The future of University of Wisconsin-Stout was up for discussion Tuesday, July 15, during a Visioning Session at the Memorial Student Center.

Before the 80 campus, local and state officials broke into small groups to talk about university goals for the next five years, they heard inspiring comments from a leader with a state vision.

UW System President Ray Cross addressed the group, which included outgoing Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen and Chancellor-designate Bob Meyer. Cross is heading into his first full academic year as head of the system, and he too has been thinking about the future of higher education in Wisconsin.

His overarching belief — one that served as an ideal for the Visioning Session discussions — is that the UW System and its schools must take on a leadership role for the people of Wisconsin.

Cross’ philosophy mirrors what’s known as the Wisconsin Idea, which was popularized by Robert La Follette, the Progressive reform leader and governor more than a century ago.

“We need to be a system that powers Wisconsin and empowers its people. Let us not just be known as the University of Wisconsin but the university for Wisconsin,” Cross said.

“An engaged university doesn’t think (an issue) is someone else’s problems but ours,” he said. “We can’t forget who we serve.”

Cross discussed what he called his New Guiding Principles for the UW System. They include making the system more than the sum of its parts; capitalizing on the strengths of each system school, such as UW-Stout’s polytechnic mission; and making sure the system adds value to the people of the state.

“We need to be the key engine of revitalization for the Wisconsin economy while enhancing the quality of life for citizens,” Cross said.

Universities must strive to be more responsive and engaged and “think more about where we should be going and less about where we’ve been.”

The goal is continuous improvement, he said.

With Cross’ comments fresh on their minds, the small groups produced a number of ideas that UW-Stout will consider beginning Aug. 16, when Meyer takes over as the seventh chancellor in school history.

A panel of Meyer, Cross and state Sen. Sheila Harsdorf then commented on the small group reports.

Meyer said the university needs to “spend a little time on (determining) who we are” and then articulating that to the public. “I heard a lot of support for the polytechnic brand, which I found encouraging,” Meyer said.

“There are a lot of good things happening here at UW-Stout,” Harsdorf said, and encouraged the campus to continue “building on what you have done here.”

“We need to be thinking in terms of partnerships with our businesses,” Cross said, “and how we do that.”

Outgoing, incoming chancellors speak

The Visioning Session attendees included state legislators, members of the UW System Board of Regents, business leaders, community members, education leaders, alumni and UW-Stout faculty, staff and students.

Sorensen’s last day as chancellor will be Friday, Aug. 15. He opened the Visioning Session by discussing how strategic planning resulted in significant institutionwide progress during his 26 years on the job.

“Our forte is planning, and we do it very well,” he said.

Prior to receiving a standing ovation at the end of his talk, Sorensen joked, “This is the last time you’ll see me in a suit.”

Meyer also spoke to the group, briefly re-emphasizing Sorensen’s comments about the importance of planning that leads to meaningful change. “Institutions succeed because they plan and listen to their stakeholders,” Meyer said.

Meridith Drzakowski, assistant chancellor for Planning, Assessment, Research and Quality, said ideas from the session will be considered by the entire campus in August and will ultimately guide UW-Stout’s planning process through the end of the decade.

Cross complimented Sorensen on the progress UW-Stout has made during his tenure and said he is looking forward to working with Meyer “to continue this momentum” at UW-Stout.

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