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The following video and remarks were recorded and shared during Opening Day Convocation at the Oshkosh Campus of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Sept. 4, 2018.

Here are the Opening Day Convocation remarks I was honored to share in person with our Oshkosh Campus community faculty and staff members and via live-streamed video with UW-Fond du Lac and UW-Fox Valley colleagues and stakeholders everywhere… 


Good morning and welcome to the start of a new academic year at this Oshkosh campus of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh! It’s a new day for a new university, and I am thrilled and honored to join you for it. I also want to welcome all those from the three campuses watching the live feed of this event.

As I get started, I’d like to make a few acknowledgements.

First, congratulations again and well done to this morning’s distinguished faculty and staff members, honorees and award recipients. It is only right for the university community to pause and honor those individuals who continue to demonstrate excellence in what they do for our students, faculty, and staff. Let’s give them one more round of applause.

Second, as is my opening day custom, I would like to acknowledge and thank the extraordinary work of our fellow staff, faculty, students, alumni and other volunteers who made this weekend’s Move In its usual resounding success. Over 400 employees and volunteers, from the facilities and custodial staff, the business office, police and CSO’s, student affairs, to our gifted residences hall staff – all worked hard to continue to make our Move In the best experience in the UW System for first-year and returning students, and their parents. I thank the Residence Life leadership, new Director Robert Babcock and Associate Director Liz Morrell for orchestrating this tremendous logistical feat where efficiency and fun are the hallmarks. Let’s thank all the employees and volunteers who worked hard over the Labor Day Weekend to give our students the experience they deserve.

And in case you were wondering what 1700 students look like…

First-year students gather for a class picture in Kolf Sports Center on Sunday, Sept. 2, 2018.

Third, I would like to welcome all new employees who joined us after last year’s Opening Day Convocation. Thank you for choosing to help us transform the lives of people through what you do. Please stand to be recognized.

What a difference a year makes. Since I last addressed this convocation one year ago, we have:

  • Undergone a historic restructuring that has brought about the joining of three campuses to create a new university.
  • Enacted a Plan for Fiscal Transformation.
  • Hosted our Higher Learning Commission re-accreditation visit.
  • Tended a tough situation with the UWO Foundation that continues to grind on.
  • Gone about the work of gaining control of our future enrollment through the development of a Strategic Enrollment Plan.
  • Experienced countless examples of student, faculty, and staff successes, and, most importantly,
  • Graduated historic levels of baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral students.

These are just a few of the really big—some joyful, some painful—events we have experienced together. Some of these events were expected and planned for. Others, not so much.

A year ago, none of us imagined that we would be drawn together to form a grand new community of students, scholars, professionals and advocates with our friends and colleagues from UW-Fox Valley and UW-Fond du Lac. From the bewilderment and uncertainty experienced at the original announcement of the Restructuring made last October by UW System to the realization of the potential and opportunity we are experiencing today, the journey has been unprecedented, collaborative, productive, and, yes, at times, painful, but always hopeful. We truly have an incredible opportunity ahead of us—the potential to become something bigger than the sum of its parts, something to celebrate.

Yes, today is a new day. But our work is really just beginning.

I am sure you have natural questions about our future direction, our mission and how all three distinctive campuses will ultimately fit together. These are the right questions.

Today, recognizing we still have a lot of planning and logistical work to do, I’d like to share my perspective on our identity going forward—not what’s “on the signs” but what we stand for.

What I have learned about UW-Fox Valley and UW-Fond du Lac is this: Each is a community of fierce, dedicated educators and support staff who are change-warriors—giving people committed to students’ access and success. In our new colleagues, the Oshkosh campus community already sees people totally invested in students’ success.

And in the Oshkosh campus community our access campus colleagues see excellence. As I heard last week at UW-Fond du Lac, faculty there feel welcomed. While they have gone through, what one leader called “emotional whiplash,” they also see the “cool” potential to be better supported through professional development, grants, research and creative activity services… the list goes on.

There is admiration.

I want to thank all on the Oshkosh Campus for embracing our new colleagues and friends with grace and understanding.

More than ever before, this is a three-campus university community built upon brilliant, selfless teaching, research and service. It is a community of people proud of its commitment to students who deserve every shot.

