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Alumni Lend Voice to Search for Chancellor

A collaborative communicator. An open-minded global ambassador. A diplomat.

These are just a few of the characteristics that the University of Wisconsin-Madison is considering as requisites for its next chancellor, expected to be named this summer. A campus search committee is now conducting a nationwide search for a new leader, and Badger alumni everywhere have a stake — and a voice — in the process.

Kate Kail Dixon '01, MA'07
November 09, 2012

A collaborative communicator. An open-minded global ambassador. A diplomat.

These are just a few of the characteristics that the University of Wisconsin-Madison is considering as requisites for its next chancellor, expected to be named this summer. A campus search committee is now conducting a nationwide search for a new leader, and Badger alumni everywhere have a stake — and a voice — in the process.

“Alumni have a deep interest in maintaining the value of the degrees they worked so hard to earn, and they certainly have a role to play in staying invested and engaged throughout this search,” says WAA president and CEO Paula Bonner MS’78. “Likewise, WAA is here to listen to alumni, and will do its part to represent the voices of our alumni back to the university.”

Sense of Responsibility

“When we ask people what they want in a chancellor, everyone has their own specific idea,” says history professor David McDonald, chair of the 25-member committee appointed to help select a successor to Interim Chancellor David Ward MS’62, PhD’63, who’s been serving his second term as head of UW-Madison since July 2011.

This diversity of opinion, McDonald notes, underlines the importance of gathering input from invested parties across many constituencies, including 396,000 living UW-Madison alumni around the world.

“We do feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to our fellow Wisconsinites,” McDonald told the Wisconsin Alumni Association’s national board of directors in October. “UW-Madison is a state treasure, and we feel a great obligation to preserve the uniqueness of this place.”

The search committee includes 11 UW-Madison alumni among its ranks of faculty, academic and classified staff, students and four community representatives: alumni David Florin ’92, president of Madison marketing firm Hiebing and immediate past chair of the WAA board; Tashia Frankfurth Morgridge ’55, an educator and member of the UW School of Education Board of Visitors; George Hamel, Jr. ’80, COO of ValueAct Capital and a member of the UW Foundation Board of Directors; and Doris Borst Meissner ’63, MA’69, senior member of the Migration Policy Institute and a member of the WARF Board of Trustees.

Florin describes his role on the committee as representing thousands of Badger graduates in selecting a “dynamic leader with a tremendous amount of vision."

“The university right now is at a critical juncture,” he says, “and UW-Madison plays an impactful role for the entire state, if not the country.”

Many who are interested in the chancellor search are quick to point out the complexities facing the leader of a university such as UW-Madison, including a long history of shared governance and rapidly declining financial support from the state.

“We are coming to terms with the sheer dimension of the job,” McDonald says of the committee’s work to date. “The chancellor has the power to articulate a vision and a mission. He or she needs to be able to explain to representatives in neurosurgery, chemical engineering, comparative literature and athletics how they’re working for the same thing. But that’s also what unites us and gives us greater power.”

The Right Leader

Florin says he’s keeping a close watch for candidates who bring strong leadership skills and a collaborative communication style. “It’s an incredibly complex job,” he explains. “They have to have a vision for how the Wisconsin Idea will come to life in the future. They also need a very open mind as to the solutions required for us to continue to deliver the world-class academic and research experience we are known for.”

Bonner says that in today’s culture, a forward-thinking leader needs to know when to make deliberate decisions that uphold the UW’s core values of shared governance, academic freedom and excellence in teaching, research and outreach — and when faster business decisions are necessary to manage the university’s multi-billion-dollar enterprise.

“Given today’s high-speed, instantaneous pace,” she says, “the right leader will know when to slow down and listen, and when to take the bull by the horns and make a choice for the greater good.”

What’s Next

The official job description was posted in late October, and the search for qualified individuals continues through December 21. The search-and-screen committee will then review and interview the top candidates and present a minimum of five finalists to a selection committee of the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents by February. The Regents Special Committee and UW System President Kevin P. Reilly will then recommend a final candidate to the full Board of Regents.

A Board of Regents vote on the next chancellor is expected in April 2013, with a start date of July 1, 2013.

Your Voice

Through recent listening sessions on campus and online, the search-and-screen committee has heard from stakeholders that the next person to lead UW-Madison should be a person “skilled in diplomacy and multi-tasking who can communicate a common vision of the university’s mission, while advancing the Wisconsin Idea and championing student involvement and diversity.”

Other suggested qualities include an interest in educational innovation, an ability to work with the business community, and a strong sense of stewardship regarding university resources.

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