About Stout Transcript: January 29, 2009

Full-Text Transcript

Doug Mell: Welcome to the first edition of “About Stout” in the new year. We hope that the new semester is off to a great start. I am Doug Mell, director of communications for UW-Stout, and I am pleased, as always, to be joined by Chancellor Charles Sorensen. Thanks for coming, Chancellor. In the second half of the show, we’re going to be joined by Tim Shiell, who is a UW-Stout professor of philosophy, and he’s the newly appointed director of the UW-Stout Center for Applied Ethics. I thought we’d start the discussion, and it’s always the main topic on campus, I guess, and it’s going to be throughout the next two or three months February –.

Sorensen: Let me guess – the budget.

Mell: (Laughing) Yes, the state budget. God, you are prescient, as always, you’re prescient. I guess, sitting here today, at the end of January, beginning of February, we really don’t know a whole heck of a lot other than the oft-reported remarks from the governor that education, including higher education is going to be a priority. You just got back from the state of the state speech, you heard it in person. Any kind of reflection?

Sorensen: That’s correct, Doug. I think that we don’t know a lot. We know that we’re in the worst recession at least since ’82, if not 1929. We know that revenues are down in the state dramatically; spending is down; consumer spending is down dramatically.

Mell: We just got a new report today that said the deficit is probably up to about $5.7 billion as opposed–.

Sorensen: Right, unemployment’s up. You know, I think that the hope, I guess we have, is the stimulus package, which was passed by the house, will relieve some of the pressure on, say, capital projects and aid for students and some of that, will help us through some of the state budget crises, but I think what the governor said last night was very clear: we have to sacrifice. He said it’s clearly a time of sacrifice, it’s clearly when we have to be – his word – tough on our decision-making process and agencies. So, I think he gave a pretty somber message, although without a lot of detail, so we’re sitting here not really knowing. He’s going to give the address either February 10 or shortly thereafter on the budget and we’ll know then once we have numbers to deal with. I think a lot of people are hoping the stimulus package or the bailout package, number one, can help us, and, number two, that the stimulus package can get jobs created in Wisconsin. That’s the hope.

Mell: Do you think people are pitting too much hope on the stimulus package, I mean they’re still maybe thinking that cuts still aren’t coming down the road? I think what the governor did say is that we basically have a new paradigm where staying even are the increases.

Sorensen: Exactly right. I think the one-armed economist on the one hand, you know, you just hear so much on the different sides of that issue, some think it can jump-start the economy, some think we have to go through almost a natural process of a couple years of working our way out of it with the private sector reinvesting it back into the economy, so, again, we sit here in higher ed., knowing we’re going to take some hits, knowing that staying even is a budget gain, and we’ll have to work through that. We have a good process in mind–.

Mell: I was just going to say that internally you’ve been having meetings, looking at models…

Sorensen: Internally, the leadership team has worked with BPA (Budget, Planning and Analysis) and developed some models on how we could address the issue. We plugged some numbers into those models. We have two open sessions set for late February to talk to whoever wants to talk to us. The divisions have been looking for some months on where they could go to gather up some money to give back, so there’s been a lot of pre-planning, but it’s hard to go out and talk to a lot of people without knowing numbers, and it’s always been my intent not to create a fright on campus about numbers that we don’t know. So, we’re prepared to move now–.

Mell: We’ve been holding some positions open. I know you’ve taken a hard line as far as full-time positions.

Sorensen: A lot part-time positions, a lot of adjunct positions, a lot of those are open. We’ll look at those as we move down the road here. And we will have to make hard decisions and there will not be a lot of excess money for the next several years, we know that.

Mell: But it seems pretty clear, based on what the governor said, that we are going to receive sufficient funding. Our core mission, our core operations, we’re going to continue; the lights are going to be on; the students are going to be taught.

