State of the University address

August 17, 2012

State of University Address

"In Step with a New Time"

State of the University address

Young Auditorium, 10:30 a.m. Monday, August 27.

by Chancellor Richard Telfer

Marshal drumbeat fills the auditorium. Marching Band enters from the stage wings with drumbeat sounding and the Chancellor leading the way.

Band stretches across the stage, playing the UW-Whitewater fight song. Chancellor steps to the podium, and thanks the band. The band exits the stage, except for lone drummer.

Snare drum player marches forward and stands beside podium, to Chancellor's left.


Good morning.  Welcome to the 2012-2013 academic year.

I asked Dominic to join me today to help illustrate an important point about the coming year.

Snare drummer plays a quick drum roll with an unusual rhythm.

That was great, but did you think it had kind of an unusual beat?

That is the point I wanted to demonstrate. Sometimes you have to break out of your old routines and try a new approach for great things happen. Those of us who work in higher education are being challenged to break out of our old ways of thinking, to be creative, to innovate, and to find new approaches. We are being asked to get in step with a new time.

Snare drummer repeats drum cadence.

This summer I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Roberta Ness, Dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Texas speak about creativity. Dr. Ness discussed how difficult it is for an individual to break old rhythms and try something new.

Snare drummer repeats drum cadence.


Dr. Ness is an expert on creativity and innovative thinking. She has authored a book on the subject and developed a course that teaches students to think more creatively.

Snare drummer repeats drum cadence.

Thank you, Dominic, I can take it from here.

Snare drummer plays drum while existing through stage wings.

Dr. Ness states that an individual's creativity is not determined by biology alone. She says that, with the right environment, people can learn to be more creative and improve their abilities to innovate. In her book, Dr. Ness explains that our brains use cognitive structures, which she refers to as frames, to help us process information more quickly and more efficiently.

But, this added efficiency can also limit our creativity. Frames incorporate sets of expectations as to how the world works. Stereotypes are one example of the effect of cognitive frames.

Chancellor steps away from the lectern, removes drape, and holds up frame.  He then places it on the lectern.)

A frame selects what I see. Frames can be the enemy of creativity and innovation because they cause us to limit our thinking and the way we understand the world. The frame can encourage routine, uncreative thought. Dr. Ness writes that we can be more creative if we can learn to break out of our cognitive frames.

Chancellor breaks frame

When we break out of our frames, we broaden our perspectives and see information in a new light. We can adopt new approaches and learn to be more creative and innovative. Dr. Ness describes three techniques for breaking out of frames that she uses in her course. First, people must learn to be keen observers. She cites as an example the discovery that a bacterial infection is the cause of stomach ulcers. Before this discovery, the medical community believed that bacteria could not live in the highly acid environment of the human stomach. Consequently, medical researchers did not bother to look for bacteria as a cause. The two researchers who linked ulcers to bacteria ignored the prevailing wisdom and chose to look for themselves.

We, too, can limit our options because "we know" a particular approach or solution "is not possible."

The second technique Dr. Ness suggests for improving creativity is to change one's point of view. She recounts a story about Charles Darwin's work. As he studied the changes in species, he attempted to see reproduction from the perspective of a plant. Seeing things from a new perspective helped him to see the biological advantages that each plant species has had to evolve. This is an area where we have begun to focus our work, trying to see the college experience from the perspective of a student, working with employers to see how they view our graduates.

Finally, Dr. Ness says that practicing analogy making is a good technique for encouraging creativity. For example, one class exercise she uses is for her students to explain how marriages are like matchbooks. This exercise asks students to find similarities in seemingly unlike things, encouraging them to change their views of both and, perhaps, create a new frame. Compared to the question of how is a sock like a sweater, explaining how marriages might be like matchbooks she sees as stretching your thinking. (Both catch on fire, both can hold things together, you can pick them both up in a bar). Dr. Ness' work discusses ways that people can improve their creativity and find innovative solutions to the challenges we face.

As educators, we must constantly be creative and innovative in finding solutions to the challenges we are facing. We can learn from Dr. Ness' work.  The environment in which our University operates is changing, and we will need to be creative and innovative to meet the challenges we face.


This morning, I would like to discuss four particular challenges that we must overcome.

They each demand that we break out of our frames and find innovative approaches.

