University of Wisconsin Stout | Wisconsin's Polytechnic University
That’s how employers describe UW-Stout graduates. Our innovative, career-focused degrees combine applied learning and the liberal arts.
That’s how employers describe UW-Stout graduates. Our innovative, career-focused degrees combine applied learning and the liberal arts.
Doug Mell: Welcome to another edition of “About Stout.” It’s close to the start of summer. Graduation here went off without a hitch, thanks to the chancellor and the provost. Talk of the state budget is dominating the conversation. As always, I’d like to welcome Chancellor Sorensen to the program. We have a special guest with us today, our provost, Julie Furst-Bowe. Welcome, Julie.
Julie Furst-Bowe: Thanks, Doug.
Mell: I thought we’d start, obviously, as I said at the beginning, the budget’s kind of dominant in the conversation, but let’s talk about the past academic year and how that went, some of the thoughts you gave in the commencement speech. How would you summarize the past year, Chancellor?
Sorensen: Well, I think it was a very good year, actually. The budget cloud still hangs over us, but if you go beyond that and look at what we’ve done internally: the discovery center coming online July 1 of this year, nearly another record freshman class applying for getting accepted — our best freshman class we’ve ever had at UW-Stout — new program development that Julie has really pushed very hard, very successful. I think that every measure has been a very good year, except the budget clouds up the picture for us.
Furst-Bowe: I would agree with Chancellor Sorensen. We had very strong enrollment; we got our two new engineering programs up and running. I think we’ve done a lot of good things this year, and it’s too bad we’re in the resource situation we’re in right now.
Mell: Well, we keep going back to the Board of Regents for new programs and so far they’ve been, I guess they’ve been in a giving mood.
Sorensen: I would underscore that, because we set a goal of 40 programs by 2010, up from 22, 20 years ago. We’ll have that, and I think for a school right around 9,000 now, up several thousand from only eight years ago. Those programs are essential to maintaining that enrollment level, so I think that the provost has done an excellent job there, and I think we are well-poised for the future.
Mell: Let’s talk a little bit about we just got a new bachelor’s degree program at the last Board of Regents meeting that’s very innovative because we’re sharing it with UW-Extension and some other institutions. Why don’t you talk a little bit about that?
Furst-Bowe: Well, it’s basically an online program in sustainable management, and we’re doing it in partnership with UW-River Falls, UW-Superior, UW-Parkside, and it is coordinated by UW-Extension. It’s an interesting program; it’s a little bit different than your typical business or management program in that all of the classes have an emphasis on “green” and sustainability, and I think it will lead to some pretty good job opportunities for students in some of the new “green” careers. All of the courses are taken online, you can register for the program and claim any of the four campuses as your home campus, but as you go through the degree, you will be really completing courses from all four of the institutions involved.
Mell: It’s really an innovative idea, isn’t it?
Sorensen: Well, collaboration isn’t really that innovative, but the fact that we can pull this off with other schools is innovative, and I think that’s the future of higher education in large part.
Mell: We have two new programs that are going to the Board of Regents in a week and a half or so. Do you want to talk about those? These are something that we’ve been working on for a long time too.
Furst-Bowe: We have a, I think a really exciting program: a bachelor’s degree in computer game design and development, and, again, it’s a collaboration between our computer scientists and our multimedia designers, and we know there’s going to be strong student interest in that program, absolutely. Our second program is another bachelor’s degree program in property management, and this really stemmed from we have several hundred hotel, restaurant students, but many of them are saying they’ve really got more of an interest in managing the hotels and other properties than the restaurant side of the field, so that will provide a nice degree option for those students.
Mell: Yeah. I actually know two kids who are coming here knowing that the gaming design was on the docket. I mean, there’s already a minor, but knowing that there was a major coming, they were coming here already before the Board of Regents even approved it.
Sorensen: Well, you know, Doug, I think this all speaks to a direction we took some years ago in the polytechnic direction. I think our programs align with what we see as a polytechnic university, what we see as needed programs for the future for this state and for this society, and I think we should be proud of what we’ve done here. It’s very exciting, and I think we have a tremendous future.
Mell: You mentioned before kind of the budget, the budget hangs over us. I think one of the questions some people may have is how is UW-Stout being able to add programs at a time when resources are either being limited or cut back.