Sorensen: Yeah, he’s very clear about that, that he believes that the future Wisconsin rests largely on the public higher education and the ability to not only create a workforce that is smart and wise and well-trained, but also create jobs out there to support entrepreneurs whose ideas can lead to product, lead to businesses, so he believes in human capital in a very significant way, so I think he’ll do all he can to protect that.

Mell: This must be one of the most uncertain times as far as budgeting that you’ve gone through in your 20 years.

Sorensen: My second most uncertain. No, going back, I tell people that I began my career as a dean of a college, and in the first three years we had two fiscal emergencies declared by the board, and that was hard. We even had to lay off tenured faculty. And now, as I near the end of my career, this is also bookend(ed) by a pretty deep fiscal crisis, but I think we can get through this with good, solid planning, which I think we’ve done for the last 20 years.

Mell: Yeah, and really, around campus, I don’t hear gloom and doom.

Sorensen: There’s no panic.

Mell: I mean, I hear uncertainty. Yeah, you just were at faculty senate. You presented there, but there weren’t a lot of questions, there weren’t a lot of comments, etc., based on…

Sorensen: Yeah, and we do have a core mission, and that’s to educate men and women, and so we are putting all of our dollars right now in teaching positions. We have to fill vacancies. We have classes of 30-40. Someone must teach that class. So, we’re really doing our due diligence in terms of filling those positions now so we have people in the classrooms when students come summer and fall.

Mell: You walk around campus now and you walk around campus in the next couple years, you’ll see us doing our part to stimulate the economy. We have capital projects going on literally from north campus to south campus. We have, you know, the Jarvis Hall project. You must be heartened when you see more and more progress being made on the Jarvis Hall.

Sorensen: I think Jarvis is exciting. It is going up nicely now. I haven’t been able to go through it, but it’s supposed to open in August of 2010, so it must be nearing about a third completion I would imagine, but that’s a major –.

Mell: It’s really starting to take shape.

Sorensen: It’s starting to take shape and really change the profile of our campus a lot. And we have other renovation projects coming up. Hovlid Hall’s coming up.

Mell: Yes, that’s going out for bids.

Sorensen: They’ll bid March, I think.

Mell: Price Commons, actually work is going to start on renovating Price Commons in March, which is going to necessitate some changes on campus. We’re going to be moving food service over to Memorial Student Center.

Sorensen: There’ll be some inconvenience, but there’ll be some good change, too.

Mell: And that will give people on the southern end of campus basically a state-of-the-art dining facility.

Sorensen: That’s right.

Mell: From what everybody says, that’s pretty much what students pretty much demand these days for their student fees.

Sorensen: Absolutely right.

Mell: And then your pet project, the Harvey Hall–.

Sorensen: The theater.

Mell: The Harvey Hall Theatre. I mean, that’s coming along somewhat slowly.

Sorensen: I think it goes out to bid soon, doesn’t it?

Mell: Well, we have to go back through Board of Regents for permission to construct one more time. There’s one more hoop to jump through, but that’s scheduled to be completed in 2011. I mean, it’s on track. It’s on track to be done.

Sorensen: Yeah, and now people believe it is going to happen. It’ll be a nice addition to Harvey Hall and to our campus for multiple-use space.

Mell: Yeah, and recently we had a strategic planning group session and the provost presented her academic plan. We’re not going to go through, obviously, all of the programs that we have coming, but, you’ve said, on a number of occasions, we’re at 34 undergraduate programs on campus, the smallest in the system. Do you believe we would be comfortable in the 40 range? It really appears that that’s on track.

Sorensen: Yeah, it is. I think we have a half a dozen new programs that are going to be in 2009-11 given to the board for approval, things like the MFA program, the applied social science program, cognitive neuroscience program and a couple of others in there.

Mell: All that fit in there very, very well within the polytechnic…

Sorensen: Oh, absolutely right, and that will push us around to right around 40 programs by 2010, and that will provide students a lot more options that they have here right now, so we’re very pleased with that.

Mell: Yeah. One of the surprises seems to be – in the whole area of sustainability, where you may have been thrown a little curveball – we have a minor, and it’s growing; it’s got like 30; it’s got 30 students already. Do you think that maybe that’s one of those that, because of the popularity, you may have to look at a major in that area?