  • The first is the changing nature of students and higher education itself.
  • The second is the importance of expanding access and increasing diversity.
  • The third is the need to assess our accomplishments.
  • And the fourth is the need to interact with, and support, our local communities.

We have already broken out of some old frames to meet these challenges. After exploring the challenges that we are facing, I would like to conclude by discussing some challenges that lie ahead. To meet these challenges, we will have to break out of some old frames before we move ahead.


The first challenge facing higher education in Wisconsin is the growing variety of people seeking university degrees.

When we think of the typical college student, we tend to think of a young individual who has recently graduated from high school, attends the university full-time, and perhaps works a part-time job. But a growing number of individuals who do not fit this stereotype are seeking university degrees. They are older adults, veterans, and full-time workers. Some may have never taken a college or university course before. Others may have already accumulated some college credits, but were not able to complete their degrees. For many of these individuals, the traditional model of a 16-week semester and an eight-to-four-thirty school day does not work.

Even though the traditional higher education model may not be a good fit for these individuals, it is more important than ever to provide higher education for these individuals.  Current jobs require well-trained and well-educated individuals.  And jobs for the future will increasingly require higher education evidenced by certificates, associate degrees, and bachelor's degrees.

Recently, the UW System proposed the Wisconsin Flexible Degree Program, which would clearly require breaking our frames.

It is suggested that this degree might include flexible start dates, self-paced learning, competency exams, the ability to take a portion of a class as a "module," and credit for prior experience. It is also assumed that credits earned through this program would be transferable into more traditional degree program. As you would guess, this program has been greeted with enthusiasm and concern. Enthusiasm because it would address high education for individuals who currently have limited access. Concern because those who would need to design the programs and develop the curriculum have had limited involvement to this point. 

Clearly, there are more questions than answers.  My initial response was skeptical when I first heard about the program, and I continue to be skeptical, but I believe we should challenge our traditional views about education and give the new program a chance.

If successful, the Flexible degree program can give more state residents access to higher education and help reduce the cost of a degree. It will also help many of the 700,000 Wisconsin residents who started their educations but never completed their degree. 

Our Office of Continuing Education has helped us to break some of the restrictions of the traditional university frame as well.  Its staff has been exploring a new approach that brings college credit opportunities into the traditional high school classroom, what is sometimes referred to as dual enrollment. Two dual-listed courses have been created at Whitewater High School.  One is for our public speaking course and the other is for English 101. The Office is also piloting a dual-listed calculus course with the New Glarus School District and a dual-listed special education course with the Wilmot School District. Through these courses, students can earn college credits while completing their high school courses.

On campus, we have worked as a campus to change our frames through the LEAP initiative. The LEAP initiative encourages schools to adopt a series of recommended learning outcomes as guidelines for their programs. The LEAP initiative also encourages schools to adopt high impact learning activities, such as undergraduate research, learning communities, internships and other co-curricular activities. Two years ago, we asked our academic and co-curricular units to assemble LEAP teams to assist them with implementing the LEAP framework. That spring, we invited teams to participate in two, two-day workshop that were designed to help the LEAP teams develop initiatives for their academic units. Seventeen teams launched LEAP projects that year. This last past spring, we repeated those workshops. Twenty-three different teams developed LEAP projects for their academic units.

Our Undergraduate Research program is another example. Participation at our Spring Undergraduate Research Day has been growing steadily over the past 17 years. Last April, 110 different projects involving150 different students from all four colleges and 25 different departments were presented on Undergraduate Research Day.

Another high impact learning activity with which we have had great success is our Learning Communities. This fall semester, we have more than 29 learning communities on campus, with nearly 675 participants. The Learning Communities approach offers the advantage of bringing together students who share a common interest with a faculty member with expertise in that area.


A second challenge that we have been addressing is the importance of expanding access and increasing diversity. For a number of years, we have been discussing the need to increase the proportion of state residents who hold a bachelor's or higher degree. According to the most recent U.S. Census report, only about a quarter of Wisconsin residents age 25 or older hold a bachelor's degree, higher. That compares to about 28 percent for the nation. In Illinois and Minnesota, nearly one-third of residents have earned bachelor's degree or higher. While Wisconsin has a somewhat higher number of individuals with associate degrees, in terms of those with associate degrees or higher, Wisconsin is well below the national average.