On another front, together we faced the realities of our institutional finances this past year. At last year’s Opening Day Convocation, I showed a chart of the actual expenses and revenues over the past few years. Now known simply as the “X-Graph,” it showed how expenses have exceeded revenues for several years. This is due almost exclusively to the decline in the undergraduate population over the past five years.

Annually, this “gap” was filled in by our reserves. As I stated in my campus announcement last February, those reserves are largely drawn down.

These facts underpinned our need to implement the Plan for Fiscal Transformation that is taking effect this fiscal year. With two additional years to go, this Plan will build a solid foundation to propel us forward with new campuses and colleagues and renew a sense of opportunity and possibility that lay ahead of us.

We are being tested as an institution. Sometimes, this feels like a multi-year take home exam in which there are no textbooks to help us or peers to consult. Though we still have a ways to go, I know we will pass this test. In fact, we will ace it.

Last year, I visited almost twenty academic departments and met with faculty and instructional academic staff. What I discovered were people who largely set aside the well-merited concerns they had about how the fiscal situation would impact them and, instead, either asked how to help or suggested ways forward. In fact, two of our faculty colleagues, Chad Cotti and Ryan Haley, led efforts to analyze and strategize how we could increase revenue for the university. Many of these suggestions have been adopted.

Given all that has happened last year, I am in awe of the resolve of the faculty and staff of our new university. Not only do you remain unbowed in the face of the difficult work left, you see the potential and opportunities uniquely afforded this institution. Together, we will continue to transform the lives of our students and the communities in which we reside.

Together, we are stronger. Three campuses, one university.

And, for this reason, I want to start today with some thank-yous related to our efforts in joining the three campuses. These are thank-yous to individuals and entire communities of people who have made extra time beyond work and family to help us reach this new day.

Without their service and sacrifice, we would not have the hope and the potential we have in front of us—the view to a brighter, shared future as three campuses, one university, serving more than 15,000 students.

First, thank you to the dozens of faculty and staff members who have stepped forward over the many months to serve as members of restructuring work groups.  With nearly 40 different work groups, this is where much of the work was done, bringing our campuses together to form one university. If you serve on a restructuring work group, please stand so that we may thank you.

I want to acknowledge the partnership we share with the three county executives who steward the access campuses. For UW Fox Valley: Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson and Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris. For UW Fond du Lac: Fond du Lac County Executive Allen Buechel. These leaders and their respective boards continue to support our efforts to raise the educational attainment rate of the citizens of this region, and I thank them.

Next, I want to thank shared governance and collegium leaders joining us today. Please stand as your name is called:

  • Steve Bentivenga and Dru Scribner from the Faculty Senate.
  • Ricky Johnson and Lisa Goetsch from the University Staff Senate.
  • Liz Morrell and Melanie Marine from the Senate of Academic Staff.
  • UW-Fox Valley Collegium Steering Committee Chair George Waller.
  • UW-Fond du Lac Collegium Steering Committee Chair Kristi Wilkum.
  • Oshkosh Student Association President Ronisha Howard.
  • UW-Fox Valley Student Government President Taisto Oney.
  • UW-Fond du Lac Student Government President Patrick Caine.

Shared governance and Collegium leaders have really modeled the way for the new institution. You have come together throughout the university to unite us. You are inclusive. You have helped make certain that colleagues at UW-Fox Valley, UW-Fond du Lac and UW Oshkosh are connected and involved in decision-making processes. I truly appreciate your spirit of camaraderie and the push for equality.

Next, I want to introduce and thank our new colleague Dr. Martin Rudd, assistant chancellor for access campuses. Martin is a great leader and wonderful colleague. He and I have talked to community groups, media outlets and others about our new university’s potential. Martin is a champion for us at the UW System level. The joining between UW Oshkosh, UW-Fond du Lac and UW-Fox Valley is strong and admired throughout the UW System. He will guide our fantastic Access Campus leadership team and remain actively involved in community outreach, engagement with County and municipal partners, strategic planning and growth opportunities in our region. So, Martin, I thank you for your efforts.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Anne Milkovich who has taken on a new role in Nevada Higher Education. Anne not only served as the CIO of the university, she also was the chief program manager and architect of our efforts with Restructuring. I am grateful to Anne and wish her the best in her new adventure.

In addition to Martin, I would like to introduce the Access Campus Leadership Team. In order to maintain continuity and to acknowledge the current excellent leadership, the entire previous regional leadership team was kept intact and assigned to serve the access campuses.

