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!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Ray Cross pays visit to UW-Eau Claire, western Wisconsin

UW System President Ray Cross and Chancellor James Schmidt
met with western Wisconsin legislators and business leaders
for a roundtable discussion July 21 at UW-Eau Claire.
 
It was a pleasure to welcome UW System President Ray Cross to UW-Eau Claire for the seventh annual Wisconsin Science & Technology Symposium July 21-22.

In addition to addressing the symposium about the importance of university research and development as “one of the state’s most transformative investments,” President Cross spent time meeting with area state legislators and business leaders to learn how UW-Eau Claire and UW System can best serve the citizens and communities of Wisconsin.

It was valuable to have President Cross hear firsthand from our local constituents what they would like the UW to do now and in the future to be a partner in helping the Chippewa Valley and western Wisconsin grow, both economically and culturally.

A number of participants commented on the importance of the Confluence Project to help attract and retain the best available talent from around the state, Upper Midwest region and nation. They asked that the UW be more nimble in identifying and responding to emerging business and industry needs — especially in the rapidly changing fields of technology, finance and health care.

Following the meetings on campus, I joined President Cross, UW System Regent John Behling and geology Professor Kent Syverson for a tour of the Oakdale plant of Smart Sand Inc., a provider of industrial sand primarily serving the oil and gas industry. (I was pleased to meet three Blugolds — two employees and a student intern — at the facility!) Professor Syverson coordinates UW-Eau Claire’s responsible mining initiative, which received a UW System Economic Development Incentive Grant, and his insights into the fast-expanding sand mining industry in Wisconsin were very enlightening to President Cross, Regent Behling and me.

I look forward to hosting President Cross on campus again in the near future.



Monday, June 23, 2014

Gov. Walker announces support for Confluence Project

Governor Scott Walker today voiced his support for the Confluence Project, indicating the state will work with UW-Eau Claire and public and private partners to move the project forward. The governor spoke during a luncheon in Eau Claire hosted by the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce. See Leader-Telegram coverage of the governor’s speech.

This pledge of support from Gov. Walker comes at a key time as the Confluence partners continue their work, and it further carries the momentum for the project, which was boosted following a show of support from voters in city and county referendums in April.

I was pleased to hear the governor cite the innovative partnership behind the project, as it’s clear these kinds of partnerships hold great promise for future economic development across Wisconsin. As I’ve said repeatedly since coming on board at UW-Eau Claire a year ago, the Confluence Project is a model for a new way in which government and private enterprise can work together to achieve things that no single entity can create on its own.

We continue to keep focused on the immediate work before us to ensure that the Confluence Project is included among the Board of Regents recommendations for the state 2015-17 biennial budget, and then seeing that the project makes its way successfully through the ensuing state budget process.

Gov. Walker’s words of support today will go a long way toward helping us achieve our goal of partnering in a community arts center that will serve the university and foster growth for our city and our region for years to come.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Worth the investment: UW-Eau Claire ranks high in ROI

Here we are at that time of year: It feels like we no sooner celebrate with our spring graduates and our incoming students are on the campus doorstep, eager to begin their quest for a Blugold degree.

Both these groups, I’m sure, have the same important question on their minds: Is a UW-Eau Claire degree worth the investment?

 I’m pleased to say that, according to recent rankings by PayScale.com and the non-profit group Educate To Career (ETC), the answer to that question is yes. Combine those rankings with this week’s news about a sizeable increase in the pay gap between those with a college degree and those without, and you can make that a resounding yes.

PayScale.com, in its 2014 College ROI Report, ranks UW-Eau Claire among the top three colleges and universities — public or private — in Wisconsin or Minnesota in annual ROI for students who pay in-state tuition and receive financial aid. Meanwhile, ETC’s College Rankings Index includes UW-Eau Claire among the top schools in the nation (No. 47 among 1,200 schools with more than 1,000 students enrolled) in terms of helping its students improve their earnings and attain quality employment after graduation.

What’s more, a recent UW System report regarding college graduate indebtedness shows UW-Eau Claire grads who took out student loans have the lowest average debt among similar graduates from all UW System universities.

For additional details on these recent rankings, explore the links above and read my opinion piece that appeared in the May 25th Eau Claire Leader-Telegram.

