Chancellor’s remarks: Convocation 2014

Chancellor Gary L. Miller addressed some 500 UW-Green Bay faculty and staff members Aug. 27, offering remarks during the University’s annual fall Convocation.


The prepared text of his speech is as follows:

Good Morning. Cliff, thank you for that kind introduction. Welcome all of you to the opening convocation of the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay.

I want to pause here to snap a picture of the crowd so I can tweet about this event.

[Snap picture with cell phone].

I am very actively recruiting new followers for my handle @UWGBChancellor. So, please go to your Twitter account and follow me!

Also, I will very much appreciate your immediate response to my brief remarks here today. To do this, please go to the Chancellor’s web page where you will find a link to a one-question survey which simply asks about your reaction to my remarks. This is NOT a gimmick. I want to hear what you think. I will read every comment. Thank you for doing this.

Let me begin by welcoming all of the new staff and faculty who have been introduced this morning. I had an opportunity to interact briefly with some of you at Shorewood Golf Course last week and yesterday at the new faculty orientation. I am impressed by the great talent and creativity you bring to UW-Green Bay. You are the future of this university and we look forward to seeing how you will change us for the better. Welcome!

This is my first convocation and I am extremely excited to be here with you to celebrate the university, reflect on our successes and, importantly, to look ahead to the opportunities and challenges that await us in the new academic year and beyond.

I am joined here today by my wife Georgia who is sitting over there [indicate her location]. I am extremely fortunate to have been blessed with such a fantastic partner. Georgia will bring to the Green Bay community deep experience as a business woman, community organizer, and social advocate. She is a person of unmatched compassion, wisdom and creativity. I hope all of you will have an opportunity to work with her in the coming years.

This convocation is a unique opportunity for both of us for two reasons. First, it is a great opportunity for us to meet you. Georgia and I plan to stay around after the ceremony for as long as possible in order to meet as many of you as possible. I hope you will have the time to introduce yourself to us after the event.

It is also an opportunity for us to thank you for the extraordinary warmth with which you have welcomed us to the university and to the Green Bay community. I do not believe I have ever moved to a city where it felt like home more quickly than in this move to Green Bay. Thank you all!

Later in these remarks and in the months and years to come, I will talk about the new realities of university-community partnerships, realities that call upon public universities to engage with their communities in novel and innovative ways. The University of Wisconsin – Green Bay was born of a determined community that wanted a university in the state’s third largest city. We are fortunate to enjoy the support of many community leaders. A number of these have accepted appointments on the Chancellors Council of Trustees, The University Foundation Board, the Alumni Association Board, The Founders Board, the Phoenix Fund Board, University Village Housing, Inc. and the Retiree Association. Representatives of those groups are with us this morning and have been acknowledged.   I want to add my welcome to these community colleagues and thank you on behalf of the entire university for your belief in this place and your commitment to our success.

[Please join me in a round of applause to show our appreciation to these great volunteers]

One of the most unique – some would say mysterious – features of universities is our governance structure. Because we value knowledge and understanding above all else, we are deliberately reflective and inclusive in the way in which we develop strategy and make decisions. We are fortunate to have four highly engaged governance bodies at Green Bay and each of them has representatives here today. I would like to ask members of the Faculty Senate, the Academic Staff Committee, the University Staff Committee, and the Student Government Association to stand so we can thank you for your great work on behalf of the university.

[Lead applause to thank members of these groups]

I want to pledge to these campus leaders and to the rest of you here today my deep belief in and commitment to the university governance traditions. Being inclusive and transparent is essential if we are to move forward together and I will always appreciate reminders from you if we stray from that imperative.

I also want to say to you that being reflective and collaborative cannot mean inaction nor should it appease our fear of the unknown. The real power in reflection and deliberation is in making sound and sometimes difficult choices. As I will emphasize in the coming months, whether we like it or not, we are at a point where we have to make some choices in public higher education. That we do this with great collegiality and a spirit of excitement about the future is our goal.

There are no great universities without great faculty and staff. Ultimately, whatever we do at Green Bay will depend on the creativity and commitment of the people who work at the university. And, so, it is exciting and fitting that we use this convocation to celebrate the work of some of our faculty. I want to add my congratulations to the recipients of the named professorships who were introduced earlier in this program. These are national leaders in their field and we celebrate their achievements here today and count on their leadership going forward. We also celebrate the great generosity of the donors who made these awards possible. I would like to ask those individuals to stand once more to be recognized.

[Lead applause for named professors]

It is also important to recognize and thank those campus leaders who have been presented the Founders Association Awards for Excellence. These awards are strong testament to a deep commitment to excellence. Would these awardees please stand once again so we can thank you.

[Lead applause for SOFAS award winners].