As I call your name, please stand to be recognized if you are present:

  • Renee Anderson, Executive Assistant.
  • Bill Bultman, Campus Administrator, Fox Valley Campus, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs for Access Campuses.
  • Laurie Krasin, Director of Communications for Access Campuses.
  • Suzanne Lawrence, Regional Director of Continuing Education (reporting to the Division of Online and Continuing Education).
  • Kevin Newhouse, Supervisor of Facilities for Access Campuses.
  • Carla Rabe, Associate Dean for Student Affairs for Access Campuses (reporting to the Division of Student Affairs).
  • Bethany Rusch, Campus Administrator, Fond du Lac Campus, Associate Dean for Finance and Administration for Access Campuses.

I am delighted all of these wonderful, kind, gracious servant leaders have enthusiastically accepted their new roles. Thanks to all of you.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge the members of the 2018-2019 Chancellor’s Cabinet who are with us today. I am delighted to have a collegial cabinet, one where walls that have traditionally separated the senior leaders at this institution have come down. We are working as a team and bringing about positive change for this university with transparency, effectiveness, accountability and, yes, workplace joy. As I call your name, please stand to be recognized:

  • Interim Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs John Koker.
  • Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Cheryl Green.
  • Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Jim Fletcher.
  • Executive Director for Advancement Bob Roberts.
  • Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Support of Inclusive Excellent Sylvia Carey-Butler.
  • Assistant Chancellor for Access Campuses Martin Rudd.
  • Assistant Chancellor and Athletic Director Darryl Sims.
  • Chief of Staff to the Chancellor Kate McQuillan.
  • Special Assistant to the Chancellor for Strategic Partnerships Alex Hummel.

I’ll spend the balance of my time today focusing on a few big topics that are of general university interest:

  • We’ll look at enrollment.
  • I’ll talk about our financial trajectory.
  • And I’d like to run down some new developments, initiatives, commemorations and celebrations that we are planning in the year ahead.

Onto, enrollment. It’s the life’s blood of any institution. It’s not enough to open doors to students; we have to go get them.

Simply put, enrollment is looking better. Here’s the good news: at the Oshkosh campus, through Aug. 20, we are projecting a new, first-year-freshman headcount total of just under 1,700 students.

That represents a 10 percent increase over 2017’s first-year freshman number, and I think that is worthy of a big round of applause for Dr. Cheryl Green, our UMC enrollment management marketers and our hard-working, multi-campus Admissions team. It also represents the return on investments made over two years ago to address our enrollment situation.

We still await enrollment data on the access campuses’ strides. We do know this: the new university has brought admissions talent and collaboration to the table like never before, and we are leveraging it.

Access campus and Oshkosh campus teams are working hard together to paint a strong enrollment picture on all three campuses.

It’s incredibly important that, together, we study, forecast and, as we can, manage trends at all three campuses. Led by Vice Chancellor Green and Associate Vice Chancellor Carey-Butler, this institution developed its first ever Strategic Enrollment Plan. Many of you participated as we involved all aspects in the student experience in the plan. This SEP will guide us as we begin to recruit, enroll, retain, progress and graduate more students. I have already authorized the first round of modest investments to help us continue to bring in successively larger first year classes. Given the level of collaboration and the determined spirit I have seen, I am confident we are going to see continued gains, even though we know there is hard work ahead.

Next, university finances. I won’t get too deep into this today. I will be providing an extensive, university-wide update on the finances of the university in late September, once the student census date has passed. You can also count on more-detailed updates and opportunities for questions in the months ahead as I host Chancellor’s Coffee and Tea forums across the university.

Today, we are three campuses, one university. However, our finances and budget for each campus are still, largely, separate for at least another year. So, let me give you the snapshot of where the campuses are as we continue working toward financial fusion.

The Oshkosh campus is working through its Plan for Fiscal Transformation. We’re making progress and we’re making difficult decisions and doing the same or more with less since January, when I outlined the plan.

Since January we have:

  • Finalized our central funds plan. In essence, we committed to preserve, shift or cut funding in an array of line items kept centrally on the Oshkosh campus. Our plan is moving forward, and it is helping address the original funding gap the campus needs to address.
  • Oshkosh campus units, divisions and colleges also hit their Phase-Two targets, which was hard work but also outstanding work. I am indebted to Provost Koker and the academic deans for making very difficult decisions. This was not a situation of their making or choosing.
  • Meanwhile, we have had success with Phase III, which involves increasing revenue generation. The fall enrollment numbers are proof of our progress.

