I would like to start my remarks today by saying thank you. It can’t be said enough. We have pushed to be as ready as possible for the fall. Our staff has worked tirelessly to recruit and retain students and prepare our classrooms and living spaces, our faculty have reimagined what it means to provide access to classes, and campus leadership have mobilized all summer to adapt to changing environments, policies, and shifting situations. My goal is to keep the convocation to under one hour and if I properly thanked everyone for their work at the end of last semester and over the summer, as opposed to giving a speech, it is quite possible we would not finish before the end of business today. Plus, I would much prefer to dialogue with each of you.
How do I sum up what we have been through as a campus over the last six months? I can simply say that we have clearly risen to the challenge that we have been presented with. As of today, our enrollment is up and most importantly our retention of students is up. Our students have responded to us by the fact that our summer enrollment was up over 40%, students are choosing to start here in the fall, and our current students are sticking with us in significantly higher numbers than last year.
Today, I can tell you we are financially stable in an industry that is filled with tremendous risk. We are definitely not wealthy, but we are living within our means, which provides us a path forward. We have been able to navigate an unprecedented event in higher education to this point, but there are certainly more challenging times ahead. While I would love to provide you certainty today, it would not be candid for me to try to do so. We are standing in as good of a place as possible today, but that can change at any moment based on events that could occur that might be entirely beyond our control. While all of our attention at the moment is on trying to figure out how to effectively operate a university in the midst of a pandemic, I think the most important questions we must ask ourselves right now have to do with how we will evolve to meet our mission and vision in the coming years.
I would like to focus today on what we can control moving forward. Three years ago, I was given a book by someone very special to me that in hindsight, I think accurately identifies the problem we are trying to solve today in higher education. The book is entitled The Common Good by Robert Reich is relevant to the complex problems we are trying to navigate today in higher education. I believe that we need to set our goal to build our university as one that belongs to the common good. The idea is that we must reach beyond what is just good for us individually, what is good just for us as a university, and strive for what is good for our communities and our region. I ask you today to join me on a quest to make that happen.
This is not a quest for those that fear a challenge. It is obvious that universities are good for the economy, for research, and for advancing specific academic disciplines. It is also clear universities benefit and reward those that do well in the traditional way in school, score high on tests, have family that have attended a higher education institution in the past, and often come from a socioeconomic background that is above the poverty line. However, I ask you if this really serves the common good or only a portion of the population? What about those who want to solve problems, but do not go to a school that inspires them to do so? What about students who are eager to learn, but show it in a way that does not translate well to the memorization and regurgitation of information in a high school class? What about those who do not have their basic needs met, do not have the means to move out of their region, and do not see how a higher level of educational attainment could help them and their community? And, how does a university create equity in a community? How does a university create dialogue among people who disagree? How does a university help its populace appreciate the value of science to solve problems and the value of the liberal arts to help explain and improve the human condition?
These are the questions we must consider. We must figure out the role we play as a regional comprehensive in answering them. Our answers will be different than R1s, wealthy private institutions, and even universities in different regions and with different demographics. It is easy for us to complain about the fact that higher education is underfunded, under attack, and undervalued by many. It is harder to change our goal as a university to actually solve the issues I just mentioned for the community we serve. It is possible that as we currently exist, we are doing good for our community, but we may not fully be contributing to the common good.
Justice Louis Brandeis asked and answered, “What are the American ideals? They are the development of the individual for his own and the common good; the development of the individual through liberty; and the attainment of the common good through democracy and social justice.” And FDR stated, “We now realize as we have never realized before our interdependence on each other; that we cannot merely take but we must give as well; that if we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because without such discipline no progress is made, no leadership becomes effective.” Consider the proverb, if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. How relevant are these statements now in the midst of a pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement?
