UWM has been blessed with fine chancellors

Mark Mone, Ph.D., knows he has some very big shoes to fill as the new chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

UWM has been on a roll, hitting home runs with each of its past three chancellors.

The streak began with the hiring of Nancy Zimpher, who became the school’s first woman chancellor in 1998. Zimpher was a dynamo. She transformed UWM from a sleepy commuter school to a vibrant urban institution. Her enthusiasm was downright contagious. She made UWM matter again in this town.

Zimpher was succeeded in 2004 by Carlos Santiago. Santiago had a completely different style and a different set of priorities, yet he was every bit as impactful. Against the odds, Santiago was determined to transform UWM again into a research university. That was a tall order, given that the state’s flagship, University of Wisconsin-Madison, was already a research powerhouse. Yet under Santiago’s watch, UWM’s research expenditures grew from $36 million in 2003-2004 to $68 million in 2009-2010. Two affiliate organizations of the UWM Foundation, the Real Estate Foundation and Research Foundation, were created during Santiago’s term. Santiago also championed the $240 million UWM Initiative, which resulted in construction of a Freshwater Sciences Initiative research building and Kenwood Integrated Research Complex, as well the creation of the School of Public Health and Innovation Park on the Milwaukee County Grounds in Wauwatosa.

Santiago was succeeded in 2011 by Michael Lovell, who pushed the Innovation Campus and the School of Freshwater Sciences over the goal lines. The affable Lovell’s brief tenure will mostly be remembered for his robust knack to form collaborations with other institutions in Milwaukee. Those collaborations made him a very coveted target for Marquette University, which lured him away to be its new president last year.

Which brings us to Mone. What will be his legacy? Too early to tell. However, he’s giving early indications that one of his signature priorities will be to partner with the local business community.

UWM needs “continued open doors” with area businesses and executives to accomplish two objectives, according to Mone.

“One is to listen carefully to what those needs are on both sides – the types of talent, the types of employees, how we can help address that but also how we can help them solve issues, resolve the most challenging, vexing types of issues facing business and other types of organizations today,” Mone said. “And then we can help align how our faculty and staff can work with those partners. So the key to this is the open door – keeping those lines of communication going. And we have to do our part. We have to create something that’s easier for the university to be open and accessible.”

UWM provides arguably the most prolific pipeline of professional talent for Milwaukee’s workforce. Seventy-five percent of its graduates stay in Wisconsin, and about 60 percent remain in the greater Milwaukee area.

UWM’s ability to attract such effective chancellors is remarkable in many ways, especially considering that the University of Wisconsin’s system for selecting chancellors is so flawed. The system publicly announces the finalists and then brings each in for what is basically a beauty contest before selecting its preferred candidate. Imagine how many would-be candidates never even throw their hats in the ring because they don’t want their current employers to know they are seeking employment elsewhere.

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