Tuesday, January 20, 2015

King remembrance challenge: Continue work of community-building

On the evening of January 19, I joined millions of people around the country in paying tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Eau Claire’s evening program of remembrance brought together people from across the city, the university and faith communities to hear Dr. King’s words read by young and old alike. I was particularly pleased that my son Ben was selected to be one of the readers this year.

Dr. King’s words still have the power to grab our attention, demand that we look at uncomfortable truths and inspire us to continue the hard work of building true community. He spoke often about a “beloved community” (the theme of our evening program) — that community where people are able to bridge differences and work together for what they hold dear.

Creating that beloved community is not easy, and in Eau Claire we still have work to do. At my inauguration as chancellor of UW-Eau Claire, I asked our campus to be audacious in how we create our future. At the King remembrance, I challenged those present to be audacious as well, to come together to create a more inclusive and supportive community that, in Dr. King’s words, opens the “doors of opportunity” to all.

Dr. King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” On January 19, we came together with light and with love to demonstrate that faculty, staff, students, civic leaders, people of faith and people of goodwill can look forward to audacious work and to keeping Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision strong.

Thanks go to Dr. Selika Ducksworth-Lawton for organizing the event, and for co-sponsors St. James the Greater Catholic Church and University Lutheran Church. Participants included students and faculty from Lakeshore and Putnam Heights elementary schools, Chippewa Valley Montessori Charter School, DeLong Middle School and Memorial and North high schools. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

My 1,000th tweet

For the past year or so I’ve been tweeting as @ChancellorJim, and I noticed Monday that I’d reached 999 tweets. That gave me pause. What should tweet No. 1,000 be?

The answer came from the intersection of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and the news that UW-Eau Claire student Tayo Sanders II was named a Rhodes Scholar — the only student from any Wisconsin or Minnesota university selected among the 32 Rhodes recipients nationally.
So, here’s the tweet I decided to send: “Thankful to be the chancellor of such a special university — proud of all Blugolds!”

I deliberately wrote “proud of all Blugolds” because I’m thankful for the generous and thoughtful ways our students, faculty, staff and alumni all contribute to the amazing tapestry that is UW-Eau Claire.

This year has brought a bounty to our university in terms of seminal accomplishments, such as Tayo Sanders II being named our second Rhodes Scholar in a decade, and also in terms of transformative gifts, such as the $10 million in land and money donated by alumni John and Carolyn Sonnentag for development of the County Materials Event and Recreation Complex on Menomonie Street.

There are, of course, dozens more examples I could cite. At UW-Eau Claire we truly have a “horn of plenty” when it comes to accomplishments like these — something we must never take for granted.

I wanted to be sure my one-thousandth tweet captured my special appreciation for this place and its people — and to share that widely with others so they know how thankful I truly am.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Update on the university budget

Over the past several weeks I’ve met with literally hundreds of faculty, staff and students to talk about the UW-Eau Claire budget. For those of you unable to join me at one of our campus forums, I’d like to share what we discussed and encourage you to watch the video of our presentation.

Our current budget situation presents us with a challenge as a university community. Due to an unprecedented two-year freeze in student tuition — including the Blugold Commitment — reductions in our state allocation and changes in the number of enrolled students this year, we currently have a structural deficit of $3.1 million. If our spending and enrollment remain at the current level, our deficit will grow to about $4.5 million by June 2015. Our immediate challenge is to eliminate that deficit over the next two years through a combination of revenue growth (increasing the number of enrolled students through recruitment and retention) and a reduction in our expenses.

You can see a picture of our current budget in the budget calculator we have created to help us address this challenge. The calculator outlines all the major contributors to our revenue (state appropriation, tuition, enrollment levels, etc.) and our expenses (faculty and staff salaries, operating budgets and benefits). Using the calculator we can determine what changes to any or all of these contributors will help us strengthen our financial position.

Currently the vice chancellors are working with our deans, chairs and directors to continue conversations with faculty and staff and to develop a range of strategies that will enable us to meet this challenge. Too often institutions look to quick fixes to get over a budget gap as painlessly as possible. They make across-the-board cuts or nibble around the edges in the hope that if they just hang on, things will change. That strategy puts a Band-Aid on a problem but it leaves the university weaker.

In the coming months, we must be innovative and make some difficult choices. As positions become vacant, they may not be filled. We must look for ways to consolidate programs and services or eliminate duplication across campus. We can enhance our attractiveness to students by creating a program array that responds to student needs and demand. And we can continue to refine our curricular requirements to help our students graduate sooner. I invite you to become involved in these conversations and encourage you to work with your chair or director as together we create an even stronger UW-Eau Claire.

I believe that we can become a stronger university through this challenge, if we take the longer view. This campus community has a long history of innovation on which we will draw and the collective creativity to challenge ourselves to not only eliminate our deficit over the next two years but also position ourselves to improve compensation for faculty and staff, invest in new opportunities AND continue to serve our students with excellence.

