Mid-Year Convocation remarks

Jan. 22, 2015

The prepared text of Chancellor Miller’s Mid-Year Convocation remarks is as follows:

Thank you and welcome to the Mid-Term Convocation of the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. And, most especially, welcome to the beginning of a new semester and exciting new year.

Let me begin by again congratulating those celebrating a service milestone with the University and add my congratulations to the others who have been honored this morning. Thank you for your great work!

And, to those of you in the community who serve on the Council of Trustees and the other important university boards, please know how deeply grateful we are for you commitment to UWGB and your service to this great community. We are glad you could join us today.

It is a great honor for me to be Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. I have spent the past semester visiting with many of you, learning about your achievements and your commitment to our students and to this university. I have spent time with student leaders and enjoyed Phoenix athletics. I have studied our organization and our history. I have attempted to understand the tunnels. I have tried to connect myself to this great community by meeting with as many political and business leaders as possible, exploring service opportunities and attending meetings of where leaders grapple with this community’s greatest challenges and most important opportunities. Georgia and I rarely miss a Packers game. I have immersed myself in the work of the UW System, meeting Regents and chancellors and the great staff at the system office.

I am so excited about this place and its future. The power we have to create our future through innovation, to transform the lives of many more students in this region by inviting them to join the extraordinary learning community and to change this place to improve the human condition are limited only by our imagination.

It is a great privilege to be your partner in this wonderful journey.

I would like to do the following in my comments today:

  • Bring you up to date on a number of important activities and initiatives of the past semester and look forward to how we expect those to play out in the coming months.
  • Review the situation with the state budget as I understand it at the present time.
  • Talk a bit about how we will respond to the budget situation.
  • Comment on two other state higher education issues you might hear about in the paper.
  • End with quick look ahead to an exciting semester and beyond.

Review of activities and initiatives

Earlier, I introduced Dr. Stephen Fritz our new Provost. I am very excited about having Dr. Fritz with us of the next several years as we work through an important transitional period at UWGB and in higher education in Wisconsin. I am deeply grateful to the faculty leadership for their support of this increasingly common approach of asking a seasoned executive to join an institution to secure a thoughtful and transparent transition.

Stephen and I have already become close colleagues. He is committed to faculty and students. He is committed to shared governance and the importance of transparency. He is deeply committed to the liberal arts traditions that form the foundation of this university. And, he brings the breadth of experience that will serve us well in the coming years. It is my hope that he will expand our ability in senior administration to have access to your voices and your collaboration. I have asked the Provost to fully optimize our shared governance structure as we move forward with the new vision of UWGB. He has my full confidence.

For a number of years, the university leadership has been concerned about enrollment. This was an important topic in the discussions we had last year when I was being considered for this position. I spoke about our enrollment challenge in my first convocation speech and in my installation remarks and I have briefed the Council of Trustees twice on the issue. I promised we would begin addressing this issue in my first semester and I want to report on our activities so far.

Most everyone knows enrollment directly affects the bottom line. One of the first things we did early last semester was to develop, circulate and discuss clear analytical models of the effects of enrollment on budget. I want to thank Kelly Franz, Vice Chancellor for Business and Fiance, and his great colleagues most especially Dick Anderson for their work on this. These models for the basis for enrollment goals we developed for this year.

As we initiated discussions about enrollment early last semester and discussed the budget implications with various groups, it became clear that this university accepted enrollment as a commonwealth obligation. Nearly everyone who joined our discussion of enrollment asked how they could help.

So, on Saturday November 1 we convened the majority of the university leadership for an Enrollment Summit. The goal of the Summit was to create a plan to dramatically increase enrollment for the fall 2015. We asked Jennifer Jones to lead the effort which is now in operation. The plan has three phases. Phase I – Increase the size of the traditional freshman class; Phase II – Increase the number of transfer students; Phase III (concurrent with Phases I and II) – increase yield rate. In addition, Jen and her group is cataloging best-practices, building community networks and developing operational procedures to allow us to include the best parts of this initiative in future enrollment activities.

I am extremely excited about the progress of this effort to date. What is most exciting is the response we have received from the Green Bay community about our higher profile and our willingness to attempt new kinds of engagements with the local schools. These new efforts very intentionally address the changing demography of the area which is essential if we are to grow and meet the needs of this community. Our new enrollment efforts have also attracted additional philanthropic giving and more interest in our signature Phuture Phoenix program.

