, ,

New UW Regents President Drew Petersen Lists Internships, Student Mental Health As Top Priorities

Petersen Lauds JFC For $1B Capital Budget For UW, Vows To Continue Advocating For Greater Investment In Operating Budget

Van Hise Hall, home of University of Wisconsin System offices.
Van Hise Hall, home of University of Wisconsin System offices. James Steakley (CC BY-SA)

The new University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents president says his main priorities for the state’s colleges are addressing access to mental health services and resources on campus, and increasing the use of student internships to feed the state’s business needs.

Regent President Drew Petersen was elected to lead the regents by a unanimous vote during the board’s Friday, June 7 meeting. He has served as a regent since 2013. First from 2013-2015 as a representative of the Wisconsin Technical College System, a two-year term required by state statute. Then he was appointed to a seven-year term by former Gov. Scott Walker in 2015. Petersen was president of the Wisconsin Technical College System and began the job of vice president of regents in 2017.

Petersen is taking over for former president John Robert Behling whose term ended May 1.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

In an interview with WPR, Petersen said his main role would be that of advocate for the UW System and its impact on Wisconsin.

“What I really want to focus on is student success and the Wisconsin economy,” Petersen said.

He said the system has a myriad of tools to continue boosting the state’s economy including undergraduate internships with businesses. According to data from the UW System, 56 percent of seniors participated in an internship or other field work in 2017. The national rate that year was 47 percent. Petersen said UW campuses can continue that trend by generating more internship opportunities and become a national leader.

“I see an opportunity for us as a state and as a system to become a national leader in internships and coops and here’s why,” Petersen said. “The Wisconsin economy is so strong across the state right now the biggest challenge we face as a state is workforce readiness.”

Demand For Counseling Services Outnumbers Staff

Another area Petersen would like to focus on is student mental health.

During a presentation at the April Board of Regents meeting, UW-Stout Dean of Students Sandra Scott and UW-Stout Associate Dean of Students John Achter told regents that demand for counseling services around the system has increased by 55 percent over the last eight years.

Petersen said the numbers were astounding and he’s interested in improving mental health services on campuses around the state.

“We can leverage the fact that we have campuses across the state in all regions that not only drive economic growth and vitality but also drive our society in Wisconsin to improve,” Petersen said. “And I think this is a priority that the Board of Regents is going to both invest operational time and financial resources to combat the problem.”

Capital Budget Funding

As for the state budget process, which is still underway, Petersen lauded the state’s Joint Finance Committee for approving more than $1 billion in capital improvements at campuses throughout Wisconsin, which include a new chemistry building at UW-Milwaukee and the first phase of construction for a new science building at UW-Eau Claire.

“Those are illustrations of the kind of significant investment in high-impact practice programs and in STEM-related fields (science, technology, engineering and math) that we’ve heard from the Wisconsin business community are exactly what they’re thirsting for,” Petersen said.

Petersen said he and other regents were hoping for more investment in the UW System’s operating budget. While Gov. Tony Evers proposed an increase of $130 million for system campuses the JFC approved an increase of about $58 million.

“We are not complete with the budget negotiation process,” Petersen said. “And I along with my peers and (UW System) President (Ray) Cross and our chancellor and provosts are continuing to make the case that if there are additional dollars for investment, then there is no better place to put those dollars than the UW System.”

UW-Whitewater Chancellor Appointment

Petersen told WPR he is happy with the selection of a new chancellor for UW-Whitewater. Dwight Watson was recommended for the job by a special regent committee and approved through a unanimous vote of the full regents board.

Some UW-Whitewater faculty objected to new chancellor search policies set in 2015 and 2017 by the Board of Regents, of which Petersen supported, that limited the number of search committee members to 10. Prior to the change, committees were made up of as many as 20 representatives from faculty, staff and student groups.

An open letter written by members of the UW-Whitewater Faculty Senate said they felt their concerns about the process were not heeded by regents or system administration. Petersen said the new policies have streamlined a competitive process while still including the voices of shared governance groups.

“When we look at our previous history it would take up to nine months to select a chancellor,” Petersen said. “In the case of the UW-Whitewater search we were able to conclude that search in five months’ time where we had a winter break where faculty was not on campus or doing research or studying abroad.”

Editor’s note: Wisconsin Public Radio is a service of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Educational Communications Board. WPR headquartered at Vilas Hall.