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August 24, 1999

Thibodeau to Retire From Chancellor's Postition

UW-River Falls Chancellor Gary A. Thibodeau announced on Tuesday (Aug. 24) that he will retire by the start of the 2000 academic year.

Thibodeau announced his decision to some 500 faculty and staff members during the University's annual meeting that traditionally launches the start of the school year.

In mid-August, Thibodeau was diagnosed with colon cancer. He underwent surgery for the disease at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and returned to River Falls a few days before the meeting. He said he will launch an aggressive treatment regimen in September to continue to combat the illness.

Thibodeau, who will be 61 in September, began his 15th year at the helm of UW-RF on Aug. 1. He is the 13th person to wear the mantle as the institution's leader since it was formed as a Normal School to train teachers 125 years ago. Thibodeau is the senior-most chancellor among his 15 peers in the University of Wisconsin System.

He told the assembly that he had been considering retiring within the next two years, and that his health condition influenced his decision to do so this year. He said he has spoken extensively with University of Wisconsin System President Katharine Lyall and other decision-makers and felt confident the University would weather the transitional year.

Thibodeau said he has not set a specific retirement date yet, and that he planned to continue his leadership role during the coming academic year.

"I will have to adjust my work schedule to accommodate my health care needs. I have been told that I will be able to do that quite well," Thibodeau said. "I feel good about the strong leadership in place in the University; I have for a long time. With telecommuting and some office flexibility, I'm going to be able to function quite well. I ask for your help and your understanding as I go through this process of treatment."

During the next year, Thibodeau said, he expected the University and University of Wisconsin System to launch a nationwide search for his successor. He said that he hoped the campus would spend the year conducting the internal climate and needs assessments to help it position itself for its next strategic planning process.

Likewise, he noted that the University is positioning itself to launch a major fund-raising campaign and indicated that leading that drive should be high on the priority list of a new chancellor.

"It's probably not a great surprise to many of you. I had talked to (President Lyall) long before my current health problems surfaced about the timing of this announcement. But it was either make the announcement now at this meeting, or at the latest, a year from now. So I am making it now to let you know that when you gather here at the beginning of the next year that it will be with a new chancellor.

"It is a very exciting time for the institution. And it's going to involve a year of intensive work on part of the search and screen process in terms of what it is you want to look for in terms of leadership for this fine institution.

"It's been my pleasure to serve for 15 years, and I think it's appropriate and the timing is right to look for a change in this office."

He noted that he is leaving a strong institution.

"I think I can truly say that this University has never been more viable than it is right now because of the people sitting here. We have in this institution a place we can be proud of. We have come from being simply a member of the cluster campuses to a leader. We are the envy of the cluster campuses in terms of our ability to secure funding for physical projects, and the strength of our academic programs, for the strength of our faculty and staff, and for the potential growth of our students when they come to us and when they leave us. And I think all of us can be very proud of that."

He was accompanied during the announcement by his wife Emogene McCarville Thibodeau and their son Douglas and daughter Beth.

As they left the auditorium following Thibodeau's announcement, they were accompanied by a sustained standing ovation.

Details of the process to conduct a national search to recruit Thibodeau's successor are expected to be announced soon by University of Wisconsin System President Katharine Lyall.

During Thibodeau's term as chancellor, the campus has headed into new areas of fulfilling the Wisconsin Idea of undergraduate education, research, and community service. Among them: improvement of the faculty through a renewed emphasis on continuing research and scholarly pursuits; record student enrollments with incoming students among the best prepared for college in the institution's history; and physical plant improvements of more than $50 million, including the renovation of Historic South Hall, renovation of the Chalmer Davee Library, construction of a state of the art Teacher Education Building, and approval to construct a new Dairy Teaching Center.

Outreach activities to business and industry also expanded under Thibodeau's tenure, with the founding of the UW-RF Regional Development Institute and the recent addition of a Small Business Development Institute.

Last year Thibodeau led the University through an unconditional 10-year reaccreditation by the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. A site visit team for UW-RF's major accrediting agency cited nine strengths for the University, including the institution's long-range strategic planning process "Reach for the Future." The team noted " 'Reach for the Future' will, we believe, be a noted milestone in the history of the University."

In that process, Thibodeau called for a review of all academic and administration departments, leading to restructuring of the University's three colleges and the formation of a new School of Business & Economics. The campus-wide decision-making process, which remains in place, redirected more than $2 million from salaries into faculty development, classroom and laboratory support activities, and an infusion of information technology across campus.

On Tuesday, he noted that he has "declared victory" in reaching the plan's objectives.

Thibodeau previously served as vice president of administration at South Dakota State University from 1980-85. From 1976 to 1980 he was assistant to the vice president for academic affairs at SDSU.

He went to SDSU in 1965 as a graduate assistant in zoology. He received his master's degree in that discipline in 1967. He also received a master's degree in pharmacology in 1970. He was granted tenure and admitted to the graduate faculty in 1971 after receiving his doctorate in animal science-physiology at SDSU. He also was recognized as a fellow of the National Heart Institute at Baylor University.

In addition to his numerous academic achievements, Thibodeau has remained active as a textbook writer. His "Anatomy and Physiology" is considered the national standard in introductory courses for undergraduate students of human anatomy and physiology. In 1994 it was selected by the Text and Academic Author's Association for its William Holmes McGuffey Award for Textbook Excellence & Longevity.

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