Thursday, January 17, 2008

The man who set Parkside straight

Jack Keating dropped a little bombshell yesterday when he said he'll leave his job as University of Wisconsin-Parkside's chancellor in August.

It doesn't seem like it's been ten years since Jack came here and that alone is a testament to what he's accomplished.

A little history lesson is in order, folks.

Back in the 1960's community leaders and legislators from Kenosha and Racine worked vigorously to persuade the legislature to create a new four-year University of Wisconsin campus here. When the green light was given the two communities battled each other to be the home of the new institution but a compromise was reached that put the campus on land in between them in the Town of Somers.

Kenosha County turned a large chunk of Petrifying Springs County Park over to the state and the University of Wisconsin-Parkside was born.

The first chancellor, Irvin Wyllie, was deeply sensitive to the school's mission to serve the Racine and Kenosha communities. He was mindful that the school's founders -- such as the late Assemblyman George Molinaro -- were folks who grew up without many opportunities for a college education but wanted them for their children and grandchilden.

Irv died not long after Parkside opened and a succession of successors tried to turn Parkside into a elitist eastern-style school, even disarming trained campus police officers.

Relations with the community became increasingly strained as Parkside strayed more and more from its original mission.

After another elite chancellor quit a light bulb went on at the UW system administration which set out to learn why Parkside had so many issues.

Then UW President Katherine Lyall and her staff reached out to leaders in Kenosha and Racine who related how much Parkside lost touch with the community and its original mission.

It was after this input that Jack was brought here from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. He immediately began to repair community relations, restore Parkside's original mission, improve academics and obtain additional funding.

This new approach wasn't just for the elite.

Keating began the first year on the job working the bookstore cash register to get to know students. He cooked and served breakfasts to students during final exams. And the police got their guns back.

I once told Jack how important it was to treat the officers as professionals and how much they appreciated his gesture. He immediately interjected that as the son of a Seattle policeman he was committed to seeing that the university's officers are treated as the professionals that they are.

Jack Keating will be a tough act to follow. This community is greater for his presence and contribution and we'll miss him.

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