Sorensen: Well, I should ask the provost, but we’re doing two actually, I think, and she can verify this or say I’m wrong, but one is reallocation. We shift allocations internally from softer programs to new programs, and the other is customized instruction. We develop programs based on what the market will bear for the cost of the program.
Mell: Is that pretty much...?
Furst-Bowe: Absolutely. And that our new programs aren’t a real deviation from our existing programs. It’s not like we’re going off and developing new programs in nursing or something that we would have to totally have to invest in new faculty and new facilities. As you mentioned, Doug, we had a minor in the computer game design and development, so we’ve got expertise in this area, we just need to make that into a major program. Same with the property management.
Mell: Right. How would you categorize, since the budget has come up a number of times already, how would you categorize the budget as we sit today? Is it devastating for UW-Stout? is it a minor irritant, or is it somewhere...?
Sorensen: Well, think this is a shot across the bow, the way I view it. It’s going to be hard. We were lucky we had cash reserves though, to buy the debt down and then give the debt out to the campus, [the] remaining debt, and we’ll get through this okay. We’ll have a few layoffs, not very many, a few adjustments like that. My concern, though, that I think is shared by all of my senior staff is the next year and next biennium. What will happen if revenues don’t increase, if revenue collecting stays stable or decreases? What will happen in 2011 or 2013? Even in 2010 there could be a budget repair bill after January of 2010. That’s my concern. We’ll get through this one okay, with some pain, but the next shot, kind of warning shot, so we’re going to do a lot of planning between now and a year from now, what we would do with a deeper cut.
Mell: What do you hear from the academic side?
Furst-Bowe: Well, I think I would say the faculty and the deans say that we’re doing a good job protecting quality in the classroom, that we want to get through this budget cut, as the chancellor said, without eliminating faculty, without eliminating programs, making sure that we’re providing all the best learning opportunities to our students.
Mell: Yeah. Obviously there are some states that are much worse off. Arizona was the leading one. I think California probably took over.
Sorensen: Yeah, but in one sense, I think, in the larger view of this, I think that we’ll receive a seat change in the way we support higher education. I think we’re never going back to where we were 10 years or 20 years ago, so I think we have to adjust to a new model. The model that we’re flirting with right now, the quasi-state support and then a lot of programs that must carry their own weight will probably be a shift that many schools take, and we’ll see how successful that is.
Mell: Obviously, one of the things that looks like a certainty unless something cataclysmic happens is that everybody’s going to get eight days off on furlough. Do you think that that’s going to have an impact on the operations that the public sees?
Sorensen: Probably not, but we’ll internally have an impact, I think. People will not be able -- you take eight days out of a person’s work year, and that’s eight days out of a work year, so there will be some impact of that. I think the public will see the school go on, will see operations go on in a normal way, actually, to them, but there’ll be some challenges we face internally.
Mell: For us it’s probably about 9,000 days off extra. I mean, if you have eight times 1,100, 1,200 faculty — not everybody’s full-time. Do you think that the furloughs are going to be handled in such a way that the education — I mean we’re going to protect our core values?
Sorensen: Absolutely. I mean, that’s the essential, that we do not affect the core values, we do not affect the classroom, we do not affect the students who are going to be paying full tuition for their programs that they come here for, so they won’t be furloughed. They’ll be here expecting what they should get, and they will get that.
Mell: This must come as quite a surprise to some of the faculty here who have really never been affected by any sorts of little personnel cuts or budget cuts; furloughs are a new thing. Do you think there’s going to be a period of adjustment?
Furst-Bowe: Oh, probably somewhat, but in talking to faculty, I would say that they would agree with Chancellor Sorensen and myself that the students come first and they’re going to try to work around it. Certainly there’ll be days when you’ll go in the library and the student center and there’s going to be fewer staff there to help you out, but we really hope to keep the faculty in the classroom.
Mell: You mentioned something before I thought we could talk a little bit more about — the Discovery Center; July 1 is the day it’s supposed to operate. Could you first talk about what that is, and secondly, and obviously Julie can chime in, the hire that’s been made to take it over.
