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University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Chancellor Andrew Leavitt delivered the following at the 2016 Opening Day Convocation:

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“Good morning to all. It is truly a great day to be a Titan! I’d like to thank each of you for being a part of the Opening Day Convocation.

“I hope you enjoyed the video that you just saw. It’s a video that celebrates the every day, but extraordinary work of our faculty and staff as we go about our daily business of educating students. Every one of the people that you saw in the video is vital to the success of our mission. Everyone at this university as you go about your daily lives, is critical to our mission and I want to thank you for all that you do for each other, the students, and this institution. Thanks to Doug Sundin from UMC for creating this tribute (top of post).

“Today is both a day that we have set aside to recognize the incredible work and accomplishments of our faculty and staff AND a day to mark the course for a new and exciting academic year.

“I am forever hopeful and bullish on the future of this great institution.

“With a mixture of optimism and pragmatism, together we have succeeded during an uncertain financial and political time. Our institution has responded to challenges through innovation, measured optimism, and a calm demeanor.

“Our challenges continue and they are formidable. While the budget will always be in the forefront, we have other issues to address as well.

Diversity, Morale and various aspects of Student Success continue to provide challenges that we must rise to meet.

“I know we are up to these challenges because we are all in this together. This past year was not an easy one but we were able to thrive because of you. The people on this campus have made a difference. Again, the video you just saw merely scratches the surface of the exceptional work happening each and every day at UW Oshkosh.

“We are all Titans… we all make a difference… and today we begin a new academic year with a clean slate. It is my favorite time of year because of the excitement and optimism brought to us by our new and returning students.

“As you know, I have a background in advancement, and have spent the most recent years of my career connecting people’s passion to action. Today, I want to make an “ask” of you. My ask is this:

“Do your best to recommit yourselves to the mission of UW Oshkosh. Come to campus every day with a passion to transform our students’ lives, and by extension, the lives of people in our community, the state and the world.

“It will be my annual custom to read the mission statement.  Our new statement is currently before the Board of Regents for their approval and is built upon the four foundational elements of Inclusive Excellence, Liberal Education, Shared Governance, and Sustainability.

“Mission Statement — The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh provides a high-quality liberal education to all of its students in order to prepare them to become successful leaders in an increasingly diverse and global society. Our dedicated faculty and staff are committed to innovative teaching, research, economic development, entrepreneurship, and community engagement to create a more sustainable future for Wisconsin and beyond.

“All of you, each and every one of you, do work that brings our mission to life. Today, I ask you to recommit to this mission as we begin a new academic year. And I promise you that I too will give everything I have on a daily basis to commit to these shared values.

“Through this mission we hold ourselves to a high level of accountability. We are, however, living through an unprecedented time of change in higher education. We need, therefore, to regularly reevaluate how we function as an institution.

“Last year (among other things) we completed several Chancellor’s Study Groups, made a significant investment in enrollment, collaboratively developed a new strategic plan, and embraced a campus-wide focus on approaching change in a innovative manner.

“This year, we will see the impact of these investments.

“First, I’d like to focus on enrollment. I am pleased that we are rapidly moving in the right direction to stop the decline in enrollment we have seen at the undergraduate level over the past few years. While I wish I could be standing in front of you, telling you we have stopped the decline going into this academic year, I can’t… but what I can say is our investments in enrollment have been largely implemented, and will positively impact the upcoming recruitment year.  Though the incoming class is essentially the same as last year’s, we are down due to a good reason.  Large graduation classes.

“In terms of marketing this institution, I am pleased to report that the impact of the Chancellor’s Study Group on integrated marketing communications has already paid off. Through tight collaboration between Enrollment offices and our new University Marketing and Communications office, we have launched a new undergraduate student recruitment campaign, refreshed the graduate studies recruitment and the Lifelong Learning and Community Engagement campaigns, and re-developed the marketing for our MBA program. This consistency will not only build on our brand, the advertising dollars from these key units were brought together to launch the first integrated advertising campaign this University has seen. Instead of our advertising campaigns competing against one another, it’s now coordinated and targeted.

“Differentiating ourselves is a key part of successful recruiting and this new effort will pay off. If you haven’t seen our new commercial, you must not have watched the Olympics this year, but let me play it for you now.

 

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“The new Titans Are campaign is based on market research, was tested with prospective students before it was launched, and is inclusive of our new vision for this institution.