Sorensen: I’m convinced that we will have some kind of major in sustainability in some format within a few years because of its demand by the student body.

Mell: It’s just growing, but we have new programs in computer science and plastics engineering. The initial response to both of those is very positive.

Sorensen: Has been very good. I think the gaming program, too, is going to come online. That’s high-level gaming, not gambling gaming. I think that’s going to attract a lot of really bright young people as well who really see that as a future for them.

Mell: Yeah. Are you at all concerned because, you know, we were at 30 and if we get to 40 that’s a 30 percent increase, financially and maybe even facilities-wise being able to sustain those programs.

Sorensen: Well, I think we use our Physical Plant basically five days a week eight o’clock to around five o’clock. I think we’ll probably have to have more creative use of the campus on evenings, weekends. Technology has lessened the need for actual classrooms here and there, so I think we can get through it. And, you know, we’re pushing. We want to be 9,000 students by 2010, and therefore, you have to have the number of programs they want.

Mell: Sure.

Sorensen: And I can see us edging out beyond that a little bit, but the demographic changes are so profound with the 18-year-old population dropping off that we can sustain where we are, 8,800 right now, move to 9,000 by 2010. That’s just the size, I think, that gives us a good margin of excess to work with.

Mell: We’ve been talking about positive things up until now, and we’ve had some very non-positive developments happen.

Sorensen: Right.

Mell: Over the spring break we lost four students, none of them on campus, but we lost four students, two in a motorcycle accident and two in automobile accidents – [self correction] two in snowmobile accidents and two in vehicle accidents. And I know that you’re very concerned about this.

Sorensen: I am.

Mell: You’re looking at some ways to basically encourage students to adopt less risky behavior.

Sorensen: We’re going to engage the campus – come up with it this semester – to engage the campus in talking to students about risky behavior, you know whether it’s not using your seatbelts or the use of alcohol or unsafe sex or whatever that may be, I think we are obligated, I think, as a campus, everyone – faculty, staff, students to talk to one another about what is risky behavior. And what are the results of risky behavior, and how do you prevent that. Yes, we have a moral obligation to do that and an ethical obligation to do that and we’re going to do exactly that.

Mell: Obviously, we run the risk; we don’t want to look like we’re preaching to students.

Sorensen: No.

Mell: I mean, we’re going to have to find the tone and then – I know we have some meetings coming up – we have to find the tone to approach students.

Sorensen: Yeah, just to remind people that there is a consequence to all behaviors, and the riskier the behavior, the worse the consequence.

Mell: Well, thanks. We are going to be back in a little bit with Tim Shiell to talk about the ethics center.

(Music plays)

Mell: We’re now joined by Tim Shiell, who is a philosophy professor here, and he has taken on a new assignment. He’s director of the Center for Applied Ethics. Welcome, Tim, to “About Stout.”

Shiell: Thanks, Doug.

Mell: Let’s just talk in general about the center. This is kind of the reincarnation of the ethics center, right? And you were involved in it the first time it existed, as I remember, from 1998-2003. I wasn’t here. Why bring back the center now? Why is the time right?

Shiell: Well, there’s a lot of reasons. Anytime is a good time for a center for ethics, I would say.


Mell: As a philosophy guy.

Shiell: Yeah, but, you know, you pick up a newspaper; you listen to the news; all over the place we have a lot of ethical problems and a lot of ethical challenges all over the place, and so it’s a good time to address that, and we do address that in our classes already. We would like to do a better job in the classroom and out, of helping our students make good decisions, ethical decisions and be good ethical citizens as well.

Mell: Yeah, well I mean, obviously, you were a driving force behind the ethics center.