From today, and into 2019, the Oshkosh campus faces its biggest piece of the challenge in reaching budget equilibrium. We are not done with Phase II unit reductions, but we are going to get there.

Continued sacrifices and cuts are in our future. My job will be to find ways to balance the need for fiscal responsibility with maintaining our mission, student success and strategic directions.

While we advance the Plan for Fiscal Transformation and fine-tune the new budget model and processes, our University Resources Alignment Committee, which we often refer to as the URA, continues to work fast and work hard. The leaders in this group are navigating uncharted waters but are helping us move forward.

I want to thank all of the members for working with colleagues, departments, divisions and colleges to help us collect data, assess and rate our Oshkosh campus priorities.

Again, you can expect updates on each of these finance and budget initiatives as we reach new milestones. Some initiatives make faster, bigger leaps forward than others. That is perfectly fine. The fact is they are all moving forward and, in the process, engaging the campus community in unprecedented fashion. This is all worth doing right, and I am grateful to everyone who has helped be a part of this change.

As for UW-Fox Valley and UW-Fond du lac, Assistant Chancellor Rudd and Associate Deans Bill Bultman and Bethany Rusch will give extensive briefings of the finances on each access campuses in a few weeks. Given the convolution of central funding from the UW System, finances of the access campuses are somewhat complicated.

By this time next year, all central funds will be assigned out to the joining universities, thus simplifying the picture. We will spend the balance of this year preparing for the final uncoupling of the finances from UW System. This will require great planning, skill, and innovative thinking on our part in ensure we can maximize the resources to support our students, faculty, and staff on the access campuses. Again, we will keep you updated and welcome feedback and questions throughout the academic year ahead.

Related to Oshkosh campus finances is the integration of our new campus budget model. I’ll immodestly start with me-quoting-me from a year ago today: On Opening Day last year, I told you “This process will not be flawless, And that’s okay.” Well, the process has not been flawless, and that’s okay. We are committed to doing this right, and I want to say thank you to the University Budget Development Committee chaired by Ryan Haley for its continued dedication to this important work. We’re working our way toward a full transition, and I think you will agree it’s important we are smart, deliberate and supportive of the many people who will have greater participation. We have got to get this right. And we will.

As I continue, I want to give you a very brief update on the UWO Foundation situation. As you read in the newspaper, just about every aspect of this case is in litigation which limits my ability to publicly comment. Even though the UWO Foundation is still in bankruptcy, we continue to receive appropriate and court-approved funds to offer scholarships and program support. The important questions related to this situation will now be decided by the courts and this will take time. I want to thank the Oshkosh campus for your patience and understanding during this difficult time.  I also thank Bob Roberts and the entire foundation-support staff for their professionalism and perseverance through this difficult time.

Finally today, I want to talk about what will be new and distinctive about this incredible academic year. The list is long, and I only have the time today to touch upon a couple of the many highlights ahead. So, here we go…

The accreditation committee of the Higher Learning Commission will meet on September 17 and 18, in just a few weeks. They will vote to reaccredit UW Oshkosh. Given the situation with the UWO Foundation, we have been moved to the standard pathway and will need to host another visit from HLC in 4 years. Additionally, we have been “on notice” for the better part of a year, again, as a result of the UWO Foundation situation. It is my intention to request the sanction be lifted once reaccreditation is granted in a few weeks. We have made substantial changes related to the culture of transparency as recognized in the visiting team’s report. Academics and student support were never questioned. Leadership and finances were. We are now on the right path.

I want to give a huge thank you to Dr. Charlie Hill, who guided us through the reschedule of a cancelled HLC visit and reconstitution of an excellent assurance argument. A special thanks goes to all the members of the university Charlie called upon to produce documents and update websites. Additionally, our former colleague Carleen Van de Zande was especially helpful in updating the documents from her perch at UW System.

There was considerable progress made on the Provost’s search over the summer. We now have a qualified applicant pool. The Search and Screen Committee, led by Professor Kelli Saginak, will interview semi-finalists in a couple of weeks. You can look forward to on-campus visits in early October. I want to thank Kelli and the committee for their excellent work over the summer.

