Originally published in buzz Magazine, Fall 2009
It’s been almost two years since Dr. Wilson G. Bradshaw departed Metropolitan State to become president at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Fla. Yet Bradshaw still refers to the university by “we,” “us” and “our.”
Call it force of habit. But it’s also likely Bradshaw, or “Brad” as he was known by many, still uses the personal pronouns because he remains passionate about the university he presided over from 2000 to 2007.
Bradshaw’s inaugural address was noteworthy because he almost didn’t deliver it. It was late September 2001, in the aftermath of 9/11, and many Americans, including some inaugural guests, refused to fly because they feared more airplane attacks. The president of Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, Pa., who planned to introduce Bradshaw, bowed out because of that concern.
Bradshaw recalls one inaugural remark in Founders Hall Auditorium drew “audible gasps”—when he forecast the university would mushroom from about 6,000 students to approach 10,000 within a relatively short period. As it turned out, Bradshaw was prescient; 9,115 students were enrolled when he left.
The skyrocketing student enrollment was one of Bradshaw’s major accomplishments and part of his plan to improve access to higher education in the Twin Cities area.
“For people to be functioning, contributing citizens in a strong democracy,” said Bradshaw, “it’s become very clear and important that they have some level of education or training beyond high school.” He noted some resistance to the student growth rate and expansion of academic programs among some faculty members. But Metropolitan State’s fourth president was unapologetic about the direction in which he steered the university.
“A public university—not just Metropolitan State—doesn’t exist just to meet the needs of faculty and staff,” he said. “We are there to serve the students and we need to always keep that in mind. If that requires us to change to meet students’ needs, then we should do that.”
Serving students was the impetus behind other Bradshaw accomplishments: Restructuring of some academic units early in his tenure; expansion of baccalaureate and master’s programs and setting the stage for doctoral programs; enhancing partnerships between Metropolitan State and metro area community and technical colleges so students could more easily enroll at the university; and opening the new library.
“The library was critical to our growth, because Metropolitan State couldn’t become the comprehensive urban university the Twin Cities deserved without it,” he said.
“And through our partnership with the Saint Paul Public Library, we were able to have a public library presence on the East Side, one of the most diverse and underserved neighborhoods in the Twin Cities.”
Bradshaw observed that Metropolitan State boosted student enrollment despite steep state budget cutbacks. When he started, he said, more than 60 percent of Metropolitan State’s operating budget came from the state, compared to about 40 percent when he left. That experience proved valuable at Bradshaw’s new institution, Florida Gulf Coast University, where state appropriations have recently been dramatically cut.
He said he particularly identified with Metropolitan State’s commitment to serving diverse populations. And indeed the percentage of students of color jumped appreciably during Bradshaw’s tenure; when he departed, about one-fourth of the student population was from communities of color, the highest at any four-year Minnesota higher education institution.
But it was another Metropolitan State commitment—civic engagement and service learning—that left a major imprint on Bradshaw personally. He became active in Twin Cities–area nonprofits and foundations. He chaired the Minnesota Campus Compact, an organization that leverages higher education assets in partnership with communities to expand civic engagement; recently he was elected to the national Campus Compact board.
While Bradshaw said he misses many friends at Metropolitan State and the Twin Cities’ quality of life, he believes the university is in good hands with President Sue K. Hammersmith. He recently had dinner with Metropolitan State’s sixth president and came away an admirer.
“President Hammersmith is an accomplished academician and academic administrator,” he said. “I think Metropolitan State has a winner in Dr. Hammersmith. She’s going to do very well and be a wonderful leader for the university.