“Beyond advertising we’ve also invested in an outside firm whose expertise is using direct marketing to bring prospective students through the steps of the admissions process. This firm is communicating with prospective students at various stages of their decision-making, starting at the high school sophomore level, and carrying through to the junior and senior years with a separate communication flow going to parents and family influencers. Pairing this with the launch of a new constituent relationship management system – or CRM, is giving the Admissions office the tools it needs to bring students to this campus and into our classrooms. I want to thank Brandon Miller and Jamie Ceman and their respective staffs for their excellent work in putting us in the best possible position for next year. I would like all those members of the Admissions Staff and UMC for their great work and invite them to stand and be recognized.

“We now need to keep focused on student progression to graduation. Student Success is why we are all here.

“We’ve already begun the rollout of the Student Success Collaborative, a technology that will provide data and insights into student progress and allow a much more informed process for advising and supporting our students.

“This coming year, we will have a laser focus on improving our retention, progression and graduation rates so that we can provide students with a high quality education that they are able to complete as efficiently as possible.  Reducing time to completion is a major factor in student success and keeps the cost of college more affordable.

“And before I leave the subject of enrollment, I have an exciting announcement to make. Our dual enrollment – CAP Program – has been approved for re-accreditation by the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships through the 2023 academic year! Our CAP program educates more students than all the other UW’s combined, bringing our high quality college courses to high school students in a very affordable way. I would like to recognize the fine work of John Dobyns, Catherine Bryan, and John Koker and ask them to stand and be recognized.

“As you are well aware, we have been managing a significant budget reduction in this current biennium. We, as an institution, needed to address a $7.4M reduction to our base budget.

“I’m pleased to report that we have already managed $5.5M of that permanent reduction, and have $1.9M to go.  Please keep in mind that we have also made $3.5M in investments that included investments in admissions, student success, equity adjustments, and an increase in the supply & travel budgets.  All of these investments will need to be added to the base in the next year.

“The retirement incentive we offered last year yielded 73 positions, with only 30 of those positions being hired back. We gained $3.3M of our reduction from that program alone.

“Going into this year we must stay diligent in continuing to responsibly reduce our workforce. We need to find at least another 70 positions to manage the remaining budget reduction and investments in this fiscal year. I know this won’t be easy but I also know we are up to the challenge. To reach this new target of staffing, moving from 1440 FTEs when I first stepped on campus to 1300 FTEs by the end of this academic year, your ideas and innovations will be necessary to continue to meet the needs of our students.  As you know, we are reducing the workforce humanely through retirement and attrition.  I know this has put great pressure on everyone when holes have been created by losing positions within your units.  This is where your ideas are needed to re-envision functions to account for this reduction.

“It is my hope and intention that the nimbleness we achieve through the workforce reduction will create capacity in future budgets and will result in a greater level of support, both in compensation and resources available, for our faculty and staff to better serve our students.

“When I first began in my role as your chancellor, I asked you for your trust. Over the past two years, I have been pleased at the level of collaboration and productive dialogue that we have had as a campus community. I hope you have been as well.  I continue my pledge to you to be both accessible and transparent so I can maintain the trust you’ve given me. Within the coming months, I will be hosting additional Chancellor’s Breakfast Forums so we can discuss the budget, and other timely topics, in much greater detail. Please continue to attend these forums so we can keep this dialogue going.

“On a related note to the budget, we are making great progress on moving to a new budget model.  While we continue to run this year on our old model, the new model, UB1, is being mapped out to minimize disruption as we transition to the new model next year.  I want to thank Ryan Haley and the entire University Budget Development Committee for their tireless work over the past year on this important topic.  Will the members of that committee please stand and be recognized. [pause]

“This new budget model will align future budgets with our stated priorities and make the process far more transparent.  It will incentivize innovation at the most local levels of our enterprise – as those who can innovate will share in the success of their efforts.  Other critical support units will receive the funds they need through a yearly allocation process monitored by our governance structures.

“This will be a monumental shift in how we function as a university and it’s very exciting!  Please note others across the state are watching to see how this goes for us.”

“A new vision for this institution is taking shape.

“Ideas and innovations are being put into action.

“Through a very extensive and collaborative strategic planning process, we are now living in a plan that will take this institution through to our sesquicentennial in 2021.

