Robert S. Swanson was named to head Stout in September 1972, following an extensive nationwide search. A native of Superior, Wisconsin, Swanson was born October 3, 1924. Swanson's father, an industrial arts teacher, first brought his son to the Stout Institute in 1937. Swanson returned as a student in 1942. His stay was short-lived, however. He enlisted in the armed forces December 1942, and left for active duty the following spring.
During World War II, Swanson served in an anti-tank company in France and Germany, receiving the Bronze Star and ending the war as a platoon sergeant. He was discharged from the Army in April 1946.
Swanson returned to Stout in 1946. That was a time of burgeoning enrollments as hundreds of other returning veterans also entered the institute. In his junior and senior years, Swanson served as a teacher to bolster an expanding instructional staff. When he entered graduate school, Swanson received a half-time faculty position. Swanson completed his master's degree in 1950 and was immediately hired as a full-time instructor. One year later, he began work on a doctorate at the University of Minnesota, receiving the degree in 1955.
In 1958, Swanson was named chairman of the woodworking department (soon to be called the wood technics department). Later, he became assistant dean and then dean of the School of Applied Science and Technology. In 1966, he became the dean of the Graduate School. Six years later, Swanson received the appointment of chancellor of University of Wisconsin-Stout.
The new chancellor faced a wide range of problems and opportunities as he assumed office, but perhaps none was more significant than determining the future role of Stout. The rapid expansion of the student population and programs during the previous decade, combined with the merger of Stout into the University of Wisconsin System, provided an opportunity for the institution to maintain its historic purpose or to assume a new role. Swanson, due to his long association with the institution, chose to interpret his selection as chancellor to be an affirmation that Stout would retain its unique position in higher education. During his inaugural address, Swanson said: "Let it be known, that we do concern ourselves with the preparation of people to earn a living upon graduation. And let us further admit, with pride, that we do this because we specialize in fields which have need for our graduates, and because we do prepare people well to do their jobs."
That position was further clarified when the University of Wisconsin System requested that Stout prepare a mission statement to outline its role and goals. In part, the mission statement read: "the university should offer focused undergraduate, institution wide programs related to professional careers in industry, technology, home economics, applied art, teacher education and the helping professions with the goal of meeting statewide needs for specialized curricula in these areas."
The new chancellor and his staff had to face an entirely different kind of problem when the administration building was the scene of a student sit-in during the spring of 1973. Students participating in the sit-in demanded hearings for a non-tenured faculty member released by the university. For close to 30 hours, the students expressed their grievances to the chancellor, vice chancellor and other administrators. The protest eventually ended peacefully and efforts were made "within the system" to change the Board of Regents' policy on tenure.
A persistent and frustrating problem that the Stout administration faced through much of the 1970s and 1980s was that of enrollment caps. In the mid-70s, the UW System decided that due to changing demographics, the universities in the system must prepare for declining enrollments. As a result, colleges were forced to place a cap on enrollment. This worked well with several universities that were indeed facing a decline, but for Stout it meant having to deal with the frustration of turning away thousands of students.
The enrollment caps, in turn, meant that the resources allotted to Stout by the state were relatively fixed. Even so, during the Swanson administration the campus saw extensive development in its physical facilities. In addition to major remodeling programs, six new buildings were added: Applied Arts Building, Library Learning Center, General Services Building, Heritage Hall (Home Economics Building), Memorial Student Center and University Services Building.
During the Swanson administration, there were dramatic changes in many academic programs. The number of concentrations offered within a degree program expanded greatly, largely in response to the increasingly specialized needs of business and industry. However, the traditional programs of industrial education and home economics education experienced dramatic drops in enrollment during the 1970s.
The composition of the student body had also undergone extensive changes over the last two decades. During these years, the number of international, learning disabled, handicapped, minority and non-traditional students grew significantly. In addition, several hundred Stout students participated in study abroad programs.
In his address to faculty and staff at the opening of the 1987-88 academic year, Swanson announced that he would retire on March 20, 1988 - the 80th anniversary of the signing of the Articles of Incorporation that created the Stout Institute. During Swanson's administration, Stout solidified its growth, reaffirmed its special mission and prepared a firm foundation for future challenges. In that address, Swanson noted that: "Growth changed Stout, but beyond the statistics there were other social, educational and economic factors that profoundly influenced the university. The energy crisis, affirmative action, evaluation week, Title IX, minority recruitment, sexual harassment, OSHA, handicapped access and hazardous wastes were a few of the issues. Because Stout responded to those issues, it is a better place today. Policies are more efficient and fair. This does not mean that Stout is closing the door on further progress in those areas. It means that Stout has established a positive attitude to build on."
A screening committee searched nationally for more than a year before selecting a successor. In the interim, the UW System Board of Regents named Wesley Face the acting chancellor.
Face was no stranger to Stout. In his more than 30 years of service to the institution, he had been the chair of the metals department, a staff member on the American Industry project, assistant dean of the Graduate School, and vice chancellor. Through his professional involvements, his leadership extended beyond Stout. In his role as acting chancellor, he assured a smooth transition.