The Badger Herald’s editorial board drafted nine questions it believes are important for the four finalists for the University of Wisconsin’s chancellor finalists to answer. All four candidates responded to our request. Below are answers from Michael Schill, a candidate from the University of Chicago.
Each candidate’s response has been edited for clarity and style.
1. How has your previous work experience prepared you for this position?
The job of a law school dean and a university chancellor are quite similar in terms of the basic functions and the skills needed to be successful. Both manage large administrative staffs, set budgets, hire, remove and retain personnel, set strategic directions with the participation of faculty, students and staff, and ensure that their units operate well. Ideally, both are fully engaged in student life—teaching, meeting with student organizations, and attending important events. Both need to know what they know, what they don’t know and how to get answers for the latter. In addition, both need to inspire, unify and excite the community.
Chancellors and law school deans also spend a lot of their time fundraising. While a dean at [The University of California—Los Angeles] and then at Chicago, I launched two nine figure campaigns and raised a combined total of $175 million. I also have had significant experience working with political figures and government agencies, something that will be very important at the University of Wisconsin. While at UCLA I often met with members of the City Council, State Legislature, and U.S. Congress to further the interests of our school. In addition, as a faculty member at [New York University] I worked extensively with many elected officials and agency heads on various housing and city planning initiatives.
I have also had the opportunity to gain significant experience in the health sciences, physical sciences and undergraduate education. I am currently working on a book on the future of health care that will be published by the University of Chicago Press in 2014. That project taught me about the myriad of issues facing academic medical centers. My service as a Governor of Argonne National Laboratory gave me insight into the sciences and engineering. And, my appointment in the College enabled me to teach undergraduates, something I have enjoyed tremendously.
2. How do you plan to handle the possibility of continued political volatility that leads to changes in leadership at City Hall and the Capitol?
The best way to deal with possible changes in leadership is to maintain credibility and relationships with leaders regardless of political party or ideology. It is extraordinarily important that the chancellor develop excellent relationships with legislators, mayors, and governors on both sides of the aisle. My work has always been entirely non-partisan. I would anticipate doing the same in Wisconsin.
3. The university has been immersed in a debate for the last several years about the merits of administrative flexibilities and its role in the University of Wisconsin System. What are your thoughts on this issue? Have you encountered a similar debate at another institution?
The University of Wisconsin, as well as students throughout the state, can derive important benefits from being part of a great system. Shared resources, economies of scale, and seamless transfer practices are just a few of the ways that a close relationship with the UW system can achieve a win-win situation for all. Some level of flexibility for the campuses in certain areas is important, particularly when there is a need for speed of action or when the circumstances, market situations, and/or issues facing a particular campus are idiosyncratic. On the whole, I think many of the flexibilities included in the recent biennial budget as well as the recommendations of the recent Special Task Force on UW Restructuring and Operational Flexibilities make a great deal of sense and will benefit all of the schools in the University.
Based upon my experience at UCLA, I believe that the best way to make the relationship between the Legislature, the central university system, and the individual campuses productive is to develop relationships of trust and good will. UW-Madison has a particular advantage in this vein since the system is headquartered in Van Hise Hall, just a few hundred yards from Bascom Hall. I anticipate that if I ever had a problem that required central assistance I would just get myself out of my chair and take a walk over to the President’s office and work things out.
4. How would you balance UW’s status as an elite institution while maintaining its socioeconomic accessibility?
There is nothing inconsistent with being a great educational institution and socioeconomic diversity. One of the things I was most proud of from my days at UCLA was that I was part of a great public university that led the nation in the percentage of students with Pell grants. Accessibility need not come at the cost of either student or faculty quality or of diversity. Low tuition and generous financial aid are two strategies to maintain accessibility. Excellence in education and research can be funded through increased state support, aggressive corporate and government grantsmanship, tech transfer, and a turbo-charged effort to promote philanthropic contributions.
5. Previous chancellors of this university have had contentious relations with the Faculty Senate. Assuming that natural tension between Fac Senate and the Chancellor’s office exists, how do you expect to relate with faculty politically?
There is absolutely no reason that there has to be “tension” or a difficult relationship between the Faculty Senate and the chancellor’s office. The reason that faculty participate in shared governance isn’t because they want to fight with the chancellor. It is because they want to make the university better. That is also the objective of the chancellor. I think that the beauty of shared governance is that when differences exist—and they are as likely to exist among faculty as much as between the faculty and the chancellor—the differences can be resolved collegially through discussion, debate and, ultimately, compromise. The most important thing is to treat each other with respect and good will.
6. Chancellor Biddy Martin established a significant reputation for UW in China. What strategies would you employ to maintain this global connection, and would you expand our presence to other nations or regions?
All universities, including UW, need to be active players on the global stage. The students we need to attract to the school come from the four corners of the earth. The students we graduate need to be prepared to participate in a global economy. China is definitely one part of the world that UW should be interested in. One of the first orders of business for the new chancellor is to participate with faculty, deans, staff, and students in the development of a coherent global strategy or vision. This strategy should be informed by the research interests of our faculty, the career aspirations of our students, the individual strategic objectives of our deans, the service mission of the school, and/or the pool of students we wish to recruit to Madison.
7. The University of Wisconsin has a history of athletic achievement. What do you see as the role of an athletic department in a university?
I believe that athletics are a critical part of the university. Let’s start with the individual benefits attained by a thriving athletic program. Individual participants gain enormous health benefits from being active. In addition, students learn skills from team sports that they may not learn elsewhere—lessons that are, in many respects, as valuable as lessons learned in the classroom. They learn leadership skills. They learn how to work in teams. They learn what it means to work at something that might not come easy—over and over again—until they get it right. They learn how to deal with setbacks and defeat. They also frequently learn how to get along with people and work together with people of very different backgrounds.
There are also huge communal benefits from a thriving athletic program. Football, basketball, hockey, and any number of other sports played by men and women at Wisconsin create a wonderful sense of camaraderie and school spirit. Importantly, this sense of shared purpose extends beyond the University community and connects us to folks throughout the entire state including our alumni.
8. Chancellor David Ward’s term has encountered controversy surrounding UW’s business involvement with companies like Adidas and Palermo’s Pizza. What are your thoughts on these disputes, and how do you evaluate Ward’s handling of the matter?
One of the things I teach my law students is that they should not opine on matters about which they know very little. Since I was not here during these incidents and know very little about what happened, I do not think it would be prudent or wise for me to comment. What I do know is that Chancellor Ward is a man of great intellect and integrity and I am sure, whatever he did, he did out of a sincere commitment to doing the right thing.
9. At a large university like UW, a schism sometimes forms between scientific research and the liberal arts. What do you think should be the primary focus of UW’s academic mission?
Why does one need to pick between the sciences and the other liberal arts? Choosing between them is like choosing between air and water. They are both critical for a great university and for the future of our nation.
Through science we can develop an understanding of the world around us. In some instances, scientific insights allow us to discover new and important technologies that will allow us to cure diseases, improve human life, protect the environment, and fuel economic development.
But other great liberal arts are also important. The humanities teach us what it means to be human. Education in art and music develop an appreciation in us for all that is beautiful and meaningful in the world. Great literature and theater fuels the imagination and allows the reader or viewer to develop empathy for people who are quite different from themselves. The social sciences allow us to understand how people relate to each other today and in the past and provide us with the necessary information to become an engaged and informed polity.
A great, inclusive view of liberal education is the heart of the University of Wisconsin and the heart of every great university in the nation.