“I want to congratulate Provost Lane Earns for his leadership, and all students, faculty, and staff, business and community leaders, and governmental partners for contributing to this visionary plan.  Will all those present who participated in any aspect of the development of this plan please stand and be recognized.

“‘Transforming UW Oshkosh’ is a 5-year plan to drive improvements in enrollment and student success, unleash the true potential of our faculty and staff, re-dedicate ourselves to being a great steward of place, and transform the operations of this great university.

“Let me read to you our vision statement:

“Our Vision — The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh will be a research-enhanced comprehensive university built upon the ideals of a liberal education, inclusive excellence and shared governance that reinforces a nationally recognized emphasis on sustainability.

“We are already progressing on several key initiatives that surfaced through the strategic planning process. You will hear a lot about these in the coming year.

“First, we will begin to formalize the concept of what it means to be a research-enhanced comprehensive institution and action to move that forward for the benefit of our students, both at the undergraduate and graduate level.

“The foundation of this initiative is to recognize, cultivate, and fully support the single greatest advantage that a comprehensive institution has over all other sectors in higher education: the unique one-on-one mentor-apprentice model that pairs an accomplished scholar with a student to take intellectual risks and defend them.  While our colleagues at research institutions have perfected this with graduate students, the tradition of this work at the undergraduate level lies squarely within institutions such as UW Oshkosh.  We have the critical mass to make it possible for all students who want a world-class research and creative experience to have one.

“Our strength comes from the deep professional relationship that develops between a teacher-scholar and an undergraduate or graduate student, primarily outside of the traditional classroom.  This includes any number of high impact practices including undergraduate research and scholarly activities, study abroad, service learning, and internships to name a few. To this day, I am still in contact with several dozen former students I personally mentored through undergraduate research projects when I was a professor

“This interaction is time and resource intensive.  It is predicated on having a research-active faculty and staff.  We must do more with redefining workload and investing in scholarly work.

 

  • “In our intentional pursuit of becoming a destination university for high-achieving students, we have moved forward with the process to elevate our Honors Program into an Honors College. This year that initiative will work it’s way through the approval process with a goal of being in place for the incoming 2017 class. Thank you to Larry Carlin for leading this important effort, and to all those involved.
  • “As we work to maintain our national leadership role in sustainability, Our Sustainability Institute will bring together scholars, students and community from Wisconsin and beyond to generate new ideas and new knowledge. Our goal is to educate and inspire critical thinking and creative solutions, and advance the practice of sustainability around the globe. If the members of that task force are here, please stand up to be recognized.
  • “Economic Development and Community Engagement is a critical part of the mission for our campus community. The strategic plan outlines the vision for these high-priority functions of our university. We are already taking a very active role in the critical conversations happening around the state with regard to the role of higher education in economic development. We also have a passionate team of people looking to grow the impact we have in our region through community engagement.
  • “Workplace Joy will take a large step forward this academic year as I charge a new Chancellor Study Group on work-life balance. This group will review UW System policy and practices that impact an employees’ ability to balance family or personal needs with their work at the university. Outcomes may include new benefits or enhanced options that could improve the work/life balance. I also remain committed to improving your compensation and will move forward with this year’s salary equity process and you will hear more about that very soon. Additionally, President Ray Cross will request from the state a pay plan for the next biennium.  There are early indications that he may be successful.

“In the name of continued efficiency and innovation, we will continue to investigate organizational realignment. We must continue to become a more nimble and self-reliant institution that prides itself on excellence and quality for our students, faculty and staff.  This can only be done through looking critically at what we do and making the tough, well thought out, decisions that are necessary to move us forward.

“An example of this realignment is as follows: Today I’m pleased to announce a shift for our University Police Department. Our University is taking our emergency response planning to a new level. To do that most effectively, the University Police has been moved into the Administrative Services division. This move allows both safety and risk management personnel to be within the same division as we construct a more advanced emergency response plan. With campus safety being my number one priority, our new Chief-of-Police Kurt Liebold is leading a renewed effort to develop a plan based on FEMA-certified best practices in concert with our leadership from across the campus.

