Pioneer Spotlight: Chancellor Dennis J. Shields
Chancellor Dennis J. Shields joined the University of Wisconsin-Platteville community in 2010 and is the 14th chief executive of the university. An Iowa native, Chancellor Shields earned his undergraduate degree in business administration from Graceland College and his Juris Doctor from the University of Iowa College of Law. Immediately prior to becoming chancellor at UW-Platteville, he served as acting vice president of Student Affairs at the City College of New York – City University of New York. He has held administrative positions at the Phoenix School of Law, Duke University School of Law, the University of Michigan Law School and the University of Iowa.
This is now your fifth year at UW–Platteville. How would you describe your experiences here?
It has been really more positive than I could have ever imagined. I see the success of our students and the wide range of things our faculty are doing to engage students to advance knowledge. It’s pretty amazing.
What has been the biggest surprise?
Readjusting to winter. I grew up in the Midwest, so it’s not like I was unfamiliar with it, but the last two winters, I had just forgotten how it can be.
What has been the biggest obstacle?
The ongoing challenges with the budget notwithstanding, and with all the good things we have done with the Tri-State Initiative, the money management across the institution, we continue to fight these battles for reasons that have little to do, if anything, that we have created ourselves. A big part of my responsibility is not to think about short-term solutions, but think about the long term. To think long term, you have to plan and think strategically. When your budget is a moving target, it’s hard to do that. That impacts, for example, compensation. We’ve used campus-based dollars to try and address that at a certain level. If we could stabilize what our budget expectations are, we could turn our attention to that and get compensation where it needs to be. That’s probably the most critical thing. After that, it’s the infrastructure. I’ve been struck that universities need to be dynamic with their people and reenergize talent, but the physical facilities are the same. Time flies by. When I hear the residence halls were built in the 1960s, I went to college right after the 60s, so in some ways, it doesn’t seem like that long ago to me. And then I think, “but that was 50 years ago.” Not that you have to knock down buildings every 40 years, but if you’re going to keep the classrooms up to date and the facilities up to date, that takes an ongoing investment.
What do you foresee in the next three years and the next 10?
As I sit here today, while I’m still worried about the budget reductions, I think we have taken the initial steps to get through the worst piece of it for right now. Over the coming 10 months, we will get the rest of that figured out so by the end of the next biennium, we can really be thinking about what new investments we can make. If I look further out, the real challenge will be whether or not we can get the flexibilities from the state so we can take control of our own destiny. I think if we have those flexibilities, we can have that control. We have to work with other sources of revenue – philanthropic, business and industry – but I see all the pieces coming into place in the next three, four or five years that we will be able to do that. Ideally, the goal is to put us in a place where we can thrive. That’s my goal long-term.
Way down the road, when people walk through Ullsvik Hall and see your portrait on the wall and someone asks “what was Chancellor Shields known for?” how would you like that question answered?
I’d like them to say he cared deeply about the university and moved it forward.
Interview conducted by Paul Erickson, UW-Platteville University Information and Communications. To nominate someone for the Pioneer Spotlight, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.