UW-Whitewater Chancellor Dwight Watson is resigning from the university’s top post following a recent stomach and intestinal cancer diagnosis, finishing nearly two years as chancellor.
Tommy Thompson, the head of the UW System, announced Thursday that he has appointed former system Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs Jim Henderson to serve as the university’s interim leader.
Watson, who was hired in 2019, will resign effective June 30, according to a news release. He will then assist Henderson through the transition until Oct. 31 before Watson becomes a tenured faculty member with the College of Education and Professional Studies, in accordance with his contract.
Watson in an announcement to the campus said he has upcoming treatments that will “take me away from my job responsibilities.”
He said he became an educator because “a life worth living is one that is lived for others.” He sought out where he thought he could do the most good.
“By following this belief, I often neglect myself,” he said. “Over the course of the pandemic, I have encouraged all of you to prioritize your health and well-being. I must do the same.”
Thompson thanked Watson for his time as chancellor.
“I am deeply saddened to learn of Dwight’s personal health challenges,” Thompson said in the release. “We are incredibly fortunate that Jim Henderson has agreed to lead the university at this challenging time. He is a personable and thoughtful academic leader with exceptional experience that will benefit UW-Whitewater greatly.”
Henderson most recently served as UW-Madison interim provost in the summer of 2019, according to the release. He served in his previous UW System role in student and academic affairs from 2016 to 2018.
Before that, he was the provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, 2014-16, and a dean at a university in California before then.
“I’m excited to join the University of Wisconsin—Whitewater community as the university moves forward with planning and shaping its academic program to meet the needs of its students and the state of Wisconsin,” Henderson said in the release. “UW-Whitewater is a gem.”
Henderson will start July 1 and be in the position indefinitely, the release states. He will make $245,000 annually, and his contract includes a $2,000 monthly housing allowance.
Watson’s annual salary in the faculty position will be $92,325. If he chooses to take that position, he will start no later than the beginning of the spring 2022 semester.
Over the last few years, UW-W has had to staff several administrative positions on an interim basis as it lost institutional knowledge through departures.
This week, the university celebrated the retirement of Greg Cook, who served most recently as interim provost and the executive vice chancellor for academic affairs.
In the fall—right when COVID-19 was at one of its peaks locally—Cook also jumped into the role of interim chancellor while Watson was under investigation for allegations he was later cleared of.
Ryan Callahan last month was named athletic director after serving as interim director. Additionally, Taryn Carothers this spring was the interim vice chancellor for administrative affairs.
When Watson was picked as chancellor back in spring 2019, he had administrative positions to fill such as provost and assistant vice chancellor for student diversity, engagement and success.
Watson’s predecessor, Beverly Kopper, resigned in December 2018, months after her husband, Alan “Pete” Hill, was banned from campus after repeated claims of sexual harassment.
Watson did not come to UW-W as its 17th chancellor during an easy time at the university.
Beyond the fallout from Kopper and her husband leaving, declining enrollment contributed to a budget crisis that pushed Watson to lead the university in finding millions of dollars in cuts.
The faculty and Watson were at odds, however, over the budget cuts and who had the authority to make cuts to academic programs.
The back-and-forth reached a level that led to another former chancellor, Richard Telfer, being brought in to serve as a mediator of sorts during the budget discussions.
The pandemic also became a major concern at the university over the last 15 months, with leaders having to make decisions on testing, in-person classes, graduation ceremonies and much more.
Before coming to UW-W, Watson was the provost and vice president of academic and student affairs at Southwest Minnesota State University. He also used to work at UW-Eau Claire.
In his resignation letter to Thompson, Watson wrote Wednesday that the type of cancer he has is “exacerbated by stress.”
“The stress in the role of the chancellor is plentiful,” he wrote.
Watson wrote to the campus that being chancellor “of this legacy institution has been one of the great highlights of my personal and professional life.”
“Warhawks, we are a strong and resilient community, and UW-Whitewater is in very capable hands—you have an outstanding group of leaders and supporters who will continue to move the university forward,” he wrote.
He signed off his announcement: “With gratitude.”
This story was updated at 2 p.m. Thursday with more background on Watson’s time at UW-Whitewater.