Short Chancellor Tenures Seen as New Norm

Chancellor since 2011, Michael Lovell came to UWM just a few years before as dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. His recent announcement that he is taking the position as Marquette’s 24th president came as a surprise to many in the UWM community. But, was it really a surprise?

Members of the Chancellor Search Committee who chose Lovell in the first place told Media Milwaukee they see the modern chancellor position as inevitably a short-term one. They downplayed the impact of the chancellor’s departure.

According to the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, decreases in state funding have hindered the ability of universities to hire and retain faculty. In 1956, J. Martin Klotsche became UWM’s first chancellor. He didn’t leave the position until 1973. Maintaining that kind of longevity is rarely seen today.

“We’re not going to have that anymore,” said UWM professor Mark Schwartz, who served as chair on the chancellor search committee leading to the selection of Lovell as chancellor. “It’s just the reality these days.”

According to Jean Salzer, who also served on the chancellor search committee as a senior counselor, Lovell’s stay was actually relatively long for an institution like UWM (although he was the university’s shortest-serving modern chancellor). She said the university has recognized the need for change, and diversity at top positions can be a positive force.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing getting people at the start of their chancellorship,” Salzer said.

Schwartz says the university’s overall situation has not changed much. The search committee was aiming to find someone who could build on the work of past chancellors, Carlos Santiago and Nancy Zimpher.

“We looked at where the university had been, looking for someone to continue the momentum,” Schwartz said. “I think things worked out quite well. [Lovell] came in with a very positive attitude.”

Lovell was a major proponent of the School of Freshwater Sciences, has been credited with fostering and strengthening business relationships in Milwaukee, and oversaw the building of the university’s Innovation Campus in Wauwatosa.

How does UWM continue moving forward with changing leadership?

Kent Redding, sociology professor and former chancellor search committee member, said progress will inevitably slow down during the transition period between chancellors. Ideally, Redding said, UWM will have a new chancellor for next school year. However, he said it is not likely to happen that quickly. According to Redding, a vision for the future of the institution is a big issue in determining the next chancellor, especially while facing challenges like inadequate funding.

“It’s always a challenge changing leadership,” Redding said. “We’re in the midst of a new model for budgetary processes. We are a research university, but we’re not being treated like it.”

Redding also said UWM has always had a problem with retention. Finding incoming freshmen and retaining them is among the many challenges the university faces. The reoccurring theme of the entire university system receiving less funding from the state is putting a strain on UWM. Redding said the university can’t count on the state. He thinks Lovell was doing the best he could with limited options. Because of these obstacles, Redding said the chancellor position is arguably more important now.

Salzer said the driving force behind the university is not just one person. She stressed the importance of faculty, staff and the students at UWM in maintaining a strong institution. However, the chancellor’s role should not be understated. Salzer also said finding someone who understands the significance of research should be a goal for UWM, and experience working with shared governance should be highly sought after.

Schwartz is hoping the process of finding a new chancellor will bring clarity. He sees many positives regarding Lovell’s stay at UWM, but he understands that Lovell’s nearing departure does not have to be detrimental to the university. The professor is ready to move forward.

“It’s never good when a good leader leaves, but the leader isn’t everything in the institution,” he said.