A Conversation with Tom and Cathy Harden
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Chancellor Tom Harden and his wife Cathy share a passion for education that goes beyond profession. In this interview they share their observations and vision for education in Northeastern Wisconsin. View an online biography of Chancellor Harden at www.uwgb.edu/chancellor.
Q: You’ve been at UW-Green Bay for more than a year. What are some of your observations about education?
Chancellor Harden: Our impression was that the educational systems were very good. We’ve found that to be true. Historically there is a great amount of support for education among the citizens here, and that is what it takes to have a great school system and provide real opportunities for the students. Having said that, I think we can anticipate some challenges and position ourselves to address them. As in higher education, there is a challenge among area schools to have adequate resources to do the job that needs to be done in educating children.
Q: What is your relationship with local schools?
Chancellor Harden: I’m active, along with the presidents from St. Norbert College and NWTC, in Partners in Education. This is an opportunity to work with superintendents on a monthly basis and that is a great asset to sit down and have a discussion to really look at what the PK-12 needs are and what we can do to assist them in solving student needs.
Q: What can the Institute and the University do in partnership to help narrow the achievement gap?
Chancellor Harden: I think we need to understand how we are defining the achievement gap, and to understand why it is widening. The University could be very helpful in defining what the problem is. Once defined, we could address the issues. I think we have a faculty here that is very attuned to the issues. We have an education program that has done excellent work to become more integrated into the schools, with the intent of improving PK-12 education. We have great teachers and great leadership locally. I think working cooperatively with them can yield some positive outcomes, not just in research, but also in practice. I would like to encourage our education people to be more and more active in the classroom. The more active we are, the more we have the opportunity to help, and the more we can learn, as well, and consequently do a good job of preparing prospective teachers.
Q: Northeastern Wisconsin is becoming more ethnically and economically diverse. What leadership can the University provide to ensure that the community successfully adjusts to the challenges diversity brings?
Chancellor Harden: As a university we have a responsibility to put into practice methods and policies that enable us as an institution to become more diverse and deal with student diversity better. And we have an obligation to make an earnest effort and a successful effort to attract more diversity among faculty and staff. I think it is very important we continue to encourage the discussion of this question.
Q: Is your own Midwestern and working class background an asset for leadership within the community?
Cathy Harden: Yes, and we have enjoyed getting to know the people and organizations of this community.
Chancellor Harden: In addition to our Midwestern roots, we bring a perspective that might be helpful, in that we have lived and worked in an area (south of Atlanta) that experienced a tremendous demographic change in a decade. While we were at Clayton State, the University went from about 30 percent to 72 percent minority. There was a similar shift in the population of the area, but not quite so drastic. We were able to witness the richness that was achieved at the University. Part of that was we expanded the curriculum, but we have to attribute a great part of that improvement to the impact of greater diversity in the classrooms and on the campus and it was really a wonderful place. Consequently the University became the shining star of the region.
Cathy Harden: It is especially a great benefit for students. It is amazing that you could see students from all different backgrounds get to know one another and learn more about other cultures and other families. You could just see how they came together.
Chancellor Harden: Green Bay is not the Deep South. So the number of African-American students we can attract will be on a smaller scale. But we have diversity in a great number of groups. The African-American student demographic is not well represented. Approximately 50 African-American students in a population of 6,500 students is very small. But our diversity in general has really increased over the years to where we are approximately 8-9 percent. As a University we have to do all we can to make sure all students can integrate into the mainstream of higher education.
Q: What can this University do to help teachers be at their best in light of the difficult economic issues?
Chancellor Harden: The best thing we can do is ensure that our students, including our students in our education programs, get a great education here. Because the ability to change, to adapt, the ability to transfer knowledge from one methodology to another, or from one field to another, lies heavily on the ability to know enough and accept enough to change. So the thing we can do best is to help our students acquire a world-class education. I don’t just mean training in educational methodology, but I’m talking about a breadth of education that creates richness in a person’s life that allows them to have an open-mindedness and to approach problems in ways that those who are not broadly educated might not have the tools to do so.
Cathy Harden: It is not just educating prospective teachers, but also future parents who are going to have their children in the schools. They need to understand the importance of an education, be supportive of the institution, be involved, and be lifelong learners themselves and model that for their children.
Chancellor Harden: Absolutely. Where the schools are the best is where the parents are involved, where they care about the lives of their children and the education they are receiving, and where they are willing to work with the teachers to make sure that things are right in the schools.
You’re both former teachers. Do you ever find yourself yearning to be back in the classroom?
Chancellor Harden: I would say we are both still educators. I taught junior high and high school and Cathy taught, too. Occasionally now I think about what it might be like to teach in middle school or high school. I think it would be different. I feel like I have the opportunity to teach on a daily basis in what I’m doing. Although it’s not in front of a class most of the time, I frequently have the opportunity to be in groups to spread a message about something I think needs to be understood. So some of the skills I used in the classroom a few years back, I still use. It’s a different audience, different topic, but it’s not that different. There are parts of getting in front of class and teaching and working with individual students more regularly than I do now, that is appealing. On the other hand I really like what I’m doing now, too. I think that there is value in leadership and leadership in higher education is a worthy endeavor. I don’t think I’ve gotten out of education because I’m not teaching in the classroom.
Cathy Harden: Education of children has always been dear to my heart. I used to teach first grade, until our children were born. I felt I could serve them best by raising them well. When they went to school I went back to graduate school and determined that when I went back into the classroom I wanted to know more so that I could help students who were having difficulty. I went to graduate school and studied school psychology. I went back into the workforce and was a school psychologist and really enjoyed that because I felt like I was making a difference. When I first left the classroom I must say that in the fall in the stores when Elmer’s Glue and scissors and tape would come out, you would have that little heart tug and I would miss my kids in the classroom. But as you change jobs, or levels of jobs, you can help more students in different ways. As a school psychologist you’re helping families and teachers deal with students, and if you make a positive change in the classroom then that may affect their teaching for years to come; or if you work with parenting and parenting classes, it may make a significant difference in their children.
Chancellor Harden: It has worked out really well in our lives that we’ve been able to work in higher education and K-12 education. I say “we” because Cathy works many unpaid hours for this University. A lot of it is in support of my particular role. She’s a very busy person.
Cathy Harden: I’ve just recently joined the board of the Neville Public Museum and I’m really looking forward to being involved with that. I feel that’s an area in the community that serves to preserve the history that goes right along with knowledge and learning and is especially important as the area diversifies for people who come to the area to understand the history and what made this area so strong. I’m really looking forward to the education component of the Neville. There are many, many opportunities for students. And the Learning In Retirement group holds many of their classes at the Neville Museum.
Q: So you’re lifelong educators and lifelong learners?
Chancellor Harden: I don’t think you sit still. You either go forward and learn more, or you don’t, and you go backwards. You strengthen the interests you already have and develop new interests. And there are just dozens and dozens of ways to do that. Lifelong learning is not a new type of thing but we all recognize the need to grow. For me, that is one of the reasons that I agreed to leave where I was and come here. It was the challenge to do it again, in a different setting, different environment, different issues, and some different problems. The challenge to grow and learn different things, to some may not seem like lifelong learning, but it really is to me. This is a small community in many ways, but there are a lot of opportunities that a person can participate in, and continue to learn. This is an exciting region with a lot of vitality, and a person who wants to learn has many opportunities.