[Editor’s Note: This article is in reference to news that broke yesterday regarding, among other issues, the funding of raises for faculty and staff]
Below is the letter from Chancellor Michael Alexander that was sent late yesterday to the faculty and staff at UW-Green Bay:
Dear UW-Green Bay Faculty and Staff,
This has been a difficult week for higher education in the State of Wisconsin. I cannot control the external bureaucracy or political polarization within which we exist, but I can tell you what I think about you.
Over the last 5 years, you have increased our enrollment by 19.8% to get above 10,000 students for the first time in our history, and as of this morning are up approximately 6.7% from last year. We will finalize our numbers in the coming weeks. You expanded education to more people than ever before; they will benefit throughout their lives as will the next generations in our region as a result. You led the charge in the state of Wisconsin to offer direct admission and you created Rising Phoenix to exponentially expand access to hundreds of students, delivering credentials to students from low socioeconomic backgrounds in rural and urban areas while they are still in high school. You have built a university that now welcomes 51% of our student body as the first in their family to attend college and have been recognized nationally for that work. You have increased our productivity in research, drastically expanded our community engagement, and have led the way for many other issues in higher education in our state. You have done this through a global pandemic, during a time of disinvestment in higher education, and you have done so proudly and with distinction to serve our students and the region and state we love and support.
I know you feel personally attacked today. Today’s news to withhold pay plan from UW-Green Bay employees and all staff within the UW System cannot change what I wrote in the previous paragraph nor the countless differences you have each made in the individual lives of the students you work with. The value of your work to others cannot be taken away from you. When done from the heart, educating and sharing ideas to help others and improve the overall human condition is a selfless and noble act.
The news from UW-Oshkosh yesterday and the announcement today about transitioning to online education at the Fond du Lac and Washington County locations are also difficult to fathom. My heart goes out to our colleagues across the state who have and will be affected. As you all may have read in the announcement today, chancellors at all location campuses received an email from President Rothman outlining his expectations for each location. In our case, by early Spring of 2024 we have been told to engage with shared governance, community stakeholders, and county leaders where we have locations to discuss the future of each campus and the needs of each area they serve. We have also been told to maintain in-person education at our locations subject to the support of the entities mentioned in the previous sentence. Finally, we have been instructed to renegotiate existing Memorandums of Understanding with our county partners to reduce underutilized space.
Since UW System restructured the UW Colleges, we have gone on our own to chart a unique path for the locations in Manitowoc, Marinette, and Sheboygan. We will continue to do so. We need to define what success means at each of our locations in the coming months so it is not defined for us. We have experimented and tried different things at all of our locations. Some things have worked and others have not. Luckily, we have learned from all of this and I feel we are in a good position to get back on the front foot with aspirational goals that are clear for each of the areas with our region that we serve.
I struggle daily to make sense of everything happening in the world around us today. However, I refuse to lose my optimism for what education can do for individuals and society, for what happens when a large organization unites behind a mission, and for what happens when we selflessly do good things for other people. I am continually reminded of the words of Leonard Bernstein, which can be paraphrased and applied in this moment of adversity, “This will be our reply…to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” Replace music with education. I will choose to follow Bernstein’s advice and control what we can control. If we do this together, we have enormous power.
With gratitude for all you do,
(UW-Green Bay Chancellor Michael Alexander)