I am very much looking forward to reengaging in strategic planning with members from all three of our campus communities. I think the process ahead is going to help us bring the priorities and goals of the new university into clear focus. This is not only for the good of the university but also for our many stakeholders throughout the region and state.

I am very happy to report today that we are likely weeks, if not days, away from the official nonprofit recognition and birth of a new, independent foundation created to support the university. It is called the Titan Alumni Foundation. Earlier this year we were fortunate enough to have a group of alumni approach us, led by then-UW Oshkosh Alumni Association president Scott Barr, to start a new foundation. After months of work, TAF and UW Oshkosh have signed a memorandum of understanding, linking the two entities as partners to raise much needed financial support for the university.  We will now begin efforts to focus on raising philanthropic support to enhance the mission of UW Oshkosh, including the areas of scholarship and program support. An important part of these efforts will include you, the faculty and staff of UW Oshkosh as the annual employee giving campaign is once again put into place later this fall, inviting each of us to support this mission. Please be open to your colleagues in advancement and throughout campus as they reach out for time on department agendas to share the great things philanthropy does on our campus.  I thank you in advance for your consideration and generosity. And I am personally moved and inspired by the selflessness and service the TAF leaders have exhibited to this university. So, thank you once again, Titan Alumni Foundation leaders.

Speaking of alumni and their support of students…. Today, I am thrilled to announce the creation of a first-ever scholarship-fundraising event that we proudly are calling the Black and Gold Scholarship Ball. Mark your calendars for Saturday, March 30. This black-tie event is designed with one single purpose: to help raise new scholarship funds to support our students’ college journeys.

There is no better investment than an investment in Titans. Given this is a university-wide effort, the faculty, staff, students and affiliated foundations from the Access Campuses, UW Fox Valley and UW Fond du Lac are also participating.

A tremendous thanks to Lynn Kleman, Chris Gantner and other leaders in our development team who are helping develop and promote this event from the ground up.

And as we imagine the future, we need to honor our past.

Which leads me to my next item for your calendars: Wednesday, Nov. 14 and “Black Thursday Remembered, 50 Years Later.”

The event represents this institution’s effort to reflect on Nov. 21, 1968. On that day, a half-century ago, 94 Wisconsin State University at Oshkosh students had the courage and the vision to demand better of this institution. We are planning some special recognitions on Nov. 14 to honor the Oshkosh 94. And I know many faculty members are integrating the lessons, stories and impacts of Black Thursday into their teaching this semester. I think this is all incredibly appropriate, as is our university’s much-needed recommitment to doing one of the things the Oshkosh 94 demanded of their administration in 1968: to recruit and retain African-American and other faculty members of color who reflect our increasingly diverse and successful student body.

I want to thank Dr. Sylvia Carey Butler, Dr. Stephen Kercher, Dr. Tony Laing, University Archivist Joshua Ranger, Prof. Jeff Pickron, Grace Lim and Ms. Sheila Knox—a member of the Oshkosh 94—for collaborating on this important event. You can expect to hear more about additional developments and events as we move closer to November. I encourage you all to take part.

And speaking of 50th Anniversary commemorations… The Commemoration of the 50th anniversary of UW-Fond du Lac will be held this fall. Events are being planned to acknowledge an important milestone for this campus. Again, we must honor and celebrate our past as we plan for our shared future.

Of course, there is so much more ahead on our calendars:

  • Our annual celebrations of scholarship.
  • Student, faculty and staff member honors and awards ceremonies.
  • Athletic events, gallery shows, theatrical performances, a host of concerts and recitals,
  • And, of course, the pinnacle: Commencements.

In closing, despite the changes and challenges we face, life at the university carries on, honoring excellence and offering inspiration. We are now three campuses, one university, and there is incredible potential in that. In my conversations with regional business, nonprofit and educational leaders, I am asking a simple question given the footprint of the new university: “What kind of university does Northeast Wisconsin need and deserve?” We have their attention and they want to participate in helping us answer that question.

Each of us has a role in shaping the inclusive policies, practices and processes that will strengthen the university’s long-term future. I am proud of you and the ways you have helped us tackle all the monumental work in front of us while never losing sight of our students, their experiences and their success.

I am energized, and I hope you are as well. It is my continued honor to lead this institution. You have placed your trust and confidence in me and I work every day to earn it. For this, I thank you.

All the best in the semester and academic year ahead.

Thank you, and Hail Titans!