Viterbo University Strides Magazine Online

Parting Thoughts from President Medland

Medland Parting WordsHe is the longest serving president in the history of Viterbo University and his list of accomplishments and recognitions are a fitting testimony to a “job well done.” Citing health concerns and a desire to spend more time with family, Dr. William Medland notified the Board of Trustees a year ago that he would step down as president effective June 30. He will transition to the newly created position of Chancellor which will continue his involvement in fundraising and community relations. He recently spent a relaxed morning reminiscing and sharing his thoughts about his 15 years at Viterbo and the transition ahead.

Q. Did you ever think you would be staying at Viterbo as long as you have?

When I started, I made a commitment to be here five years. I thought I could make a few important and needed changes after which I would move on and let a new president build upon those changes.

In 1991 if you had asked, “Are you going to be here ten or fifteen years?” I would have said “absolutely not.” I was wrong in that analysis because I discovered I had the best job I could ever imagine having. I arise each day looking forward to my work as president.

That’s the short of it…those five years turned into 15!

Q. Are there any particular accomplishments that stand out?

My fifteen years as president can be compartmentalized into two very different periods. The first period extended from 1991 to 1996 and was a time of clarifying the governance structure, instituting the concept of schools within a university, significantly increasing enrollment, and strengthening Viterbo fiscally.

The second period extended from 1997 to 2005 and was a time during which Viterbo initiated and completed successfully VISION 2005: A Renaissance for Living and Learning in the 21st Century. Most notably this included the construction of the Amie L. Mathy Center, the Reinhart Center, Rose Terrace Apartments, a physical plant building, and a new V-Hawk outdoor athletic complex. But VISION 2005 also included the expansion of graduate and undergraduate programs, a significant increase in our still minimal endowment, and an ever increasing positive view of Viterbo University by our alumni and the civic community.

I believe that perhaps the most important accomplishment of Viterbo during my tenure was the inauguration of the D.B. Reinhart Institute for Ethics in Leadership. Viterbo is now identified by our ethical programming, our ethics-across-the-curricula, and our soon-to-be Doctor of Philosophy in Ethical Leadership. This also positions Viterbo as a leader in the most important organizational, social, cultural, and moral issue of this new century.

Q. Challenges you recall?

Of course, the job of president has many challenges. I remember in the early years, some of the choices were grim. Either get more students or lay off faculty and staff. I would lay awake at night thinking about the many employees and their families who would be affected if Viterbo needed to reduce its personnel. And when you are considering laying people off it becomes a very personal issue for you and for them. Those first few years were indeed years of challenge.

Q. Who were the mentors in your life--those who shaped who you were to become?

My leadership style has been influenced by a strong moral and ethical foundation. My parents were people of faith, integrity, and ethics. My father was an architect and my mother was a teacher and social worker. They were both involved in community organizations and each promoted minority causes and causes of the less fortunate. Both were committed to doing what was right for the community as well as for their four boys.

I went to the University of Notre Dame where Fr. Charles Sheedy was one of my mentors. Fr. Sheedy was Dean of the School of Letters and Sciences. He convinced me to stay in college even though I considered leaving the university every semester for my first three years.

He would often stop by to encourage me and tell me to “hang in there.” He was a powerful influence in my life and because of people like him, I did not give up. I decided then that I might be in the bottom five percent of my incoming class but I could compete. I ended up graduating in the upper third of my class and I was on the dean’s list the last four semesters. He gave me a chance; and I was successful. Perhaps, this is why I have always had a partiality toward the underdog. Everyone can succeed if they have someone who believes in them.

Other mentors have been, most definitely, the Franciscan sisters. I was born in a Franciscan hospital and I began my education with Franciscan sisters having attended St. Bridget’s, an elementary school in Indiana. At the other end of my life, it has been my privilege to serve the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration at one of their sponsored institutions for the past fifteen years. My life has brought me full circle with the Franciscan influence.

Q. You’ve had cancer for a number of years. How has your health affected your work and your outlook on life?

I enjoy what I am doing even with the cancer. My work is important to me both psychologically and spiritually. To me, it is part of the balanced life…that I can contribute something. I mean, really, what’s the alternative? An oncologist at the Mayo Clinic told me that I survived my most recent surgery because of my faith, positivism, Irish stubbornness, and a desire to return to work.

I was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer in July 1998 and I had major surgery. It was four years before it returned and another surgery was required in July 2002. On September 15, 2004, I had a third operation for the complete removal of the left lung. Unfortunately, the surgeons were unable to get all of the cancer but I knew what the odds were going in. I have since been able to regain much of my strength and I take experimental chemo tablets daily. In my control group of 24, there are seven of us for whom the experimental drug is still having a positive impact. 

You asked earlier about mentors. I would like to mention my wife Donna. She is my role model. She also has had surgery for cancer and has been through a lot; yet, she is able to keep going with a positive outlook. She is a loving wife and an inspiration to me.

Q. How would you like to be remembered?

Hopefully, people will see me as a person of integrity who tried to do his best under a variety of changing circumstances. That is far more important than any building, endowment, program, or materialistic achievement.

In the end, what really matters? For most of us, when all is said and done, it’s not about money, titles, or things like that. Can you answer this question, “Have I lived a meaningful life?” If you can say yes to that question then I believe you have achieved all that really matters. It is not important what others may think, it is what you think of yourself. Only you have to answer to God.

Recent Recognitions

2005

  • Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa (Viterbo University)
  • William Medland Scholarship Endowment ($300,000) established by Trustees
  • Boys & Girls Clubs National Man and Youth Award

2004

  • Chamber of Commerce’s Community Service Award
  • LADCO Triangle Award for Collaboration

2003

  • La Crosse Tribune Person of the Year
  • Iverson-Freking Ecumenical Award

2002 

  • Exemplar of Mission Award

1991-2006 Viterbo During Medland Tenure

  • Thirteen years of record enrollment: total nearly 2,700
  • Initiated graduate degrees in: Business, Nursing, Servant Leadership, Educational Leadership
  • Initiated development of a Ph.D. in Ethical Leadership
  • VISION 2005 ($44 million in enhancements, new facilities, endowment growth)
  • Transitioned Viterbo from college to university
  • Total degrees granted: 910 up from 186 in 1991 (490%)
  • Budget: $38.4 million, up from $8.9 million in 1991 (432%) 
  • Endowment: $17 million up from $2.7 million in 1991 (630%)
  • Alumni: two-thirds have attended Viterbo during his presidency