February 17, 2000
Williams Third UW-RF Chancellor Candidate
Suzanne Williams is convinced that UW-River Falls will be a successful university if it remains focused on three realities.
"As a University, we must be mission-centered, politically savvy and market-smart," Williams said at a campus forum on Wednesday as the third candidate seeking to become UW-RF's next chancellor.
Williams, who is interim president of St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, is among the finalists to replace Chancellor Gary A. Thibodeau who announced his retirement last August for medical reasons.
During a series of meetings with students, faculty, staff and administrators Williams quickly noted that she is prevented by Minnesota higher education policy to fill the vacant presidency if she is serves as its interim.
"I never knew I wanted to be a chancellor," Williams explained of her interest in UW-RF. "I spent my entire time on the academic side of the university."
Since she began serving as interim president at St. Cloud State in June she "found that I truly enjoy it. The reason is that I'm talking about the university with legislators, potential donors and community leaders about something that I feel passionate about. It's something that I've grown up with, that I know thoroughly, and that I believe in. Therefore, playing that public role is something that I enjoy."
Williams said that UW-RF is confronted with many of the same challenges as other higher education institutions: public skepticism about the need for higher education campuses with the availability of cyberspace universities; accountability, productivity and responsiveness; pressure to pursue new markets that can adversely skew institutional missions; declining public funding; and infusing technology into the university without a stable funding source to pay for it.
"What matters to the public is that students are well-served, and they don't especially care who does it. We are no longer shielded from competition. We need to recognize that and deal with it."
She said most of those issues can be addressed in a positive manner that remains true to UW-RF's core values. Williams said it could be painful at times as the academy is forced to undergo reallocations of resources. She added those internal steps also must be coupled with entrepreneurial ways to access outside resources through fundraising and grants.
"Higher education is important; we benefit millions of students," Williams said. "What we need to do both in terms of the political processes and in terms of the market is to ensure that the capabilities, the capacities and the strengths of what we have to offer are going to be a continuing source of societal benefit while recognizing that society's needs are still evolving. We are facing a changing environment, and we have to change with it."
According to Williams, the University should monitor and measure student learning, education outcomes, community service and the value of research. Meaningful information, she said, would lead to two results. The first, she said, is that it will allow the University community to make better decisions about programs and services. The second is that it will provide the information to convince legislators and donors that UW-RF remains a solid investment.
Williams began her academic career as an economics professor at West Virginia University. There she became assistant to the president and acting affirmative action officer, and then assistant dean of the graduate school. She moved to Western Illinois University to assume the dean's position for graduate studies and research and also served as dean of the school of graduate and international studies. Williams then joined Arkansas State University as dean of the graduate school and director of organized research and also served as interim vice president for academic affairs. She joined St. Cloud State as its chief academic officer in 1997 and was named interim president last June.
Williams holds a doctorate in economics from Duke University.
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