The goals of the initiative include increasing enrollment, retention and graduation at UW System schools.

The UW System has been making progress. 

  • Total enrollments at UW System schools have increased from about 144,000 in 2006 to approximately 182,000 for the past two academic years.
  • Since then, retention rates and six-year graduation rates for System schools have increased.  However, graduation rates for many minority groups still lag behind.
  • The latest UW System accountability report shows that the number of students graduating continues to grow.  In 2009-2010, over 33,000 degrees were conferred.
  • In facing this challenge, we have been thinking outside of the traditional frame and developed many innovative new programs.

UW-Whitewater has been making progress as well.

  • This fall, we are on pace to reach an enrollment of nearly 12,000.  It may be the third straight year that we will have record enrollment when classes begin.
  • Our overall second-year retention rate has been good.  Approximately 77 percent of the 2010 first-year students returned to campus in 2011, and preliminary data indicates that we will do even better with retention rates for the 2011 first-year students.
  • Our 6-year graduation rate in 2010 was 54 percent, and preliminary 5-year graduation rate data suggests that the next 6-year graduation rate might be the highest we have recorded.
  • Unfortunately, there continues to be an unacceptably large gap between the multicultural student population and overall student success.  We are dedicated to continue to work to close the gap.

To address the challenge of expanding diversity, we have launched a variety of innovative programs, initiatives and activities to help make our campus more diverse and to help students of opportunity achieve.  Rather than discuss all of these efforts, I will focus on one, called Pathways to Success. 

The Pathways for Success program is designed to help first-year students who entered the university with lower achievement records. The program is an important part of our efforts to expand diversity on campus because, although the program serves a wide variety of individuals, the majority of them are students of color.

  • The program targets students who are admissible, but with indicators that suggest that they are at-risk of not being successful.
  • Participants attend special study and tutoring sessions and are placed in class sections together when possible. 
  • The program began in 2010 with 52 students.  This coming year about 50 students will be participating.
  • In the first year, students in the program performed at a level above that predicted, with a first to second year retention rate approximating that of the entire freshman class. 
  • The program just received a UW System Expanded Pathways Grant, which will provide additional funding to serve 150 students over the next two years.
  • In 2011, the program won the Ann Lydecker Educational Diversity Award.

This is just one of the programs that is being used.  The Pathways to Success program has adopted a new frame to enable us to help these students be successful.

Unfortunately, even as the demand to increase access to higher education has grown, the struggling economy and changing political realities are making the cost of higher education more challenging for students. As a result, many students graduate with tens of thousands of dollars of debt. If we hope to reach our goals concerning access, higher education has to be made affordable for all students.

This fall, we are unveiling our Campaign for Students to help address the increasing cost of education. The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Foundation has set out to raise $40 million to support UW-Whitewater and its students. The campaign will run through December 2014. The Foundation launched the initiative because it recognized that with decreasing state support and increasing student tuition, the University needs additional resources to serve its students well. Priorities for the campaign include additional scholarship support, additional endowments for faculty and academic support, and support for Warhawk Athletics. My administration and I are giving our full support to the campaign.  You will be hearing more about it in the weeks to come.

The changing nature of higher education and the new economic realities mean that life on campus looks much different for today's students than it did when many of us were undergraduates. I would like to show you a video now that gives us some insights into how life looks to one of our students.

VIDEO 18 minutes

That was an excellent story. I think it helps all of us to understand the challenges that our students face and what higher education means to them.


The third challenge facing us today is the need for colleges and universities to continue to improve their ability to measure and assess their accomplishments. National education leaders emphasize the need for colleges and universities to understand how they are succeeding for their students and when they fall short.

In last year's State of the University Address, I told you that UW-Whitewater had been selected to participate in the Higher Learning Commission's Open Pathways Demonstration Project. The commission launched the project to explore and develop more effective methods of assessing the performance of accredited schools. We continue to work with the Higher Learning Commission to implement the Open Pathways initiative here.

