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UW-Whitewater chancellor weaves tapestry of traditions, look to future

WHITEWATER — University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Chancellor Beverly Kopper fa­shioned her State of the University address less as a formal speech and more as a tapestry that included traditions both old and new, reflections on the past and glimpses into the future, and ambitious plans and bottom-line numbers.

Kopper spoke Monday in the Young Auditorium.

Beginning with the tradition of remembering faculty and staff who passed away during the prior year, she said, “It is important that we remember those that we have lost this past year who have gone before us to really ensure our level of excellence, and to honor their legacy.”

She continued by congratulating 105 faculty and staff members in having reached the milestone of 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35 and 40 years of service to UW-Whitewater, along with the recipients of University Awards for excellence in teaching, research, service, advising and student excellence.

The chancellor used the occasion to present the first “Chancellor’s Difference Makers Award” to the UW-Whitewater Landscaping Team, under the direction of Steve Bertagnolli.

“Every day when I get out of my car and I walk into Hyer Hall,” Kopper said, “I stop and I’m just in awe of the beauty. Frequently I have parents and community members who talk to me about how stunning our campus looks.”

She invited the UW-Whitewater governance leaders for the Faculty Senate, Academic Staff Assembly, University Staff Council and Whitewater Student Government to join her on stage.

“Through their leadership, and those that serve with them, we are a stronger university,” Kopper commented. “Effective shared governance certainly leads to collaborative decision-making which gives us the opportunity to make great decisions for this university, and I am deeply committed to this tradition.”

She also introduced five new campus leaders, including Susan Elod, newly appointed Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs.

Throughout her presentation, Kopper proudly shared many of the accomplishments of UW-Whitewater faculty, staff and students during the past year, sometimes in videos.

James Langness, a UW-Whitewater student who also serves on the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents, joined Chncellor Kopper on stage to honor the recipients of two prestigious UW System Awards: Susan Huss-Lederman for the UW System Teaching Excellence Award and Brenda Rust-O’Beirne, representing the Department of Counselor Education, for the UW System Program Excellence Award.

Kopper told her audience that after Huss-Lederman’s and Rust-O’Beirne’s presentations in Madison, a member of the Board of Regents commented, “We talked about the fact that we were giving two out of the three awards to the same university and we decided we had to do it because, of course, they deserve to win, and then after the presentations, they certainly proved that we made the very best decision.”

For the sixth consecutive year, UW-Whitewater has received a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper “Top Workplace Award.”

“We are the only university or state agency to earn this honor in the six years that we have achieved this recognition,” Kopper noted.

She said the UW-Whitewater Foundation had raised more than $8.2 million over the past year, the most successful fundraising year in its history, adding that as state support of the university declines, “It is incumbent upon us to generate new sources of revenue.”

Kopper also credited faculty and staff for the fundraising success of the past year: “It is the work of all of you that inspire our donors and our alums and others to really give and support this university.”

Examples cited by the chancellor of how the money raised is being put to work included the Mary Poppe Chrisman Student Success Center for math and writing labs, and tutorial services; the Annette and Dale Schuh endowment for visiting artists; the Gruber Accounting Professorship; the Richard and Veronica Telfer Endowed Faculty Fellowship for the College of Education and Professional Studies; updates to football and baseball stadiums; and the purchase of former Sentry Foods building as community outreach center for business outreach, the counseling and speech clinics and the University Children’s Center.

Kopper also announced UW-Whitewater’s participation in a three-year project, Reimagining the First Year of College, spearheaded by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. UW-Whitewater is one of only 44 colleges and universities though the United States selected to be part of this project.

Provost Susan Elrod provided an update on a new strategic plan for UW-Whitewater.

“This plan is an important document because it is an articulation of the most important priorities for the campus and the actions that we will take in the coming years,” Elrod said. “We will use it as an important lens through which we will focus our efforts as well as our resources.”

She then provided a preview of the current strategic plan draft goals.

Goal 1: Improve Student Access and Success — “Increase overall enrollment in ways that reflect our access mission, regional demographic trends, and our shared commitment to improving retention and graduation rates for all students.”

