February 17, 2000
Dobney Second Candidate to Visti UW-RF
Fred Dobney believes that universities should try to look past the sometimes depressing list of obstacles they face and remain focused on their exceptional contributions to society.
Dobney is the second of five finalists for chancellor at the 125-year-old university. Chancellor Gary A. Thibodeau announced in August that he will retire this year for health reasons. The UW System Board of Regents is expected to make a decision on the new chancellor in March.
Dobney, who is the executive vice president and provost of Michigan Technological University in Houghton, spent Tuesday in a series of day-long meetings with students, faculty, staff and administrators.
During an open forum, he recited what he termed as a "depressing list" of challenges to higher education: declining public resources, an underappreciation for the performance of faculty and staff, difficulties in achieving diversity among students and faculty, and competition from cyberspace institutions.
"The greatest challenge of all facing us is to restore a sense of optimism about higher education" within the institution itself, Dobney said. "I think that we need to reaffirm the value of what we do, and to re-invigorate ourselves as a culture to be enthusiastic about our jobs and to look forward toward every academic year.
"It's really important to remember that what we do is among one of the most important things that anyone in society does. It may not be recognized by anyone else, but we have to recognize it in ourselves and we have to celebrate the fact that we are major contributors to society, even if we aren't rewarded that way."
Dobney noted that universities like UW-RF must find a way to collaborate with educational institutions that only exist in cyberspace. Recognizing that UW-RF is exploring the potential for workforce development and graduate courses via the internet, Dobney said that faculty should be provided the time and resources to develop those delivery methods for non-traditional students.
"It's going to be an interesting time, and a roller coaster for higher education. But I think times will be good for universities like River Falls because they offer a residential experience. Education for 18-22 year olds is not just about knowledge; it's about acculturation and socialization. All the prognosticators out there who say universities are an anachronism really don't understand the university."
Throughout the course of the day, Dobney argued that public universities must copy the approach of private institutions in pursuing significant outside funding from alumni and corporations. At Michigan Tech, Dobney related, he played a key role in formulating the priorities and strategies for a $140 million capital campaign that has reached its half-way mark.
Dobney noted that in his previous position at Washington State he spent a lot of time lobbying legislators. His current job doesn't include those duties and he said that he misses them and welcomes the challenge of building legislative support for UW-RF initiatives. He said that at least half of his time would be spent off-campus on fund-raising and lobbying decision-makers, and so his management style would be to delegate responsibilities for campus day-to-day activities.
"My first rule is that I don't have time to do my job, much less yours," Dobney said. "So I don't intend to micromanage anyone. I think it's important for me to get to know the people and to be comfortable that they are competent and that we're on the same page as to where we are going.....I will assume that you are doing your job competently unless I hear otherwise.
"Frankly, I think one of the key things an administrator can do is to delegate."
Dobney began his academic career teaching history at St. Louis University and then held positions as the director of its summer school programs and acting associate dean of its graduate school. From there he went to Loyola University in New Orleans and directed special programs and was dean of continuing education and the city college. Dobney then spent six years at Washington State University in Pullman as vice provost for extended university services before assuming his current position as chief academic officer at Michigan Technological in 1993.
Dobney said he was attracted to UW-RF because the position is a logical career move and UW-RF intrigued him because of its diversity of majors and students, and its connection to the University of Wisconsin System.
"As I looked around at the jobs that were advertised, there were a few that seemed interesting-and this was one of them. It seemed to me that River Falls was one of the more attractive campuses in terms of places to work and places to lead. You have good stability in terms of leadership, you are in good shape financially, and in student demand. It is a very attractive opportunity."
Dobney holds a doctorate in history from Rice University.
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