We have much to do with enrollment. We will continue to look at our processes in that area. I encourage all of you to work closely with the Provost as he works with university leaders to regain our enrollment edge in this region.

In a memo to the community in September of last year, I formally initiated a process called Invent the Future of Green Bay. The goal of this process is to use the transition of a new Chancellor to take stock of our university, to think deeply about some of our most precious values, to consider some of the most difficult questions before us and to mine innovations to be used for the future. And, in so doing help us develop a powerful future narrative for UWGB.

I am extremely excited about this initiative. Hundreds of faculty and staff are involved. The workgroup leadership has been outstanding. In my brief time in some of the workgroups I witnessed thoughtful, open and courageous discussions. The Steering Committee has applied an excellent structure and great leadership to this process. I want to thank all of you who are participating in this program.

Invent the Future of Green Bay was designed to end in the spring semester. The Steering Committee will work with the working group leaders to summarize discussions and identify themes and ideas for the future. We will then take some time as a community to learn about these ideas and engage in a broader discussion. I am very confident that what we will have then is a deep catalog of innovations upon which we can draw as we shape our future. I am confident the key elements of our future narrative will emerge.

Also in September of last year I released the design for a new planning process for the university. The new planning process is more forward looking with planning for the next biennium beginning in July 2017 to begin this fall even as we react to the budget imperatives of the approaching biennium. The process is designed to focus our attention on key strategic initiatives from our broad strategic plan and to help us understand the environment within which we plan and the key assumptions we must accept as we build our budgets and plan new programs for the future.

The new planning process is intended to be transparent and to work in collaboration with shared governance. The key feature of the new process is the University Planning and Innovation Committee. The UPIC is populated by some of the university’s best and most strategic thinkers nominated from the various shared governance organizations. The role of the group is to learn as much about the university as possible, work with us to understand the forces that affect our university and help us make the hard choices we will need to make to continue to grow in an increasingly resource-poor environment.

We have met with the UPIC and worked on a draft of an ambitious curriculum for the spring semester. They will learn about our budgets, the regulatory environment, the competitive environment, our enrollment strategy, our athletic program and all of the other major components of this complicated university. They will spend some time thinking about new ways to operate and make recommendations about where to focus our strategy. They will interact freely with the shared governance groups. This new planning structure will take us out of an episodic approach to planning and place us in the strategic position to build partnerships, anticipate needs, and grow enrollment.

As the UPIC gets up and running we will build a web page to track its activities and give everyone on campus a window to their activities. I encourage all of you to interact freely with UPIC members to learn about their work and offer your advice on the important issues they will consider.

We have worked on many other activities during the past semester. We continue to work with our community partners to understand how the university can have a meaningful presence in down town Green Bay. We have engaged the UW system economic development apparatus to look for new ways we can help sustain and growing and vibrant economy in this region. I have become very active in the New Era higher education consortium in the region. This is the group that successfully helped develop the Engineering Technology program we are starting next semester. The same group is working very actively to develop an academic program in Data Analytics, a project many of you are involved with. I have become involved with the local Chamber of Commerce, the New North Consortium, Achieve Brown County and other organizations working to improve health, education and the economy in the region. With the assistance of many of you we are reaching out to our alumni all across the country but specifically in this region to get their advice and their support. It has been a fantastic half year. I am very excited to be with you in this New Year.

Budget situation and our response

Let me turn now to more sobering comments, beginning with some comments about the State of Wisconsin budget.

To remind you where we are in the state budget process, the Governor is assembling his budget and will release it in a speech on February 3. As is customary I will represent UWGB at that address. The Governor’s budget will then be taken up by the Joint Finance Committee of the Legislature beginning the biennial process of shaping a budget for the Governor to sign or veto wholly or in part.

It is important to remember that at this point we do not have any concrete information on what to expect in the Governor’s budget. It has become well known, however, that the state budget is projected to have a significant shortfall. This is a deficit that must be covered.

Because of this shortfall, it is very likely the university system will be required to sustain another budget reduction in the coming biennium. The exact amount of reduction for the system and for us is yet to be determined. It is my expectation it will be mid-February at the earliest before we have a clear indication of the size of the budget reductions for UWGB. But, I believe it is prudent to initiate a strong, transparent and inclusive budget reduction and reallocation process at this time. I want to take a moment to outline how we will approach this activity.

