Every now and then in the winter months, a snowball hits the curved window of Bill Medland's office.
Far from being upset, Viterbo University's president is said to welcome the playful interaction from his students.
"It's a sign of endearment," said Sister Marlene Weisenbeck, a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration. "I think it's great that students even take the time to walk past his window and try to get his attention. That means they are comfortable with him and they value whatever type of communication they get in a lighthearted moment."
Medland said Viterbo exists for one reason: The students. Providing a positive living and learning environment for students is his main responsibility, he added.
Medland is starting his 15th - and final - year as Viterbo president. The seventh and longest-serving president in the Franciscan university's history recently submitted his resignation to the board of trustees. He'll step down as president June 30, 2006, but start as the first-ever Viterbo chancellor the next day.
Medland will be an ambassador to the community and fund raise for the university and its students. He'll be in a senior position, but will report to the new president.
He promised to provide a smooth leadership transition and raise endowment money to provide scholarships for first-generation college students in his final year as president.
Faculty, staff and trustees said they will miss the leadership of the humble man who has helped shape Viterbo, turning the small college into a full-service four-year university since taking the helm in 1991. Enrollment has doubled during his tenure and Vision 2005, a strategic plan launched in 1997, brought $42 million in enhancements to the campus.
The final piece of that blueprint, the Amie L. Mathy Center for Recreation and Education, will be dedicated in September. A new plan, The University of Opportunity, will keep the momentum going.
Medland said a person "who is younger and more energetic than perhaps I am in my life" is needed to implement the new plan.
He also wants to spend more time with his family and focus on his health. Medland has had three major lung cancer surgeries since July 1998 for bronchoalveolar cell carcinoma. His wife Donna also has battled cancer in the past year.
Few heard Medland complain during his eight-year illness. That's par for the course, faculty and staff say, who can tick of actions full of Medland's "hints of goodness":
- as foster parents for newborns waiting to be adopted.
- breakfast at 3 a.m. to students during finals week.
- compassion during times of sorrow or loss.
Sister Mary Ann Gschwind, chairwoman of the board of trustees, said Medland has helped create a stronger, cohesive Viterbo community while stressing the importance of its Catholic, Franciscan heritage.
Doug Hastad, chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, said he was amazed that 65 percent of Viterbo's 12,000 living alumni attended the school during Medland's tenure.
"That's just one example of the impact a single person can have on a college," Hastad said. "It's quite a remarkable story he has written."
Lee Rasch, president of Western Wisconsin Technical College, said Medland played an "absolutely instrumental" role as Viterbo and WWTC developed their joint associate of arts degree. Rasch said the initial discussions took place in March 2004. By August 2004, the degree was accredited and 22 students enrolled.
"That's just an incredible timeline for a new initiative," Rasch said. "This would not have been possible if it were not for Bill Medland's strong leadership."
Weisenbeck, a past board chairwoman, said Medland often describes himself as "just a common person."
"I would add to that, 'who does uncommon things,'" she said.
Medland brushed aside the praise, saying he has "achieved nothing by myself" and many others played integral roles in all the university's successes.
Those who know him said that's a typical Medland statement.
"I've rarely heard him talk about his accomplishments," said Rick Kyte, director of the D.B. Reinhart Institute for Ethics in Leadership. "He's almost always talking about the next thing he wants to do."
Medland's vision was evident from day one, said Academic Vice President Jack Havertape. It made some people uneasy, he said, but it turned into acceptance as they saw his passion for making a stronger university community.
Tom Thibodeau, associate professor of religious studies and philosophy, said Medland is a man of "deep personal and practical faith" who always remained focused on the future - and improving it for students.
"It would be like Brett Favre will always be remembered as a Green Bay Packer," Thibodeau said. "Bill Medland will always be remembered as one of Viterbo's favorite sons."
IN HIS WORDS
"The mark of a leader is to know when it is time to pass the torch to someone else. Given the potential of the new vision, I believe that it is time for Viterbo to welcome a new president who will bring a new set of skills and talents to lead this University to its next level as it seeks to fulfill its potential as a Catholic, Franciscan ecumenical university which is student-centered, values based and learning-focused."
Bill Medland, in a letter to faculty and staff
Family: Married to Donna; daughter Bridget is 35, son Mark is 21, daughter Jeanne is 9; 15 newborn foster infants since 1998.
Occupation: President of Viterbo University for 14 years
Work history: Provost at St. Mary's University in Winona, Minn., 1986 to 1991; academic dean at Marymount College in Kansas, 1981 to 1985; dean of the College at Springfield College in Illinois, 1980 to 1981; graduate fellow in history at Ball State University in Indiana, 1977 to 1980; operations manager at Watson-Jenkins Inc. in Indiana, 1975-1976; assistant academic dean at Saint Louis University in Missouri, 1971 to 1975; history instructor at Ball State; 1970 to 1971; history and philosophy instructor at Donnelly College in Kansas, 1967 to 1970.
Education: Bachelor of arts from Notre Dame. Master of arts in history and education, Ph.D. in history, Ball State University.
- 13 years of record graduate and/or undergraduate enrollment.
- Initiated graduate degrees in business, nursing, servant leadership, educational leadership and expanded education program.
- Initiated undergraduate programs in social work, criminal justice, music theater, and expanded adult education programs and online programs.
- Created a new governance system and created five academic schools within Viterbo.
- VISION 2005, which added $42 million in enhancements.
- Transformed Viterbo from college to university in 2000.
- Enrollment: 1,170 to 2,692
- Full-time undergraduate enrollment: 753 to 1,495
- Graduate fall semester enrollment: 48 to 768
- Undergraduate degrees: 135 to 364
- Graduate degrees: 41 to 508
- Total degrees: 176 to 872
- Budget: $8.9 million to $35.9 million
- Endowment: $2.7 million to $15 million
Serves on the following boards
- Association of Franciscan Colleges and Universities (founding director)
- Amie L. Mathy Center (founding director)
- Franciscan Skemp Community Board
- Greater La Crosse Chamber of Commerce (executive committee, treasurer)
- La Crosse Medical Health Science Consortium (founding director)
- Viterbo University Board of Trustees (ex officio)
- Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities
- Wisconsin Foundation for Independent Colleges (executive committee, treasurer)
- Phi Delta Kappa (Education); Phi Alpha Theta (History)
- American Historical Association
- Organization of American Historians
- National Council of Independent Colleges
- National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities
- Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities
- Downtown La Crosse Rotary