so do I.”

We’ll have a full text of Gary L. Miller’s installation address, “The Powers of the Phoenix,” posted on Monday, Nov. 17