Former UW-Whitewater chancellor says resignation due to lack of support from UW System administration

Jim Henderson says he wouldn't encourage anyone to apply for chancellorship in UW System at this point

empty tables line a concrete walkway that leads up to the university center
A student walks into the University Center on Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, at UW-Whitewater. Angela Major/WPR

Former University of Wisconsin-Whitewater interim Chancellor Jim Henderson says his sudden resignation Monday was due to a lack of support from UW System administration and not about issues on campus. Henderson says he wouldn’t encourage anyone to apply for a UW System chancellorship.

In a brief message posted on UW-Whitewater’s website, Henderson said he was resigning as interim chancellor by the end of the day. In a vague message, he said one of his three goals had been to help the campus hire the best chancellor for the long term. Henderson said it had become clear he could not “make progress on that goal.”

In an interview Tuesday with Wisconsin Public Radio, Henderson said he was breaking his silence to make sure people know his departure has nothing to do with UW-Whitewater.

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“UW-Whitewater is a first-rate comprehensive (university) that serves students exceedingly well,” Henderson said. “The faculty, they’re dedicated to the students, and I want to make sure that everyone understands that. I think it’s a wonderful university.”

Henderson said he resigned because he felt there was a lack of support from UW System leadership. Because of that, Henderson said, he could not encourage other higher education leaders he knows to apply for the UW-Whitewater chancellorship.

“I wouldn’t encourage anyone to apply for a chancellorship in the UW System at this point,” Henderson said. “Because I felt like we had established a level of collaboration and trust between the chancellors and the leadership that was not honored.”

Henderson wouldn’t say what specific issue or disagreement with UW System administrators broke that trust.

There had been speculation among staff at UW-Whitewater that the issue was a campus free speech survey funded by the Menard Center for the Study of Institutions and Innovation at UW-Stout. The center is funded by donations from the family of Wisconsin billionaire John Menard.

On Tuesday afternoon, UW System interim President Michael Falbo issued a statement noting concerns from campus leaders raised two weeks before.

“The chancellors raised concerns about the survey, at which time I informed the Menard Center we would not be participating,” Falbo wrote.

But, the statement said, after consultation with researchers, Falbo decided to go ahead with the survey.

“I acknowledge that some chancellors were disappointed in that decision, and it regrettably led to a resignation,” Falbo said.

A UW System spokesperson said no additional information about the resignation would be shared at this point.

Tracy Hawkins is a professor at UW-Whitewater and chair of the campus faculty senate. She told WPR that employees were devastated by Henderson’s resignation. She said she called Falbo to urge him to find a way to keep Henderson from leaving, which Falbo told her he would do. An email sent by Hawkins to fellow faculty members Tuesday afternoon was critical of the survey.

“While the survey has been months in the making, its importance has increased because of some proposed legislation and the upcoming election cycle, and I think we can all see that the results (whatever they turn out to be) could be politicized quickly,” Hawkins wrote.