The transition of a new chancellor is an opportunity for the university to pause and think about where it has been and where it might go. It can be – I hope it will be – a precious and special time. It can also be a bit unsettling and I want you to know I recognize that. Any transition in leadership will bring change. Change is both inevitable and very hard. The way in which we embrace it together is a measure of our character.

In a way, during these first few weeks as Chancellor, I am like a consultant. I meet with people and read about what the university is doing and plans to do. The conclusions I make about the university strategy and operations at this early stage are based mostly on my own experience and my understanding of the environment in which the university operates.   I don’t yet have the deep network of relationships inside and outside the university that will be required for me to provide the kind of leadership you expect. And, frankly, I am not even sure at this point how to get back to my office once this event is over.

So, for the coming weeks, I will continue my education about the university and the community while getting to know as many of you as possible. I will need your help in this. Indeed, you have already provided me an enormous gift with your responses to the short set of questions in the survey I sent to the campus and community several weeks ago. I received those responses last week and I have been reading them closely and will continue to study them in the coming weeks. It is important that you know what is being said by your colleagues about the university and, so, I will be arranging times with various groups of you to provide a more formal summary of your thinking. There are some interesting and important patterns in your responses that will help us in our work together in inventing the future of UWGB. A number of these patterns expose areas of concern and uncertainty that will require our attention. Many of your comments contained suggestions for how to address challenges and opportunities and all of these must be considered. There will be time to tackle those later. What I want to mention today are the positive themes:

  • The affection for this university both on campus and in the community is deep.
  • The expectations for this university are extremely high.
  • Despite the difficulties of recent years which have dampened morale, optimism still shows through.
  • People on this campus like and respect one another.
  • Our commitment to our students is extraordinary.
  • And, importantly, there is a widespread desire to be innovative in a time of great change.

What I get from this is a great sense of optimism about the possibilities here. We don’t know the path, we can’t yet predict the changes we will make but we know that there is a very strong commitment to this place, to each other and to the power of innovation and creativity, which we must always remember is part of the DNA of UW Green Bay.

At this early stage in my tenure here I am not prepared to express the broad vision of the future of this great university. On November 14, we will convene for a formal installation of the Chancellor. At that event I will express a more definitive narrative of the future of this university. This will be a consensus narrative that will leverage our strengths and look to the future. It will reveal some choices we will have to make and reflect how we will invest our resources for the coming decade.

To be prepared to express this narrative, we will have to engage in the following activities in the coming months. We must:

  • Reexamine our strategy with an investment mindset. Where do we commit limited resources?
  • Begin the process of deep reflection about the academic program portfolio. This is the most important imperative of the contemporary public university and it is one of the most difficult things to do. But, it must be done in order to ensure we have the best array of programs for the future our students will face.
  • Reexamine the connection between our program philosophy and the success of our graduates in the new interdependent global workplace.
  • Examine our organizational structure to determine where we can nurture a culture of the commonwealth that will leverage the resources we have for the benefit of the entire university.
  • Understand our enrollment strategy within the new demographic and competitive realities. An important goal is to make enrollment an institution-wide responsibility.
  • Link our budget processes directly with strategy through a more transparent and inclusive budget process.
  • Build on the community engagement traditions and academic strengths of the university to develop partnerships in the community that create jobs and nurture the economy.
  • Understand how to present ourselves to the outside world in a way that captures the excitement we feel in our work, the imagination of potential students of all ages and the expectations of the Green Bay community.
  • And, most importantly, create a culture of innovation whereby managed risk is embraced and new ideas are given a chance to thrive.

We will be working with great vigor in the coming weeks to organize ourselves to conduct these activities, which, in some cases, will require most of the year and more. This work will require extraordinary effort on the part of all of us. The tempo of our activities will be higher than normal. There will be more than the usual number of working groups and committees. I ask for your support in this and I promise you ice cream at the end!!

I want to emphasize here that these activities cannot divert our attention from a number of important continuing and fundamental challenges of the university.

  • The compensation levels for faculty and staff at the university are not commensurate with those of peer institutions around the country and not acceptable to me. We must continue to work on this issue because, as I emphasized in the beginning of these remarks, our greatest asset is our human capital.
  • Like any long standing university system, there are inequities in the funding levels among institutions that are the result of hundreds of individual decisions over the years. I will continue to address these legacy issues with the system and the state and, indeed, have already begun to do so with the help of our very committed Council of Trustees.
  • We must continue to examine our facilities and work with our friends and the system to provide the very best venues for our faculty, staff and students.

Let me conclude my remarks today by telling you why I believe this is such a wonderful opportunity and why I wanted to come here.

