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Chancellor's Blog: Looking ahead to possibilities

| Chancellor James Schmidt

My most recent blog post was all about plans this academic year for achieving UW-Eau Claire’s strategic goals — essentially, getting down to the business of creating our future.

Now, one month later, it is clear that the landscape of that future could soon be expanded to include new and exciting partnerships with UW-Barron County and the region it serves.

As most now know, last week UW System President Ray Cross announced a proposed restructuring that calls for the merger of all UW System two-year colleges with nearby four-year institutions beginning July 1, 2018. Under the plan, UW-Barron County would become affiliated with UW-Eau Claire. The restructuring proposal will be up for approval by the UW System Board of Regents in November.

We have a great starting point, with a strong relationship between our two institutions already in place. UW-Eau Claire is the top transfer school for UW-Barron County students. We know we have closely aligned academic program arrays, and we have common commitments to be active and engaged partners in the regions we serve. UW-Eau Claire faculty have some close connections with UW-Barron County faculty. Two of our student government leaders, Nick Webber and Martin Sandberg, are from Rice Lake, and Martin previously served as the UW-Barron County student body president. Students from UW-Barron County have participated in UW-Eau Claire faculty-student research projects. This list goes on and on.

Now, we begin a period of listening and learning. Being mindful that this realignment remains a proposal until after the Board of Regents acts, I have begun the first of many conversations to help me better understand the mission and culture of UW-Barron County.

Monday night, I was invited to attend the Barron County Board meeting in Barron. It was my pleasure and honor to be joined by Keith Montgomery, UW Colleges North Region regional executive officer and dean, and Brittany Nielsen, UW-Barron County campus administrator and regional associate dean. During that meeting, I heard insights, questions and concerns from those who have been longtime partners in the success of UW-Barron County.

While doing my best to address those concerns, I explained to supervisors that I was unable to answer many specific questions until the regents act and I have the opportunity to speak with UW-Barron County campus and community stakeholders. However, based on my previous experience with campus mergers in Minnesota, I did outline some basic principles that I anticipate will guide my approach:

  • We should preserve the distinct mission of UW-Barron County.
  • UW-Barron County should continue to provide open access to residents of the region.
  • We should capitalize on the great regional support UW-Barron County enjoys — and be responsive to the needs of the students and communities it serves.
  • We should look for opportunities to provide four-year degree options at UW-Barron County.
  • We should look at expanding UW-Barron County course offerings based on student demand and budget availability.
  • UW-Barron County students should be able to continue to transfer to any UW school that is best suited to their interests and aptitudes.
  • I will work to retain the great faculty and staff at UW-Barron County.

Assuming the restructure plan moves forward, I expect to continue a consultative process at both UW-Eau Claire and UW-Barron County with administrators, faculty, staff, students and shared governance groups. We have much to learn about each other as we prepare to work together to continue meeting the needs of our students and our communities in new and innovative ways.

As I’ve shared before, through my past experience working at two-year colleges I understand the feelings of uncertainty and anxiety that these changes bring. I want to reiterate what I have said in other settings: This merger, should it be approved, is an opportunity to build an even stronger future for our two campuses and our region.

Moreover, it would ensure the long-term future of UW-Barron County as an educational, cultural and economic asset in northwest Wisconsin.

I am looking forward to visiting the UW-Barron County campus soon. I also look forward to sharing more information with you as this proposed partnership moves forward.

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