Meet Tom Harden: Inauguration lends itself to formality and fun
The October 30 investiture of Dr. Thomas K. Harden as the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s new chancellor will be relatively formal. The ceremony is, after all, based on centuries-old tradition.
But inauguration week, and the events and activities surrounding it, will also allow the campus and community members to have a little fun, and get to know Chancellor Harden on a more personal level.
The former president of Georgia’s Clayton State University has a long history in higher education, strategic planning, growing enrollment, and managing complex organizations. His commitment to increasing retention and graduation rates and expanding campus diversity is well documented.
But what’s he really like? He has presided at many a formal function during his years as a president and chancellor, yet colleagues note the way he invites casualness in conversation. He says he appreciates humor in the workplace, and reminds co-workers that he wants to be included in on the fun. Harden was delighted that an artist did a caricature of him to be used for the student celebration of inauguration.
Those who have worked with him — he came to Green Bay in June 2009 — say he is a thoughtful listener, and appreciates tackling issues from multiple perspectives (an approach that resonates at UW-Green Bay). He encourages challenges but admits, as a leader, his decisions on behalf of the University won’t always win popularity contests.
Chancellor Harden values his position as a family man. He and Cathy Harden have been married for 39 years and they have four grown children, six grandchildren (and two on the way). They’ve noted that spending time with their children and grandchildren is their favorite leisure-time activity.
He has a strong interest in the arts and is a supporter of college athletics. UW-Green Bay’s well-documented interdisciplinary approach to education was appealing as his interest in the chancellor position grew.
Despite his own formal education and career evolution, Dr. Harden has a blue-collar past:
“I started in the steel mill,” he told the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “I completed a 41⁄2 year apprenticeship, went to trade school — after my first two years of college, I went to the steel mill and completed my bachelor’s degree while I was doing my apprenticeship… a lot of people don’t know that I actually started as a skilled tradesman and have a journeyman’s license in Ohio.”
He’s getting a feel for the importance of campus growth to the local economy. He believes in the work of his colleagues at UW-Green Bay and he feels the responsibility to tell UW-Green Bay’s story, while moving forward the University’s Growth Agenda:
“This region of the state has the lowest percentage of people with bachelor’s degrees per capita in the state, and so we know the community wants us to graduate more students, and that’s the purpose of the Growth Agenda. It’s difficult to have an impact on that when you’re the lowest-funded university per student in the system. But we’ll find a way. We have great people on this campus, this is a really good group of people — dedicated, hard-working — we’ll find a way to do better, but we’re going to need the help of the system, with funding, and we’re going to need the help of the Legislature.” Green Bay Press-Gazette
He places high value on the educational experience and is inclined to question a one-size-fits-all mentality that elevates time-to-degree as the primary metric. In fact, Harden spent seven years completing his own bachelor’s degree:
“Clearly a lot of students don’t finish in four years — and that’s not new. I mean, I took seven years to finish my bachelor’s degree — I did OK. Maybe I’d have done a lot better if I’d finished in four years. But I don’t think there’s anything special about finishing in four years… (Some people) talk about, if you’re going to be as efficient as we want you to be, you’re going to bring these students in, you’re going to crank them out and be done with them in four years. That’s not the way I approach it… We have 6,500 students, and they’re every one different from the others.” Green Bay Press-Gazette
And in case you’re curious, he doesn’t mind Wisconsin winters and appreciates the seasonal changes — especially the view from the 8th floor of the library — despite nine warm years in Georgia. After all, he spent many years in both Michigan and Ohio prior to his Clayton State tenure.
Those interested are likely to find out more about Chancellor Harden in the week ahead. Set aside time to meet the Hardens at the Fall Founders event Thursday, Oct. 29. Plan for the 2 p.m. inauguration ceremony on Friday, Oct. 30. Stop by the UW-Green Bay carnival in the University Union next week and play “Chancellor Trivia” to find out if he’s a cat person or a dog person… if he prefers comedy over adventure… Find out who “Riley” is. Or, in the semester ahead, peruse his newsletter “Conversations” or stop in during office hours: November 10, 3-4 p.m., November 23, 11 a.m.-Noon, or December 8, 1-2 p.m.