Keeping eye on UWRF’s finances just part of her job

Posted March 20, 2021

The coronavirus pandemic has led to challenges for UW-River Falls, including financial consequences that are the concern of the assistant vice chancellor for business and finance.

Faced with a drop in enrollment, cuts to state funding, layoffs and furloughs, things seemed uncertain. Elizabeth Frueh has been the assistant vice chancellor for business and finance since 2012. Frueh has many roles at the university, and spends a lot of her time working on the budget and the financial situation for campus, as well as advising the chancellor on financial matters.

Frueh started at the university as the budget director in 2011 and was promoted to her current position a year later. Though most campuses keep a separate budget director, Frueh still covers this role with the help of two budget analysts.

This year, Frueh has spent time working on how to continue to serve clientele in a COVID world. She said many of her personnel have taken on additional duties. For example, Human Resources had many extra tasks related to the campus layoffs, furloughs and unemployment.

“The controller’s office and the budget office have had to do numerous tracking of COVID expenses,” Frueh said. “As we receive federal funding, we need to track which expenses go where and each bucket of funding we receive from the federal government has different rules so we had to be monitoring that.”

The university’s response to the pandemic has required other things to be organized in the area of testing sites for students and employees, contact tracing, and quarantine and isolation spaces.

Jody Nichols, the university controller, has reported to Frueh for four years. Nichols said she meets with Frueh weekly, though they communicate almost every day.

“Because of COVID we’ve been forced to scrutinize finances a little more and it’s been a little more hectic,” Nichols said. “It’s forced us to communicate more timely, while we’re trying to negotiate the testing services, we’re trying to get things approved by the system and so it’s really increased the pace.”

Frueh said they’ve worked hard to be thoughtful in each decision and spent a lot of time thinking about how to keep everyone safe while still considering the implications of the decision and the financial consequences.

Frueh also was a command sergeant major in the Wisconsin Army National Guard, serving for over two decades and retiring in 2006. Frueh said the military has given her tools to deal with the pandemic. She said one of the things the military taught her was how to analyze the options in a situation and select an option to proceed forward with.

“Sometimes there’s a tendency to want to spend too much time planning and you don’t have enough time for execution of that plan,” she said. “The military also teaches you more direct communication and I think that’s been helpful for my position.”

Human Resources is one of the 10 departments that report to Frueh. Michelle Drost is the director of Human Resources, and has reported directly to Frueh for over four years. She said there have been many changes with the pandemic, but Frueh has continued to be responsive and supportive.

Drost said Frueh even finds time to do additional things on top of her daily duties, including assisting with the planning for the chancellor’s search committee, and supporting efforts around campus.

“She doesn’t make a line that says my job or not, she always goes above and beyond,” said Drost.

Nichols said Frueh can plan quickly and efficiently and is very receptive to change. Her first impression was that Frueh is direct, efficient and resourceful, Nichols said. After getting to know her over the years, Nichols said above all, Frueh is ethical.

“She can just process and come up with great solutions. She’s a really good problem solver and she can analyze data and bring in extra pieces that aren’t necessarily financial,” Nichols said. “She’s always thinking about how that will affect the students and the community. She brings a lot to the table.”

Frueh is currently telecommuting to work from her motorhome in Mississippi until April. She said she loves to camp with her husband, and is still able to meet her work responsibilities from the campsite.