Sorensen: Well, I think it’s fortuitous too, because we went to a donor, and he’s been very generous, anonymous, to us over the years, but we asked him, “What do you think we should be doing at UW-Stout?” and we gave him some options on where funding could go because he wanted to give us money and we gave him three options, and this was the one he really wanted, and he went there by himself too. He said, given the state of the business world, the state of the economy, the state of the country, we need a dose of ethics, so he generously gave us a little over a million dollars to begin the ethics center, so I think that it was fortuitous, but here’s a gentleman who’s at the end of his – well, he’s retired, but a long time ago – but he really sees a future, and if it’s going to be a healthy future, it must be laced with ethics.

Mell: So, as you said, it seems that one of the goals of the ethics center is to help infuse ethics in the curriculum across the campus. Is that correct?

Shiell: For sure. So, where we have it in courses; we’ll offer opportunities to do it better or even a little bit more, and where it doesn’t exist in courses, we’ll try to work it in in sensible ways.

Mell: Are you going to survey – I mean we offer a lot of courses on campus – how are you going to know?

Shiell: Well, we’ve done two surveys over the years. The earlier center did a survey and we did another survey this fall. And, so, we have information from over 100 instructors about how they work it into certain classes and which classes and we know there are other ones out there too, so that’s a lot of follow-up work to go. But I think we have a snapshot of what’s there and who are some people to start working with.

Mell: Why do you think, I mean, looking at our student body, why do you think it’s important for a college student to have that kind of education in every one of their classes? What is ethical?

Sorensen: Well, I think, whether you’re a teacher or engineer or counselor, you face ethical decisions every single day, or dilemmas every single day, and they have to know how to identify those and sort those out and make the right choice.

Shiell: Well, I would broaden that and say, you know, we’re all consumers; we’re all employees. All those things involve ethical decisions and choices too, so there is certainly the professional and career component, but it’s also broader than that, and that’s, I suppose, where the general education component plays the bigger role in addition to the programmatic ethics.

Sorensen: And I wonder, Tim, how many of the people that have driven this economy into the mud had courses in ethics in the business school. Don’t you wonder about that?

Shiell: Unfortunately, we know that the people at Enron did take courses in ethics at M.B.A. school, so having a course in ethics doesn’t guarantee anything, but, of course, in life there aren’t guarantees in much of anything. So, I think the difference is we’ve got to infuse it and include it in service learning areas so people are not just looking at ethics in a classroom, but they’re using it out there in their internship, in their co-op and not just in a classroom test setting or something.

Mell: As I understand it, there’s a second purpose of the center, or a second goal, and that’s to bring ethics maybe as an outreach component, etc. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Shiell: Absolutely. That was a big goal of the first incarnation of the center. We would bring speakers; sometimes they were low-key small events; sometimes there were groups of 200 or more at the event. An opportunity to learn about and discuss big social ethical issues, political ethical issues, but also more day-to-day on-the-job consumer business issues. We have a lot of ethics talent on this campus, and so, another part of that is to–.

Mell: What do you mean “ethics talent?”

Shiell: Well, people who have some kind of ethical expertise in their field, and those people will be trying to connect to outside people so they can speak elsewhere.

Mell: Have you heard from community members or other people from campus that they’re interested in this whole broader issue of ethics, rather than just curriculum infusion?

Sorensen: I think when Tim refers back to some of the meetings that he held when he was the former director, I think the fact that we got a big audience suggests that there’s interest out there, and if we do a good job in telling the people what we’re doing, then they’ll respond in a positive way to it. I think, Tim, didn’t you have one on gun control at one point? Yeah, and I think that drew a big audience.

Shiell: Yeah, we pick the big ones: civil unions, gun control, environmental ethics, yeah.

Sorensen: So, I think there’s a keen interest out there, and I think the nice thing about this center, it’s sustainable. We have a million-dollar endowment.

Mell: Well, that was one of the questions I was going to ask about is the funding. Okay, we do it for two years…

Sorensen: It’ll never go away; I mean we’re going to enhance the budget. We know that, and this is a bad time to talk about that. We’re also going to go back to the donor periodically, and I think he’s made it very clear that if he likes what we’re doing, probably there’ll be a larger endowment to follow. He and his wife are dedicated alums and spent their years and entire careers in business, so that’s what so touched his nerve; “I was there; I want to see this improve.” So, I think, it is sustainable.