How do these statements apply to our university? I believe that we must be willing to fully unite behind our mission. This is uncomfortable. It means we will challenge norms. It means we may look different than many other universities. It means we might fail in a particular activity in an attempt to reach our overall goal. It means we will need courage. And it means we will have to let some traditions go in order to get to replace them with things that focus on the common good and not just the good of those that have traditionally gone to college in our region. I ask that we consider the following:
In his book How to Be An Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi writes, “We arrive at demonstrations excited, as if our favorite musician is playing on the speakers’ stage. We convince ourselves we are doing something to solve the racial problem when we are really doing something to satisfy our feelings. We go home fulfilled, like we dined at our favorite restaurant. And this fulfillment is fleeting…The problems of inequity persist…We persistently do something to make ourselves feel better as we convince ourselves we are making society better, as we never make society better. What if instead of feelings advocacy we had an outcome advocacy that put equitable outcomes before our guilt and anguish? What if we focused our human and fiscal resources on changing power and policy to actually make society, not just our feelings, better?”
Let’s further consider Kendi’s powerful statement. Let me start with the simple things we have already done. We have provided meaningful funding for the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion to be done. We will require all full-time employees to have initial important discussions and training on how to improve our equity and inclusionary practices as individuals and as an institution. We have formed a police advisory council to support our university police to have a continuous open dialogue with the campus, and led by Chief Jones, our police have created several new programs to further the ways they can positively interact with the students they serve to protect. We have started to enact our strategic plan for inclusive excellence. And we have formed an impact initiative committee on the Council of Trustees on the subject of social justice that will be chaired by alum Cordero Barkley. While a good start, unfortunately, this is not enough.
Brown County is 15% below the national average for the percentage of the population with an undergraduate degree and 41% below the average for graduate degrees. This is why we must continue to grow. By growing, we are solving a societal problem. We are also below national and state averages for degree attainment when you look at our region. If we do not solve this problem, our communities will fail due to inequity and an unsustainable economy. Are we serving the common good?
Forty-eight percent of white students in Brown County are proficient in English and Language Arts, Black students are 14% proficient. That statistic is not because Black students are less capable of proficiency in these areas. It is because there is not equity in how those two populations access education. What are we doing to not further exacerbate these problems at the higher education level? We can’t just choose who we want to teach, instead we choose to teach all who want to be taught. The goal of the university should not just be access, but success; not privilege, but growth. Are we serving the common good?
There are more students in the Green Bay Area Public Schools whose native language is not English than there are in the total school population of students in 90% of the school districts in Wisconsin. Are we doing, as a University, all we can to welcome students to UW-Green Bay that are not native English speakers? I ask again, are we serving the common good when our student population is only 15% ethnically diverse (luckily that number is growing) and 69% of our student population comes from within our 16 county footprint. We must stop saying some of our students are underprepared for college. That may be true, but it is not the fault of the public schools or the students themselves. This is, once again, a societal issue and we should build our university around being ready to meet students where they are when they enter and not bemoan that they are not where we want them to be. The question is are we willing to fix the problem or pass the buck? The question comes down to what our goal is for education at a regional university like UW-Green Bay. In my opinion, we must measure the growth of each student and use that as our measure of success. We set high expectations for growth, but we do not start with a bar that is unattainable and then say the student could not leap over it. Only with this attitude do we improve our society. Only teaching well prepared students is comfortable, but will not create equity or a sustainable and diverse region for the future. Are we willing to consider the common good?
Is our curriculum advancing more than just the traditional western canon or are we truly honoring the part of our mission that says we want to be globally informed? What examples do your classes highlight? Who is writing the books you are assigning, the music you are performing, and the art you are displaying? Who owns the business we show as examples of success? Are we providing connections to populations not traditionally entering the sciences? This hits at the core of who we are welcoming in our classes. Do they see themselves succeeding? Are we willing to learn from the perspective of our students and not just provide our perspective to them? Are we struggling to serve the common good in our classrooms or just teaching what and how we were taught as students when we were in school?
Consider that the average age of our students is 22, but how much energy and resources do we provide to those who are above the 18-22 age range? Only ¼ of our students live on campus, but how much energy do we spend engaging those that are not living here? Are we willing to continue to adapt to what we have learned from the pandemic? Why did we grow by 40% in the summer? I think it is because we expanded our offerings only in a way that met students where they were at and not taught in a delivery mode that has made us traditionally comfortable. Are we willing to view education as something that can occur outside of 8:00-5:00? Are we providing high impact practices in all that we do and for all who study with us or just those that can be at a class from 10-11 on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday? I am so proud of our faculty for wrestling with these issues. Our students are clearly responding and if we get the mix of synchronous and asynchronous offerings right, we will grow in ways we could never have dreamed. What aspects of education do we need our students to be in person for? Are we willing to also let them learn on their own and be informed by their prior life experience outside of the classroom?
