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The Racquet Press

The student news source of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

The Racquet Press

The student news source of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

The Racquet Press

Interim Chancellor Betsy Morgan sets the tone at ‘Joy Fest’ amid leadership changes at UWL

Jen Towner
Betsy Morgan making opening remarks to the spring semester. Photo provided by Jen Towner.

On Wednesday, Jan. 17 Interim Chancellor Betsy Morgan addressed a room of 600 University of Wisconsin-La Crosse staff and faculty in her opening remarks for the upcoming spring semester.

The “Joy Fest”, titled by Morgan, was held in the Bluffs Ballroom in the Student Union and offered standing room only as the event commenced with a performance from members of the UWL arts program.   

Following a unanimous action by the UW Board of Regents, Joe Gow was dismissed as chancellor. In his place, the previous Provost Betsy Morgan is now serving as interim chancellor. 

Morgan began by addressing Joe Gow’s dismissal. She first quoted Comedian Charlie Berens to reflect on the topic, “Oh Gezz,” she said, followed by laughter from attendees. Morgan emphasized how it is a personnel situation and there are certain details she cannot disclose. “Joe Gow is not teaching this semester and any future situations will depend on personnel outcomes,” she said. 

Gow remains a tenured faculty member in the communications department as he had planned to teach come the spring semester of 2025. The UW system is investigating whether to revoke his future position or not – a process more complicated because of Gow’s tenured status.  

Morgan said she was not aware of the reasons for Gow’s dismissal until just before the UW Board of Regents meeting when they asked her to serve as interim if needed. “None of the cabinet or any other person I have spoken to knew of the reasons until the outcome of the regents meeting and the subsequent press,” she said.  

The last time the topic of Gow’s dismissal was mentioned in Morgan’s opening remarks was a statement of reassurance. She said, “The press will die down. It already is. The jokes will die down. That hasn’t quite happened yet. And we will all still be here doing what we have always done, pursuing the education of students as our primary mission.”  

Morgan then touched on the negotiations between the Universities of Wisconsin leadership and the Wisconsin Legislature regarding promised pay raises for all state employees. UW System employees saw a 4% increase in their 2023 base salaries and a 2% increase in 2024 – raises previously blocked by Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.  

Vos demanded that the UW System first eliminate all Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) positions before this raise would be granted. Because of the vote to restructure DEI positions in exchange for pay raises, Morgan said, “there’s some fairly significant potential DEI implications.”  

UWL continues to advance with the search for a new DEI vice chancellor amid the decision.  

Morgan explained current DEI Vice Chancellor Barbara Stewart and DEI Assistant Vice Chancellor Stacy Narcotta-Welp are working with the UW system to perceive potential changes. “We will continue to do the work that we have done, and we will do it into the future,” said Morgan.  

To continue the “Joy Fest” Morgan emphasized her positive feelings for UWL. Morgan started at UWL 30 years ago as a psychology professor and department chair. In 2017, she became provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs. “I do love the people of UWL,” Morgan said, people, “are the heartbeat of UWL.” 

Morgan asked nine colleagues to tell a story that reflected how students have positively impacted campus and, conversely, the impact of UWL on students. Director of Financial Aid Christina Hayes, Residence Life Director Jenni Brundage and biology professor Jen Miskowski shared their stories. “Our students are amazing, and they have these outside lives, and we are really lucky to be a part of it,” said Miskowski. “They are an impressive group.” 

The stories continued with Police Sergeant Nikki Miller, Director of the ACCESS Center Andrew Ives, finance associate professor Nilakshi Borah, Multicultural Student Services Director Vickie Sanchez, psychology associate professor Alex O’Brien and Executive Director of Development for Cleary Alumni and Friends Center Allison Ziegelman.  

As the DEI vice chancellor search continues, so do other senior-level searches. UWL continues to search for a permanent chancellor, a process that started when Gow announced his retirement in Aug. 2023.

A search to fill the position of vice chancellor of administration and finance is ongoing. The position is currently held by Bob Hetzel, who is retiring following this academic year.  

“We are in remarkable shape,” said Morgan regarding her satisfaction with UWL’s financial standing. UWL and UW-Madison were the only two UW campuses to report a budget surplus in fiscal year 2023. Morgan also reported UWL to have the highest retention rate among UW campuses. 86% of first-year students return the following year. “That takes a village,” said Morgan.  

Morgan gave a shoutout to the UWL admissions team who in the summer and fall of 2023 gave 861 campus tours, which brought 10,255 total visitors to campus. With a wave to Kim Blum, director of athletics, Morgan shared that UWL is within the top one percent of 442 DIII schools in the country after the 2023 fall season.  

To wrap up the spring semester’s opening remarks, a reporter from the La Crosse Tribune asked, “I want to know how you felt when you heard you might have to step up as chancellor.”

“I do love the people here. I know the university. It was just the obvious step,” said Morgan “I’m happy to provide the stability and take us into the future.” 

Watch the entirety of Morgan’s opening remarks.

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About the Contributor
Isabel Piarulli, Executive Editor
Year at UWL: Junior PGPs: She/Her/Hers Hometown: Menasha, WI Major: Psychology and Political Science Minor: Communication Studies Other Campus Involvement: Student Association CASSH Senator, University Centers Admin Assistant, Psychology Club, Pre-Law Society member Future Plans after Graduation: Attend law school Favorite Activity in La Crosse: Visiting Pearl Street Books
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