As part of that effort, last spring we agreed to participate in the Degree Qualification Profile pilot project. A Degree Qualification Profile is a framework that identifies a set of recommended learning outcomes for degree programs. We are joining other schools around the country to test and to evaluate those learning outcomes frameworks. Several of our programs that award both bachelor's and master's degrees were invited to participate.  Currently, the departments of Communication, Special Education, Accounting, and Psychology are participating. Each has organized a DQP committee to design a series of assessment tools that can be used to examine the learning outcomes of their respective programs.  This fall semester, they will begin testing those assessments tools. 


The fourth challenge affecting higher education is the necessity for universities to assist and engage with their local communities. The traditional frame for thinking about universities was that they were individual communities separated from their surroundings and that all learning took place within the confines of the campus. But more innovative thinking has broken out of that frame of reference and universities now are using their expertise to partner with local communities. One benefit has been the education experience has expanded and moved out beyond the campus to businesses and community organizations through activities like internships. Our University has had good success engaging with area communities.

The Milwaukee Water Council is a trade group that has been championing the role of the economics of water for the region's development. UW-Whitewater Science and Business faculty and students and the UW-Whitewater Student Water Council have been assisting with the Milwaukee Water Council's efforts.

Our faculty, staff and students also have been contributing to the region's economy through the new Innovation Center at Whitewater University Technology Park. The center celebrated its first anniversary last March. The Center's first year-and-a-half has been successful. Currently, it is at about 80 percent of capacity. Of the 20 spaces that are not committed to our anchor tenant, only six remain unoccupied.Through the Innovation Center, Whitewater students will work on the project as interns and gain valuable professional experience. The Center is also hosting the Elements for Success Seminar Series.

The College of Business and Economics operates seven resource centers that are assisting businesses, nonprofit and government agencies with issues such as making a transition to a global marketplace, developing new business, assessing new products, and researching economic changes.  Two Centers offer help with taxes, and one is focused on IT services.

The continuing education opportunities that the College of Education and Professional Development brings to the region are helping to ensure that the K-12 school systems in the region have teaching professionals that are knowledgeable and well-trained. The college just hosted a two-day summer institute that brought to campus an internationally-known expert on the problem of bullying. Teachers and childcare workers from the area were able to learn about the most recent research on the topic. They had an opportunity to learn about recommended best practices for dealing with the problem as well.

Our Department of Languages and Literatures hosts an annual World Languages and Cultures day for area high school students.  Participants join with UW-Whitewater students to explore different languages and cultures. Students are able to practice their language skills and share their work. The Department also hosts a Creative Writing Festival with area high school students to encourage their interest in writing and literature. Students are able to share their creative work and compete for prizes at the festival.

The Young Auditorium and the Art and Design, Music, and Theatre and Dance Programs help bring many cultural events to the region.

Through the Nursing Home Visitation Program, Earth Day, Make a Difference Day, and dozens of other community service activities, or students, faculty and staff engage in thousands of hours of service to local communities as well.


I am pleased to say that you will have to break yet another frame this year.  That is your frame of reference for the physical appearance of our campus. 

First, we now have white water on the Whitewater campus. Over the summer, construction crews installed a waterfall feature on the mall between the University Center and Hyland Hall. We would like to thank the Theune family for the contribution to the project.

The former Carlson Hall is reopening as Laurentide Hall. The remodeled facility will bring together many of the faculty from the College of Letters and Sciences who have been scattered around campus in various buildings.

This fall we will open the new dance studio on the east side of Young Auditorium. This addition will provide much needed practice space for our dance program.

I am hopeful that one frame you won't have to break this year is your frame of reference for our campuses athletic programs.  We have become accustomed to thinking about success when we think about our athletic teams.

Fifteen current and former UW-Whitewater wheelchair basketball athletes and coaches will compete in London in the 2012 Paralympics. The group includes eight former students, five current students and two coaches. Last March, both the men's and women's wheelchair basketball teams on their respective championships.

The Warhawk intercollegiate athletic program was excellent again last year. UW-Whitewater became one of only two schools in the history of the NCAA to win both the national football championship and men's basketball title in the same academic year. The football team's championship was its third consecutive national title. The Women's Gymnastics team did not want to be left out.  They brought home a national title as well.

Our university's student athletes are not just successful on the playing field.  They are equally as successful in the classroom. Our combined student athletes' GPA last year was 3.01. The graduation rate for student athletes was 65 percent, which exceeds the average for all students.


