At first glance, it is obvious Interim Chancellor David Ward is a nice guy. He’s charming, he has a British accent and most admirably, at 73 years old, he’s still interested in running one of the nation’s largest and most prestigious universities.
After meeting with Ward on Monday, we were impressed with his decisiveness, his knowledge of all things related to higher education and his ability to project confidence in an undoubtedly difficult time for the University of Wisconsin.
Ward was chosen to serve in a transitionary phase to stabilize UW and prepare us for a new chancellor. The Board of Regents and UW’s faculty reportedly like Ward just as much as we do, and have expressed interest in keeping him on as interim chancellor for another year. However, we’re not willing to go that far.
Ward worked as the president of the American Council on Education, a prestigious job in Washington that helped him cultivate relationships with some of the most important figures in higher education. The University Committee, Associated Students of Madison and the Academic Staff Executive Committee all have called for Ward to stay on, arguing that UW’s negative national media attention throughout the last year will deter the best candidates from applying for the chancellorship. This would push back the search for a new leader one year.
Ward has already proven himself to be an effective chancellor in laying the groundwork for a new leader. He has not introduced any initiatives a new chancellor couldn’t handle, and he has said his priority is rebuilding a strained relationship with the regents and navigating UW through a series of budget cuts coming down from the state level.
Ward’s decision to come back to UW alone shows the recovering status of the institution; he has been, and continues to be, one of the most respected national higher education leaders. To follow a chancellor like Ward would be a distinct honor for his replacement.
Put simply, we need a new chancellor to help us move forward. We shouldn’t pessimistically ask ourselves, “Who would want to be chancellor now?” With Ward cleaning things up, we should instead ask ourselves, “Who wouldn’t?”