The 1960's would see an unprecedented increase in the number of students entering American colleges. The "baby boom" generation was coming of age. Technology also had a role to play. With jobs becoming more complex, America needed a better educated work force.
Students in the 1960's were a new breed. They questioned their parents' values and took a liberal stance on such issues as racial and sex discrimination, economic inequalities, and the war in Vietnam. When youthful ideals clashed with the political power of "the establishment," it would take a unique individual to reconcile polarities, create an atmosphere for learning, and administer a college that was expanding at a staggering pace. William J. Micheels was such an individual.
Micheels was truly a product of Menomonie and the Stout Institute. The son of a local businessman, he attended the Stout Institute following graduation from Menomonie High School. While at Stout, Micheels was president of the freshman class, played in the school band, lettered in football and basketball, worked on the "Stoutonia," and played in a dance band. After graduating in 1932, Micheels served in a variety of positions before going on to the University of Minnesota where he received a master's degree (1938) and doctorate (1941). Following World War II, Micheels returned to the University of Minnesota where he served as an associate professor (1946-1951), professor (1951-1954), and chairman of the department of industrial education (1954-1961). On September 1, 1961, Micheels became Stout's fourth president.
The Stout story during the 1960s is one of dynamic growth. At the start of the decade, Stout had a student population of close to 1,700 and a faculty of 107. By the end of the 1960s, enrollment topped 5,000. Faculty increased accordingly. Physical facilities and the number of programs offered also experienced dramatic growth. Micheels' administration also coordinated the operation of the Barron County Campus in Rice Lake, a two-year institution that grew from 116 students in the mid-60s to more than 400 by the end of the decade.
To deal with the surge, Micheels delegated more authority than his predecessors had been willing to. He believed in faculty governance. In addition to several senior level administrative teams, Micheels called for the creation of a faculty association in 1963. The purpose of the organization was to "study and act upon such policies as have or may be invoked by the President, either upon his request or by the determination of the Association."
The influx of students led to the first of several administrative and instructional changes in 1964, "designed to unify the college and provide a framework for continuing growth." Many of the changes contrasted with Fryklund's philosophies, particularly in the area of academic programming. One change called for the creation of a School of Liberal Studies to join Stout's traditional schools of Home Economics and Applied Science and Technology. This was of particular interest to Micheels who felt that his education at Stout and the University of Minnesota had not properly equipped him in terms of "philosophy, ethics, and the so-called humanities." The addition of the new school provided another dimension to Stout's educational offerings.
The creation of several new academic programs in the 1960s helped ensure the growth of the student population. (The reverse has also been argued - enrollment growth led to the creation of several more specialized academic programs.) Micheels believed that it was the duty of the administration and faculty to "build on our strengths and strengthen our weaknesses." Several of the majors, such as art, were related to the early mission. Others, such as hotel and restaurant management and vocational rehabilitation, were driven by other needs and then nurtured by Micheels, other capable administrators and Stout's growing reputation.
In 1964, Stout State College became Stout State University. The name change was authorized by the Board of Regents who believed that the "state colleges had reached another plateau in their development."
School spirit soared when the football, basketball and wrestling teams won conference championships in the 1965-66 school year. However, as the decade wore on, there was a growing feeling of student unrest. Student disenfranchisement can be attributed to a number of factors, but by far the most important underlying cause was the war in Vietnam. From this issue, student concerns spread to such causes as academic freedom, faculty tenure and the right of students to have more input in the decision-making process on campus.
Student unrest was an important aspect of life at Stout in the 1960s, but it did not play as significant a role as it did on other campuses. In part, this can be attributed to the conservative nature of the institution. A large part of the credit for this, though, lies with Micheels. Micheels' policy was clear: "When dissent becomes such that it interferes with the operation for which we are in the business, then we will act firmly, we will act quickly, and people who dissent will have to allow us to dissent from their dissent." However, Micheels also took steps to give students an opportunity to express their concerns. One of the first programs that Micheels introduced was an independent studies course called "Personal Learning." The classes were held in the president's office with students and faculty members discussing their complaints and programs with their senior administrators. He also introduced a "box lunch" program that allowed students to sound off.
Micheels' return in March 1971 was, unfortunately, a short one. In November, he suffered a stroke. Micheels resigned three months later and was appointed distinguished professor by the Board of Regents.
Just before Micheels suffered his stroke, the nine Wisconsin State Universities, and the four University of Wisconsin campuses merged to form the University of Wisconsin System. This move was designed to reduce competition among the universities and to improve the overall quality of education. (The title for university heads changed from president to chancellor).
The newly named University of Wisconsin-Stout was guided by acting Chancellor Ralph Iverson during the transition. Iverson came to the campus in 1946 as an instructor in psychology and secondary education and had served as director of Student Personnel Services and vice president for Student Services.
During the Micheels administration, Stout experienced dramatic change. Its evolution was made possible through the vision of the able president and his faculty and staff. Due to his failing health, Micheels did not have the opportunity to realize all of his goals for Stout. It would become one of the major tasks of his successor to solidify the growth of the institution and determine its future role.