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Chapter Seventeen: 1985—1986

“I have decided to make this my last year as chancellor. Next summer I will have served as chancellor for a full generation, 20 years, and I think it essential that a new generation of leadership be allowed to further develop and improve this fine and remarkable University.” - Chancellor Edward Weidner, Sept. 14, 1985

Weidner's closing words at the faculty-staff breakfast almost immediately set in motion a search for his successor.

Jerrold Rodesch

Jerrold Rodesch, associate professor of history and chairman of the humanistic studies program, headed the search committee. Other members from the faculty were Associate Professors Daniel Alesch, Dorothea Sager, and Terence O'Grady and Professors Martin Greenberg, Elaine McIntosh and Robert Wenger. Ronald Dhuey, registrar, and Kathy Pletcher, associate director of the library, represented the academic staff, Dean Leander Schwartz the senior administration of UW-Green Bay, and Elwin Cammack the UW System administration. Student members were Sue Premo and Lucy Cayemberg, president and vice president of the Student Association. By mid-December the committee had completed work on a job description. Backed by a faculty resolution reaffirming the “institutional distinctiveness” of UW-Green Bay, they included in their list of qualifications a commitment to “the interdisciplinary liberal arts mission of UW-Green Bay.”

Forty applications and nominations were in hand by the beginning of the new year. By the Feb. 23 deadline the committee had completed preliminary screening of about 60 of 185 candidates. A month later the field had been narrowed to 30 applicants whose references were being checked by telephone. A dozen candidates remained in the running by the end of April. In a marathon series of meetings, including interviews with finalists—a total of 11 meetings were scheduled between April 23 and May 8—the committee completed its work. The names of five unranked candidates were submitted to a regent subcommittee. In June a final choice would be recommended to the regents by UW System President Kenneth Shaw, in office since January.

While the search for Weidner's successor continued on its measured course, the chancellor attacked the duties of his final year with customary zest. The “good news” continued:

At a Faculty Senate meeting two days after the fall breakfast, Weidner announced the Herbert Fisk Johnson Professorship in environmental studies, the first of four endowed professorships supported by gifts to the capital campaign. Samuel C. Johnson and his wife Imogene, the donors, were at Weidner's side when he told of the award honoring Johnson's late father. The Ben J. and Joyce Rosenberg Memorial Professorship, a gift from the Rosenberg Family Foundation, was disclosed to the faculty in October, with the Rosenbergs' son Gary in attendance. News of a third professorship came in November, when members of the Cofrin family gathered on the campus to take part in dedication of the Cofrin Arboretum and a newly constructed observation tower. The 165-acre arboretum had been developed over a 10-year period with contributions from Cofrin family members of two generations. The professorship was the gift of Dr. David and Mary Ann Cofrin in memory of Barbara Hauxhurst Cofrin. A fourth endowment was announced in December. Presented by Philip and Elizabeth Hendrickson, it was specified for work in economic development. Each professorship, like the earlier Frankenthal Family Foundation award, would provide the recipient with a $10,000 annual stipend for three years in addition to regular salary. Each grant would be awarded to a senior professor for use in research or other scholarly activity.

Imogene and Samuel C. Johnson, Mary Ann and David Cofrin, Joyce and Ben J. Rosenberg,and Philip and Elizabeth Hendrickson

Imogene and Samuel C. Johnson, Mary Ann and David Cofrin, Joyce and Ben J. Rosenberg,and Philip and Elizabeth Hendrickson

The observation tower on the campus boundary

University Business Office

At the end of December Weidner presided over midyear commencement. In spring he welcomed academics from across the country, faculty members, students and community members to a series of 20th anniversary events. A two-day conference celebrating interdisciplinary education, arranged by Anthony Galt of the faculty, was a major event of the observance. In April Weidner dedicated the Student Union addition. The ceremony was punctuated by the release of 20 balloons, one for each year.

In May Weidner opened the 1965 Room, a private dining room in the Student Union. At a dinner marking the occasion, he unveiled a plaque with the names of 26 men and women. Recognized on the plaque were local business people, city, county and state officials, and representatives of UW Central Administration who 20 years earlier “had made bringing a campus to Green Bay their top priority,” in Weidner's words. At the end of May Weidner stood for the last time before a class of graduating seniors, associate degree and master's degree candidates. With him on the platform was UW President Emeritus Harrington, who 20 years earlier—in a far different climate of administrative authority—had handpicked Weidner as chancellor. As the principal commencement speaker, Harrington addressed the topic “Why I Like the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.”

“I think you have learned here that being a graduate of UW-Green Bay means more than going out and living your lives making lots of money—or a little bit,” Harrington told the students. “It means also that you are committed to helping in these difficult times to solve some of the problems of poverty and prejudice, the problems of the environment and international trouble which bother us so much now.”

June 30, 1986, was Weidner's last day on the job. He spent part of it on a pleasant piece of unfinished business: helping to dedicate two of four new residence halls in honor of early supporters of the University, Josephine and the late T. J. Lenfestey. Throughout the ceremony he remained true to a promise made earlier to a Press-Gazette reporter: “There will be no closing speeches. I'll move my books and I'll just walk out. That's how it will end.”

The new addition to the Student Union

The new addition to the Student Union

But Weidner's desire for a quiet goodbye had already been overruled. Two weeks before his career as chancellor officially closed, the Press-Gazette devoted a full page and a half to a report on the Weidner era at UW-Green Bay. Individuals on and off the campus commented on the qualities that had won both supporters and detractors, describing Weidner in such words as optimistic, innovative, persuasive, persistent, flexible, supportive.

In 20 years, Weidner had served under five University of Wisconsin presidents and five governors. Only Karl Meyer, chancellor of UW-Superior—due to retire the following year—held greater seniority as the chief officer of a University of Wisconsin campus.

“The evaluation of Weidner's performance as chancellor will probably never end,” wrote reporter Tony Walter. “But in the arena of bottom lines, Weidner's legacy is unmistakably a rich one.

“What Weidner built, as much with his political savvy and persistence as with his leadership, has produced over 7,600 graduates and now boasts a student population of just under 5,000.

“It is a campus of 35 buildings worth more than $100 million. And it is a school with a solid reputation, a highly respected library, a 180-member faculty and seed money from a $2.4 million capital fund-raising campaign that gives promise to future expansion.”

Interviewed by Walter, Weidner admitted to being “fiercely proud” of what had happened during his tenure. “But others will have to assess it,” he added. “I don't allow myself to do that. For me, the challenge is always the future.”

And for Weidner the future already held a new challenge. At the urging of the Cofrin family, he had accepted the post of director of the Cofrin Memorial Arboretum. His new job would start in the fall.