University of Wisconsin-River Falls

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Aug. 23, 2004


UW-River Falls to Seek Continuity in 2004-05

Editor's Note: This story is embargoed until 10 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 23, 2004

As UW-River Falls enters the 2004-05 academic year pursuing a national search for a new chancellor, it will continue with the vision laid out by the late Chancellor Ann Lydecker.

Interim Chancellor Virgil Nylander delivered that message during an all faculty and staff meeting on Monday, Aug. 23, which signals the start of the school year. More than 500 persons attended the address. Classes begin on Sept. 2, with an expected student body of 5,900 graduate and undergraduate students, including more than 1,200 freshmen.

Nylander, who had retired after 35 years last January, reflected on his time since returning to lead the University after Lydecker's death in a traffic accident on March 25.

"One year ago today I was sitting on this stage saying to myself, 'Next year Ann will be greeting all of you and I will be teeing off at 9:00 at the golf course.' Obviously it's not happening that way. We lost our beloved Chancellor in an automobile accident last spring, but we will not lose our personal memories of her her smile, her energy, her love of this institution and her commitment to extend the boundaries of the campus to the entire region."

Nylander told the assembly that a national search is on schedule for a new chief executive officer. This summer a Regent's search committee and a campus search and screen committee was appointed and have begun work. Nylander said he expects a new chancellor to be named in the spring.

In addition to leadership changes at UW-RF, there also are significant changes in the leadership of the University of Wisconsin System, Nylander said. "We are at a transition stage for the UW System, and transitions provide opportunities. As you know, Katharine Lyall retired as president of the UW System after 13 wonderful years of service. We now have a new president, Kevin Reilly. He has served four years as Provost and four years as Chancellor of UW Extension. He is very familiar with this system and given his former position in Extension he has a broad perspective of the state, its educational needs and the political issues that must be addressed if we are to continue as one of the premier higher educational institutions in the country.

"He is a very bright and articulate individual, plus he is just a really nice guy."

The campus will pursue four major focus areas that were reached through consensus discussions by Lydecker, Reilly and the other campus chancellors last spring: improving financial aid for students who are economically stressed; providing better access for working adults; enhancing academic quality; and ensuring that UW campuses play a leading role in shoring up Wisconsin's economic development.

As the campus prepares for the next legislative session and the debate over the budget the Regents have requested of Gov. James Doyle, Nylander said it is crucial to restore funding after several years of cuts that have taken more than $3.2 million in tax dollars from UW-RF. During the last budget session, when the UW System was cut $250 million, UW-RF lost 18 positions and money for academic support.

"We cannot afford any additional reductions this next biennium," Nylander said "We've done our share, and that's what we have to continually remind those in Madison."

Nylander said the time is ripe for a public discussion of the importance of public higher education in Wisconsin, with distinct funding criteria such as that accorded to K-12 education, local government and corrections.

"Recent surveys in the state tell us that the UW System is highly valued by the people in the state. They are proud of us, and I have heard the Governor say on several occasions that higher education is essential to improving the economy of the state.

"If this is so, why, as a system, are we educating fewer students today than we did in 1985? Our population hasn't declined since then. We still have a smaller percentage of citizens with bachelor's degrees than Minnesota-Wisconsin is 31st and Minnesota is close to the top 10-and we don't have an abundance of high tech/high wage jobs. The data show that those with additional education fair well and if they do well, the state does well. We are not a drain on state resources; we are a resource producer. So why isn't higher education a growth industry?"

Nylander also is concerned about a Taxpayer Bill of Rights constitutional amendment that would peg spending to per capita income. Legislation passed in Colorado a decade ago is now devastating higher education in that state, as well as other state programs and economic growth. Colorado leaders are trying to reverse the damage. "Hopefully, we can learn from the mistakes of others," Nylander said.

The interim chancellor also pointed out a number of initiatives launched by Lydecker that will continue on:

•Continued expansion of the University's outreach into the St. Croix Valley. Nylander noted a series of forums last spring took steps to identify issues and build coalitions around such challenges as the impact of change on community/rural relationships; education partnerships; and arts and cultural initiatives.

Nylander said that leaders throughout the region have expressed concern to him that UW-RF continues Lydecker's commitment. " I have assured them that we are committed to working with them on the issues that are important to this region."

He noted that the University is working at creating a single point of contact in the Regional Development Institute for all requests from communities, business and industry, education and non-profit organizations.

•An increased investment in diversity programs. Nylander reported that strides have been made in increasing diversity in the student body, but that it is still lagging among faculty and staff. He also wants to see an increase in retention and graduation rates for students of color. Pursuing tolerance in the community is proceeding with the forming of a diversity work group with representatives from the River Falls City Council, city government, school district and University.

•Coming to agreement on the size of the campus student body with the region's unprecedented growth. "For years we told everyone 6,000 was a good number, and recently I heard maybe 9,000. Well, what is it? The answer to this question has major consequences for programs, staffing, course delivery, type of student, facilities and everything else on campus. An incoming Chancellor, I'm sure, will want to know what directions we see the campus taking."

Nylander said he hopes to have that internal discussion resolved this year.

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