What great news to share with our recent grads and our newest Blugolds!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Starting an important conversation


Events of the past few days have provided me with wider and deeper perspectives into the considerable challenges we face as a university, a community and a country. 

As is often the case at UW-Eau Claire, students have demonstrated their courage and leadership to help our campus undertake difficult discussions about racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of oppression.

Through their actions, including a sizable protest march, public forum and well-attended Chancellor’s Roundtable, our students have prompted us to look in the mirror and admit we have a problem:  When it comes to our strategic value of equity, diversity and inclusiveness, we have a long way to go.

I am proud to say that our students have paved the way for us to explore new ways to improve our campus climate.  I was impressed by the determination of students who I marched with Wednesday, inspired by their conviction to effect change and illuminated by their insights into a complex issue that is not easily defined or resolved.

We have taken some important first steps on this journey, and I will be working with our students, faculty, staff and others to ensure we not only continue the important conversations begun this week but that we pursue concrete steps that will enable us to make progress toward achieving our goal of making UW-Eau Claire a more diverse, equitable and inclusive campus for all.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Racism on campus: Let's talk

I applaud the recent efforts of many UW-Eau Claire students to start conversations about privilege and prejudice through the “Identity” and “I Too Am Eau Claire" campaigns. I am deeply sorry that part of the reaction to one of these creative and thought-provoking campaigns was an anonymous racist posting. 

Our students are justifiably angry about this posting. I stand with our students and support their initiatives to raise awareness of the demeaning behaviors to which they are routinely subjected — something many majority students have never experienced. I am committed to creating an inclusive and equitable community for all students — one where acts of racism, sexism and homophobia, as well as efforts to stifle discourse, are not welcome. 

I will work for positive change on a personal level and will collaborate with faculty, staff and students to make progress at the institutional level. Accordingly, I will take steps to implement ongoing public campus conversations about equity, diversity and inclusivity at UW-Eau Claire. I invite you to participate in a Chancellor’s Roundtable discussion at noon on Thursday, May 8, in the Council Oak Room of Davies Center to discuss recent incidents, the current state of our campus climate and what we can do together to improve it.

I hope you will join me in this important discussion.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Telling our story: The Power of AND


What an exciting day here at UW-Eau Claire as we officially unveil our new university brand: The Power of AND!

Don't get me wrong: This day is not about announcing a new slogan to slap on our printed materials and Web pages. This is about all of us telling our story in a compelling, authentic way to those who need to hear it. It's about sharing with each other and with prospective students and their families, as well as with others in the region, state and beyond, who we are as a university and what makes this place so special.

There are as many Power of AND stories as there are students, faculty and staff, Blugold alumni and friends of our university. But the common thread through all these wonderful stories is the fact that at UW-Eau Claire, we are successfully following our mission to serve the public good. Our new brand gives us a framework for telling the countless individual stories that, collectively, demonstrate how we provide students with both the learning and personal experiences that prepare them not only for a good job but also for a life of purpose.

There's no time like the present to be more effective at telling our story. As we all well know, changing demographics and other societal factors at play mean it's getting more difficult to be heard by prospective students, the news media and legislators. It's time to better distinguish ourselves, and The Power of AND is how we'll do that.

Many thanks to all Blugolds — students, faculty and staff, alumni, and our many friends and partners in the community — who participated in the many surveys, focus groups and phone interviews and answered questions like "What does it mean to be a Blugold?" "What sets this university apart?" "What are we good at?" "What can we do better?" We listened to what you had to say, and the result is The Power of AND. I think it fits us to a tee!

What do we do now? We think about how we see The Power of AND in our departments, in ourselves, in our fellow students, in our colleagues. Then we use this new platform to audaciously tell our story! Some great AND stories already are posted on our new brand website, uwec.edu/power-of-and, as well as a brand manual with "how to's" for sharing more of them. Go forth and share your extraordinary, expansive, surprising and powerful Blugold stories, and let the world know about UW-Eau Claire's Power of AND!

Monday, April 14, 2014

A spring Homecoming: 40th annual Viennese Ball

From left: Karl Markgraf, director of UW-Eau Claire's Center
for International Education; and Kim and Chancellor James
Schmidt applaud student scholarship recipients announced
during the 40th annual Viennese Ball.
Do we really have to wait a whole year for the next Viennese Ball?