In what may sound like an odd statement, I also think we need to stop worrying about degree completion for all students and start worrying about degree progression in a timely and efficient manner for everyone. Each student will have a different educational goal when they come to us. For most that start at 18, the goal will be to get a degree in four years, but for others that start mid-career, they may not want a degree, but a specific aspect of education that can advance their knowledge and opportunity. This is a change in thinking. We want all students to have access to education in an efficient way, but we must understand that not everyone will want a prepackaged degree. They may only want a certificate, they may want non-credit skills-based courses, and they might even just be curious about a particular class.
I would also like us to consider our hiring practices in the years ahead. Are they aimed at advancing our mission or encouraging us to look like all other institutions? What do we value when we provide tenure and promotion and is it in alignment with our mission? Are we hiring people that bring a diversity of ideas and backgrounds to our university or those that already confirm what we already know? Can we search for people who believe fiercely in our mission, but might get there in ways that are outside of our norms? Are we hiring and promoting for the common good of our region or to further the machine of higher education as it currently exists?
We must also look at our internal policies and practices and consider how the pandemic might have changed our acceptance of certain norms. It is essential that we start measuring success in our workplace based on the quality and quantity of the work produced and not the number of hours spent in an office. If we want to recruit and retain great faculty and staff, we must be willing to allow for complicated modern lives. We also have to be willing to understand that our students also have complicated lives. Why have we recruited and retained better this year? My sense is that it is partly that we were working from home and could adjust our hours as we saw fit to accomplish our jobs and meet the needs of our particular family circumstances. We must be committed to prioritizing the health, mental health, and wellness of not only our students, but also our faculty and staff. To that end, we have formed another impact initiative with the Council of Trustees to guide us in these efforts.
If we do not fully grasp the equity issues laid bare by the pandemic, we will fail. I do not have the answer to all of the questions I have asked today. The answers will vary in every discipline and for every professor. It will be found in the way we, as a staff, respond to every student’s circumstance. Even when we have answered the question countless times before. Even when we are tired. That is uncomfortable. All I can ask you to do is to constantly question if you are teaching and performing your job as a staff member in a way that provides access and furthers the goal of the common good. This applies to every facet of the university from facilities to residence life; business and finance to academic advisors, and IT to police. We must fight for every student’s success. Only with all of us working individually towards this goal can it be accomplished. Leaders must be willing to make hard decisions, all of us need to hold ourselves accountable for keeping our work focused on this goal, and we all need to be aware of the opportunity we have as a university to truly define what it means to have a regional university focused on making the community it serves a better place.
Let me conclude today with a reminder of what I think makes us special. When we did the work last year to see what made us unique, Carnegie Dartlett listened to us and gave us the following observations about our campus. We are innovative, we are resilient, we are caring, and we are willing to fight to meet a noble mission.
We are innovative. Continue to prove it with your actions. Learn and experiment with how you can teach differently, truly provide high impact practices in every class, and perform research that can directly benefit your fields and our region.
We are resilient. Model that. Embrace the unknown just like we are asking our students to do. Herd cats and celebrate when they all get to the end of a goal even if they take different routes to get there. Don’t control the sound of the orchestra you are conducting. Listen and value all of its unique voices to make a powerful whole.
We are caring. Prove it every day. Care when nobody is looking. Just go out of your way to have empathy. Do one thing each day that lets a student or colleague know that you care. Just one thing.
We are willing to fight to achieve a university that aims to build a society that values the common good. If a hurdle is in our way, we will get through it. We will do so by being innovative, resilient, and caring in all that we do, but we will not stop. We simply will not stop.
As we come together today, I hope the routine of the annual return to learning brings comfort and unified purpose to each of you.
