Interim dean for UWRF College of Education becomes permanent

Posted February 1, 2017

Michael Harris has dropped the word “interim” from his title and now is the dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies at UW-River Falls.

His new job title became effective Feb. 1. Harris was named interim dean in 2016 after his predecessor, Larry Solberg, retired.

Prior to his professional career, Harris graduated from UWRF in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in communication sciences and disorders. One year later, Harris earned his master’s degree as well. Harris went on to work for roughly a year and a half before returning to UWRF on a grant position. The position allowed Harris to work with at-risk kids around the age of 6 in western Wisconsin and coordinate screenings and track students’ progress. After a couple of years, he “morphed into teaching and supervising in the speech language hearing clinic on campus,” Harris said.

It was clear to Harris that teaching was his calling, so he went back to school at the University of Minnesota to receive his doctorate.

Harris served as associate dean for a couple of years prior to becoming interim dean in early July.

As associate dean, Harris said he dealt with issues such as a student appealing their suspension from the university. He also handled curriculum and student complaints. Now that he has been promoted to dean of the college, he is tasked with “overseeing all the programs in the college,” Harris said. The College of Education and Professional Studies offers majors in communication sciences and disorders, health and human performance, social work, counseling school psychology and teacher education.

The dean’s role also includes forming the college’s annual budget, which is never an easy task.

Harris and his school will be looking forward to the Higher Learning Commission’s (HLC) visit to UWRF. The HLC accredits degree-granting post-secondary educational institutions. Harris said that to prepare for the HLC, the college just needs to keep its course and make sure everything’s in order. The HLC’s visit is set for 2018.

In the long term, Harris and the college will be working to develop a strategic plan.

“The university has a strategic plan, but the college, currently, doesn’t have a strategic plan, so I would like to go through that process with faculty and staff and student representatives of the college to develop that strategic plan,” said Harris.

The plan would basically provide a road map for the college on where to allocate its resources. It would “guide us to come up with three to five goals on what our focus would be,” said Harris.

Along with building a strategic plan, Harris acknowledged it won’t be smooth sailing and that there are obstacles and challenges awaiting.

“A big program in this college is teacher education… There’s a shortage of teachers in the state of Wisconsin, and working with our K-12 partners I think is going to be important, as well,” said Harris.

Dean’s Assistant Kay Corey said she believed Harris was the best choice the lead the college.

“He’s dedicated, he’s very thoughtful and all-around the best candidate we had in the pool,” said Corey. “He’s very familiar with this college, he’s very familiar with each of the programs in the college, as well as the faculty and staff.”