I am humbled to join a group of incredible Chancellors that have served before me. In 1971, we were on the cover of Newsweek as the initial EcoU. Because of the work of the previous 6 chancellors at UW-Green Bay, we are still positioned to do great things more than 50 years later. I want to thank Chancellors Shepherd and Harden for being here today. It is amazing to know we have their support at UW-Green Bay. I am fortunate to be able to see the imprint on the institution that each of our chancellors has made. Our 6 strategic priorities honor something each of our previous chancellors believed in: student success, inclusivity, community engagement, sustainability and the environment, digital transformation, and the importance of the arts and a Division I athletic program for Northeastern Wisconsin. The world keeps evolving around us and while we change rapidly with it, the core of who we are continues to be built on the principles the university was founded upon.
I want to thank my current Chancellor colleagues. I can’t believe I get to work with such a talented and dedicated group of people that each work so hard for their campuses and for this state. Honestly, it would be really intimidating to work with this group if they were not all so nice and supportive. The fact that my colleagues were willing to come to Green Bay for this event is an amazing gesture and symbol of the collaborative way we work together.
From the moment I arrived in Green Bay, it was clear that I was also really fortunate to have the benefit of working with our Council of Trustees. We are so lucky to have a group from the region that is so dedicated to the success of this university. They give tremendous advice and guidance to me, help us advocate, and I am so thrilled that they are led by Dr. Tina Sauerhammer Dean, who is an alum, dedicated to our mission, an incredible surgeon, and quite an accomplished cellist.
I benefit from having terrific colleagues on the University Cabinet. They are all here for the right reasons and work so hard to support the students, faculty, and staff at UW-Green Bay. We have fun together, share in each other’s successes, and support each other when we are struggling. I am proud to work for them.
I have so many people I want to thank, but understand it is not possible to thank everyone during this speech. Please know that I am grateful for everyone who is here and listening today. I know you each took time out of your day to be here and that means a lot to us.
Let me start by saying I am incredibly honored and humbled every day to work for this university, this region, and this state. Obviously, this is a strange way to be installed, but given the last few years it feels oddly appropriate. I was told by many people that I should talk about how I got here. Honestly, I really don’t know. I can tell you that I was shocked and maybe even a little terrified to show up as Provost two years ago and even more shocked and completely terrified to become Chancellor a few months later, but I had a feeling that what UW-Green Bay was trying to do aligned fully with how I viewed the world of higher education. It aligned with my ideals as a conductor. I was trying to create access to music to those that did not have it, create opportunity through education, and help the quality of life improve for regions where I worked. When I was thinking about what to say today, I thought I would refer to a letter that I wrote to our region when I first became Chancellor. Normally, I would have been installed at the time I wrote this letter and it was my first chance to talk to the campus and community as a whole. When I went back and read the letter, I was struck that nearly a year and a half later, my thoughts have not really changed. I still love this place, believe in it and its people, and know we have the potential to impact Northeastern Wisconsin in profound ways. However, we must do more.
UW-Green Bay is essential to the future of Northeastern Wisconsin. The problem we are trying to solve is that we need a healthy educational ecosystem for this region to thrive. UW-Green Bay for most of its history has been the 3rd smallest school in the UW System in the 3rd largest economic region of the state. That fact is not tenable for the future of Northeastern Wisconsin and frankly, the state. The educational attainment rates for our region are below the national and state averages. This is a dangerous statistic for any region that hopes to thrive in the future. As the region’s comprehensive university, we are uniquely positioned to solve this problem and six straight years of enrollment growth show we are on our way. I want to clarify here that we are not competing with any other UW school, technical, or private college within our region or outside of it. We are competing with ourselves to increase the number of students in this region who go to college and who need access to a local university to further their education at any point in their life. The workforce shortage in our region is real and UW-Green Bay must be appropriately sized to solve it. If we right size the right way, our region, UW System and all of its constituent universities, and the state of Wisconsin win.
The key to the future is people. To quote Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach, we need brain gain and not brain drain. People have to have a reason to come to our region and a reason to stay. We are part of that solution. Approximately 70% of our graduates never leave the region. As we approach 10,000 students, a thriving, connected, diverse UW-Green Bay helps create a thriving, connected, diverse region and community culture.
To fully accomplish our potential, we must become comfortable with being uncomfortable. We owe this to our students, who need us to evolve to meet the needs of the world they are entering. 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.
