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Last updated:

May 5, 2000

Others Recall Chancellor's Management Style....

During his 15 years at UW-River Falls, Chancellor Thibodeau built lasting relationships with others as a mentor, colleague and friend. Here are their reflections on Thibodeau's leadership style, as well as their favorite recollection of working or socializing with him.


Judson Taylor
State University at New York, Cortland
Former UW-RF Provost

I have known Gary since May 1992 when he offered me the job as vice chancellor for Academic Affairs at UW-RF. I worked directly with Gary for three years, but we have remained friends since I left the campus to become president of the State University of New York, Cortland in l995.

I benefited tremendously from Gary's leadership style because he was secure enough to relinquish some of his authority to others so they could carry out their responsibilities effectively. His team approach to management tapped the unique talents of each of us. These conditions allowed one's own leadership capabilities to flourish.

One of Gary's most endearing strengths was the scientific approach he took to problem solving. He absorbed all of the available information on a issue before making a decision. Decisions were generally final. He was firm but fair.

His resolve and persuasive skills paid great dividends for the campus community, though few knew the work he did behind the scenes to bring in the resources and recognition the campus needed to move forward.

I admired Gary's commitment to scholarship. While the rest of us were on the golf course on a day off, Gary was working on his next anatomy and physiology textbook.

He is a loyal and supportive friend. And, speaking of loyal and supportive, his wonderful wife Emogene was there at his side every step of the way.


Margo F. Lessard
Project Manager
Appointment, Benefits & Payroll System
U W System Administration
Former Special Assistant to Chancellor Thibodeau

I have known Chancellor Thibodeau since his arrival on campus August 15, 1985. I was working in the Vice Chancellor's Office (now the Provost/Vice Chancellor) and he walked in and introduced himself on his first day on the job.

It has been with the utmost pleasure that I have worked as Chancellor Thibodeau's Special Assistant since December 1, 1985. He is one of the finest individuals I have ever known and a true leader. It is an honor to consider him a special friend. He has guided UW-River Falls through 15 years of its history with his eye always on the students--he continually reminded all of us never to forget the reason we exist—to provide the best educational experience to our students.

A leader needs to make the tough decisions and he did that knowing his decisions were the best for the long-term health and vitality of UW-River Falls and its students. That's not to say he didn't personally anguish over the difficult decisions, but the institution was always at the heart of what guided his decisions. In many instances, these decisions were not universally warmly accepted, but he kept true to the decision and "walked the talk."


Charles Sorensen
Chancellor, UW-Stout

I have known Gary since I arrived here 12 years ago. He was the first to really reach out, welcome me, and make me feel part of the UW System team. I have always been impressed with his deep understanding of the many issues we face in higher education, his knowledge of the UW System, and the sage, practical advice he always provided.


Wes Chapin
Professor, UW-RF Political Science Department
Former UW-RF Student Senate President

I have known Gary Thibodeau for slightly more than 15 years. I was a student representative on the Search & Screen Committee that helped hire him. As a Student Body President, I also worked with him closely in his first year on campus.

One thing that impressed me, and the other members of the Search Committee, was his firm commitment to serving students. He had, and still does have, a remarkable way of bringing every important discussion about the University back to how it affects the students. When he was asked in a recent forum to identify his primary constituency, he named the students because they are at the center of the University's mission.

As a leader, I have always found it very easy to work with the Chancellor, mainly because of his personal characteristics. He is always willing to discuss issues and listens very carefully to what is being said. As student body president, I worked with him on many issues, including the intramural fields, renovating the student center, lobbying the legislature, and so on. He demonstrated a willingness to make tough decisions, but always after carefully explaining the rationale behind them. That type of leadership helps maintain a level of trust on campus that is important to the success of the institution.

One thing that students found very important when he came to campus was his emphasis on making sure everyone was included in the decision-making processes. He was willing to attend meetings with student senators, sought student input, and went out of his way to make sure there was no group that felt "disenfranchised." Those actions helped build strong and good working relationships with students and student organizations on campus.


Katharine Lyall
President, University of Wisconsin System

I was Vice President for Academic Affairs in UW System Administration when Gary was hired. In that capacity, my duty was to work primarily with the vice chancellors, not the chancellors. However, when I became UW System president, I got to know Gary better and we have worked together extremely well ever since.

