Chancellor Michael Alexander, Interim UW System President Tommy Thompson point to region’s changing needs, opportunities that higher education must meet
Green Bay, Wis.—Leaders from Wisconsin’s education, business, non-profit and government communities, including Interim UW System President Tommy Thompson, gathered today for the formal investiture of Michael Alexander as the seventh chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. The event, filled with academic tradition and a call to action to think differently about higher education, was held at the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts on the Green Bay Campus.
“UW-Green Bay is essential to the future of Northeastern Wisconsin,” Alexander noted in his inaugural address (1:10:30). “The problem we are trying to solve is that we need a healthy educational ecosystem for this region to thrive. UW-Green Bay for most of its history has been the third smallest school in the UW System in the third largest economic region of the state. That fact is not tenable for the future of Northeastern Wisconsin and frankly, the state. The educational attainment rates for our region are below the national and state averages. This is a dangerous statistic for any region that hopes to thrive in the future. As the region’s comprehensive university, we are uniquely positioned to solve this problem and six straight years of enrollment growth show we are on our way.
“I want to clarify here that we are not competing with any other UW school, technical, or private college within our region or outside of it,” Alexander continued. “We are competing with ourselves to increase the number of students in this region who go to college and who need access to a local university to further their education at any point in their life. The workforce shortage in our region is real, and UW-Green Bay must be appropriately sized to solve it. If we right size the right way, our region, UW System and all of its constituent universities, and the state of Wisconsin win.”
Alexander was named the University’s chancellor in Spring of 2020; the University postponed installation ceremonies until this fall because of the pandemic. Dignitaries from several organizations were on hand to welcome, congratulate and pledge support to the new chancellor during the event, which also included presentation of the University Mace, signing of a ceremonial scroll and issuance of the leadership charge and presentation of the symbol of office, the UW-Green Bay Chancellor’s Medallion.
According to Interim President Thompson, in addition to navigating the pandemic, Alexander has hit the ground running in his first 16 months by focusing on student success and the needs of the region. “We need to focus attention on recruiting more first-generation college students, more students from underrepresented minorities, more students whose families are less financially secure and more non-traditional students,” Thompson shared. “I know Chancellor Alexander has championed UW-Green Bay’s efforts to expand access to college, and it’s absolutely the right thing to do.”
Vice President of UW-Green Bay’s Student Government Association Jasmine Brown (History, ’23 from Milton, Wis.), offered comments on behalf of UW-Green Bay’s student body. “I have been impressed by Chancellor Alexander’s great energy, his commitment to serving students, and his elevated expectations that everyone associated with this University will creatively dedicate themselves to making UW-Green Bay an even greater institution for those who will follow.”
The business community, represented by UW-Green Bay Council of Trustees Chair Tina Sauerhammer Dean ‘99, shared the council’s support.
“There is no question the critical role the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay plays in forging the way for attracting and retaining young talent in the area,” said Sauerhammer Dean on behalf of the advisory group of regional leaders. “For the last year, Chancellor Alexander has made the future of this University and its role in the growth of our community a priority, and I wholeheartedly know that he will continue to do so throughout his term of service. The Council of Trustees, congratulate you, Chancellor Alexander on your installation and offer our full support and confidence as you continue to lift the University to new heights.”
As he shared his vision for the future of UW-Green Bay, Chancellor Alexander echoed Thompson’s belief that the college education experience needs to evolve.
“Education should first and foremost be convenient to the consumer,” said Alexander. “An 18-year-old student straight out of high school in a residential dorm, a person working full time, a person looking to change careers, a person looking to upskill, a person looking for enrichment. All of these people likely need education delivered in different ways. We are creating that environment at UW-Green Bay.”
For Thompson, what UW-Green Bay is doing in Northeastern Wisconsin, demonstrates the Wisconsin Idea in action.
“UW-Green Bay is a university that gets it. It understands that the boundaries of the university do stretch far beyond its campus perimeter,” he noted. “This university proves that the Wisconsin Idea is not just some abstract concept, but it’s a very real force for good, one that changes all of our lives for the better.”
Since being named chancellor in May of 2020, Alexander initiated six strategic priorities to support the future of the University: to continually improve student success and retention; provide access and support for all who desire to learn; embrace digital transformation as a way to model the world we live in; enhance the University’s connection with our region; renew and strengthen our commitment to sustainable practices and environmental stewardship; and create a sustainable path forward for Green Bay Athletics and the Weidner Center.
“I view the world and higher education’s place in it the same today as I did 16 months ago, but with even greater urgency and stronger hope,” Alexander concluded, “If we will fail, we should fail spectacularly and for the right reasons. We must have courage and be willing to think differently, take risks, sacrifice some of our personal goals for the greater good, and we must put students and the betterment of our region always at the forefront of our decisions. We believe in the potential of this region and the people who call it home… We will invest in those who are investing in themselves and in their futures—our future—and lead during a time when the ground is not always solid beneath our feet. I am unbelievably honored to work for the students, faculty and staff of this University and the people of Northeastern Wisconsin. With all of us working as one, we will undoubtedly RISE into the unknown together!”
Additional excerpts from Michael Alexander’s Installation Address
“You no longer just need information. When we went to school you had to go to a university to get information. It was often the place that had the biggest library in town. Now students simply pick up their phone and have access to a barrage of information. Now students need to know how to discuss information and ideas, interpret the barrage of information constantly coming at them, and use what they learn to promote the common good of society. I believe this applies to any field of study and in modern education, we must inspire rather than just impart information.”
“We must fully commit to solving the educational achievement gap (the disparity in educational opportunity between white and non-white students) in our state, which is one of the worst in the country. While it pains me to say that, we must face this reality head-on and finally fully dedicate ourselves to addressing it. Our community cannot grow together unless we level the educational playing field. The inequities in our region are exacerbated by uneven access to education. This problem has been building since higher education started in this country. Achievement gaps in education lead to inequities in opportunities and further widen socioeconomic disparities in our region. Only our actions will determine whether we are truly committed to solving this injustice. This is urgent. Looking at the emerging and already present demographics of Northeastern Wisconsin, if we do not diversify UW-Green Bay at the same speed that our region is diversifying, we will fail.”
“This may sound a bit strange, but I believe we are headed to a place where degrees matter less than progress towards educational goals. People will come in and out of education throughout their life as it benefits their personal situation. We need to value our non-credit offerings the same way we do traditional classes. A badge or certificate can be as meaningful for the person getting it as a doctorate for another… We need to be relevant to as many people as possible in Northeastern Wisconsin. Expanding the view of who education at a university is for is a huge piece of making that happen.”
About the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
Established in 1965, UW-Green Bay is a public institution serving 8,970 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students and 79,604 continuing education enrollees each year across all campus locations. We educate students from pre-college through retirement and offer 200+ degrees, programs and certificates. UW-Green Bay graduates are resilient, inclusive, sustaining and engaged members of their communities, ready to rise to fearlessly face challenges, solve problems and embrace diverse ideas and people. With four campus locations, the University welcomes students from every corner of the world. In 2020, UW-Green Bay was the fastest growing UW school in Wisconsin. For more information, visit www.uwgb.edu.