A Weidner Moment at UW-Green Bay

The following is an opinion column written by UW-Green Bay Chancellor Gary L. Miller for publication May 11, 2017 in the Green Bay Press-Gazette and USA Today Network-Wisconsin.

I recently had an opportunity to glimpse into the mind of UW-Green Bay founding Chancellor Ed Weidner.  After years in storage, a massive watercolor of Dr. Weidner’s original master plan concept for the University was restored and hung in our archives.

The piece is a visualization of his dream for a large public university, a center of creative and intellectual activity, responsive to the ever changing dynamics of the state and the region.

I thought a great deal about Chancellor Weidner’s dream this week as the Greater Green Bay Chamber rolled out a set of strategies for economic development in Green Bay and Brown County.

The eleven initiatives of the plan strike at the heart of the opportunities before this community: build on our strengths in manufacturing, our relationship with the Packers, the native entrepreneurial spirit of the region, a forward-thinking vision for downtown and a unique confluence of leadership vision to make Green Bay a source and attractor of the talent of the future.

But, the report includes something else very important.

It includes two clear messages to higher education and to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in particular.

The first message is a strong declaration that the future economic prosperity of this region depends on our ability to develop, recruit and retain high-skilled talent – a goal that absolutely depends on our higher education institutions.

This clear affirmation of the essential role higher education plays in sustaining the commonwealth is what the community founders of UW-Green Bay believed more than 50 years ago.  This is most welcome and, frankly, rarely heard in higher education these days.

The second message in this report is one of the most extraordinary and unique communications I have ever seen a community extend to a public university.

In a direct and caring way, this community is saying to the University it fought to establish fifty years ago:  “You need to change.”

The report is clear:

“…the role of UW-Green Bay needs to be elevated.”

“Green Bay needs a large, growing university with a broader range of programs (especially engineering, science and technology programs) and a greater emphasis on research and technology commercialization.” 

 The report also calls for intensified collaboration among the higher education institutions in the area with a renewed focus on innovation and talent development.

At 2420 Nicolet Drive, we have head the message loud and clear.

We are already taking action now to move forward the goals of the strategic plan:

  • UW-Green Bay, NWTC and the Green Bay Area Public Schools have launched Turbo-Charge, a program to prime the talent pipeline by offering every high school senior in the Green Bay Area Public schools at least 15 hours of college credit before graduating from high school
  • UW-Green Bay, Brown County and The Einstein Project have partnered to raise the funds to make the new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Innovation Center a reality on the UW-Green Bay campus.
  • Working with our County partners we are moving the concept of the Phoenix Innovation Park, a 63 acre high-tech, innovation development onto the University’s campus.
  • We are moving ahead vigorously to win approval for the BS in Mechanical Engineering at UW-Green Bay from the UW Board of Regents.
  • Working with partners we are very actively planning a presence in downtown Green Bay inside the emerging innovation district there.
  • Jeff Rafn at NWTC and I, along with our chief academic officers, have signed a charter committing ourselves to a significantly enhanced partnership between our institutions. This effort, called “Crossing the Bridge,” is well under way with several reciprocal meetings of key administrators and faculty.  The effort has resulted in joint programming between all four of UW-Green Bay’s colleges and NWTC.
  • In a recent memo to the faculty and staff at UW-Green Bay I announced the University would begin a process this fall to reexamine the select mission statement of UW-Green Bay to better align the University with the changing workforce and quality of life needs of this region.

Chancellor Weidner dreamed of a large and fully engaged public university in Green Bay.  The community that invited him here continues to share his dream.

I have no intention of letting Chancellor Weidner down.