The Provost will organize the development of recommendations for budget reductions in a transparent process employing the advice and wisdom of the shared governance bodies, the deans and other senior leaders and students. The University Planning and Innovation Committee (UPIC) will serve as the main vetting group for recommendations emerging from the Provost’s process prior to their submission to the Cabinet and the Chancellor for final determination. The Provost and I and other members of the Cabinet will regularly meet with the University Committee and other campus groups. We will hold regular town-hall type meetings to communicate activities of the budget reduction activities, answer questions and get ideas.

Working with the Vice Chancellor for Business and Finance, the Provost will engage the university in a process that will not only accomplish the required reductions but, more importantly, rethink, reinvent and reorganize a renewed university. The future of this university turns on the resolve, optimism and the deep commitment to learning that has sustained us for nearly five decades. The coming round of reductions will not diminish this university or alter our course to greatness. I am committed to finding the opportunities in this and exploiting them for the good of the university, our students and this community.

In the meantime, I want you to know we are not sitting idly by. We are engaged in intensive conversations with policy makers and those working with the Governor on his budget. We have provided a detailed briefing regarding the state budget situation and its possible effect on the university to our Council of Trustees, which, as you know, includes some of the most influential people in the state. The Council has an Advocacy Committee whose role is to speak to policy makers on our behalf regarding important public policy issues affecting Green Bay. We have briefed that group separately and they have organized themselves to very actively press the point of the importance of investing in higher education for the future of the Wisconsin economy. We are not alone in our belief that higher education is the future to prosperity in this state.

Shared governance and system flexibility

I want to briefly mention two other important state policy discussions that affect us: (1) shared governance and tenure; (2) system flexibility and possible autonomy.

Our system of shared governance whereby faculty and staff are included in the university decision-making process is a time-honored tradition in American higher education and one of the reasons the enterprise is so respected around the world. Likewise, the institution of tenure remains the preeminent guarantee of unfettered discovery and scholarship. Both of these institutions are strongly supported by me, by the President of the system and by the Board of Regents. These institutions are part of the higher education systems in all 50 states and continue to survive attempts to dissolve or alter primarily because, ultimately, they are understood as essential to the great capacity of American higher education.

In Wisconsin, the provision of shared governance and tenure reside in state statute. Chapter 36, which provides the operational framework for the university system contains these provisions. There is no other state in which this is the case. In all other states, the provisions of shared governance and tenure reside in the administrative rules of the governing board (Regents, etc.).

There is a determination to have the provisions of shared governance and tenure removed from state statute and the authority for both transferred to the Board of Regents. President Cross met with faculty leaders to discuss the likelihood of this happening several weeks ago. Steve Meyer attended that meeting and briefed the UC the next day.

While such a move is not optimal, it is my strong conviction and that of the President and the Board of Regents that such a move would not diminish shared governance or threaten tenure. Too much support exists for both institutions and experience from other states suggest this is unlikely. I am committed to both shared governance and tenure. I will be happy to visit with faculty groups who wish more information on this.

In addition to activity related to shared governance and tenure, you may have heard of efforts to secure more flexibility for the University System. This is something the system has fought to achieve for nearly 40 years. There is a hope the system could succeed in achieving significant additional flexibility during this legislative session. To be sure, there are many, many details to be worked out. I don’t want to go into those now. Rather, I want to make several points about this and invite you to seek me out for more information if you like.

  • This is not like the 2011 attempt of UW Madison to secede from the system. The new ideas involve the entire system.
  • While it might appear to be so, this move toward more flexibility is not a trade for drastic budget cuts. The fact is, the state budget is in extremely bad shape. System flexibility will likely not help that much in the short run. However, more flexibility does give us hope for system recovery and growth managed more by the Board of Regents than by legislative intervention.
  • This is not a new idea. Some form of autonomy like that being discussed is present in most state systems.

I am a strong supporter of placing the system on a more business-like footing with more flexibility as are all of the other Chancellors in the system and the members of the Board of Regents. It is a long needed reform of higher education in Wisconsin. I encourage you to learn as much about these discussions as possible before taking a public position on the proposal.

The future is ours

I have talked about the great powers we have to create our future through innovation, to transform the lives of students and others we contact and to ensure our place has a strong economy and a healthy environment for all people.

We have other great powers, the powers of personal character so evident in what each of you do every day for our students, our community and, importantly, each other.   We have the powers of optimism, courage, humility, and determination. We can count on these powers in the coming weeks.

Next year we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. The excitement of this celebration. The thrill of designing a future for this university. The possibility of even greater things to come. These are the things I think about every day. What a journey we have before us!!

Thank you.