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Chapter Five: 1971—1972

The merger of the two university systems was a product of the political environment of the times. ... We, with Madison, did insist on—and succeeded in getting written into the law—the principle that even in a merged system there should be diversity among institutions. But what has happened over the years, of course, has been a steady trend toward homogeneous higher education. ... The campus most advantaged by merger, probably, was Madison—it could stand above the other 12 campuses and argue that it was different. The campus most disadvantaged was Green Bay, because we were small, we were the target of the Wisconsin State University System, and we were innovative.”

- Chancellor Emeritus Edward W. Weidner in a 1991 interview

Lucey's proposal for merger, put forward early in 1971, had certainly been expected.

During his election campaign he made no secret of leaning toward a centralized system under a single board of regents. In a budget hearing on higher education a month before Patrick Lucey was inaugurated, President Lee Dreyfus of Wisconsin State University at Stevens Point also took up the cause. As an example of the need for merger, Dreyfus cited the similarities in location and mission between his campus and UW-Green Bay, and then pointed out the great differences in their budgets, compared to the number of students served. The disparities extended to funds for facilities, he said, as well as faculty pay, class load and operating costs in the two systems. And merger offered the best way to bring them in line.

Patrick Lucey

Lucey was not the first governor to push for merger. Sixteen years earlier, according to veteran observer John Wyngaard, Gov. Walter Kohler had suffered what turned out to be the major defeat of his three terms in office on the issue. Instead of merger, along the lines of a blueprint similar to that advanced by Lucey, Kohler was forced to accept a compromise in the form of the Coordinating Council on Higher Education.

This time around, Wyngaard predicted, the proposal for merger was likely to succeed. Writing in February 1971 from the Madison Bureau of the Press-Gazette, Wyngaard pointed out the favorable circumstances and timing, as well as “some shrewdly contrived details” of the actual merger plan:

  • The likelihood that the university's energies would be diverted by money problems in the new legislative session;
  • The expectation that UW President Weaver, newly inaugurated, would be uncertain about or ill-equipped for a fight on merger;
  • Lucey's assurance that the new single board of regents would include a majority of the members of the two existing boards;
  • Lucey's endorsement of a rate of salary boosts for University of Wisconsin faculty higher than had recently been suggested by any governor;
  • The evident backing of merger by some Republican legislators. Simultaneously with Lucey's announcement, a similar unification bill was introduced in the Senate by Republican Sen. Ray Heinzen.

While university officials and faculty committees in both systems issued statements of concern or commendation on the merger issue, while legislators tangled on details of the biennial budget, campus life moved along in predictable patterns.

At Green Bay, the men's basketball team finished the regular 1970-71 season with a 23-4 record, but lost to UW-Eau Claire in the semifinals of the NAIA regional tournament. Pat Madden received his diploma at the spring commencement—a ceremony that featured R. Buckminster Fuller as the major speaker—then returned to the campus to finish his course work during the summer session. Undergraduate credentials in hand, Madden immediately accepted a post as admissions counselor at his alma mater.

Madden was one of the lucky ones; in the spring of 1971, scores of his classmates, like new degree-holders all over the United States, were facing the tightest job market in 20 years.

Overall unemployment in the nation stood at more than six percent. For a bumper crop of 1.1 million college graduates, including those with master's and doctoral degrees, job recruiting and job offers were down at least one-third from the previous year. Engineering and applied sciences jobs suffered the biggest declines, but the teaching profession, previously an area of shortages, was almost equally hard hit. Partly because of a leveling off in elementary school enrollments, the U.S. Department of Labor predicted, the number of college graduates seeking to enter teaching could soon be double the projected demand. Local students were experiencing “some panic,” reported Bruce Ehr, placement director at the University. “We don't know how many jobs are available, but we do know that openings are down drastically from last year,” he said.

While new alumni tended bar, drove trucks, sold merchandise at department stores, and waited for jobs to open in their fields of study, the Green Bay campus flourished. Fall enrollment topped 3,500, chalking up a nearly 20 percent increase over the previous fall. The campus population included 500 veterans and 63 dependents, plus growing numbers of over-25 adults. Enrollment of nonresidents, from 29 states, had doubled, and Wisconsin students included residents of 57 counties. Campus apartments were home to 450 men and women compared with 215 the previous year.

New faces on the campus also included 28 men and women appointed to the faculty and another 20 who had joined the professional staff. Student services units alone claimed nine additional counselors to serve the needs of admissions, career counseling, and academic advising. Others were hired to upgrade the student health service to a full-time operation.