I love this university. It is poised to build on the profound vision on which it was founded. Let us all rise together into the unknown.
Have a great year.
We are in this together.
Hi UW-Green Bay students,
I hope you’re all doing well. I want to take a minute to go over a few things with you today.
First, please understand that we’re relying on each one of you to have social responsibility and to make sure you’re taking all the precautions necessary to keep everyone safe this fall. It’s really important that we make sure that we’re able to continue education this fall and part of the way we do that is to make sure that everyone is taking the proper precautions at all times to make sure that yourself and everyone around you is able to remain safe and healthy throughout the pandemic.
I also want to mention that I know that all of you have differing opinions about whether or not you’d like to have classes in person or online. We respect all of the wishes that you have to be able to have education tailored in your specific way. We’re doing everything we can to make sure we’re meeting the requests that you have about what mode you’d like to have your classes delivered. If for any reason you’re not able to get the classes in the mode that you feel you need in the upcoming semester, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please understand that as many of you that want online education, as many others want in person and vice versa, so please respect what each other are asking for in their educational delivery. Our goal is to provide access to education to all and have all of you persist in your education.
Finally, I want to let you know there will be opportunities in the coming weeks ahead for you to reach out to us and ask questions directly that we can answer. First there will be an Instagram Q&A conversation, and then also an open forum where you can ask me and University leadership questions directly that we’ll be able to answer for you.
I hope you all stay well and, I look forward to connecting with you soon.
Note: In the memo (August 10, 22020), UW-Green Bay Chancellor Mike Alexander and Provost Kate Burns acknowledge University support as employees and students face child-care challenges…
Dear UW-Green Bay Faculty and Staff,
As we approach the fall, it is important we consider the numerous ways our work patterns and the ways our students will access education have evolved. Our ability to have empathy for those who need support to deal with these sudden changes, will be essential to move forward as a University fully dedicated to access. One issue that we have struggled to holistically address as a campus is support for child care for our faculty, staff, and students. We would like to update you on the steps we are taking this year to help improve the way we deal with the reality of the equity issues caused by challenges with child care. These steps are based on the recommendations from the UW System task force on Caregiving and COVID-19 and we urge everyone to take the time to read the recommendations in full.
- It is our expectation that supervisors work with all faculty and staff to do everything possible to accommodate the individual needs for child care that any of our colleagues might have. Immediately contact HR if you have questions on how to support a colleague or if you feel you are not receiving the support you need. We will review all of our HR policies on this subject to make sure we are doing everything we can to be flexible throughout the year.
- Faculty are expected to have empathy and accommodate students who are struggling with the balance of child care and class expectations.
- Mark Olkowski and John Landrum are working with SUFAC and SGA to provide grant opportunities for students who need financial support to provide child care for their families in order to have the space to complete their studies. It is our expectation that these grants are widely communicated and mobilized as soon as possible. In addition, we are working towards long term solutions to provide further support for faculty, staff, and students around this issue.
Thank you for continually considering how you can support our colleagues and students through these times through proactive actions that demonstrate our belief in student success, a caring spirit, and an understanding of the challenges that our communities face right now.
Chancellor Michael Alexander
Interim Provost Kate Burns
UW-Green Bay Chancellor Alexander’s appointment was covered in Insight Publication’s “People on the Move” article, which highlights promotions in the local area.
UW-Green Bay Chancellor Alexander discusses the ‘wash, watch, wear’ responsibility of the entire campus community.
Hello UW-Green Bay students.
I hope you’re all doing well. I’m here today to give you another campus update, and to let you know that we have given campus guidelines out to area and divisional leaders for how we’ll be able to operate in the fall. Over the next week individual leaders will work to respond to those guidelines and make sure that each area of campus can open responsibly.
We want to make sure that you know that there are going to be three core things to do for us to be able to open successfully:
- One is to wear a mask.
- Second, wash your hands. Make sure you’re always practicing good hygiene.
- And third, watch your distance. Make sure you’re staying apart as much as possible. Make sure that you’re observing that distance so that we can all stay safe when we’re here together.
