University of Wisconsin System President Katharine C. Lyall held her seventh annual convocation for UW System employees on Monday (Sept. 29) at the Wisconsin Historical Society on the UW-Madison campus. The following are her remarks.

“Good morning.

First, I’d like to ask all of the employees who have joined us this year to stand and be properly welcomed into the UW System community. We are delighted to have you as colleagues.

I’d also like to take a moment to reflect on those who have left us this year. They are missed and we value their contributions that live on through their mentoring and friendship.

It has been a tradition at this gathering to recognize many individual and departmental accomplishments of the past year. Indeed, I could single out every one of you in this auditorium and cite your achievements. You have brought in new funding, helped our campuses in many ways, planned and built new buildings, defended us in court, helped launch new academic programs, implemented new technology systems, saved us money, helped our employees, served our Regents, wisely invested our resources, held an economic summit, secured a biennial budget and opened up new frontiers for our system and our campuses.

On a personal note, you have earned new academic degrees, gotten married, had children, lost weight, gained weight and seen your family and friends through good times and bad. It has been an eventful and stressful year. But please know that your contributions to this university are noticed and appreciated, not only by me but by our regents, our chancellors and by your campus-based colleagues as well.

This morning, I want to depart somewhat from the tradition of recognizing individuals for past achievements and focus, instead, on our collective achievements yet to come.

This morning as you entered the room, you were each given a flashlight. Now, the metaphor that might spring to mind is that these flashlights are meant to lead us out of the darkness. Perhaps they will for in some ways, this has been an especially shadowy year for the UW System. We have adapted to unprecedented challenges – a state funding cut larger than any in our history; the turnover of about half our Board of Regents; the departure of two dynamic and accomplished chancellors at Stevens Point and Milwaukee; and a complete change in central casting: the Governor’s Office, state agency leadership and state legislative leadership all are new.

At the same time, the nation is at war, including many members of our university community who have been serving as troops abroad. Our nation’s economy has been flagging, including probably your own investments, and we are living with fears and doubts about U.S. security that haven’t plagued us since the Cold War ended.

But there is at least one bright light in these shadows. And it is education. And Wisconsin is really good at it. And the UW System, in particular, is astonishingly good at it.

Daniel Webster, when laying the cornerstone of the monument at Bunker Hill in 1825, said: “Knowledge, in truth, is the great sun in the firmament. Life and power are scattered with all its beams.”

Please turn on your flashlights for a moment. Your flashlight is a metaphor for knowledge – the critical commodity, if you will, that you – representing the University of Wisconsin System — manufacture for the citizens of Wisconsin. You are in the knowledge manufacturing and delivery business. And your work individually and collectively has never been more vital because it is not just about the “here-and-now,” it is about the future of the state. It is about the 161,000 students who entered our classrooms this fall – the young people who will go on to lead their families, communities, state and nation, using the knowledge we impart.

It is about the knowledge that we impart to more than a million Wisconsin citizens through our public radio and television network, through UW-Extension programs and through the many outreach programs and community collaborations on our campuses.

It is about the knowledge emerging from our research laboratories that is helping to cure disease, spur the economy, enhance the arts and literature and improve our quality of life. This is what you make possible in your day-to-day work for the UW System.

You can turn off your flashlights because I want you to preserve your energy.

In speaking at the University of California, Berkeley in March of 1962, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy said:

“In knowledge’s light, we must think and act not only for the moment but for our time.” He goes on to say, “I am reminded of the great French Marshal Lyautey, who once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow-growing and would not reach maturity for a hundred years. The Marshal replied: ‘In that case, there is no time to lose. Plant it this afternoon.’”

All of us are planting the seedlings that will make this a great state for our children and grandchildren and for their children and grandchildren, in turn.

True, to stretch this metaphor, our campuses are where those saplings are tended and nourished, but you supply the infrastructure that makes that possible. You are the glue that holds the UW System together and I am convinced that we have the best, most efficient system of higher education in the nation. And, as we have before, we will prevail over budget cutbacks and temporary hardships because the state needs and values what we do.

Furthermore, we are masters of our own destiny. We can shape and direct our future course. That is the goal of the Regent study going on this year: to chart a new course for the UW System. To think outside the box. To be innovative. To preserve our quality while meeting the growing demand for our services. To strengthen the system. To listen carefully to our constituencies. To keep education accessible and affordable. And to become more self sufficient and to help others do so as well.

What do these things mean for our work in the next several years?

First, we need to work towards greater self-sufficiency for our campuses and UW System Administration. Not because we want to “privatize” the university but because we cannot wait for state investment to turn around to meet our obligations to our students.

The economic and political trends have been shifting public resources to other pressing needs for a decade. We must find ways to serve students through a combination of resources that come from the students themselves, from our increased efficiency and new modes of instructional delivery and from the support of donors and alumni.

Second, we much capture the synergies of being a System. The Regents’ study will be looking for ways to reconfigure our work – whether through regional consortia such as WCWC or through more collaborative programming – to help us reduce our administrative and business costs and reallocate these savings to the classroom.