The question we need to ask ourselves is what do students need to have an effective education? You no longer just need information. When we went to school you had to go to a university to get information. It was often the place that had the biggest library in town. Now students simply pick up their phone and have access to a barrage of information. Now students need to know how to discuss information and ideas, interpret the barrage of information constantly coming at them, and use what they learn to promote the common good of society. I believe this applies to any field of study and in modern education, we must inspire rather than just impart information. Luckily, we have the faculty to make that happen.
As an access institution, we have to be willing to meet students where they are at with their education, not where we wish they would be. We can complain about the preparation of students entering higher education or we can improve it. How? One example is by partnering with our K-12 partners in programs like the Rising Phoenix where disadvantaged high school students have an opportunity to earn their Associate’s Degree with us at no charge while they simultaneously earn their high school diploma. We have to measure the growth of every student we teach. Growth is how we must measure success. And we must understand that growth and learning can happen at any time in a person’s life. It happens inside and outside of the classroom and it often happens when we least expect it and from those that we least expect it from. We will teach students straight out of high school, but we will equally value a student at any time of their life, with any educational background who wants to grow with us. We must lead with kindness and empathy. This leads to achievement for all. I don’t think kindness and achievement have to be mutually exclusive. With the right amount of support, empathy, and kindness, we believe every person can grow. As a society, we are better when we make this happen.
We must stop spending all of our time worrying about the mode of delivery for our courses. For what feels like my entire career, we have been debating whether or not to teach in person or online. It has been 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.
When I get asked if we should be in person or online, I simply answer, yes, we should be. Any educational modality is only effective if it combines good pedagogy with opportunity and access. What matters is the quality of an educational experience, not whether it is in person or online. For years, we have built an educational system that is convenient to us as a university. However, education should first and foremost be convenient to the consumer. An 18 year-old student straight out of high school in a residential dorm, a person working full time, a person looking to change careers, a person looking to upskill, a person looking for enrichment. All of these people likely need education delivered in different ways. We are creating that environment at UW-Green Bay.
We must fully commit to solving the educational achievement gap (the disparity in educational opportunity between white and non-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. The inequities in our region 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.
Looking at the emerging and already present demographics of Northeastern Wisconsin, if we do not diversify UW-Green Bay at the same speed that our region is diversifying, we will fail. I don’t think I am overstating that if we fail to support students that have not traditionally had access to higher education, our region will fail. As we dive deeper into a digital world, we need to make sure that everyone has the access and education to thrive in the jobs of the future. Without that access, the socioeconomic divide in our communities will get worse. We are now the 4th most diverse campus in the UW System and appropriate to the demographic changes in our region, we will continue to evolve in a way that reflects the region we serve.
I have thought a lot about why I am standing here today. A lot of it is due to the support I have had throughout my life. My teachers, including those at UW-Milwaukee and UW-Madison where I did my graduate work, went above and beyond to help me be prepared for my career. I went to good schools that for the most part were very well funded. Opportunities were plentiful for me to be curious, explore options, and get involved in co-curricular activities. I know this is not true for many of the students we serve when they enter UW-Green Bay.
My parents, who are here today, have always given me unconditional love and support. They modeled and demanded that I act with integrity, that I work hard in school, and they allowed me to take risks and follow my passion as a musician. I can’t ever remember a time that I was worried about being hungry, about being able to pay my rent, or about what would happen if I needed help. I knew my parents would be there just like they are here today. I know that I have worked very hard, but I also know that my route here was not as difficult as many of the students we serve.
I am also lucky to have my two sons here today. Jacob and Eli have told me that they are happy to be here; so much so that they agreed to miss a few hours of school. Like any proud dad, I will tell you that I have two amazing kids. I love them more than I can express and feel like every day I go to work and hope that the work we are doing is worthy of their future. They are truly caring young men, look out for others, and bring me tremendous joy. My boys give me hope.
My boys and I are so fortunate to have my wife, Janet Hathaway in our lives. We aspire every day to match her kindness and I simply can’t imagine standing here without her. There is an odd HR idiosyncrasy that we learned about when I became chancellor. The partner of the chancellor gets the ceremonial unpaid title of Associate of the Chancellor. Janet has earned this title by serving as a contract tracer over the last year for UW-Green Bay, volunteering in other parts of the university, and getting engaged with several initiatives in the community. The title of Associate of the Chancellor still seems odd to me. I would like to announce today that with President Thompson’s permission that I would like to change my title to the Associate of the Associate of the Chancellor. That is how I feel every day and I know how lucky I am to have someone who is my best friend and also my spouse.