That's what my wife and I were asking each other Sunday morning after enjoying two extraordinary evenings filled with incredible music, dancing, wonderful food and delightful people of all ages.

Simply put, our first Viennese Ball was so much fun that we already are counting down the days until we can enjoy it all over again next year.

I loved the diversity of people that this wonderful event brings together. People of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life came together because of their love for music and dancing.

It was great to see our students all dressed up — they looked amazing in their formal gowns and tuxes. Even more impressive was how ready and willing they were to embrace traditional kinds of dance and music. It was so much fun to watch them!

Chancellor James Schmidt congratulates Bruce Larson, a
decades-long fan, friend and spirited attendee of the Viennese
Ball. Bryce was presented with an Honorary Blugold award
during this year's ball in honor of his longtime support of
the event. A lover of all things German and Austrian, Bruce
attends the Ball every year dressed in full regalia and as
the spitting image of Kaiser Wilhelm. Bruce also has been a
long-time friend of The Singing Statesmen, hosting them
for concerts and other events in St. Paul. Several years ago
he established the Noble Statesmen Scholarship Fund,
which provides scholarships to members of The Singing
Statesmen. He makes a point at each Viennese Ball to spend
time with The Singing Statesmen and to present the
scholarships.  In addition, Bruce has supported other funding
and scholarships through the German American Heritage
Foundation that he established.
During both evenings, we met young alumni who came back to campus for the first time to attend the ball, as well as alumni who have returned to campus every April for decades to enjoy the Viennese Ball. With so many Blugolds together in one place, it felt a lot like a spring Homecoming — though this weekend our Blugold friends were much better dressed than those I met at last fall's Homecoming football game!

It also was nice to find so many people on our campus who have no real ties to our university other than their love of the Viennese Ball. It truly is an event that brings people from near and far.

Congratulations to the young couple who got engaged Saturday night! I'm guessing they will make attending the Viennese Ball a spring tradition after that beautiful proposal.

My thanks to the many, many incredibly talented students and faculty who brought the music to life Friday and Saturday. They had guests waltzing in the grand ballroom, swing dancing to big band music and singing along at the piano bar. They even got me to polka — I was glad I remember how!

The Viennese Ball is yet one more reminder of why UW-Eau Claire is known worldwide for its incredible music program. Our students and faculty truly are amazing musicians who sure know how to put on a show.

Kudos to the late Ada Bors, who had the vision 40 years ago to create this wonderful tradition on our campus, as well as those whose hard work and creativity continue to make the event so special after four decades. I am certain I speak for the thousands of people who enjoy the ball each year when I  say your efforts are greatly appreciated.

And just think, only 363 more days until we get to do it all over again.
 

 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Eau Claire Jazz Festival: An outstanding success

Ben Richgruber, Chancellor James Schmidt, Kim Schmidt, John Genskow
Chancellor James Schmidt and his wife, Kim Schmidt, at a
52nd Street venue with Ben Richgruber (far left), UW-Eau Claire
alumnus and executive director of the Eau Claire Regional Arts
Center, and John Genskow (far right), deputy city engineer for
the city of Eau Claire. Both Richgruber and Genskow are
members of the board of directors of Eau Claire Jazz Inc.,
the hosting organization of the Eau Claire Jazz Festival.
This past weekend, my wife and I had the pleasure of attending several outstanding events that were part of the 47th annual Eau Claire Jazz Festival. Joining us were friends who are parents of a UW-Eau Claire music and jazz studies alumnus – what a treat to experience the festival with them. It was clear that the evening brought back many special memories for them, as it did for the many others who return year after year for the event.

We were blown away Friday evening by the amazing talents of college and professional performers alike during the headliner concert at Memorial High School. Headliners Wycliffe Gordon and Byron Stripling wowed the audience, as did UW-Eau Claire’s very own Jazz Ensemble I and the Honors College Big Band, made up of college musicians from the many universities who participated in this year’s clinics and competitions back on campus. Apparently word of the excellent performance traveled quickly, as I’m told they had a sellout crowd for Saturday’s show.