Finding new ways of interacting with the Technical Colleges will be part of this as will encouraging our own institutions to work more creatively among themselves and with the UW Colleges and Extension.

Third, we should look for opportunities to serve as the disseminator of “best practices” among our institutions. An example was the Systemwide conference held last week to learn from UW-Stout’s experience in becoming the first Baldridge Award winner in higher education.

It is clear from that experience that we could all do a better job of linking improvements more consistently to measurement of the outcomes of our work – how can we improve if we don’t know for certain the impacts of what we’re doing now? And how else can we identify things we could stop doing?

Finally we need to help each of our institutions achieve something special for the future, some unique initiative that can sustain its energy and sense of purpose within our larger System. In difficult financial times, it is far too easy for us in the UWSA to be seen as the unremitting bearer or transmitter of bad news, the heavy hand that says “no” too often and “let’s see how we could help with that” too seldom.

UWSA is filled with creative and experienced professionals; we should derive part of our success and satisfaction this year from what we are able to help the campuses achieve, no matter how modest those initiatives may seem.

These are ambitious goals but the times call for ambitious goals. And the times call for each of us to redouble our efforts and ask some “what if?” questions.

What if:

  • We could attract 1,000 students/year back to Wisconsin for brain gain?
  • Wisconsin had a seamless financial aid program that tracked tuition?
  • By regionalizing/sharing business functions, we could redirect $10 million to our classrooms and students?
  • We could pay our faculty and staff competitively?
  • We could build/renovate space in two years instead of six years?
  • We had a common Gen Ed core within the UW System so that credit transfer disputes evaporated not only with WTCS but among our own campuses?

I don’t know the answers to these questions but I encourage us all to think about “what if” questions a lot more this year. By working together as a team and by working with our regents and campus colleagues, I think we can answer these questions and achieve new things. I look forward to that.

Mother Theresa said, “to keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.” I want these flashlights also to represent our commitment to help support each other and recharge each other’s batteries when they are running low. We are an extraordinary team and we’ve proven that. When we set our collective minds to a task, we can get it done. Not by second guessing and undermining each other – but by supporting and encouraging each other and picking up the standard when our partners’ energies flag. As the saying goes: “commit senseless acts of kindness and collegiality” regularly, to help each other.

In closing, I am very proud of our knowledge factory. I am proud of our campus’ high rankings. I am proud of our alumni. And I am proud of our staff – you deserve the thanks of every student, faculty and staff member, parent, legislator and citizen for your time, integrity, energy and commitment to this institution.


Now, I’d like to take a few moments to recognize a few of our UW System veterans. I would like to ask Donna Fosshage to join me on the stage. Donna is marking her 25th year with the UW System and she works for Doug Hendricks in financial administration and is one of the accountants who keep us out of trouble. Congratulations, Donna, on 25 years of service.

Next, I’d like to invite Terri Reda to join me on the stage. Terri and Amy Calvillo both have reached their 30th anniversary working for the UW System. I am sorry that Amy could not be with us today – she had done a great job as our lead auditor and we value her service and her commitment to the UW System. Terri, we are pleased to have this opportunity to thank you for your long service. Your work as a senior budget and policy analyst in the capital budget office is very much appreciated – you help our campuses to grow and thrive. Congratulations, Terri, and thank you.

And now, it is my great pleasure to introduce the recipient of the 2003 Eugene Craven Memorial Award, Nancy Crabb. Nancy, would you come up here please.

This award was established to honor the memory of Assistant Vice President Gene Craven who died in 1982. President O’Neil established a memorial fund to be granted annually to a system staff member, chosen by his/her peers, who exemplified Gene’s own commitment to the institution, excellent performance, initiative, creativity and achievement.

Nancy Crabb is a most deserving recipient. Nancy has served as the Director of the Office of Information Services at UW System since 1994 and I think it is safe to say that she has very ably ushered us into the information age. Perhaps, I should say some of us, since she hasn’t gotten me to give up my IBM selectric typewriter yet!

Nancy is responsible for our UW System IT plan and works closely with all the IT officers throughout the UW System – I gather that she is dashing off to such a meeting right after this ceremony so we are especially grateful that she could be here to be recognized this morning.

She manages the UW System technology infrastructure. You all know what a complex and demanding challenge that can be – and she does it with great cheer and a can-do attitude that we all appreciate. She started the Help Desk in Van Hise – a major commitment of resources – with no additional funding so she exemplifies our spirit of doing more with less.

In a letter of nomination, Ed Meachen said: “Nancy is so competent a UWSA team member, so upbeat a colleague, and so committed to her community and to the UW that she truly deserves this mark of respect.”

Nancy, it is with great pleasure that I present you with this year’s Eugene Craven Award and a check for $250 as a token of our esteem and gratitude.

In closing, let me thank Kathy Dickerson who always does a masterful job of putting together this event. She is on a well deserved vacation and we appreciate her efforts and those of Nancy Westrum and others who have helped with the event.

Again, my thanks to all of you for your hard work of the past year and for your dedication to meeting the challenges ahead. Armed with our “thousand points of light”, and more importantly your experience and knowledge, I know we will tackle them well.

Thank you.”