There is an old saying that I have always liked often uttered by President Betty Siegel, who was President at Kennesaw State University when I started there. She said when you see a turtle on a fencepost, you know it did not get there alone. Every turtle needs help to get on top of the fencepost and all students need the opportunity to be lifted to heights they could not otherwise dream of on their own. The view from the fencepost is worth all the energy it takes to get there.
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. This may sound extreme, but I do not care what the academic profile is of our incoming students. 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.
The idea of an educated person is not unique to us, but I am exceptionally proud that we are willing to broaden who should be able to have access to this ideal. Our statement says nothing about what grades you got in high school. Higher education is saturated with countless institutions that want to teach the “best” students. This is important, but it is also important to give a great education to those that do not finish at the top of their class in high school. One of the things I am most proud about this university for is that that we were recognized by the Center for First Generation Student Success as the first university in Wisconsin to be a First Gen Forward Institution. 42% of our students are the first in their family to ever attend a university. 42%! We are about providing opportunity for those that have typically not been able to benefit from a UW System education. I benefited from that education and know what it did for me. It should be accessible to anyone who wants to benefit in the same way. We believe our mission to provide access to education is a noble and ethical goal, but it is also a necessary one. Please don’t misunderstand me here. Being less selective does not mean that we give a lesser education. I tell our staff all the time that we are not trying to be a world class university; instead we are trying to become world class for what it means to be a regional access comprehensive university. That is such an important distinction and it drives us daily in the work we do here.
We must stop assuming that all students go to college to get a degree and do so between the ages of 18-22. Education should be a lifelong pursuit and one that may not always follow a straight line. 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.
This may sound a bit strange, but I believe we are headed to a place where degrees matter less then progress towards educational goals. People will come in and out of education throughout their life as it benefits their personal situation. We need to value our non-credit offerings the same way we do traditional classes. A badge or certificate can be as meaningful for the person getting it than a doctorate for another. We need to reframe how we discuss enrollment. What is our enrollment? In my opinion, it is close to 100,000 if you include all of the people we provide non-credit offerings, badges and, certificates. (Make a joke to TT) We need to be relevant to as many people as possible in Northeastern Wisconsin. Expanding the view of who education at a university is for is a huge piece of making that happen.
We must change the narrative around the cost of an education. Our tuition is under $8,000 per year for a Wisconsin resident. 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. 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.
Students are often making a choice between college or no college. If we do not like national online options, we must provide local options that are better, more accessible, and that help our region to prosper. We also must understand that $8,000 a year is a ton of money for most people. Even though a degree at UW-Green Bay or within UW System is among the best values you can find in higher education, it is still out of reach for many people. We must invest in students who desperately want to invest in themselves but are limited by finances, support or simply not knowing how to connect with us. Investing in them is investing in our region and our future. The returns on this investment are enormous. To live this ideal, we have even renamed our bursar to Student Billing – Invest In Your Future. Bad educational debt results when you do not complete the credential you are trying to achieve while in school. We take that personally at UW-Green Bay and are working to change how people view the educational value of higher education.
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. I ask our entire region to join us in the fight to create more equitable communities that are fully prepared to meet the challenges of the future.
We can’t do this alone. We need the Tech System, fellow UW Schools, our K-12 partners, the business community, elected officials, and our alumni to join us. We are one university with 4 locations and we need Sheboygan, Manitowoc, and Marinette to think regionally and fight with us. If we leverage the might of our 16-county footprint, we can achieve great things. If we think locally and provincially, we lose our strength. We are better, stronger, smarter, bolder when we work together. I will now talk about why I think we have not yet hit our full potential. Ed Weidner, UW-Green Bay’s first Chancellor, believed this university should have 20,000 students. If you look at the average proportion of the population of each region in the state that attends their regional comprehensive university, it is 2%. Currently, UW-Green Bay has just under 1% of our region attending this university. If we attracted 2% of the population of the 16 counties we serve, we would have 20,000 students. Think of what that would mean for Northeastern Wisconsin and the state.
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.
This is how I viewed the world and higher education’s place in it 16 months ago. Today I view it the same but with even greater urgency and stronger hope. If we will fail, we should fail spectacularly and for the right reasons. We must have courage and be willing to think differently, take risks, sacrifice some of our personal goals for the greater good, and we must put students and the betterment of our region always at the forefront of our decisions. We believe in the potential of this region and the people who call it home…we will invest in those who are investing in themselves and in their futures—our future–, and lead during a time when the ground is not always solid beneath our feet. I am unbelievably honored to work for the students, faculty, and staff of this university and the people of Northeastern Wisconsin. With all of us working as one, we will undoubtably RISE into the unknown together! Thank you for being here today and Go, Phoenix!