I welcome the exchange of ideas that the coming months will bring, and I will continue to provide you with information about our budget and our progress. Please check my website for current resources and new information as it becomes available.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Balancing act: College affordability and quality

It was my pleasure to welcome Governor Scott Walker to our campus today, where he had the opportunity to visit with our students and to discuss the topic of college affordability, including his proposal for an additional two-year tuition freeze for the UW System.

As chancellor of UW-Eau Claire, college affordability is one of my primary concerns. I believe today’s students should have access to an education that is equal to, or better than, the education provided to generations of students before them, including me. While keeping college affordable, we also need to keep our eye keenly focused on quality. As Governor Walker stated this morning during his visit to campus, UW-Eau Claire and the UW System are among the finest institutions in the nation — and recent rankings by national publications including this week’s U.S. News & World Report reflect that.

The 2015-17 biennial budget approved by the UW System regents last month includes a two-year tuition freeze and also a request for $95 million in strategic investment in Wisconsin’s public universities. The budget request, if approved, will enable UW-Eau Claire to continue to address talent gap challenges in Wisconsin. The budget reflects an understanding that the UW System is a key to ensuring social and economic prosperity for the state of Wisconsin and its people.

Another two-year tuition freeze would certainly have a major impact on the finances of UW-Eau Claire. We are already anticipating an additional cut of at least $3 million in the coming year to address the current tuition freeze. Any additional freezes, not coupled with additional appropriations, will have a significant effect. While limited fund balances have cushioned the impacts of the current tuition freeze and budget reductions, we are now left with a structural deficit to deal with.

This will be my first biennial budget as chancellor of UW-Eau Claire, and I intend to work with our area legislators, regents and the Governor’s office to encourage passage of the UW System proposed budget and the inclusion of strategic investment that will provide our private sector partners with the graduates that will help them grow their businesses.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Saying YES, thinking AND, asking WHAT IF?

UW-Eau Claire 2014 Blugold Breakfast

It’s been an amazing week as our UW-Eau Claire campus community marks the official start to the 2014-15 academic year. From celebrating the many outstanding accomplishments of our faculty and staff at Tuesday’s Blugold Breakfast, to welcoming our new and returning students moving into the residence halls, I’m once again inspired by the excitement and all the promise for the future that fills the air during this time of year on our beautiful campus.

At the Blugold Breakfast, we also took time to think about our future together and how we can move forward confidently, even in the face of significant challenges for higher education, as we approach our centennial and our next century. I shared some thoughts about how I see us growing and evolving as a university, strengthening even more the steadfast commitment to students that permeates our campus culture. I talked about a future in which we are known for (1) saying YES to our students, (2) being an AND university that makes synergistic connections both internally and with our community and the world, and (3) facing our challenges together by daring to ask, “WHAT IF?” (The full text of my Blugold Breakfast state-of-the-university address is available on my website.)

As I discussed on Tuesday, one big “WHAT IF?” has been considered by our Enrollment Management Task Force since that group began its work in January: “WHAT IF we took charge of our enrollment and determined what the size and makeup of our student body should be?” In response to that question, the task force has completed a report with some audacious recommendations around recruiting students and providing them with the help they need to succeed and graduate.

I encourage all faculty and staff to read the Enrollment Management Task Force report, available on my website, and to give some thought to its recommendations. Please watch for details about meetings I will host this fall to discuss the report and our budget situation, and plan to attend and participate.

I also invite you to share with me your “WHAT IF?” ideas for ways our campus community can work together more effectively and efficiently, whether in the office or in the classroom, as we face very real challenges as a tuition-driven university to continue to thrive without burdening our students with more debt. What are your ideas? Let me know by responding via the online survey that is linked from my website. I look forward to hearing from you!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Regent, campus, community support move key projects forward

Thursday was a significant day for UW-Eau Claire as the UW System Board of Regents unanimously reaffirmed support for the Confluence Project and also included funding for much-needed major renovations of Towers residence hall in the 2015-17 capital budget recommendations.

I was especially heartened by the strong community and regent support for the Confluence Project. Eau Claire City Council President Kerry Kincaid, Eau Claire County Board First Vice-Chair Colleen Bates, Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bob McCoy, Visit Eau Claire Executive Director Linda John, and Student Body President Sam Fish and Vice President Jake Wrasse all made the trip to Oshkosh to talk with regents in advance of their meeting to explain why the Confluence Project is such a win-win for our campus and the greater Eau Claire community.

During the meeting, regents John Behling, Ed Manydeeds and Vice President Regina Millner publicly stated their support for the Confluence Project, acknowledging the years of collaboration involving multiple partners to develop a project that will meet the arts facilities needs of the campus and community; the impressive support expressed by voters in the two April 1 referendums; and the potential economic development impact the project will have on Eau Claire and the Chippewa Valley region.