I also want to encourage you as a campus to please understand that we are working through literally thousands and thousands of details to be able to open up successfully in in the fall. If you have concerns over any of those details, please do not hesitate to reach out. The first place you could start with is by emailing email@example.com. Any concerns that you have about the opening of fall please you can start with them, and they’ll be able to route your question to the appropriate place and make sure you get an appropriate answer.
We want to make sure we continue to communicate with you in the lead up to the fall and you can expect a lot more communication in the coming weeks. I hope you’re doing well and that you have a great rest of your week, and thanks for listening today.
On Friday, July 10, Chancellor Michael Alexander sent a message out to UW-Green Bay students, faculty and staff about how UW-Green Bay is navigating the pandemic, as well as its role in the future of Northeast Wisconsin and its broader community.
Dear UW-Green Bay Students, Faculty and Staff:
At a meeting with campus leadership on Tuesday, I was asked if we were considering how to move forward as a campus after the pandemic. It was an excellent question and one that I have not done a good enough job articulating an answer for over the last few months. Like all of you, I have been focused on UW-Green Bay’s careful response and planning related to the immediate crisis. We have learned over the last four months that conditions can shift quickly and new guidance appears almost daily, which can make long range planning a challenge. I want to thank our faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community for being patient and understanding while we navigate these difficult times. Our enrollment is up 875 students this summer over last year and our faculty and staff are working through the summer in order to be ready for any version of teaching we need to provide in the fall. We are positioned well to deal with whatever challenges emerge in the coming year, but it is not enough. We must do much more.
In the spur of the moment, I answered the question about our future with the first thing that came to my mind. I believe our long-term vision is the same vision that will guide our university and region in the coming year. To begin with, we must become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Our students deal with a fear of the unknown all the time. Most felt this way prior to the pandemic and those who did not, likely do now. Prior to the pandemic, I believed an education helped a student contribute to making a positive difference in their region, country, and world. Now, I believe education must also prepare students to generate constructive dialogue that will help heal and rebuild our communities.
We must stop spending all of our time worrying about the mode of delivery for our courses. For what feels like my entire career, and certainly over the last four months, we have been debating whether or not to teach in person or online. It has presented as a binary choice when it does not have be. The debate has gone on while more and more students need an education that can provide the benefits of both. We need instruction that honors the fact that a large portion of our students need flexible hours to learn. They lead complex lives. Many desire the in-person experience with the flexibility of an online course. Providing this kind of education is our answer now and it is also our answer in the future. The first step in providing access to education is ensuring that our classes are actually accessible given the realities of modern life.
We must fully commit to solving the racial achievement gap (the disparity in academic achievement between black and 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. There are massive inequities in our region that 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.
We must fully commit to teaching all who desire an education at any age and with any background. Universities have often boasted about the academic profile of their student body. I do not care what the academic profile is of our incoming class. I only care if each student feels like their life has been enriched by an experience with us. It is not our place to choose who we teach. It is our mission to teach all who want to be taught. There are many universities that will fight over a student with a 4.0 GPA and high SAT score. I do not begrudge that student or the university that seeks to teach them, but we must fight for the student who has had to struggle, who has potential that is yet to be realized, and who wants to make a difference in their community. Our region needed that student to have an education prior to the pandemic. Now it is essential that our University nurtures local students into the leaders of tomorrow.
We must stop assuming that all students go to college to get a degree and do so between the ages of 18-22. We needed to set this assumption aside prior to the pandemic and it has become even more important to do so now. Education should be a lifelong pursuit and one that may not always follow a straight line. Most students expect an affordable education and during the pandemic may not be willing or able to travel far from home to get one. As education continues to grow in cost, it is becoming a more and more attractive decision for students to stay local for large parts of their educational experience. We will welcome students at any point in their career to use education to improve their career or broaden their view of the world.
We must change the narrative around the cost of an education. Our tuition is under $8,000 per year for a Wisconsin resident. An elite university education can cost upwards of $50,000 per year. Regardless of the university students choose, it should be viewed as an investment they make in themselves. Student debt matters when it inhibits a person’s ability to fulfill their potential. Worse yet is student debt without the completion of one’s educational goals. We must support students to persist in their education. We must encourage them to stay on course and finish what they have started. We must be a leader in helping first generation college students successfully navigate the experience. The narrative on the cost of education and rising debt was broken before the pandemic. We now have a chance to reset the educational value proposition in the coming year and beyond.
