University of Wisconsin-Stout’s Faculty Senate held a moment of silence Tuesday, March 6, in remembrance of Chancellor Emeritus Charles W. Sorensen.
Sorensen, 77, died Friday, Feb. 23, in Florida following complications from a stroke. He retired in 2014 after serving as chancellor for 26 years.
The Faculty Senate, meeting in the Great Hall of the Memorial Student Center, also encouraged the sharing of stories and remembrances of Sorensen, including from guests. A card for Sorensen’s wife, Toni Poll-Sorensen, was passed around for all to sign.
Faculty Senate Chair Petre “Nelu” Ghenciu recalled when he was appointed to chair the search committee to find a new chancellor after Sorensen announced his retirement. Sorensen encouraged Ghenciu to listen to the campus community and seek their input.
“In every single meeting he was very direct, and I appreciated that to share ideas,” Ghenciu said. “He is going to be missed. I am glad we had a moment to do this.”
Steve Deckelman, a former Faculty Senate chair and professor of mathematics and statistics, said he was pleased to have the opportunity “to share his admiration for Chuck Sorensen and the impact he had on UW-Stout.”
Deckelman recalled Sorensen always supporting new programs and initiating the Honors College as well as the universitywide sabbatical program. Under Sorensen’s leadership the digital campus started, the university was designated as Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University and the Center for Applied Ethics and Discovery Center were founded. In 2001 the university received the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award recognizing performance excellence amongst U.S. businesses and organizations, Deckelman noted.
“A common denominator of all these things (was) his mindfulness about the future,” Deckelman said. “He was a visionary chancellor who really made an impact on the campus.”
Chancellor Bob Meyer praised the Faculty Senate for taking the time to remember Sorensen and expressed sorrow that Sorensen had just over three years of retirement.
“I would describe him as someone very driven to see Stout grow,” Meyer said. “He was a very demanding person. He wanted to see Stout excel, so he really pushed for that. We certainly miss him. He had a great impact on the university. It’s with great admiration and appreciation I think of Chuck Sorensen.”
Rose Christianson, cash management supervisor at the Memorial Student Center, recalled in 1987 when she worked in student business services Sorensen saw a student worker wearing a UW-River Falls sweatshirt. Christianson told Sorensen he should be grateful the student had decided to attend UW-Stout. The next day Sorensen gave the student a UW-Stout sweatshirt, which Christianson told her to wear with pride.
“He was a great visionary, but he lived in the moment,” Christianson said. “I do miss him.”
Jeff Ohvall, director of computer services, said Sorensen always recognized people on campus and credited Sorensen with having strength and vision, even overcoming a no-confidence vote by the Faculty Senate in 1996. Faculty were upset that Sorensen had not vetted a proposal to seek charter school status, meaning UW-Stout would be independent of the UW System and have its own board while still receiving state support. In response to that vote Sorensen pushed for objective data for campus initiatives, which ultimately led to the Baldrige Award.
“I can’t imagine where Stout would be today without that,” Ohvall said of the changes Sorensen made.
Dave Williams, retired vice chancellor for University Advancement and Marketing, recalled Sorensen just starting at UW-Stout and telling Williams it was going to become an engineering school. The university has four engineering programs: manufacturing, computer, plastics and mechanical. In 2017 the university dedicated the Robert F. Cervenka School of Engineering.
“Without the vision and drive and determination of Chuck Sorensen, this place would be half the size it is or less,” Williams said. “He was a man who cared deeply about this place and the vision. It was a pleasure to work with him and make Stout a better place. His legacy is firm. It’ a delight to see how it is continuing.”
The card passed around for all to sign for Sorensen’s family.
Dave Williams, retired vice chancellor for University Advancement and Marketing, said Sorensen’s legacy at UW-Stout is firm and he is delighted to see it continue with Chancellor Bob Meyer.