Goal 2: Transform Lives and Society — “Provide an educational environment that transforms students’ lives and empowers them to build a foundation for rewarding careers and fulfilling lives that make a positive contribution to their local communities and our global society.”

Goal 3: Foster Diversity and Inclusivity — “Nurture a campus community that is diverse, inclusive and welcoming to all students, faculty and staff, as well as a culture that emphasizes cultural fluency and the development of personal integrity and social responsibility.”

Goal 4: Expand and Diversity Recourses — “Expand and diversify financial resources, optimize use of existing resources, and realize operational efficiencies in order to fully support our mission and be responsible stewards.”

Goal 5: Build Partnerships and Relationships — “Create, sustain and enhance strategic partnerships with external stakeholders, such as community and non-profit organizations, corporations, and governmental agencies in order to expand meaningful opportunities for students, staff and faculty, and to foster relationships that will contribute to the development of our state and beyond.”

Goal 6: Enhance Recognition and Outreach — “Become more known nationally and internationally for its empowering educational environment, innovative programs, outstanding faculty and staff, community engagement and partnerships, and impact on society.”

In her presentation, Kopper also focused on UW-Whitewater’s efforts in addressing some “challenging situations on campus, in the state, including Milwaukee, and the nation. As a campus, we navigated situations that were beyond our control, including the reduction in state funding … and the changes to tenure which also caused a lot of concern over this time-honored pillar of the academy.

“Let me say that tenure is alive and well at this university,” she adde. “I again want to express my support for tenure and shared governance and academic freedom because these are the tenets that are absolutely vital to our continued strength as an institution of higher learning.”

Kopper referenced “difficult conversations related to our campus culture” in the spring, and the creation of action steps to move forward, especially the creation of the Campus Culture Working Group (CCWG).

To provide insights into the CCWG, Tom Rios, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Natalie Arriaga, a senior majoring in international studies, shared their experiences with the group.

According to Rios, although originally established “to examine campus issues of race and inclusivity,” the CCWG pivoted from an exploratory group to an action group. It also organized an action forum attended by 450 faculty, staff, students to discuss, examine, racism, bias and inclusivity.

With the input of small groups discussing ways to enhance the campus environment, including recommendations and possible strategies, the CCWG identified four common themes:

1) Diversity Learning that is “relevant, speaks to the lives of students and bolsters their ability to navigate not only their time here at UW-Whitewater but to give them the skills that would endure long beyond their experience at Whitewater and into the marketplace.”

2) Capturing Students’ Experiences by “identifying efforts to keep our fingers on the pulse of student experiences.”

3) Accountability and Consequences by “developing institutional responses to racism and bias, and implementing strategies and approaches to hold people accountable and (with) consequences related to behaviors.”

4) Community based on the belief that “relationships chan­ge lives.”

The action steps emerging from the process included establishing an electronic hate/­bias reporting form and response team, enhancing instruction in the U.S.

Racial/Ethnic Diversity cour­s­es and the new student seminar, and a Campus Diversity Forum on the theme “Beyond Inclusion to Engagement” that will take place on campus Nov. 1 and 2.

Rios said one of the strengths of the CCWG is that it is structured to provide equal representation by faculty, staff and student.

“The student voice is tremendous,” he said, “because we really can’t do things in the name of students without hearing the student voice.”

Arriaga echoed Rios in stating, “There’s nothing more powerful than a student’s voice, than a student’s opinions and ideas, because once you get your ideas out there in conversation, the action can happen.

“We are the change and we are tomorrow’s future,” Arriaga continued. “Students have the power and we don’t even know it yet, but we can influence each other, and we can influence students and staff.

“We can no longer be quiet,” she added. “We have to speak up, and we have to have connections with administration though Whitewater Student Government and through Faculty Senate. We have the power in our hands, and we can definitely change and improve how we communicate.”

“Our Campus Culture Working Group has been working diligently to keep us on track,” Kopper stated. “There is still much more work to be done … I think we’ve learned important lessons along the way, and I’m very proud of the way we came together to support each other, to listen to one another and to forge ahead.”

Turning to the topic of campus safety, the chancellor noted, “In the past year, violence and unrest has rocked communities across our nation, as it did more recently in Milwaukee. … It is vital to continue to focus on campus safety.”

