UW-Parkside's sixth chancellor, Dr. Deborah Ford said at a welcoming reception Tuesday afternoon she is energized by "the wonderful opportunity that exists here."
The third woman to hold the top post in UW-P's 41-year history -- the others were Sheila Kaplan and Eleanor Smith, from 1986-1997 -- Ford said she was attracted to Parkside because of its mission serving first-generation college students. She is one herself, and her two younger sisters, now teachers, followed in her footsteps. Historically, 60 to 70 percent of new freshmen at UW-Parkside are first generation college students.
She also noted that UW-P "is the most diverse campus of the University of Wisconsin system," where students of color comprise over 21 percent of enrollment. "Academic excellence is what we do here," she said, pointing to UW-P's health science program. "Ninety percent of its students go on to the graduate program of their choice," she said.
The reception on the terrace at Wingspread, hosted by the Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce and the Johnson Foundation, brought Ford together with business and civic leaders -- many of whom introduced themselves to her as Parkside alums. "I want you to tell people you are alums," she told the group, as she called upon them to create "more internship opportunities so students have more real world experience."
Ford, who was vice president of student affairs at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, whose student body of 10,000 is twice the size of Parkside's, brings, an almost youthful energy to the position. She is at least 20 years younger than her predecessor, Jack Keating, who retired a year ago after 10 years as chancellor. (I don't know Ford's age -- she received her Bachelor's degree in 1987, putting her in her early 40s -- but she is not the youngest chancellor in UW-P history; that distinction belongs to Alan Guskin, 1975-1985, who was the youngest chancellor in the entire UW system when he took the Parkside job at 38.)
Ford is actually the third person named to the office since Keating retired. First was the ill-fated Robert Felner, who was indicted for fraud a week before his formal investiture as chancellor; second was Dr. Lane Earns, who served as interim chancellor for a year while a second search settled on Ford.
In her brief remarks, Ford noted, "we're in uncharted waters due to economic conditions." No doubt that point was brought home to her when the $199,500 salary she and the University of Wisconsin regents agreed to in May was cut to $193,515 by the 3 percent furlough imposed by the budget on state employees.
Ford was welcomed to Wisconsin Tuesday by Carole Johnson, of the Johnson Foundation and former president of Gateway Technical College, who said she is confident the new chancellor "will be a part of creating solutions and collaboration," and by Roger Caron, president of RAMAC, who had been a member of the search committee that selected Keating and is one of those alums Ford mentioned, having earned a UW-P MBA. Ford, who met Dr. James Shaw, RUSD's superintendent at the mixer, said she is scheduled to meet with the presidents of Gateway Technical College and Carthage College, as well as other area educators, to explore "how we can work together."
There wasn't much speechifying -- it was an evening designed for mingling and meeting, after all -- but the briefest remarks of the night were delivered by Mayor John Dickert, who was invited by Johnson "to say a word or two, or maybe three." Dickert came to the microphone and took the invitation literally: "Collaboration and cooperation," he said, and then sat down.