Sorensen: Well, the Discovery Center will be in the Applied Research Center. They’ll be the interface between corporate R and D, research and development, and our university and our faculty. So, it’s that interface that many schools have that we have had in a quasi way, not in a full way. And it’ll be a way for us to really focus sharply on R and D with corporations. We looked at products, design, discovery, the lead-in preps to a company, and it’s going to be something that we hope is going to be self-sustaining within 3-5 years. So we think it’s going to be a major part of what we do. It’ll be the umbrella for all the applied research we do right now at UW-Stout.
Mell: No taxpayer dollars involved.
Sorensen: None. Private support to get this off the ground and for several years at least, and hopefully within that 3-5 year framework, it’ll become self-sustaining. And we hired a person that will report directly to the provost.
Mell: How is the faculty going to be involved in this, Julie?
Furst-Bowe: There’ll be a number of opportunities for the faculty to be involved. We’ve included in the budgets faculty associate type positions, the director’s going to be identifying opportunities for products that, again, as the chancellor said, will relate to some of our corporate partners. We’ll be bringing in faculty with expertise in plastics or packaging or food science or whatever it happens to be, and plug them into the projects. Students we hope will be involved too as undergraduate or graduate assistants.
Mell: The organization is new, but the fact that we have students, faculty working on projects with business, I mean, that’s not new for UW-Stout.
Furst-Bowe: Oh, no, not at all.
Sorensen: No, it is not. I think kind of the new twist — we want to get involved with more research and development. So you help discover a product and produce that product, and perhaps, a lot of them become a company at some point.
Mell: Now, do you think there is going to be a lot of interest on the private sector side for this?
Sorensen: I think so. We have several projects we could put into that center July 2. So we’ve lined several up already.
Mell: I would guess that this is just another opportunity for students as well to get involved in some real hands-on learning experiences, something that we emphasize at Stout.
Furst-Bowe: Uh-huh. Absolutely.
Mell: Why don’t we talk a little about something else positive happening on campus, with the budget hanging over everything. Previously, budgets have done very well for us, as far as capital projects go on campus, and we have the new Jarvis Hall Science Wing that is getting very, very close to done, at least on the outside. Obviously there’s a lot of work on the inside. What’s that going to mean for UW-Stout?
Sorensen: Well, we’ve said this consistently that it’s going to change the profile of the campus physically, as well as kind of intellectually. We’re going to be able to sell science and math and engineering in a collaborative way very beautifully, and it’s going to affect the other programs in a positive way as well. It will be a centerpiece. You’ll see the shift from north campus to the center campus for students. That’ll be the area where you’ll see probably most of the students from now on. In some respects, it’ll be the biggest classroom we have on campus. It’ll connect to the student center. That’ll be renovated within two years. That’s going to be a major student traffic area, and I think programatically, if you can’t sell science with this building, you can’t sell science. It’s going to be a magnificent, magnificent addition — 90,000 square feet of pure science.
Mell: You must have some faculty that are just champing at the bit to move in, don’t you?
Furst-Bowe: Oh, we do. It’s a great facility: state-of-the-art classrooms, research laboratories, a clean room, a greenhouse.
Sorensen: A snake room.
Furst-Bowe: Yeah, we’ve got it all.
Mell: Is it going to mean anything for curriculum? Are we going to be able to do anything curriculum-wise that maybe because of our facilities we weren’t able to do before?
Furst-Bowe: Oh, yeah. It’ll bring about opportunities for enhanced collaboration between, frankly, all of the sciences. The way the building is worked out, there are basically shared laboratories, shared prep rooms, many opportunities, and the math department will also be in the same buildingand previously they’d been very much apart from the sciences, so that’ll be a good thing as well.
Mell: Well, let’s talk -- you made a couple of appointments recently. You have two new deans that are coming to campus for the start of the academic year. Do you want to talk about that?
Furst-Bowe: Dr. Jeff Anderson comes to us from Winona State University, and he’s going to be the new dean of our college of science, technology, engineering and math.
Mell: So he’s going to be the grand Pooh-Bah of the building.
Sorensen: Yes, he is.
Furst-Bowe: Uh-huh. He’s very excited. He’s been here a couple of times, toured the new building with the chancellor and I last week, and he’s got a great research background. I think he’ll be a wonderful addition, and provide the...
Mell: Hopefully he’ll like the new building. It’s a little too late for him to get a change. (Laughing)
Sorensen: I think he fell in love with it.
