Jan. 16, 1998
UW-RF to Open Spring Semester on Positive Note
As UW-River Falls faculty and staff prepare for the start of spring semester on Jan. 20, they were greeted on Friday with one of the most positive messages on the state of the institution in recent years.
Chancellor Gary A. Thibodeau addressed several hundred persons as he provided an update on the progress of the University's five-year strategic plan, "Reach for the Future," as well as an upcoming 10-year accreditation review by the North Central Association.
Thibodeau noted that at the mid-way point in its strategic planning process, the University has reallocated $1.9 million to information technology, computerization, academic program support, student services, student life, and faculty and staff development.
Of that amount, $706,393 has been shifted as permanent additions to departmental budgets, with the balance as one-time allocations.
"We're making wonderful strides in redeploying our resources to our areas of need," Thibodeau said. "You have to feel good about this. I know how difficult it has been to get it. But it sure is nice to deploy it."
Thibodeau reminded the assembly that the strategic planning process was undertaken because the University had experienced a continuing pattern of "traumatic and disheartening" reductions in state tax dollar support. He attributed that to a national debate that created a crisis situation for higher education in credibility, funding, public support, cost containment, respect for faculty, and a shift in tone of public debate from an "investment" in higher education to the "cost" associated with it.
UW-RF felt the impact of that debate, he said, as it saw 93 percent of its state tax dollars tied into faculty salaries. About half of the institution's funding comes from the state, with the balance from tuition, fees, grants and gifts.
Thibodeau noted it is critical to provide competitive salaries and fringe benefits to faculty and staff, but that there was little discretionary funding available to support UW-RF employees in their academic responsibilities.
"Reach for the Future," he said, has 12 goals that will require doubling the amount of state tax dollars allocated for academic support from 6.9 percent to over 12 percent. At midstream, the University now earmarks 9.1 percent.
"That's a goal (12 percent) that we must continue to support. We must reach it. There is always a gap between where we are and where we want to go. Difficult decisions will continue to be made," he said.
Thibodeau said the success of the planning process should bode well during the NCA review, with a team visiting the campus April 20-22.
"I'm anticipating we're going to have a very positive review," he predicted.
While the review is voluntary among higher education institutions in the 19-state association, it is a yardstick that prospective students and their parents, and other external groups use, to measure the institution's quality. Also, federal aid in the form of grants and loans to students is only available to those with accreditation.
Thibodeau noted that the UW-RF planning process is heading toward recognition as a national model because of its pervasive look at all aspects of the University, as well as its wide inclusion of students, faculty and staff in the decision-making process.
In December Thibodeau and Vice Chancellor Virgil Nylander provided an overview of the plan to some 250 chancellors and presidents of the Middle States Association of Colleges & Schools that provides accreditation to institutions on the East Coast. They were joined in the presentation by Judson Taylor, former UW-RF Provost who instituted a similar planning process at the State University of New York at Cortland, where he is now president.
Thibodeau closed the meeting with two additional pieces of good news for the campus. He said he expects next week to see the release of $6.5 million for the construction of a new Teacher Education Center.
Groundbreaking is planned this spring on the first building dedicated exclusively for teacher education in the University of Wisconsin System in 22 years. Completion is expected for the start of the 1999 academic year.
Also, he said $1.1 million will be released to remodel the Kleinpell Fine Arts Building, which houses the College of Arts & Sciences.