I have committed my entire work life to American higher education. Since World War II, no enterprise on Earth has been more successful at preparing creative and engaged citizens. The rise of the American meritocracy and the ascendancy of the United States after WWII can be attributed in large measure to access to public higher education. Until 15 or 20 years ago most Americans believed in the commonwealth value of higher education. That is, the benefit of colleges and universities accrued both to the recipient of the degree and to society at large.

This is no longer the case. State divestment in public higher education over the past two decades has tracked a change in attitudes about colleges and universities. Today, most Americans believe that only the degree recipient benefits from higher education. Thus, state investment is less important.

This shift in attitudes has affected all of public higher education but most especially comprehensive universities like Green Bay, where our survival has been dependent on state subsidy and an access imperative. It is important for all of us to understand – even as we grieve our loss – we are no longer primarily a state-subsidized entity. We are essentially a private enterprise competing in a competitive market within a dense regulatory bubble. Our obligation to the State of Wisconsin must never waiver. But our best chance to contribute is to act more like a private university. This is why our community partnerships and our enrollment strategy are so important.

What we are about in our time is inventing a new way to Engage in Public Life as an institution. It is fitting in this transformative time that this is our Common Theme for the year: Engaging in Public Life. There has never been a time in public higher education when understanding how to do this has been more important.

But the loss of state support is not the only challenge we face. Indeed, I do not believe it is the biggest challenge.

We are at what Tom Friedman calls a “Gutenberg moment” in education. Nearly anyone in the world can create content and publish that content for a global audience. Learning is a more or less continuous process having very little real connection to the physical structures of the university. Just today over 1 billion searches will be issued on Google – each of those searches is a question of some kind. Before the sun sets today somewhere around 250 million emails will have been sent, 100 million tweets will have been issued and about 36 million hours of video will have been uploaded to YouTube (about the same as 176,000 full length Hollywood movies.) I expect some of you are engaged in one or more of those activities at this very moment! Massive, virtual, global social networks and gigantic data bases trace and record the billions of human communications and transactions that occur each minute.

Overlaying this technology revolution are some pretty important global social changes that have a direct effect on the lives of our graduates whether they stay in Green Bay or travel the world. We are experiencing a massive growth in the global middle class, much of it occurring in Asia and very little occurring in this country. Wealth and income inequality is rapidly expanding even in developed countries. Today the wealthiest 85 people in the world own more wealth than the bottom half the world’s population – 3.5 billion people.

We are also experiencing a dramatic increase in global urbanization. In the last U.S. census over 60% of the nation’s largest cities experienced population growth in the city core. Importantly, this growth was about equally distributed between young people and those nearing retirement. At the same time, suburbs are becoming increasingly more diversified as preferred locations for many emerging minority populations in the US. This past year was the first year in the history of the US where Caucasian students were a minority in public high schools.

Within their lifetimes, our students will also face unprecedented change in the global climate. The debate about the extent to which humans are responsible for the current accelerating pace of climate change notwithstanding, there is widespread agreement that the climate is changing and the change will reshape the distribution of water and agriculture throughout the world, affect human migration patterns, initiate new disease cycles, change energy dynamics and, through these, affect the global economy. The outlook here need not necessarily be negative. But, this will certainly affect the commerce, employment and the imperatives and responsibilities of citizenship in coming generations and this is something we must be aware of as we prepare our students for their lives beyond college. There are few universities in the country better prepared to take on this important obligation to the future.

The explosion of technology, global social and demographic changes and changes in our climate are altering the work world for our graduates. The high wage, middle skill jobs that fueled the growth of the middle class after WWII have all but disappeared in America. Entry level positions now require sets of skills formerly expected of mid-management. Current estimates are that 70% of the new jobs in the New North will require at least a bachelor’s degree. But employers are telling us they can’t find graduates with the right set of skills for many of these entry level positions.

Graduates today can expect to have as many as 7 to 10 different jobs by the time they are middle aged. Most of those jobs have not yet been invented and the technology required to do those jobs has not yet emerged. The idea that there is a one-to-one correspondence between an academic major and a job no longer holds and this is also becoming true in some of the professions.

What other university in the country is better able to prepare students to enter a world that requires extraordinary levels of creativity, the ability to quickly range intellectually across different disciplines, the capacity to work collaboratively and with great adaptability all focused on solving real problems to improve the human condition, advance commerce and sustain the ecosystem than the University of Wisconsin Green Bay? I believe there are very few. This is why I wanted to be at Green Bay with you. This is why I am so excited to be here today!

I do not come here with all the answers. I come here with a deep commitment to the transforming power of higher education for both individuals and society. As your Chancellor, I will demonstrate that passion by listening with great intensity, asking lots of questions and with your advice making the hard decisions that will be required to grow this university’s ability to affect real change in Wisconsin and the country.

Thank you for your attention this morning and….

Go Phoenix!!