Office of the President



Inauguration of UW-Whitewater Chancellor Richard J. Telfer
Irvin L. Young Auditorium

Kevin P. Reilly, President, University of Wisconsin System

Friday, November 14, 2008

Thank you, Dick.  It is my genuine pleasure to be here for the official inauguration of Dr. Richard J. Telfer as the 15th Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Today, we celebrate Dr. Telfer’s commitment to the campus. We join him in pledging to accomplish ambitious goals, and we come together in a shared vision of a better Wisconsin, achieved through learning, discovery, and engagement.  I am heartened that so many community leaders, campus colleagues, and university friends are here today to witness this beginning of a new era.

Some might say that the “Telfer era” actually started long ago. With 23 years of service to UW-Whitewater, dating back to his days as an Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction in the mid-80s, Dick knows this campus from top to bottom. He comes to the Chancellor position from the faculty ranks, where he earned the respect of fellow educators and students while demonstrating an unwavering commitment to the university, and the whole community.

In the past year, serving as Interim Chancellor, Dick has already shown us his willingness to do whatever is required to make his mark as an effective leader.  This is, after all, the man who arrived to give his State of the University address on a purple and silver motor scooter, to the blaring accompaniment of “Born to Be Wild.” He’s learning a chancellor has to do a lot of different things to get people’s attention. 

I’ve since heard that Dick and a few of his fellow chancellors have formed a sort of counter-culture “scooter gang.” They spend the weekends cruising the Wisconsin countryside on their Vespas, wearing leather chaps, and drinking Grape Nehi straight from the bottle.

Joking aside, Dick’s new role is both simple and complex. As Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “We cannot build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”  The future that faces us now poses some extraordinary challenges. Our nation is experiencing daunting economic pressures. The demand – and the need – for higher education have never been greater.

It’s also a time of great opportunity. The UW System has a distinct and vital mission as it faces the future. I describe that mission as being the state’s premier developer of advanced human potential, of the jobs that employ that potential, and of the communities that sustain it. Our universities must prepare people to make a good living, and also prepare them well for life as contributing citizens in a globally-involved democracy.

UW-Whitewater, drawing on its 140-year history and an established tradition of success, is well positioned to take up that gauntlet and to play a significant role in achieving such important goals. Together, we are committed to growing our family of learners by enrolling more students from low- and moderate-income families, and by reaching out to more potential adult and nontraditional students so that we can increase the number of Wisconsin residents who have four-year college degrees. We will also stand by our commitment to serve the state and local communities by graduating more students into areas of high state need, such as science, math, and engineering.    

Chancellor Telfer likes to describe UW-Whitewater as a university “on the move” … a university that is growing and adapting to meet the demands of the community, state, and nation it serves. Well-educated citizens will be crucial if this state and this nation are to find sustainable solutions to current problems -- and to challenges as yet unanticipated. We must have a strong public university system in this state if we are to get there.  I have every confidence that Dick Telfer is the right leader to help UW-Whitewater thrive in its efforts to educate and prepare students; to develop the talents of university professionals; and to extend this campus’ vision and knowledge beyond the boundaries of the campus … to serve and stimulate society in the true spirit of The Wisconsin Idea.

As UW-Whitewater continues its mission of regional leadership, national presence, and global vision, it also requires something more on the part of the people at its helm.  It takes something special.  And that brings to mind an old tale of three stonecutters …

As the story goes, a traveler, walking along a lane, comes across three stonecutters working in a quarry.  Each is busy cutting a block of stone.  Interested to find out what they are working on, the traveler asks the first stonecutter what he is doing. “I am cutting a stone,” the man said.  Not much enlightened, the traveler turns to the second stonecutter and asks him the same question. “I am cutting this block of stone to make sure that it’s square and its dimensions are uniform, so that it will fit precisely in its proper place in a wall,” the second worker said. Somewhat the wiser, but still unclear what they are actually working on, the traveler finally turns to the third stonecutter.  He seems to be the happiest of the three, and when asked what he was doing, he replied, “I am building a cathedral.”

In the UW System, we are building, too. Building talent and skills and careers, building communities, and building what we hope is a brighter future for all of us. It requires more than just knowing how or what to do, but also knowing why. It involves having a sense of the bigger picture, recognizing the grander purpose.  

Chancellor Telfer has the kind of vision we need, as we head out to new horizons.  And with today’s ceremony, we entrust Chancellor Telfer with the responsibility of protecting this campus’ historical traditions, cultivating the relationships with the community it calls home, and developing and implementing a vision for the next generation of faculty, staff, and students at this vibrant place.

We are gathered here to celebrate the start of a new journey for Chancellor Telfer, and a new chapter for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Going forward, this campus will look to Chancellor Telfer to lead it in its commitment to the pursuit of knowledge and understanding, and to the development of each individual in the community. Dick now has the responsibility to guide UW-Whitewater as it further develops a sense of community, champions diversity, and fosters global perspectives.

Each of our UW System chancellors is called upon to provide that broad leadership and long-range vision. They are also called upon to be strong and effective managers, helping our institutions make the best use of precious resources.

As our nation and our state confront economic turmoil not seen in our lifetimes, that management capability will, no doubt, be tested. If each of you – students, faculty, staff, and community members – are willing to work with Chancellor Telfer and his leadership team… If each of you is ready to play your part… then we can overcome these near-term financial barriers without ever taking our eye off that long-term vision of a brighter Wisconsin, led by more and more talented UW graduates!

Prior to coming here, I visited the online guestbook created for today’s event. It contains dozens of greetings from students, faculty, staff, and friends of this university, all of whom congratulate Dick on his stepping into the Chancellorship. One entry, by Bob Hepfinger, from the Whitewater class of 1970, seems to capture the general sentiment.  He writes:

“Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, ‘Ideas must work through the brains and arms of good men (-- and women--), or they are no better than dreams.’” Mr. Hepfinger goes on to say, ‘It’s clear… all your good work as interim Chancellor shows you are the one to lead the school from the realm of dreams into the realm of action and growth.’”

It is my pleasure now to summon forward the man of the moment for a university on the move, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater’s 15th Chancellor, Dr. Richard Telfer. I would ask Dr. Telfer, along with Regent Danae Davis, to please join me here at the podium.


Dr. Telfer, it is my privilege to bestow this chancellor’s medallion as a symbol of office, and to charge that it be worn with the greatest esteem and honor. May it serve to help inspire you as you lead this university in its mission of teaching, research, and public service, during what promises to be a positive, productive, and exciting term as Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. When you remove this medallion for the last time, may you do so amidst the accolades of the Whitewater community, and may you then be a happy, tired, and beloved Chancellor Emeritus of this institution!