Furst-Bowe: I think he was pretty impressed. And we just hired Dr. Eugene Klippel. Dr. Klippel will come to us from Florida, and has worked in universities in Michigan and other states as well. He will be heading up the management college. He’s got a very good business background, a lot of experience in accreditation of business schools and he seems very excited as well.
NOTE : Dr. Eugene Klippel
Mell: Do you know anything about one of the institutions where he used to work? (Laughing)
Sorensen: He worked for a number of years at Grand Valley, and we overlapped a few years together back there, but our paths didn’t cross very intimately, but I guess I...
Mell: Different disciplines.
Sorensen: Yes, right.
Mell: So this basically completes on the dean list, right?
Sorensen: Yeah. Julie has her team back together, which is very nice. I know she knows that, too.
Mell: That’s something that’s obviously very important on campus, but how important is that as far as planning for the future, as far as moving things forward on campus?
Furst-Bowe: Well, I think we did a good job this year, even though we had recently reorganized and had interim deans in place, but I think you’re right, Doug. I think deans are absolutely key in providing leadership to their college and to carry out university-wide initiatives, as well as their own goals that they may have for their college and for their faculty.
Mell: When students return in the fall, they’re going to have a new place to eat, Price Commons, which is being renovated. I assume that that’s high on students’ priority list these days.
Sorensen: Good food?
Mell: And for some modern facilities.
Sorensen: In everything you read about recruiting to higher education [it] says exactly that. You have to have nice residence halls, good food service, a good student center, good classrooms; we have good labs; we have a laptop program, so we have kind of a living lab with the undergraduates for computer labs, so I think that those facilities are very, very important. And if you look around in every state, the schools build very, very fine facilities for students.
Mell: One of the most important things that we’ve heard about recently is the fact that you received a report recently that says that we can keep our doors open for the next seven years. Our accreditation was reaffirmed. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?
Furst-Bowe: Yeah. Every seven years we get a report from the higher learning commission which basically states whether we have met the criteria for continued accreditation, and it is very important for the campus. It’s more than just a rubber stamp. Basically, if there are any problems or issues, there could be consequences up to the point of losing all of our federal aid and federal funding. So, it’s very important.
Mell: That would be bad. (Laughing)
Furst-Bowe: Very important that we remain accredited. They look at several different areas of the university; they look at our leadership; they look at our strategic planning; they look at our programs, our program accreditations, our assessment of student learning outcomes, the way we manage our processes, certainly the outcomes that we achieve, but it was all very good. They really commented on strengths in each of these areas, everything from enrollment growth to closing the achievement gap between our white and minority students, to even things we were doing in our continuous quality improvement.
Mell: In fact, I have a quote, and I want to make sure everybody knows this: “UW-Stout is a role model nationally and internationally on quality improvement in higher education.” That must have heartened you when you read that.
Sorensen: Well, I give all the credit to Julie for heading this effort, but we had what amounts to a perfect accreditation visit. They had no recommendations for weaknesses to address, no reason to come back in two years. We had what amounts to a bases-loaded home run with accreditation, and the provost headed that, the faculty worked with her carefully. We should all be very, very proud of that.
Mell: We do accreditation a little differently here than most of our sister institutions around here, is that correct?
Furst-Bowe: We’re all accredited from the higher learning commission.
Mell: But the process itself, there’s basically two tracks. Do you want to talk about the track that we take?
Furst-Bowe: Sure. We take a track called AQIP, or the Academic Quality Improvement Program. It started about 10 years ago, and it was really viewed as a way to integrate what institutions were doing relative to their continuous improvement and meet accreditation requirements. Most of the institutions use a very traditional accreditation process where they gather all kinds of documentation, basically rooms full of documentation, and every 10 years a team of eight to ten evaluators comes in and pores through the documentation and then writes some type of a report. The Academic Quality Improvement Program is quite a bit different. It’s basically an annual relationship with the Higher Learning Commission. We tell them that these are the things that we’re going to work on relative to action projects, continuous improvement. We identify those up front. Every year we write a very brief report saying this is the progress we’re making on, you know, Project A, B or C, and then at the seven-year stage, they basically take a look at everything we’ve done over the past seven years and form their conclusions relative to how well we’ve met all of the various criteria. So it’s really looking at what you achieve on an annual basis, what you achieve over a period of seven years, versus just coming in and taking that snapshot every decade.