“We are also committed to maintaining a safe campus environment, in which preventing and responding to all forms of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other forms of gender-based violence is a priority. Not only is this is a legal obligation under Title IX but an ethical and moral obligation with respect to equity and inclusion. This year the University is rolling out online training for students and employees that covers the most essential information. For the first time ever, student training is required for incoming first-year students. For faculty and staff, I am asking you to take the online training so you can be a more effective part of our prevention efforts and know what to do if you witness or learn about an incident. Thank you to Ameerah McBride and all the Title IX team members that have been working so hard to put this together. Please stand and be recognized.  [pause]

“We are living through a critical time in history where increasing violence is demonstrating that we need to commit ourselves even more to respect and inclusion. I’ve stated this before: Our campus makes strides every day to improve the culture and experience for all members of the Titan community, but we have a long way to go. We must remain diligent and continue to take action. We cannot allow acts of hate to take place in our community. We understand that problems exist here and we must constantly work to solve them.

“To that end we are taking deliberate steps to improve the campus experience including programs such the Men of Color Initiative, Unconscious Bias training, Inclusive Excellence Pedagogy workshops, ongoing Town Hall meetings, and the new visiting faculty of color program.

“We’ve taken significant steps forward to improving the campus climate and experiences of students of color, but our work has really just begun.

“This year brings the release of the findings from our Campus Climate Survey. I look forward to an even deeper understanding of what this campus is experiencing so we can put forth a more strategic focus on inclusive excellence. Will all of the members of Academic Support and Inclusive Excellence please stand and be recognized.

“Higher education is an instrument for transformation. This institution is an instrument for transformation. We transform the lives of our students through their intellectual, social, and personal development. We also transform this community and region. This is only made possible through the good works of our faculty and staff and the commitment from our students.

“When talking to first-generation students, I like to tell the story of my own family. You see, I’m a third generation college student. I’m also a third generation teacher. The first generation college student in my family was my grandfather, John Leavitt, who in 1916 was stricken with arthritis that left him disabled and unable to walk. Since he came from a farming family and could not, in those days, contribute to the work on the farm, his family sent him to college where he became a schoolteacher. My father, also John Leavitt, and his three sisters were born during the Great Depression. As a result of my grandfather serving as an itinerant schoolteacher in one-room schoolhouses on the western plains of Wyoming, the Leavitt family often lived in tents next to whichever schoolhouse they were seasonally assigned to. My father and his three sisters were taught the Great Books around the campfire in the evenings. All four of those children went on to graduate from college and my father earned a PhD in Physics from Harvard University.  He served as a professor of physics at the University of Arizona for 35 years.

“Two of my three children have graduated from college and the third is attending today. My two current and hopefully future grandchildren in all probability will attend college as well.

“The point I am making, is that higher education creates generational lift for students who decide to and can go to college. They are much more likely to be financially successful in addition to the great intellectual and social benefits they receive as a result of their experience.

“Today the value of higher education is in question. There are those who believe that what we do is frivolous and not connected to the real needs of the state. Given that we have been graduating some of the largest classes in the history of our institution, we know that students are disputing this notion of the relevancy of higher education through their full and engaged participation.  Our students graduate from this institution with new knowledge, skills, perspective, and the ability to learn and adapt.  Our graduates enter careers and do well in their lives.

“Let me state unequivocally there is no greater elevator of economic and social prosperity than participation in higher education. This participation can come from multiple pathways from technical college to two-year college to four-year college and we applaud and fully support the educational choices students and their families make.

“When I talk to employers and business leaders, what they tell me over and over again, is their need for a workforce with the attributes that we provide through a liberal education. Critical thinking, problem-solving, the ability to work in groups, communication, the ability to be nimble, to thrive in diversity, and the ability to manage change are all desired skills that are developed in our nationally-renowned University Studies Program and within the majors. While these skills can certainly be obtained through life experiences, the probability of developing them is greatest through participation in higher education.

“In this next year, we must make the public case as to why the time is now for the taxpayers in the State of Wisconsin make investments in the UW System, investments in UW Oshkosh.  In return for these investments, we must continue to provide world-class education, hold down the cost of college for our students and their families, transform the institution in terms of its efficiency, and regain the public trust that has been lost through the politicization of education.

“I believe the best days for higher education and UW Oshkosh are ahead of us.  Through the disruption of technology and other societal factors, we have the ability to chart a new course in how we educate students and operate as a university.  It is essential that, instead of defending the status quo, we be the innovators that will drive change and ignite the next great period of enlightenment for our society.  We can do this for our students with this faculty, this staff, at this university.

“Thank you for all you do and have a great year.”