Year of 'Renewal'

University of Wisconsin - River Falls

August 25, 1997

UW-RF's Thibodeau Outlines Year of 'Renewal'

Citing his own opportunity for a six-month development leave, UW-River Falls Chancellor Gary A. Thibodeau on Monday encouraged faculty and staff to view the upcoming academic year as an opportunity for renewal.

Some 400 faculty and staff heard from Thibodeau and other University leaders on Monday as the campus prepares to launch its current academic year. Classes will begin for an estimated 5,375 students on Sept. 2.

When the new freshman class arrives on Friday to move into residence halls for the start of classes on Sept. 2, it will be one of the best in the institution's 123-year history. Thibodeau noted the freshman class has an average ACT score of 22.7 , and almost 88 percent are in the top half of their high school graduating classes.

In his annual address, Thibodeau said that those in academia are fortunate to experience a fresh start with the excitement generated by a new school year.

"Obviously, this process of renewal doesn't start and end with the beginning of the school year. In higher education, we have the unique opportunity to professionally renew ourselves through our work and through the opportunities for growth and development provided by sabbatical leaves and a wide array of other professional development opportunities," Thibodeau said.

The chancellor returned in July from a six-month leave in which he pursued an array of projects. They included reviewing and expanding the campus's role with higher education institutions in Eastern Europe and the Pacific Rim, and researching the impact of information technologies on teaching outcomes.

Thibodeau noted that the University has positioned itself for many renewal opportunities as a result of its strategic planning process, "Reach for the Future." Now entering the third year of a five-year process, the plan is intended to prepare the campus for the educational and information technology challenges of the 21st Century. It will shift $2.5 million into academic support, information technology, and faculty and staff development.

"Our Reach for the Future initiative is a powerful renewal process for the entire campus. It provides a unique opportunity to keep us new, fresh and strong. The University community worked hard to develop a process designed to engage a broad cross-section of every University constituency in a pervasive and very open and informed shared-governance environment."

Last spring, Thibodeau noted, the plan achieved a number of objectives. It:

  • Reallocated $500,000 on a one-time basis and added another $381,876 to departmental budgets, with many departments receiving new money for the first time in nearly a decade.

  • Developed a university reserve for emergency purposes. Since there were none, the money also was passed along to departments.

  • Eliminated a computer deficit by purchasing 100 new computers and assigning them to faculty and staff who did not have one previously.

  • Merged the administrative and academic computing support departments into one to enhance one-stop shopping for students, faculty and staff needing information technology assistance.

  • Developed a plan to coordinate the institution's outreach activities for credit and non-credit courses.

  • Developed a plan to increase the number of international students and to internationalize the curriculum.

  • Formed administrative function-related teams to simplify administrative procedures and practices.

  • Thibodeau noted that some UW-RF initiatives are not faring as well, including the lack of a state budget, and particularly those that affect capital improvements.

    As the state's $37 billion annual budget remains stalled in the Wisconsin Senate, it creates problems as the campus plans for the coming academic year, Thibodeau said.

    He said he disagreed with news reports which contend that state government continues to operate as business as usual, despite the lack of funding. "I do not agree, and I told Gov. Thompson of the difficulties when he was on campus earlier this summer. In addition to the erosion of public trust in the legislative process, we are experiencing growing problems in managing our resources and planning our programs and services for the year ahead."

    On another matter, he said that three major building projects have all been slowed as a result of bidding difficulties. While each was designed by a separate architect, all were 20 to 24 percent over the project's allocation.

    "The only explanation that has been offered to us is that we are in a poor bidding climate in western Wisconsin. Few of the major contractors from eastern Wisconsin or the Twin Cities showed an interest in these projects. We didn't have many bids to begin with. It seems that business is so good and the skilled labor market is tight, so bids are high." Thibodeau noted the University is not alone, citing high bids on the new River Falls Public Library and a New Richmond school project.

    The UW-RF buildings affected include the Teacher Education Project to replace Ames Teacher Education Center. The project will be rebid this fall with ground breaking next spring, and completion in the summer of 1999.

    A ventilation replacement project for Kleinpell Fine Arts also has been put on hold while the project is examined, and a remodeling project for Stratton Hall also is being reviewed.

    On the positive side, Thibodeau noted, planning for a new $2.8 million Dairy Teaching Facility has been approved, and a dedication ceremony has been set for Oct. 8 for the remodeled Chalmer-Davee Library.

    Two important information technology projects also have been completed: the complete intra campus wiring project to connect all buildings, and the completion of four technologically enhanced classrooms and the purchase of six mobile technical units.

    Thibodeau added that two other initiatives will be launched this year:

  • Provost Robert Milam will lead a campus-wide initiative to ensure that women faculty and staff are provided the opportunity to assume greater leadership roles. Milam has already met with the Commission on The Status of Women to develop an action agenda.

  • Vice Chancellor Virgil Nylander will lead an effort to develop an exterior master plan for the campus that will address mall development, pedestrian travel, parking and grounds.

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