The third of four campus executive officer/dean candidates visited the University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County this week. Jon Dalager, who most recently served as a Fulbright professor at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, is the only finalist from outside the University of Wisconsin System.
“It’s very important to get an outside perspective as well,” he said as he began his public presentation Thursday.
Dalager’s talk focused largely on the importance of a liberal arts education, the Wisconsin Idea and how he would address current challenges faced by students, faculty and staff.
Dalager previously served as dean of the School of Natural and Social Sciences at Wayne State College in Wayne, Neb., from 2010 to 2013. He also served as chair of the political science department at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky., from 1999 to 2010.
He holds a PhD and a master’s degree in political science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He also has a bachelor’s degree in political science and speech communication from the University of Minnesota, Morris and has a diploma in radio-television broadcasting from Brown Institute in Minneapolis.
Dalager is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School and practiced law in Minnesota for a number of years before venturing into academia.
He spent Thursday and Friday meeting with faculty, staff and students at UW-Baraboo during his official visit.
“I’m impressed by the campus and the plans for the campus,” Dalager said in an interview Friday.
He said he found the atmosphere on campus to be pleasant and enjoyed meeting the people.
“It’s a complete focus on that liberal arts education, which is so important,” he said.
One important role of the dean is to highlight the benefit of the liberal arts education and the adaptability and flexibility of students who pursue degrees such as UW-Baraboo’s associate of arts and science and bachelor of applied arts and science, he said.
The value of the liberal arts education has been unfairly criticized, he said.
“Students who are coming out of Baraboo and like institutions have those qualities that are not major-specific but are expansive instead of limiting,” Dalager said.
He said that as dean, he also would work to expand the reach of the campus throughout the county to ensure that resources remain available for degree-seekers and area residents alike.
In addition to preparing its students to transfer to four-year institutions, the university has an important mission to serve the community and educate returning adult students, Dalager said. About 30 percent of the student body at UW-Baraboo is made up of nontraditional students — a much higher percentage than at other institutions with which he’s been affiliated, he added.
To reach these students, it is important to work with businesses and the university’s community advisory board and to pursue technology that makes classes more accessible to the working public, he said.
During his presentation, Dalager mentioned a program at Georgetown College in which classes were offered at a Toyota plant, a major employer within the community. He said that as dean, he’d investigate similar opportunities in the area and also look into offering additional certificate programs for those who need to fulfill requirements in certain industries.
During his presentation, Dalager was asked about how he would handle the budget cuts and other changes that have affected UW-Baraboo and other two-year campuses within the system.
“We all have to recognize that budget cuts are not just in Wisconsin but are everywhere,” he said. “State legislators are supporting education less than in previous years.”
Dalager said it is important for administrators, faculty, staff, students and community members to speak out about the importance of funding for higher education.
As dean, he said, he’d also seek out partnerships with businesses and look for additional resources through foundations, grants and other funding sources.
“Those resources are there that need to be explored and used,” he said.
The last finalist, Tracy White, will present on campus at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. Following each public forum, members of the community can e-mail feedback to Aaron Brower, interim chancellor of the University of Wisconsin Colleges and University of Wisconsin-Extension, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brower has said that he plans to name the next CEO/dean by June 1, and that that person will start by the beginning of the fall semester.
Current CEO and Dean Tom Pleger, who has held his position since 2006, recently was named president of Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. He plans to take on his new role July 1.