Students who in spring had left a campus heaped high with excavated dirt returned in September to a virtual explosion of new facilities: roads, parking lots and pedestrian paths; a nine-hole golf course, open and operating, with a new student activities building adjacent to the remodeled clubhouse; a soccer field, completed and fenced; tennis courts and playing fields almost ready for use. Within a month, ground would be broken for the first two buildings of the Creative Communication complex; before Christmas, University administrators and faculty members would occupy the two top floors of the new eight-story library.

New programs of study and outreach were also in place.

An undergraduate major in nutritional sciences had been approved as the 12th interdisciplinary concentration offered at UW-Green Bay. Full accreditation of the teacher education program was on its way. The first overseas trainee in the AIESEC exchange program for business students was working in a Norwegian import-export firm, and 30 students had begun their assignments as the first University Year for Action volunteers.

Ground breaking for the Creative Communication complex, October 1971: (L-R) Don Tilleman, Coryl Crandall, John Beaton and Conny Nelson

Deckner Avenue building

The UYA program was the first to be established on a Wisconsin campus, and only the sixth in the United States. With funds from a federal grant, each volunteer would earn a $3,600 stipend and 30 credits during the academic year for work in fighting poverty: at an inner-city school in Milwaukee; in an economic development project in Forest County; at the Boys Club or Girls Club in Green Bay; in the Oneida Indian community; at Taycheedah women's penitentiary or some other setting. And in another new outreach program, UW-Green Bay professors were teaching the first credit courses for inmates at the Wisconsin State Reformatory.

A month into the fall semester, merger became a reality. The Assembly approved the bill Oct. 6, 1971, as Weidner was observing the fifth anniversary of his appointment as chancellor. Eight days later Gov. Lucey signed it into law.

“I don't anticipate any immediate impact of merger on our students and faculty,” Weidner commented. “I do see us facing six months or more of very substantial problems in integrating the two systems into a single university structure that will be the third largest in the nation. However, I am confident that with determination and patience even those problems will be eventually solved.”

Six months later, only the first steps had been taken. The CCHE was dissolved and the two regent boards integrated, but separate central administrations had been retained for a two-year period. A powerful merger implementation study committee, appointed by Lucey, was working with the regents to prepare a completed merger plan for the 1973 Legislature. UW President Weaver was named president of the merged system, and Leonard Haas, president of Wisconsin State University-Eau Claire, was named vice president.

Under the legislation, each campus would keep its mission, as set forth in a CCHE document published earlier in the year. But UW-Green Bay would be stripped of its “satellite” campuses. The university centers at Manitowoc, Menasha and Marinette, along with all other two-year units in both systems, would be joined under one administration in the combined system.

A week after Lucey signed the bill, a Press-Gazette editorial cautioned the new board and the merger committee against “a mere automatic use of this language of the merger law without consideration of the legislative direction” when UW-Green Bay was organized.

UW-Green Bay had been authorized as a regional university, the writer pointed out, and there was agreement that the three centers would be part of this regional concept. “To the student or taxpayer in the ranks, the final organization chart for merger will not matter as much as to university administrators,” the editorial continued. “But the instructional and curriculum linkages among the UW-Green Bay and its three two-year centers and the concept of a regional university should not be abandoned.”

Editorial comment from the Fox Valley, on the other hand, sounded a note of relief.

The change may be “all to the good for the Fox Valley Center,” suggested an Appleton Post-Crescent  writer. “There has been a gradually developing confusion about the proper mission for the school over the last year or so, and the confusion has adversely affected both faculty and students.”

Fox Valley students continue their education at a number of institutions besides Green Bay, the editorial pointed out. Yet UW-Green Bay “by necessity influenced the course offerings in the first two years at its branch campus at Menasha. And increasingly students who went on to other universities were finding that the courses they had taken at the Fox Valley campus might not in all cases meet degree requirements at other universities.”

Administrative and budget ties with Green Bay were to be severed as of July 1, 1972, when all two-year campuses in the state would become part of the UW Center System. But as the academic year ended, officials at all four locations reflected on the benefits that would remain from the brief alliance. At Marinette, Dean William Schmidtke cited the advantages of the microwave television link that would continue to serve students enrolled at his campus in University Extension graduate courses offered at Green Bay. Thomas Birmingham, Green Bay's director of lectures and fine arts, noted the advantages of variety and savings available through block bookings of visiting artists programs. At Manitowoc, Dean Raymond Grosnick pointed to continuing cooperation in library services. And Leander Schwartz, Fox Valley dean, looked forward to possible faculty exchanges among the campuses. By the time the deadline for realignment arrived, Schwartz had announced his own one-way exchange: to an appointment at Green Bay as associate professor of environmental sciences.