Lovell engineers a plan for UWM

UWM Chancellor Michael Lovell

Age: 44

Family: Wife, Amy, and four children.

Education: B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh

Hometown: Meadville, Pa.

Favorite author: Neal Bascomb, who authored my favorite book, “The Perfect Mile.”

Favorite movie: “Miracle.”

Favorite musical artist: New Order

Favorite American president: “Herbert Hoover. He was an engineer and inventor that promoted partnerships between government and business under the rubric ‘economic modernization.'”

Hobbies: Running, biking and swimming

Michael Lovell was recently appointed as the eighth chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

He was named to the position by the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents after serving as the interim chancellor since Oct. 1, 2010.

Lovell joined UWM in 2008 as the dean of its College of Engineering and Applied Science and a professor of Mechanical Engineering.

Lovell’s accomplishments since joining UWM include helping form the Wisconsin Energy Research Consortium, a historic partnership between UWM, Marquette University, the Milwaukee School of Engineering and the University of Wisconsin in Madison, as well as regional power and energy industries.

The native of western Pennsylvania holds three academic degrees in mechanical engineering, including his Ph.D., from the University of Pittsburgh. His research interests are tribology, materials processing and product realization.

He succeeds Carlos Santiago.

BizTimes: “When you were first appointed to the chancellor position on an interim basis, I happen to know for a fact there were many staunch advocates on the inside at UWM rooting for you to be named permanently to the position. Was that something that you expected or sought out?

Lovell: “Well let me just say that I was very surprised when I was asked by (University Wisconsin System president) Kevin Reilly to even consider the position as interim chancellor. To me, I had only been here for two years, and it’s not something that I had on my radar screen just yet, certainly not two years after getting here. So when he contacted me, actually he and I had never even met before, but he had said that one of the reasons he was calling was that across the university from all segments he was getting input that I would make a good candidate. So I was actually very surprised that the campus was recommending me. I certainly knew people in engineering, but the fact that people from other parts of the campus were recommending me too, actually made me feel pretty good.”

BizTimes: I’d like to get right to the issue of Gov. Scott Walker’s budget cuts on the system and the university. Can you bring us up-to-date on what the impact of those cuts has been or will be on UWM?

Lovell: “To understand the impact of those cuts; we have to understand what was going on here before we even had to take the cuts. Last summer, UWM was ranked among the 198 research institutes in the country when the Goldwater Institute released a study on administrative bloat in educational institutions. UWM came out very favorably and ranked 12th in terms of the number of academic staff to student ratio, 12th in terms of cost of spending per student and 14th in terms of administrative staff per student ratio. We were already operating as a very lean organization and operating very well. We have a 96 percent approval rating from our graduates on the value of the education they received in relation to the cost.

“So being lean already and having to undergo further cuts can only mean one thing; that it was going to degrade some of the services we are able to offer our students, because when you are already that lean, there are very few places to cut from that won’t have a direct impact. It became worrisome, and a challenge for us to determine where we were going to cut from. We’ve done our best to minimize the impact on the services we offer, but to be honest with you, (the cuts) are not going to help the fact that our students already sometimes struggle to find a way to get all the classes they want and need in time to graduate when they want to. There might be fewer sections of courses and things of that nature. It’s not going to be business as usual. We can’t take more cuts and continue to do all the things we are doing now, because we already operate so lean.”

BizTimes: We hear about larger class sizes being a concern for students and teachers in K-through-12 classes. Is that a concern for UWM as well?

Lovell: “Absolutely. Instead of having three sections of 40 students, we might have two sections of 75. Those are the challenges we are facing, and we want to minimize the impact on the students and the services we offer. But ultimately we do have cuts and we are going to have to do something to absorb them.”

BizTimes: Do the financial cuts to the system put the schools in the system at a competitive disadvantage relative to private sector schools in terms of recruiting talented teachers?

Lovell: “I think so. It’s important to understand that our faculty staff hasn’t had raises. In fact, the past two years they have had significant cuts to their salaries. They are actually going the opposite way, as opposed to private institutions. Due to that, it’s a real concern of ours to keep good faculty who are here who are maybe being recruited away to other institutions and recruiting faculty here. Those are things that I am concerned about. Especially when we see our faculty and staff paying 8 percent more for their benefits when they were already being paid 20 percent below some of their peers. That definitely is an impact that hurts us.”

BizTimes: UWM just broke ground on a project in the county innovation park with a collaboration of partners. I understand the university is looking for research companies to be partners in that project. Can you bring us up to date on how that is coming along?

Lovell: “I think it’s all very exciting. It’s coming along well. It’s not just industries, but our partners in the Medical Center. We’ve had great discussions with Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and Froedtert about actually having their researchers housed with our researchers as well as some private companies that want to co-locate with us in that facility. Companies are interested in possibly utilizing that facility as a demonstration site for some of their technology and even some small startup companies have shown interests in wanting to be there. We don’t have any formal agreements yet so I can’t name names. However, some of the larger companies that are interested in partnering with us are some of the most recognizable ones in the city, and the startups are things that you would recognize as being companies that need wet lab space or port facilities to do some bio-engineering type research.”

