SMSU Provost named chancellor of UW-Whitewater

MARSHALL — While he will be going on to a new position later this summer, Dr. Dwight Watson said he hopes he will leave behind a positive legacy at Southwest State University, and in the area community.

“Before I take a step forward, I want to leave my footprint elsewhere,” said Watson, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs and Student Affairs at SMSU.

On Thursday, the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents named Watson as the 17th chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Watson will start his new position on Aug. 1.

“Dwight has demonstrated an ability to build meaningful relationships and to lead faculty and staff as a provost and dean. He is an accomplished faculty member,” said UW System President Ray Cross, in Thursday’s announcement. “He is approachable and authentic, and his references repeatedly described his leadership style as collaborative and engaging.”

In a campus announcement Thursday, SMSU President Connie Gores congratulated Watson on being named chancellor.

“I am happy for Dwight and know that he will do well in this next step in his career,” Gores said.

Watson will continue to serve at SMSU through July. Future decisions about filling the provost position will be made by incoming SMSU President, Kumara Jayasuriya. Jayasuriya takes office on July 1.

Watson has served as provost and vice president of Academic and Student Affairs at SMSU since 2015. Watson said he saw his work with university assessment, accreditation, and strategic planning as successes during his time at SMSU. In helping to lead the university’s strategic planning, Watson worked to include voices from both inside and outside SMSU, including area community organizations and local schools.

Becoming part of the SMSU and area community was an important part of his time in southwest Minnesota, Watson said.

“I want to thank the community,” he said. Watson said he has learned and grown “tremendously” in his four years with the university.

Watson said he had been considering taking on a university chancellor or presidential role, and he had prior experience with the University of Wisconsin System. He served as associate dean of the teacher education program at UW-Eau Claire from 2007 to 2010.

UW-Whitewater is one of the premier institutions in the University of Wisconsin System, Watson said.

“I am humbled and honored to be offered the chancellorship there,” he said.

In the University of Wisconsin System’s announcement, Watson also said UW-Whitewater was a good fit for him.

“I am inspired by UW-Whitewater’s commitment to providing its students tranformational and empowering education experiences,” Watson said. “As a first-generation college attendee of modest means, I found that higher education provided me the functional, navigational skills that I needed to access future opportunities. With a focus on access, affordability, service and success, my work now is to inspire learners to achieve and to remove barriers for students so they can have access to greater opportunities.”

Watson was one of four finalist candidates interviewed for the UW-Whitewater chancellor’s position. The finalist pool included Slippery Rock University Provost and Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs Philip Way, Louisiana State University of Alexandria Chancellor Guiyou Huang, and interim UW-Whitewater Chancellor Cheryl Green. Huang and Way both withdrew from consideration earlier this month, the Associated Press reported.

When Watson steps into the chancellor position, he will replace former Chancellor Beverly Kopper. Kopper resigned in December, after her husband was banned from campus amid sexual harassment complaints, the Associated Press reported.

Watson said he had spoken with the University of Wisconsin System board of regents about his predecessor’s resignation. However, he said the board of regents thought the circumstances around Kopper and her resignation did not indicate a systemic problem with the university.