Our community has rightly demanded that UW-Green Bay grow to support the economy, culture, education, and health of our region. Now and after the pandemic, we will need leaders to help us move forward. It is our job to prepare them. We fiercely believe that all students who want a university education should have access to it. Our mission is to provide that education, and the rapid growth of our University in recent years shows we are fighting to support students to reach their educational goals. I ask our entire community to join us in the fight to create a more equitable community and one prepared to meet the challenges of the future.
I am unable to predict exactly what will happen with education in the coming months. However, I know we are resilient. As the Phoenix, we are up for the challenge that lies ahead. We will rise into the unknown together.
In a memorandum to faculty and staff, UW-Green Bay Chancellor Mike Alexander responded to an announcement regarding deportation of international students if a university is forced to go entirely online because of the pandemic this fall. See it below:
“Yesterday (July , 2020) the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released new guidance concerning international students studying on F-1 visas.
As we understand the regulations, international students will be able to maintain their immigration status provided that they enroll in at least one face-to-face course this fall. However, if UW-Green Bay is forced to move entirely online for any reason, immigration will require all international students to depart the United States or transfer to other U.S. institutions offering face-to-face classes. Read more here.
To be clear, we value international students and their contributions to our University community. We do not support any policy that prevents any of our students from accessing an education at UW-Green Bay.
Our Office of International Education immediately began reviewing the order and is actively working with individual students on their status and class schedules to ensure their individual education plan is not impeded.”
Later in the day, the UW System posted this response to the ICE:
“Our university system is internationally recognized. There’s a good reason students from all over the world want to attend our universities. We welcome them. These students provide great benefit to our universities and anything that makes it harder for them to attend will raise a host of issues during an already challenging time.”
In this video, UW-Green Bay Chancellor Mike Alexander expresses his gratitude to faculty and staff on all four campuses who have worked toward a responsible reopening. Thank you also to medical partner Prevea Health.
“Good morning UW-Green Bay faculty and staff. It is July 1st and we’ve begun to slowly open up our campus. I’m here this morning to help remind you of some things we can all do to make sure we keep each other safe.
As I drove in this morning it was encouraging to see a few cars parked in our public spaces, using our trails socially distanced, and enjoying the outdoor spaces we have on our beautiful campus.
I want to remind you to please park in your normal spot, but as you walk to your office make sure you stay outside. It’s also important that you go outside as much as you can whenever you’re having to walk anywhere on campus. Try not to use the tunnels, and hopefully every day for the rest of the summer looks just like today.
As much as I’d like to see all of you on campus it’s really important that as many of you as possible please continue to work from home. Please continue to use the electronic platforms that you’ve been using to be able to have meetings since march… it’s been working for us. If you need to come in, obviously it’s okay to come onto campus at this point during the hours that we’re open, but if you’re able to work from home please do so it helps for all of us to stay socially distanced and prevent an outbreak from occurring on our campus.
I want to thank all of our staff at facilities that have worked so hard to be able to allow us to open up our campus safely. I also want to encourage all of our faculty and staff to please make sure that you’re keeping your areas clean and sanitized at all times. Please be sure to read all the guidelines we sent out about how to safely open campus.
Remember that masks are required whenever you’re in public spaces walking through halls or around other people. It’s very important, and required, that we all do this for everyone else’s safety.
As a Phoenix family we’re best when we do things together. It’s vitally important right now that we all work together to make sure that we keep everything that we’re doing safe for everyone on our campus. Thank you for your attention to all these details it’s great to be able to slowly open up campus. It’ll be even better to make sure we keep everybody safe while we’re doing so.”
Thank you to all who joined the Coffee Break Q&A on Monday, June 29. Because of technical issues, this recording begins a few minutes into the Chancellor’s opening remarks. All introductory comments were discussed more thoroughly during the Question and Answer session.