Meanwhile, the regents’ inclusion of nearly $33 million of program revenue (non-tax dollar) funding for Towers Hall is an essential step in realizing the goals of our Campus 2010-30 Master Plan to expand and improve UW-Eau Claire residence hall capacity. Towers is our largest residence hall — with its nearly 1,300 beds representing nearly one-third of all available residence hall beds on campus — and has never undergone a major renovation since it opened in 1967.

I want to personally thank the regents for their support and also thank all of our campus and community partners who have worked so tirelessly to bring these two projects to the forefront. We will now continue our advocacy with the Governor and legislature to ensure both the Confluence Project and Towers renovation funding are included in the 2015-17 state budget.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A day of possibilities for campus and community

John Sonnentag speaks as his wife and fellow Blugold alum Carolyn Sonnentag looks on during the Aug. 5 announcement of a $10 million gift of land and money from the Sonnentag Foundation to Blugold Real Estate for the development of a large multipurpose events center to be used by the UW-Eau Claire and the community.
What an outstanding day we had yesterday for UW-Eau Claire and the city of Eau Claire! I had the honor and the privilege of announcing some transformational gifts to the UW-Eau Claire Foundation that open wonderful opportunities for the future of our university and our community.

Behind the gifts are two Blugold alums, John and Carolyn Sonnentag, who met while they were students at UW-Eau Claire in the 1960s. It was here that they fell in love  with each other and with the university. After college they worked together over the years building the family business founded by John’s father, and now County Materials Corporation employs more than 1,200 people in 40 locations across the United States.

At County Materials in Eau Claire, we shared the news that the Sonnentags have committed, through their philanthropic foundation, to donate 21 acres of land the entire current County Materials site on Menomonie Street to Blugold Real Estate, a subsidiary of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation. Their intent is that the land be the location of a major events center, and they also have pledged a large monetary gift in support of the center’s development. (See the full story and a video on the UW-Eau Claire news website.)

The combined value of the Sonnentag Foundation gifts is approximately $10 million the largest outright gift to the UW-Eau Claire Foundation in its nearly 60-year history. I am so very grateful for the generous spirit of these Blugold alumni!

Blugold Real Estate also is working with the Sonnentags and the Fey family, owners of Student Transit Inc. directly adjacent to the County Materials site, to acquire that property and expand the area available for development of what is to be called the County Materials Event and Recreation Complex.

The Sonnentag gifts take us one giant step closer to meeting major goals established by both UW-Eau Claire's master-planning process and the citizen-based Clear Vision planning process for the city of Eau Claire and Eau Claire County. In our long-range planning process, UW-Eau Claire identified the need for a large events venue a need actually discussed for decades by the university.  Also acknowledged during the master-planning process was the fact that we don’t have sufficient land within our borders to accommodate a large facility and the parking necessary to support it. Meanwhile, the Eau Claire Clear Vision process identified larger and improved events facilities as a priority for the city and county.

So, how wonderful it is that the Sonnentags have come forward to help us move toward realizing the vision for a large events venue for our university and community! The concept for the County Materials Event and Recreation Complex includes an approximately 7,500-seat multipurpose event center, as well as recreation and athletics facilities for UW-Eau Claire. In addition to university events, high school commencement ceremonies and other events previously held in the much-too-small Zorn Arena, we will, through our strategic partnership with Visit Eau Claire, make the new facility available for community use to bring in events Eau Claire has not previously been able to attract because of limited facility capacity.

As Visit Eau Claire Executive Director Linda John noted today, the words “large-scale indoor event” have not previously been part of the tourism vocabulary in Eau Claire. Today’s announcement is, in Linda's words, a "game-changer” for Eau Claire and could mean tens of millions of dollars in new visitor spending, which will positively impact restaurants, hotels, attractions and retail outlets, as well as the entire community.

What makes this project all the more exciting is our partnership with the Eau Claire YMCA, with the potential for the Y’s new home to be located on the County Materials site. We are exploring how the university and the YMCA might construct complementary facilities and then establish use agreements whereby Y members and UW-Eau Claire students would have shared use of both facilities.  As I’ve said many times since arriving here just over a year ago, the way to move forward is by working together  and this partnership has much potential for both UW-Eau Claire and the YMCA to achieve more together than either of us can on our own.

As mentioned during our announcement today, additional philanthropy will be needed to develop the major events center, and support from students will be needed to construct new recreation and athletic facilities for this project. And, of course, we have a very important project on the front burner right now, with fundraising actively underway for the Confluence Project community arts center. We are committed to securing all the funding needed for the Confluence Project before launching fundraising for the new multipurpose events center.

Clearly, we have our work cut out for us. But what a promising future is being shaped for our community, with both of these facilities within reach thanks to donors and our many partners. I can't wait to see what we will accomplish together!