Following the concert, we headed to 52nd Street (actually, a transformed South Barstow Street) in downtown Eau Claire. From the Alumni Jazz Band performance at The Stones Throw to the variety of performances at the eight additional 52nd Street venues, we and more than 1,300 others were treated to a smorgasbord of jazz, from ragtime to blues to acoustic and more.

Beyond all the awe-inspiring performances and the festivities of 52nd Street, another important piece of Jazz Fest is the learning that takes place by music students from colleges, high schools and middle schools from around the Midwest. All day Friday and Saturday, students participated in clinics and workshops (including sessions with the festival’s internationally acclaimed headliners, Gordon and Stripling) and had opportunities to perform with their ensembles and be critiqued by professional musicians. I’m told we had 130 bands participate in this year’s festival — a record number — which translated to more than 3,000 visiting students who got a great introduction to UW-Eau Claire!

Clearly, the showcase of talent this festival provides is a wonderful gift to our community, and the thousands who turn out to learn, perform and enjoy jazz music have a powerful local economic impact as well.

A big congratulations goes out to Robert Baca, professor of music and the festival’s artistic director, and the Eau Claire Jazz Inc. staff, board members and volunteers who put on an impressive festival! And I’m especially proud of the outstanding work of the UW-Eau Claire students who were behind the scenes making it all come together. A special thank you goes to UW-Eau Claire senior marketing major Paige Kachichian, this year’s festival director, whose leadership, along with the hard work of other UW-Eau Claire student interns, ensured the festival’s success. I can’t wait for Jazz Fest 2015!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Voters support Confluence Project

Results from Tuesday’s referendum votes related to the Confluence Project have endorsed the university’s participation as a partner in the project.
 
We are grateful for the overwhelming support of voters in Eau Claire County and the city of Eau Claire. The results demonstrate our fellow citizens agree the Confluence Project represents a new way of government institutions and private enterprise working together to create something that no single entity could create alone: a first-class arts center that will greatly benefit the community and the university alike.
 
But it is also important to note that much work lies ahead if this project is to become reality. Typically, a referendum vote is the final word on an issue. That clearly is not the case here.
 
The referendum results enable the process with our multiple partners to proceed. Next steps include successfully reaching a development agreement with the city; satisfying criteria set forth by the City Council, County Board and UW System Board of Regents for funding commitments; securing support from the Board of Regents, the governor’s office and state legislature; and receiving the millions of dollars in philanthropy needed for construction of the arts center.
 
Of course, as was the case with the new W.R. Davies Student Center and Centennial Hall, should the arts center receive all necessary funding, we would then undertake the considerable tasks of design and construction.
 
Since I arrived as chancellor, I have consistently said that I intend to integrate UW-Eau Claire more fully and meaningfully into the community. I am committed to being a strong partner and hope the Confluence Project is one of many productive partnerships to come.
 
Finally, I would like to acknowledge the engagement of our Student Senate in the Confluence Project referendum process. The Student Senate played a critical role informing the student body about the project, including enabling supporters and opponents alike to present their views, registering fellow students to vote, and encouraging them to cast their ballots on election day. I could not be more proud of the way our student leaders conducted themselves. They made us all proud to be Blugolds!

Friday, February 7, 2014

A special dedication

Facutly, staff, students, alumni and community
members gathered in Centennial Hall Feb. 5
for the new academic building's dedication ceremony.
View more photos from the event.
What a joy this week to formally dedicate Centennial Hall, our sparkling new academic building — the first on campus in more than 30 years. We had a great crowd for the third-floor ceremony (and a great view of lower campus as our scenic backdrop) as we marked this significant moment in the life of UW-Eau Claire. What's more, when you think ahead about the impact of the teaching and learning that will take place there for decades to come, it was a significant moment in the life of our city, our region, our state and our world.

It was a day to reflect a bit on our history as well. We recalled that the date of the ceremony, Feb. 5, also was the date in 1910 when the site on which our campus would be built, between a bend in the Chippewa River and the bluffs of Putnam Park, was selected by Wisconsin's Board of Regents of Normal Schools. In my remarks, I also recalled the words of then Wisconsin Governor Emanuel Philipp when he participated in the 1916 dedication of our first campus building, Schofield Hall:

“We have met here today to dedicate this beautiful building. It has been built by the fathers and mothers and other interested taxpayers in order that you, the sons and daughters of the commonwealth, might have better educational service. It not only benefits you, and yours, but will go on benefitting as long as the walls of this massive building last.”

