When Dwight C. Watson was on his UW-Whitewater tour, he saw some young men walking by wearing bras.
They were rallying in support of breast cancer.
So Watson made a donation, got a bracelet and continued on the tour, where he marveled at some of the artistic and historical parts of campus.
That resonated with Tom Kind, the outgoing president of Whitewater Student Government, who gave Watson his tour.
“He’s the kind of person that really wants to walk around and be part of campus,” Kind said. “I’m really excited to see him be a very vested member” of UW-Whitewater’s campuses and communities.
Watson will take more such walks at the university. He will start Aug. 1 as the 17th chancellor at UW-Whitewater, UW System officials announced Thursday.
Watson told The Gazette on Thursday that UW System President Ray Cross interviewed him May 17. After receiving the job offer, Watson signed a contract Monday.
The UW Board of Regents unanimously approved the appointment Thursday morning. Watson will make $240,000 as chancellor.
Since the move became public, Watson said he was in a “bubble of euphoria.”
“Dwight has demonstrated an ability to build meaningful relationships and to lead faculty and staff as a provost and dean. He is an accomplished faculty member,” Cross said in a news release Thursday. “He is approachable and authentic, and his references repeatedly described his leadership style as collaborative and engaging.”
Watson was one of two finalists along with Interim Chancellor Cheryl Green. Two other finalists dropped out of contention earlier this month.
The university’s previous chancellor, Beverly Kopper, resigned in December, which was months after Cross banned her husband, Alan “Pete” Hill, from campus after repeated accusations of sexual harassment.
Watson said he thought the circumstance was “situational and not systemic.” With the problems solved, he said the university is in a good position to move forward.
Kopper is set to teach in the psychology department starting in fall.
One of the tasks Watson will face is filling open administration positions. Recent departures include the provost, athletic director and assistant vice chancellor for student diversity, engagement and success.
Watson is now the provost and vice president of academic and student affairs at Southwest Minnesota State University, a job he started in 2015.
Through his own experience attending the University of South Carolina-Sumter, Watson told an audience at UW-W’s Rock County campus that he saw the importance of making campus accessible, affordable and attentive.
Watson, who previously worked at UW-Eau Claire, said Wisconsinites are hardworking and committed people. He appreciated those qualities.
Now 57, he said he saw the fit with Whitewater as being at the right place at the right time with the right people.
The university’s faculty senate and its chairman, David Simmons, have been critical of the chancellor search process, saying faculty have been “marginalized” with limited chances to provide their input.
Simmons was not immediately available for comment Thursday.
Kind, who also sat on the system’s search and screen committee, said the process felt rushed at first. He said they also had some semifinalists who took their names out of contention.
Through the challenges, Kind still said he was happy with how the process worked out. He felt the regent representatives listened to campus voices.
The incoming student president, Jen Purcell, said Watson’s apparent empathy for others will be important in his leadership role.
“It was evident that Dr. Watson has a heart for students and a commitment to providing students with transformational and empowering educational experiences,” Purcell said in an email.
Kind said some students told him about an instance in which Watson was listening to various shared governance groups. At one point, Watson stopped the conversation and said it was time to hear from students.
Purcell said she will emphasize “the importance of shared governance in this time of transition,” so they can make every student’s time at UW-Whitewater worthwhile.
For Watson, some of the next steps include renting a place while he investigates options for a permanent home.
He also said he’s looking forward to future dance and theater productions.
This story was updated at 8:20 p.m. Thursday.