BizTimes: Expanding UWM’s research capacity was a hallmark of your predecessor. Is that something that you hope to continue, or do you plan to redirect priorities in other directions?

Lovell: “Well I think expanding the research capacity of the university is still going to be a priority for us. Not just because it’s what we want to do, but I think it’s because it’s what the region really needs us to do. We have so many organizations that we’re already partnered with that need the university to be a technology driver and generator of human capital for these companies that will feed them the future technology leaders that they need.”

BizTimes: Your predecessor expanded UWM’s research capacity. And before him, Nancy Zimpher was, well, she was Nancy Zimpher, who really raised the profile of UWM in the community. What do you hope will be your legacy at this position?

Lovell: “I think if you look at, going back to Nancy Zimpher, she wanted to improve the reputation of the university, but also make it a great access university for people in the region. Carlos Santiago was certainly focused on the research. Those are both things I want to continue to work on, they are both very important aspects to this university. They define who we are and where we want to go, but the third piece I want to focus on is making this university a great place to work and learn, and really focus on the campus climate here. So how do we do that? We focus on doing things on this campus that everyone here feels has value and they have a great experience, whether they are here to work or are learning here. We do this by adding things to the campus so they aren’t just here teaching or going to class; they are here with their families and taking advantage of the great arts programs we have or the athletics. Our campus is much different now than it was 10 years ago. We have enough beds for every freshman to live on campus. Next year, we are going to require every freshman (who is not commuting) to live on campus. That is much more of a traditional university mentality, and as part of that transition we want to make this a place that people like to be.”

BizTimes: Given how difficult it is to get into UW-Madison, with a lot more out-of-state and international students going to Madison, does that make UWM’s role of educating the state’s workforce even more important?

Lovell: “Absolutely, you hit the nail right on the head. We have more Wisconsin residents on this campus than Madison or any other state institution. Your point is very well taken. We’ve grown over 27 percent over the last decade from 23,000 students to over 30,000 students that are coming from other parts of the state. Dane County is third on the list from where we get our highest number of students. We now have more and more students from out of state, out of region, looking to us as the destination. In fact, we have students from all 72 Wisconsin counties, all 50 states and 130 countries around the world. We’re really becoming an international university, as well.”

BizTimes: I guess out of necessity, there are a lot of moving parts circling around UWM, including the Water Council and the School of Fresh Water Science in Walker’s Point, the School of Public Health at the Pabst Brewery, WUWM in the Chase tower downtown, the project at the county innovation park, the UWM basketball team playing in the U.S. Cellular Arena downtown and student housing on North Avenue…Are you concerned about the scattered footprint of the university and it’s effects on the cohesiveness of the school?

Lovell: “Actually, no I’m not. As you pointed out, it has happened out of necessity. We were the second-densest campus in the country. We are a small footprint in the Kenwood campus, as we have grown both in terms of research and our student population. We’ve had to accommodate that growth by spreading out. It has actually happened very naturally. When UWM goes someplace else within the city, things develop around it. It’s actually good for economic development. Look at the restaurants and businesses that have developed around our Kenilworth building, the same thing is happening on North Avenue. Universities tend to impact the region they are in and they tend to impact them for the better.”

BizTimes: What about the main campus? Are there any improvements in the pipeline?

Lovell: “As I mentioned before, we’re trying to become a more traditional campus. To do that, we need more things on this campus for people to do when they are not taking classes or in school. The perfect example is the feasibility study we’re doing to explore the idea of having a new basketball arena on this campus, so we wouldn’t go to the U.S. Cellular Arena to play our games. We would have them right out here looking over the Klotsche Center. We’re actually pretty far along, and the students have actually put forward fees in the form of $27 million for that arena, so we wouldn’t have to raise that much more money to have a 5,000-seat arena right on the heart of this campus.”

BizTimes: So realistically, how close are you to getting that built?

Lovell: “Right now the feasibility study should be done by the end of the year. Once that happens, because the students already have $27 million, that project is pretty much ready to kick off and start moving whenever we’re ready to make a decision on it. I have not met with any architects to discuss build time, but most buildings would take (four years) to build.”

BizTimes: Finally, when the Lubar School of Business was formed, there was a lot of excitement about that in the local business community. In all candidness, I haven’t detected a lot of interaction between the local business community and the school. I don’t hear local business people being asked to get involved all that much. Is that something that should be enhanced? Are there resources there that should be getting tapped?

Lovell: “I think so. Again one of the things we have discussed is having someone on this campus that really focuses on corporate relations. Being an engineer, that was something that happened very naturally. The business school should be the same way. We know it’s in our best interest to make those connections. The business school wants that as well. I know we want to do more, and we’re going to be very proactive in finding more and more ways to do that. In many campuses, the natural and prime outlet for that type of connection between the university and the business community would be the school of business, but UWM has some really significant strengths that have allowed us to build relationships with the business community outside of the school of business, but are still extremely productive and mutually beneficial. The fresh water industry, architecture and even the Peck school of the Arts and its Harmony Initiative with the Milwaukee Ballet are perfect examples of that. Things happen more organically here than they do, even in Madison, I think. There tends to be a cross pollination between the community as a whole and different components of the university.”

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