Mell: Is this more work, less work, the same amount of work but stretched out over seven years?
Sorensen: It’s better work, I think. More meaningful work.
Furst-Bowe: Yeah, I think that’s a good way to put it. It’s things that we’d be most likely doing anyway, to move our campus forward. Instead, we can get credit for it for accreditation. It’s hard work, but certainly it’s a lot of work to put that whole room of documentation together just for a weeklong visit, too.
Sorensen: It’s much more meaningful because you look at yourself every year all the time instead of every 10 years. I’ve been at schools where they put that 10-year report on the shelf. In year eight they pull it off the shelf, “What didn’t we do?” and then you do it for the next team visit, so I think that this has meaning that the other one does not.
Mell: This sounds like it very much emanates out of the Baldrige Award that we won in 2001, is that correct?
Sorensen: Yeah, I think so. I think that was the inspiration for AQIP. They vary, but I think, and Julie, again, knows more than I, but it strikes me that the paths are similar.
Furst-Bowe: Uh-huh. AQIP was modeled on the Baldrige criteria, so you’re really looking at the same categories. So, again, they look at leadership, they look at planning, they look at how well you serve students, how well you serve stakeholders, those are all true of the Baldrige as well.
Mell: It seems that this is a growing track that more and more schools are taking, is that correct?
Furst-Bowe: It is. AQIP started 10 years ago. They really didn’t know. It was sort of a pilot, how many schools, and accreditation, I think even though they may not like the current system, they’re not willing to jump on a new train right away, but I think as time went on, and like the chancellor said, people got to see this was really a more meaningful way to do business. Now there are, I think, almost 300 schools in the AQIP process.
Mell: Wow. And I assume after this review, we’re going to be contacted by a few of them about how do we go through a review and get a...
Sorensen: Julie is a major consultant on that.
Furst-Bowe: Yeah. And we are contacted quite frequently from AQIP schools or schools looking to join AQIP, and they’re asking all kinds of questions, yeah.
Mell: That leads into one of the next topics that I did want to talk about is [that] every summer is a key part of our strategic planning process, and this is probably, besides last year, the second most important part of that where [we] set our priorities for the next five years. Can you talk a little bit about that process and how important it is?
Sorensen: Well, we developed this process in the late 1990s, ’96, ’97, and that led essentially to Baldrige, and Baldrige reinforced good planning, good assessment, good evaluation. So we spend, every year, preparing with the faculty and staff through facilitated groups, we prepare to look at what the next priority should be for the next five years, and we’ll have our third pre-retreat meeting coming up very soon, and then we’ll spend two days in July, or a day and a half in July getting together as a campus with 30 or 40 people on analyzing what we’ve done, what the basic priorities are, how do we modify those, do we accept those, do we develop new ones, and then adopt by the end of the planning period, new action items for the next five years?
Mell: How important is the kind of the groundwork that precedes those two days in July?
Sorensen: Well, if you don’t do it, you have a very unproductive two days, I’ll guarantee you.
Mell: Do you find a lot of interest on campus among faculty and staff, especially in the academic area on what those priorities are, Julie?
Furst-Bowe: I think so. I think they really want to see how they can plug into the priorities, things that we’re looking at. As the chancellor mentioned, we’re going to be just developing our new 2015 goals, and we’re looking at what is the goal of research for the undergraduate, we’re looking at requiring an experiential learning requirement for all of our students, quite frankly, and many things the faculty think about how they can plug in, how they can make this happen. It’s been a good process.
Mell: And it really does drive the main decisions. Obviously there’re a lot of little decisions, but the main decisions that you and others make for five years.
Sorensen: Well, it keeps you aligned, it keeps your budget aligned with your priorities so you’re not going in different directions that won’t be very productive.
Mell: Yeah. Well, we’ll look forward. And obviously, the direction we set is going to impact a lot on the next accreditation review that we do in seven years, right?
Mell: I want to thank you for coming today.
Sorensen: My pleasure.
Mell: And thank you, our special guest, Julie Furst-Bowe, her as well, for our first show of the summer, and we will be back sometime this summer, after maybe we get the budget settled a little bit.
Sorensen: Polo shirts and...
Mell: Maybe on the golf course, who knows? We’ll be back later this summer with another show, and thank you for joining us.