What important words to repeat. They are a reminder of the common good that is served by our university, and of the sacrifices by the people of our state to make that possible. I was honored to be a part of this week’s celebration of Centennial Hall and what it means for the continuation of UW-Eau Claire’s nearly 100-year tradition of excellence in teaching and learning.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Getting to know Frost collection donor Joan Christopherson Schmidt


Joan Christopherson Schmidt (Miss Chris) during a recent
visit to UW-Eau Claire.

The rare, extensive collection of Robert Frost materials that now are part of UW-Eau Claire's special collections has rightfully generated a lot of media attention in recent weeks.

This wonderful collection includes first-edition books with handwritten notes from the poet, as well as Christmas cards and other personal correspondence from Frost to his friend Frederick "Fritz" Schmidt. The collection will long be enjoyed and treasured by our students, faculty and others with an interest in the respected and beloved American poet.

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting the dynamic and delightful woman who brought this rare collection to our campus. While we have learned much from her about Fritz and his decades-long friendship with Frost, I wanted to share a bit of what I learned about her during our visit.

Joan Christopherson Schmidt is her full name, but everyone knows her by her TV name from years ago, “Miss Chris.” She is a Wisconsin native who has lived in the Milwaukee area — right across the street from UW-Milwaukee — for decades.

Miss Chris was a true pioneer in children’s television. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, years before Sesame Street came on the horizon, Miss Chris was the star of two Wisconsin Public Television shows for children, "Let’s Talk It Over with Miss Chris" and "Fairy Tales from Around the World."

A talented artist and a dedicated educator, Miss Chris was teaching art to young children in Milwaukee when she met her husband, Fritz Schmidt. The two quickly found that they shared a passion for education and the environment.

Throughout the next several decades, they invested in land simply to preserve it, helped establish the Ice Age Trail and were active in countless other environmental and community initiatives. They also both treasured the books and correspondence from Fritz's longtime friend, Robert Frost.

After Fritz passed away, Miss Chris kept the Frost collection but began thinking about how to best honor her husband and Robert Frost by finding the right home for it.

While selling it to the highest bidder would likely have earned her a substantial amount of money, she knew her husband, also a Wisconsin native, would want the collection to stay in Wisconsin, preferably at a university, where it will be well cared for and used for scholarship. A family friend with ties to UW-Eau Claire suggested she consider our campus. It didn't take long, she says, to realize that her friend was right.  UW-Eau Claire was just the place she was looking for.

It's fitting, Miss Chris says, that her and Fritz's treasured Frost collection's new home is on Wisconsin's most beautiful campus, a place where students and faculty share a commitment to sustainability and a love for nature. She knows the books will be used and appreciated and studied by students and others who share her husband and Frost's passion for nature.

Both her husband and Robert Frost would approve of her choice, she says.

At the age of 83, Miss Chris continues to be active and engaged and passionate about education and nature. Last week, she drove herself from Milwaukee up to Eau Claire in a snowstorm, soldiered through the bitter cold for two days to talk with the media and others about the Frost collection, and then returned on her own to Milwaukee!

I'm thankful I had the chance to spend some time with this remarkable woman during her brief visit. After spirited conversation about everything from the importance of good coffee (she wanted the contact information for my coffee supplier) to her pride in her Scandinavian heritage (including the inn her family has operated for years just north of Wisconsin Dells), to her decision to entrust UW-Eau Claire with her most valued possession, I found her passion for education and nature and life in general to be very inspiring.

Hopefully, Miss Chris will return to our campus again sometime soon to learn more about how we are incorporating the Frost collection into our curriculum and sharing it in other ways with our students, faculty and others. If you have the opportunity, I encourage you to take the time to thank her for entrusting us with this special collection and to learn more about her. She's an impressive and accomplished person with wonderful stories to share.