Gary is an extraordinary higher education leader who balances good management with insightful leadership. He led UW-River Falls through some tough times of the 80's and early 90's, when the campus and the entire system were undergoing significant budget cuts, and more recently through much better times when it has been possible to invest in the future through building renovations and improved faculty salaries. Gary has helped UW-River Falls align its strategic planning with its budget allocations to the benefit of the campus and the UW System.


Virgil Nylander
UW-RF Vice Chancellor for Administration & Finance

I was an associate dean of education when I met Gary, and my job was to point out to him soon after his arrival how needy and worthy was the College of Education. The University suffered a major budget cut soon after his arrival so, needless to say, my begging was to no avail.

I have worked directly with the Chancellor almost daily for the last 13 years. There are a few terms that help describe him and they are: kind, generous, ethical, intellectual, hard working and insightful. I feel very fortunate to have had a boss who mentored me when I started my administrative career and who allowed me the freedom to act independently as I gained experience.


Neal Prochnow
Interim Director, Continuing Education Extension
Former Dean, College of Arts & Sciences

I first met Gary when I was a faculty member of the physics department, and I subsequently worked with him on a regular basis as a Dean.

The one thing that stands out with Gary is consistency. I cannot think of a single event, but you sort of always knew that if he was working on a new building or some other project that was critical for the campus and required an interaction with System or the Legislature, that it would eventually happen. There was a sense that our relationship to System and the external players was in "good" hands. This is extremely important for a campus like UW-RF, which is 250 miles away from the center of the state political processes.


Favorite Recollection:

Judson Taylor:

One of the most humorous moments of my time at UW-RF was when someone decided to have Gary, Virgil Nylander, and myself participate in a homecoming parade from the campus to the football field. Gary led the way on foot with Virgil and I driving lawnmowers directly behind him. A ragtag group of about 20 others followed. Gary walked into the stadium with his flat top held high while Virgil and I attempted to pop wheelies with our lawnmowers.

The fans sat dumbfounded wondering when the parade was actually going to start, or whether the lawn needed a trim before kickoff.

It was all just another day in the life of a chancellor to Gary.


Margo Lessard:

There are so many memories it is hard to choose one. However, on a personal note, I did inadvertently slam a patio door into his head--caused quite a contusion. There aren't too many bosses who would laugh about it with me the following week! It's been my pleasure.


Wes Chapin:

Among the many things he has done that stand out is something few current students know about. He spent his first year at UW-RF living in Hathorn Hall, something that was much appreciated by students at the time.

I think that his willingness to live in the residence hall helped set a positive tone on campus, and sent the message to students that the Chancellor was not only concerned about student issues, but that he had first-hand experience dealing with many of those issues and had a firm understanding of the University environment in which students live and learn.


Chuck Sorensen:

Two things really impressed me about Gary. First, he remained an active scholar during his 15 years at UW-RF, publishing a best selling text and being honored by a national organization for this work. Second, his phenomenal gift as a toastmaster/roastmaster! This guy is good! He could join Jay Leno and have a second career!

He and his wife Emogene are a real class act and I will miss as a colleague the most effective Chancellor we now have in the UW System.


Virgil Nylander:

There is one searing memory that I will never forget. We were at the Capital meeting with the State Building Commission in the Governor's meeting room asking for approval of the Davee Library remodeling project. The Governor's staff had recommended that we receive fewer dollars than we needed for this project.

When it was the Chancellor's turn to present our case he sat at one end of this long table with the Governor at the other end. The Governor's staff made their recommendation and then the Chancellor countered with all the reasons why we should receive the funds we had requested. It soon became apparent to everyone in the room, including the Governor, that Chancellor Thibodeau was not going to leave the table until UW-River Falls received what it needed.

The end result of his actions was that we did receive the additional funds to remodel our library. I'm not sure where the Governor found the additional funds; I was both delighted with the funds and thankful that I didn't have a heart attack on the spot.

I maybe should have used the term stubborn to describe him, as well.


Katharine Lyall:

Gary has become famous for his leadership in honoring retiring campus chancellors with humor and with heart. He has been every new chancellor's friend and advisor--I know his chancellor colleagues will miss him.

Perhaps, he will continue to be available for informal career advising...?

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