Mell: Yeah. As far as an ethics center in an academic setting like this, how unique is this, or is this commonplace, or can you talk a little bit about that?

Shiell: Well, nationally, there are over 100 centers for ethics.

Mell: That’s not actually that many if you think of 50 states.

Shiell: That’s right. Most of them have a rather specific focus. It’s a center for business ethics, a center for engineering ethics. It’s a center for healthcare ethics. We’re going to serve all of our programs, so we’re not going to have a specific focus. That makes us a little bit unique right there. In the UW System, there are no programs like us. We are the one.

Mell: Really?

Shiell: There’s a specific center for biomedical ethics at Madison and things like that, so we feel special, and we want to do special things.

Mell: We’re always special. (Laughing)Well, we have a special mission; we’re special.

Shiell: That’s right.

Mell: So, I assume you expect to anticipate questions from your colleagues, the other chancellors and provosts about, “What are you doing there?” Maybe, “How can we start something like this on campus?” etc.

Sorensen: I think we’ll see that happen, and I have had a lot of comments about it, very positive comments from my colleagues about how this happens; what do you plan to do; is it up and running? So, I think we’ll provide model for others at least to look at.

Mell: Talk a little bit about the time table. Obviously, you’re on board now. What’s the campus going to see as far as you rolling out your programs or any of that in the next few months?

Shiell: Well, I’m working with a steering committee, and we’re also forming an external board of advisers, so without getting some info from them, I don’t want to jump ahead too far, but it’s fair to say that in this spring semester, we’ll see some speakers and panels on campus. We plan in May to host an ethics symposium. Probably that will be a state-wide event, and we’ll be inviting people from the cities to come and participate in that event. I’ve been talking with individual instructors and some program directors and department chairs about what the center might offer them in terms of enhancing their ethics curriculum. So, both parts of the mission, I think, are in line to see some action right away.

Sorensen: Going back to interest from the public, we have a very successful attorney in Eau Claire, one of our graduates, and when I was with him some time ago and mentioned this, he really got excited about it. And I think we probably approached him on this to maybe be on the advisory board or at least some… He’s been involved in some legal ethical issues his entire career, so we have that kind of support out there for this.

Mell: And it really does, and you touched on this before, it really does seem like the timing is right for this. We have seen too many examples, I think, in recent history of ethical behavior gone awry, and what can happen. Obviously, a lot in the business setting, but some would maintain in the environmental setting with global warming, etc., and there’s probably a heightened interest, I would guess, for ethical behavior; do you think?

Shiell: I think so. You know, one of the things we were really surprised to learn when we first started organizing last fall was not just faculty and other employees being interested, but students being interested. I’ve gotten quite a few e-mails from students, and we have students in the organization – serving on the steering committee, serving on other committees – who will be giving out grant money, working on the speakers, working on ethics, and it really is about students. Everybody here at Stout’s very student-focused, and we want to maintain that student focus too. Bring them in; get them involved; help get them what they want and need out of that.

Mell: Yeah. How do you think this ethics center fits in our polytechnic?
Sorensen: Oh, beautifully, I think. First of all, it’s very applied. Ethics is applied, no matter how you look at it, and I think we produce a graduate that is very professionally oriented. They’re going to have to deal with these issues whether they understand them or not, and from an ethical point of view, so I think it fits perfectly under the polytechnic model and makes us a more distinguished university.

Mell: One of the things I thought about when I heard about this the first time was whose ethics? Well, and I know that may be a philosophical question, with a philosopher here, but how do we decide what is ethical behavior, and what sort of ethical teachings is our curriculum going to advocate?

Shiell: Well, that’s a very good question.

Mell: Thank you.

Shiell: I’ll give you the short answer, not the long one. The short answer is, at least we’ve got to follow the law.


