In 2005, The Nelson Institute was embarking on restructuring and reinvention; they had hired their first director from outside of the UW and under Frances Westley’s leadership we thought hard about how to integrate Gaylord Nelson’s legacy into the culture of the Institute.  We also worked to evolve our research and education programs in the spirit of an expanded Wisconsin Idea.  After the director’s departure, I served as Interim Director where I represented the Institute in University leadership activities (including the decadal Univeristy reaccreditation) and managed Institute’s faculty affairs.

The highlight of my work at the Nelson Institute was the conceptualization and launch of the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts.  I also initiated and managed integration of two (then) existing units into the Institute, oversaw the launch of the new Center for History and the Environment and managed the shutdown of a program that had run its course.  As part of restructuring, I assumed leadership of the Institute’s Academic Programs Office, which ran 3 graduate programs, and I oversaw the launch of a long contested undergraduate major.  I authored a foundational white paper and advanced a sustainability framework for the University as a whole; that framework eventually became the organizing document for a university-wide sustainability initiative lead from the senior levels of the university.

The Details:

Associate Director, 2005 – 2011
Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin – Madison / Madison, WI

Manage the daily operations and tactics of a university division composed of a large, diffuse, networked faculty, 8 educational programs, and 4 research centers spanning the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities.  Support Director in strategic planning and related implementation.

Strategic Program Development

  • Create University framework for sustainability which integrates teaching, research, and operations; launch a University food and sustainability program as pilot activity
  • Create and teach a new undergraduate course with the goal of integrating teaching and university operations
  • Design and launch Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts, in partnership with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, to address state and regional climate adaptation knowledge needs; guide its continued development including submission of large institutional funding proposals
  • Manage conversations and program development related to “triple bottom line” issues in anticipation of societal need and funding raising opportunities
  • Transfer Wildlife Disease Information Node from USGS into the Nelson Institute in support of university-wide environmental health capacity building
  • Oversee launch of new center on Culture, History, and Environment bringing together a world-renowned group of scholars in the humanities
  • Integrate the Land Tenure Center into the Nelson Institute, building on brand value and modernizing research program
  • Manage transition of a low-priority research center to more appropriate institutional setting outside of the Institute
  • Facilitate development and implementation of fundraising infrastructure for the Institute as a whole
  • Oversee development of rigorous learning-outcomes assessment process for all Institute graduate programs

Internal Relations

  • Build new networks and teams to address strategic opportunities through outcomes-oriented research and teaching
  • Participate and represent Institute interests in University research policy making and implementation
  • Negotiate joint hires of new faculty with partner units across the university

External Relations

  • Oversee initiation and growth of external relations office resulting in greatly enhanced name recognition and engagement with regional businesses and State government
  • Revive Federal relations activities with objective of developing program-related relationships with the Wisconsin congressional delegation and ensuring that the strength of our programs is recognized in national executive branch decision making

Institute Management

  • Recommend and implement reorganization of staffing in Director’s Office to increase flexibility, resilience, efficiency, and staff satisfaction
  • Assume leadership of Academic Programs Office to advance strategic integration of teaching, research, and Institute operations including matching academic program evolution to University strategic goals
  • Initiate and guide development of rigorous budget planning
  • Manage state-mandated budget cuts including reduction of staff
  • Manage space as a strategic resource

Interim Director, 2007 – 2008 (continued duties as Associate Director)
Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin – Madison / Madison, WI

Formulate and implement strategy to advance mission of horizontal integration around issues addressing the relationship between humans and the environment.  Lead university division composed of diffuse networked faculty, 8 educational programs, and 4 research centers, spanning the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities.

University Leadership

  • Represent Nelson Institute in University leadership bodies including all aspects of university planning, policy-making, and administration

University Strategic Planning

  • Create framework relating divisional strategic priorities to each other and to the “Great Public University” theme, as a member of Dean’s Ad Hoc Strategic Planning Group
  • Shape discussion of Creating an Impact and Shaping the Global Agenda as a team-member in decadal reaccreditation self-study for the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools

Institute Management

  • Negotiate successful retention of key faculty member, including coordination with provost’s office, facilities, other schools, and the independent University of Wisconsin Foundation
  • Maintain Institute momentum during time of leadership transition
  • Organize small-unit deans to address challenges of relationship with University of Wisconsin Foundation and to develop strategies to address fundraising resource needs
  • Provide servant-leadership for policy development and Institute evolution in strong shared-governance environment
  • Oversee and approve budget development (~$2M/yr operating, ~$4M/yr research)
  • Approve and oversee staffing evolution
  • Manage relationships with Board of Visitors including coordinating and chairing semiannual meetings

Program Development

  • Develop inter-school cooperation around new curricular and research programs related to the environment including campus-wide undergraduate major
  • Allocate and leverage limited discretionary resources to advance Institute mission including 3:1 match to launch Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts
  • Explore institutional relationships with major University projects including Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery

Institute Relationships

  • Represent and act for the Institute in projects and activities involving constituencies beyond the University including Governor’s Global Warming Task Force
  • Serve as the public voice and face of the Nelson Institute