She reported that the campus participated in a statewide emergency management training session in June.

“While we performed very well in this exercise, I don’t think we can practice too much,” Kopper said. “During the Winterim break, we will also hold an active shooter emergency exercise.

“We make a promise to all of our parents of every student that comes to this campus that we will do everything in our power to keep them safe,” she emphasized. “We also make that same promise to each of you … and we will continue to take every step to make sure safety is a top priority.”

Stressing the importance of “being nimble” in responding to emergency situations on campus, she said, “We’ve launch­­ed an emergency app for smartphones and other mobile devices. If there’s an emergency situation on campus, this app will send you a notification as well as any critical information that you may need to know about what is going on and how to be safe.”

The download for this app is available on the UW-Whitewater website.

Kopper also included as equally important UW-Whitewater’s commitment to safety “providing a safe environment that includes preventing and responding to all forms of sexual harassment, assault and other forms of sexual misconduct. This not only is an ethical and moral obligation, and one that reflects our campus values. It also is a legal obligation under Title 9.”

This summer, she said, more than 60 employees completed a day-long Title 9 training session on the topic, and this academic year online training will be available to every student and employee.

“We will continue to face many challenges,” Kopper stated, “Yet I firmly believe that in these difficult times this campus responds in a true UW-Whitewater fashion.

“We come together as a community,” she continued. “We work together to find solutions. We support one another, and we always, always put our students first.

“We are a campus that, without question, thrives in difficult times because that’s who we are and that’s what we do, and that is simply the Warhawk way,” Kopper stressed … “We are a community of optimists and we must always focus on our mission and the noble work that you all do.”

The chancellor reported that with an estimated incoming class of 2,200 students, the largest class in history, and 750 transfer students — all admitted without lowering admission standards — UW-Whitewater is on track for its largest student enrollment in history.

Based on the most recent data available, she said that freshman to sophomore retention rate at 80 percent and the six-year graduation rate at 60 percent also are the highest on record.

Still, despite these impressive gains, Kopper admitted that there is “more work to do in closing the equity gap. As a campus that prides itself in providing opportunities for all students, the divide among our non-under-represented minority students and our under-represented minority students must be closed, and clearly closing the equity gap is a part of our strategic plan.”

The budget was the last topic that she addressed.

Focusing on this last year of the current 2015-17 biennial budget, Kopper said that UW-Whitewater’s $ 5.8 million reduction in state funding had been addressed substantially by the removal of 40 positions, reducing the deficient to about $930,000.

Offset by an increase of about $800,000 in non-resident undergraduate and graduate tuition, about $129,000 in additional campus reductions, and a budget allocation from the UW System of $666,500, the final amount available for UW-Whitewater is about $537,000 that will be disbursed to cover some fringe benefits; faculty and salary increase evenly distributed among faculty, academic staff and university staff; and retention and salary adjustments across all staff types.

Kopper also announced doubling professional development funds to $2,000 for faculty, $1,000 for academic staff and $500 for university staff.

“I understand that these steps do not make up for a pay plan for all employees,” Kopper concluded, “so I will continue to make that a top priority in my discussions with legislators, regent members, system leaders and others.”

In discussing the biennial budget for 2017-19, she said that the August, 2016 UW System Board of Regents meeting included a proposed budget to be submitted to Governor Scott Walker for $42.5 million for additional state general purpose revenue, along with a request that the tuition freeze be lifted.

“It’s time for the state to reinvest in higher education,” Kopper insisted. “This certainly includes a pay plan for employees.”

The chancellor also was pleased to announce that final approval for building a new residence hall just had come through last week, along with authorization for renovations and additions to Winther Hall, and upgrades to the steam pipes and the campus fiber optic network.

On a joyful note, she said that plans are under way for the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of UW-Whitewater in 2018 “to honor our past and to celebrate our amazing future.”

Following a video showcasing a variety of faculty and staff achievements over the past year, Kopper, in her final remarks, said, “Let me close by saying that you all do amazing work, and each and every one of you, in whatever role you’re in on this campus, change people’s lives, transforms lives, and that is noble work. And you also make this wonderful university an amazing place to work, and live and learn, and I am deeply grateful for each of you.”

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