Shiell: That’s the minimum, ladies and gentlemen. Okay, so let’s do that.

Mell: Let’s assume that.

Shiell: Let’s assume that. But I don’t know that we can always assume that. The law is not always set in stone or black and white. There’s plenty of concerns there too. But that’s the minimum. The next step is what’s the bar above that? And it varies within professions. So there are codes of conduct within professions out there. I think those are things that sometimes seem like window dressing, and our approach on this campus to those won’t be as window dressing, it’ll be trying to pull the meat out of those codes so that they can figure out how to deal with these controversies when they come up with their office. And it isn’t always one right answer to a problem, and you’ve got to be able to look at the options, maybe create a new option, so there’s some creative problem-solving skills to emphasize as well.

Mell: That’s what I was wondering, was whether or not one of the intents of this isn’t to give students:  Not everything is black and white. When faced with this situation, do this; when faced with this situation, do that. But give them a framework for making ethical decisions, and what factors to consider as they try to make those decisions.

Shiell: Absolutely. There’re different ethical decision-making models, as you might guess. We’re going to go with a relatively simple straight-forward one. At least, that’s the way it starts. You know, you look at the person’s motives; you look at the relative rules and you look at the consequences. The risky behaviors the chancellor was talking about earlier and the consequences of those behaviors. Well, if people are making decisions without looking at the consequences, that’s not a responsible decision. The same thing is true with the rules. Making decisions without considering the relevant rules is not responsible.

Mell: Is this something that you intend to have your leadership team involved with as well – you know, leadership training, ethical training, etc.

Sorensen: I’m sure Tim will discuss with the leadership team and will interface and have them involved, yes.

Mell: Anything else? Are there any questions that I didn’t ask?

Shiell: Well, I would just–.

Mell: One of the things I always hear about with the center, are you going to be in – are we building a big, new building for ethics?

Shiell: Space is always an issue on campus, just like parking is. At least we’re not looking for new parking space. We’re just looking for office space.

Sorensen: You’re safe then, Tim.

Shiell: So, yeah, it looks like we’re going to have some space probably in the library. That’ll be some temporary space, and then long-term needs will have to be considered, and there’ll have to be a long-term plan.

Mell: Sure. But you’re not getting a brand new building?


Mell: We have the stimulus package coming down; maybe there’s some money available.

Sorensen: That may be a question of ethics.

Mell: After the Harvey Hall Theatre.

Shiell: That would get the other chancellors interested in centers, if they could build their own building for it.

Mell: A lot of people do ask, “Are you guys building a new building?” when they hear centers.

Sorensen: We have a lot of space shuffling going on right now because of the buildings on campus, and, in two years, when the dust settles, we’ll find a permanent home.

Mell: And we’ll have even more shuffling going on if and when we remodel the Memorial Student Center. That’s what possibly could – that’s one of the capital projects we forgot to talk about.

Sorensen: That’s right. That probably will happen.

Mell: Yeah, and again, I interrupted you. Is there anything we didn’t talk about that you liked? We’ve always got to give our guests a chance to…

Shiell: There’s really too many things to talk about. My head sort of swims when I’m given free reign to say whatever I want about the center, but really, I just want to communicate the message to both of you and to listeners – viewers – that the center is a service and an opportunity and we want to promote that idea, not just to our students and faculty, but to the community and region too, that whenever they have questions or issues or feel that they have a good idea for something we could do, that they feel free to contact me and work with me to try and make something happen.

Mell: Well, it really seems like you’re off to a good start, and we look forward to obviously hearing a lot more from the center and yourself.

Shiell: We’re really excited. More than 40 people are already tied into the center and involved in the center and we don’t even have office space yet.


Shiell: And we have 40 people with us.

Sorensen: We have the right person in charge. I really believe that, so you do a good job, Tim.

Mell: Well, thanks for joining us. And, Chancellor thanks you. Thank you for joining us for another edition of “About Stout,” and we’re going to be back soon with another show.