First-year chancellor officially inaugurated

Last Spring, UW-Eau Claire Student Body President Bryan Larson, who was then a student senator, and other members of Senate ran into Chancellor James C. Schmidt at a Culver’s restaurant.

Larson said one of the Senators was excited because Schmidt ordered a cheeseburger basket like everyone else. From that point on, Larson said he knew Schmidt would be a good fit at Eau Claire.

“He just gets students,” Larson said.

Schmidt, who was hired last May and has been in charge since July, became one with the students, faculty, institution and community Friday. He was inaugurated as the eighth chancellor of the 97-year old school in front of a capacity crowd at the Ojibwe Ballroom in the Davies Center.

“This is a humbling experience for me,” Schmidt said in his opening remarks. “Please note that this is about this amazing university, and I will be a steward for a period of time, I hope for a good long time, to build on the great work from the people you’ve heard from today, and more importantly our faculty and staff, and more importantly, our students.”

The ceremony ran little more than 90 minutes and included welcomes from University Senate Chair Mitchell Freymiller, Classified Staff Council Chair Greg Falkenberg and Larson. There was a poetry reading from English professor Max Garland, which drew a thunderous ovation from the audience, as well.

Also included were musical performances from students Hannah Kennedy, Kaitlyn Witherspoon and Alex Munger, as well as performances from Wind Symphony, Concert Choir and Blugold Marching Band.

Keynote speakers included Kevin P. Reilly, president of the UW System, and Darell Krueger, 16-year president of Winona State University, whom Schmidt served under for seven years.

Reilly said the UW System has as key a role as it’s ever had in Wisconsin. He said Schmidt, who sits on Reilly’s cabinet in UW Systems weekly meetings either via satellite or in person, will help them greatly with that mission.

“Jim will have many tough decisions, but I’m convinced he’s prepared for the challenges ahead,” Reilly said.

Krueger said Schmidt sets high goals and does whatever it takes to achieve them.

“You can trust him to do what’s right, to listen,” Krueger said. “He will be true to his words, give respect to others and recognize their achievements. He supports excellence and demands it of himself.”

Finally, Schmidt accepted a medallion symbolizing his official inauguration, as well as the microphone for a 30-minute speech he called “Our Audacious Future.”

In that speech, Schmidt highlighted four words he plans to govern by while at the helm of the university.

Schmidt combined the first two words into one meaning: public good. He said he wants to restore conversations and open up communication lines to create the best atmosphere possible at the university.

“Future generations of Blugolds are counting on us to lead a civil, reasoned, impassioned dialogue on funding higher education and help Wisconsin decision makers and policy makers connect their agendas to the work of the UW System and UW-Eau Claire,” he said.

His next word was audacity. He said he will dare people to be leaders in his time as chancellor. His final word of the afternoon was joy; he said it’s all about connecting to what really matters.

“I sought out this chancellorship because I knew UW-Eau Claire’s reputation for excellence,” Schmidt said. “I want our joy to be pervasive at UW-Eau Claire. We will define the kind of campus we want to have and how to make it a reality.”

Schmidt concluded his speech by reiterating the importance of working together to help keep Eau Claire one of the top universities around.

“I eagerly invite you to help me create a campus community that is defined by the joy of working together in a mission that will literally change the world,” Schmidt said in his closing remarks.

Schmidt undoubtedly has a lot of decisions to make in his time as chancellor. Just don’t be surprised to see him ponder them over a cheeseburger basket at Culver’s, just like any other student on campus.