While it may seem like breaking frames is extremely unusual or impossibly difficult, in reality we break frames often.  Until we break through, though, the tasks may seem unimaginable or impossible.  Then, when we are past the change, we may wonder why we didn't always use the new approach.   Let me give four examples of major accomplishments we have made over the last few years where, frankly, we have had to break a few frames.

First, in the late 1990s when we first started having online courses. This type of instruction did not fit the frames of many of us.  It didn't make sense.  I don't teach that way and students don't learn that way.  And while I believe that not everything can be taught effectively in online courses and that not all of us are enthusiastic about online education, online education is clearly a part of education at UW-Whitewater.  It is done well and students can prosper in this type of education.  Online education shows up in many forms here, from totally online courses and programs to hybrid courses to courses that only have some online features (often through D2L).  To this point, we had to break/change our frame(s) for effective higher education.

Second, in the 1990s, Undergraduate Research was rare on this campus.  Research was seen as primarily something done by graduate students and by faculty or staff.  Now, Undergraduate Research is assumed by many faculty, staff, and students.  Students come to UW-Whitewater because they will have the opportunity to work with a mentor.  And some faculty come to UW-Whitewater knowing that they will have the opportunity to work with undergraduate student researchers.   We had to change the frame that limited research to graduate students, faculty, and staff.

Third, the involvement across campus in the LEAP initiative is the result of breaking or changing our frame for what we expect of students in an undergraduate education.  We talk about Essential Learning Outcomes that we expect students will have attained through their education at UW-Whitewater.  We talk about High Impact Practices that help them attain those outcomes.  Our old frame would not have had us emphasizing Essential Learning Outcomes as part of student employment in the University Center, as was reported in a feature article on the website of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U).  Across campus we have changed our frame.

Fourth, we have changed ways we support student success on campus.  In the early 2000s, we implemented the Academic Advising and Exploration Center to provide more targeted support for freshmen students.  Currently, Residence Life uses a tool, MAP-Works.  This tool helps identify concerns and links students to support from peers and from professional staff.  Both of these endeavors have helped increase our level of student success, including increasing first to second year retention. 

So what are areas where we may need to break frames?

The first is the flexible degree that I referred to earlier.  We are faced with a need to provide quality education to a population that has some college credit and, possibly, considerable life experience.  This is also a population that is likely to be employed and unable to come to campus.  There are expectations that such a degree can be provided.  But our expectations of quality education don't necessarily allow the types of flexibilities that have been discussed.  Clearly, the frames of those wanting the degree and those charged with providing the degree may not match.  Is there a way to develop a "flexible degree" that provides an appropriate level of quality?  If so, how do expectations and assumptions need to change?

A second area could well be related to the first.  We are very much tied to a course structure that involves mostly semester-long courses, with some condensed courses during Winterim and summer.  Can we make course scheduling work to meet the needs of more students and of different students?  Can we have more weekend courses?  More short courses?  More flexible start and end dates?  Throughout education, we have adjusted to a particular type of time scheduling.  It works for most traditional students.  What frames on the part of students, faculty, and administrators will need to change to allow more flexibility?  Can it be done?

A third area has to do with the cost of education.  We have experienced the steady decline in state support and the simultaneous increase in tuition.  We have also read about the increasing levels of student debt.  Is there a way to provide high quality education at a lower cost?  If so, how can that be done?  What assumptions must we change?  What frames are limiting us as we try to address this issue?  We see courses being offered for free to tens, even hundreds of thousands, of students.  We see attempts to set up flexible degrees.  While none of these approaches seem to be magic solutions, they indicate that the issue of cost is being wrestled with.

I want to leave you with the understanding that we have these and other challenges.  In my judgment we will have to break some of our frames as we address them.  And I expect that as we address these challenges, more challenges will develop. But I am very confident that we will be able to address these and other challenges, breaking frames as we go.  I am also confident that we will come up with solutions that will help us strengthen this university and enhance our communities. 

We face many challenges, but we have a history as innovative and creative thinkers. We have talented and capable faculty and staff, and a track record of success.

I applaud your accomplishments and I am confident that we have people who are capable of seeing beyond our frames to find solutions that have not yet been seen.

Thank you.

Dominic plays final cadance from wings.


Sara Kuhl

Jeff Angileri