By David Gordon, Associate Editor
The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s partnership with Mayo Clinic Health Systems “will be the most transformative thing we’ve seen” for the university, UW-EC chancellor James Schmidt told an emeriti faculty luncheon gathering on Tuesday.
The partnership will strengthen research efforts at both Mayo and the university, Schmidt told some 65 people at the Eau Claire Golf & Country Club. UW-EC now has the second highest number of pre-med graduates in the UW-System, behind only UW-Madison, and Mayo would like to channel as many of them as possible into its medical education system, he said.
Schmidt said that in the next state legislative session, “I will burn every ounce of political capital I have” to secure approval of a replacement for Phillips Hall, UW-EC’s science classroom and laboratory building which has served well but has become outmoded as science education has changed.
He said he expects Mayo not only to support the university’s request, but also to help design the new labs and possibly to help fund the project.
In his annual state-of-the-university report to the emeriti faculty, Schmidt noted that the recently approved state budget will provide additional funding for the UW-System – though not a huge amount – for the first time since 2001. He criticized the budget, though, for continuing a tuition freeze that has proven especially damaging because the university depends increasingly on tuition revenues.
Schmidt said that UW-EC is still making budget cuts as a result of the drastic reductions in UW-System funding in the budget for the previous biennium, but noted that it has made major savings through consolidating many support service areas. He noted that last year, consolidations in Facilities Management saved $1.2 million and said that establishing a central advising office has greatly increased student satisfaction with advising.
In making the necessary budget cuts, “we needed to do our best to protect the classrooms,” he said. That effort has largely been successful, though he conceded, in answer to a question, that the average class size has increased by perhaps three students and that the size of some lecture courses has grown more than that.
UW-Eau Claire is in much better shape than some of the other state universities which are still in the midst of dealing with the last biennium’s funding cuts, he said. On some of those campuses, entire departments may be eliminated, he noted.
Schmidt also discussed several projects that UW-EC is planning, among them a new welcome center and the sports complex on the Sonnentag site along Menomonie Street. He said that Mayo is planning to move its entire sports medicine department to that site once it’s developed.
Schmidt noted that UW-Eau Claire is “consistently on everybody’s list for quality” and that it has been named the best master’s degree level university in the country for excellence in undergraduate research. That designation came about in part, he said, because of the number of students of color and those from under-represented groups who are involved in the undergraduate research program.