The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's search for a new chancellor hit an embarrassing obstacle when only three of over 10,000 undergraduate students attended an open forum seeking student input at the school's auditorium Wednesday. Worse yet, only two actually intended on being there.
"I was the only one there when it started and one student randomly walked in about 20 minutes later," UW-EC student senator Jacob Boer, a senior, said. "And there was another student who has been a student here for like 20 years."
According to Boer, most students know of the process but have faith in the committee's judgment.
UW-EC student and committee member Jeff Baldovin said only three students appeared because of a perceived lack of influence.
"A lot of the students don't really care because they don't think their opinions are going to be worth much," Baldovin said.
However, committee chair and UW-EC geology professor Robert Hooper said he thinks students just don't place a high priority on who their next chancellor will be.
"There's a lot of apathy on campus on a lot of things," Hooper said. "Wednesday was the last day of summer and it was 86 degrees … [the students] were out having fun; it's a matter of priorities. I'm not sure that I agree with the priorities but I understand the priorities."
Hooper said the event was well publicized and student leaders knew about it; they simply did not express an interest in participating.
According to Boer, the students were not alone. Boer said the committee held a meeting for faculty members but nobody showed, and they also held a meeting for the community, but once again did not attract an audience.
"Turnouts have been dismal," Hooper said. "I think one reason is that most people up at Eau Claire don't understand the process and they think that the chancellor candidates are going to be present on campus and at that point they're going to have automatic input."
All candidates for the chancellorship remain anonymous in order to protect their current job status, and Hooper said by the time the final five candidates are made public, the decision is made by the UW System and is totally out of the committee's jurisdiction.
"The intent here of student participation, student suggestions, and student investment is a good one," UW System Communications Director Doug Bradley said. "I too am disappointed when you hear and see something like that."
On Nov. 1, the committee will begin screening applications for the new position and the UW System will interview the five final candidates Jan. 30. The new chancellor will be appointed at the Board of Regents meeting in early February.
Those candidates will be on the UW-EC campus the last week of January, although Hooper said it is not clear at that point how relevant student input will be to the UW System's choice of the candidates.
"The only place that [students] can give input is helping the committee identifying criteria for screening the candidates," Hooper said. "There's limited time and a very limited mechanism for receiving student input on the back end."
Regardless, Bradley said he hopes students will show heightened enthusiasm when the announced candidates appear on campus and make public presentations.
"I hope we can find ways of maybe getting a little more excitement and participation, just better numbers," Bradley said, adding it can be informative to watch how candidates "think on their feet" and respond to questions from students and faculty.
In the meantime, Hooper said he will again try to drum up interest and discussion from the student body and will meet with the student senate Oct. 3.
"I think it's important," Boer said. "I mean I don't want Tommy Thompson being the chancellor."
According to Baldovin, the former Wisconsin governor's name has been tied to the open position at UW-Eau Claire, but said Thompson landing there would be "highly doubtful."
"That was actually brought up," Baldovin said. "I have no idea about Tommy Thompson, I've heard rumors, but you know rumors, they're a dime a dozen."
When asked about Thompson, Hooper reiterated the chancellorship is a confidential search.
"He's either going to run for Senate or he's going to [do something else]," Boer said. "This would be a sweet gig, chancellor of Eau Claire."