Below are links to several news stories featuring Miss Chris and the treasure she brought to our campus. I enjoyed reading  and listening to them so I wanted to share them with all of you:

Friday, January 24, 2014

Legislative and executive visit to Madison

Posed for a photo with Kathy Bernier and Dana Wachs before
Governor Walker's State of the State address on Wednesday.
I was honored Wednesday to be the guest of state representatives Kathy Bernier and Dana Wachs at Gov. Scott Walker's State of the State address in the Capitol and reception afterward at the governor's executive residence. Before the address, I hosted a gathering of Blugold alumni and state legislators. We were joined there by Representatives Wachs, Warren Petryk, Chris Danou and Nick Milroy.

This is the first time I've attended a State of the State speech in Wisconsin and witnessed the pageantry associated with the event in the beautiful and impressive state Capitol. It also was an important opportunity for me to hear firsthand Governor Walker's priorities for the coming year and to briefly greet the Governor at the executive residence after the address.

Advocating for UW-Eau Claire in Madison is one of my highest priorities and responsibilities. The State of the State events enabled me to interact with many of our area legislators, as well as to meet other legislators from throughout Wisconsin and to tell them about the important work we're doing here to develop the talent and human capital necessary for Wisconsin to succeed today and in the future.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Collection of great news kicks off spring semester 2014

The third week of January has arrived — and a new semester begins! Before we become immersed in our work once more, I wanted to be sure to point out some of the important Blugold achievements celebrated in recent weeks while many of you enjoyed well-deserved downtime during the winter break:
  • The UW-Eau Claire Foundation announced it has acquired an amazing collection of Robert Frost materials that now are housed in McIntyre Library’s Special Collections and Archives department. Acquired from Joan Christopherson Schmidt of Milwaukee, the collection is believed to be one of the most extensive Frost collections maintained outside of academia. What an honor for UW-Eau Claire to have this impressive collection on our campus to share the work of Frost with students, our faculty and staff, the community and visiting scholars for years to come. Learn more about the Frost collection.
  • More than 150 faculty and staff `have moved into their new digs in Centennial Hall, which opens for classes today. Many thanks to all our Facilities Management and Learning and Technology Services staff who worked long hours assisting with the move-in by ensuring the building’s office and classroom spaces are ready for great teaching and learning to begin. A formal dedication of Centennial Hall — our first new academic building in 30 years! — is planned for Feb. 5; watch for details on the university website.
  • Congratulations to UW-Eau Claire faculty and staff in our College of Business on the UW MBA Consortium’s ranking by U.S. News & World Report as the top program among Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, and Iowa universities, both public and private. What exciting recognition for this program that provides advanced degrees to business professionals who in turn lead companies across our state and nation! Learn more about the consortium’s recent top ranking.
  • A report released last week by The Education Trust included UW-Eau Claire as one of eight U.S. universities that have increased graduation rates for low-income students and students of color. Congratulations to our many faculty and staff who continue the important work of improving our student success rates and for this recognition in The Education Trust’s widely read report. Watch for the release of our own story about their work in the coming days.
  • Many thanks go to Selika Ducksworth-Lawton, professor of history, for her coordination again this year of the Martin Luther King Jr. remembrance event in Eau Claire. UW-Eau Claire has been a co-sponsor of this wonderful event for 32 years. Thanks as well to the faculty and staff, students, area clergy, community members and area schoolchildren who participated in last evening's event of remembrance, music and reflection on the words and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. It was a celebration of how far we have come and a reminder that by working together we can achieve Dr. King's dream. I was honored to give closing remarks at the event. Read today's Eau Claire Leader-Telegram coverage of the ceremony.
  • Our Blugold athletics teams continue to rack up successes as well. Among the highlights: The men’s hockey team’s NCAA record-tying win on Jan. 18 against St. Thomas. The Blugolds’ 2-0 shutout against the Tommies was their fifth straight, tying the NCAA men's hockey shutout record across all divisions. They’ll have a chance to break the record this Friday, Jan. 24, when they play UW-River Falls here at home. Plan now to attend and cheer them on. Go Blugolds!
  • Our music students are in the middle of another outstanding run of Cabaret, a delightful annual variety show production put on entirely by our students. If you haven’t yet caught the show —an annual tradition now in its 36th year — plan to attend one of their remaining performances this Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 23-25. I’m told tickets are going fast!
These, of course, are just a few of the exciting recent Blugold stories. Keep an eye on our website as the stories of our faculty, staff, student and alumni successes continue to unfold. Here’s to another great semester at UW-Eau Claire!