Chancellor Foster to retire this summer
May 8, 2009
Interim Chancellor Connie Foster will retire June 30, closing the door on 25 years of service at UW-River Falls.
The fourth interim chancellor and the second woman to be hired for the position, Foster took up post in July 2008 when UW System President Kevin Reilly asked her if she would be willing to step in.
At the time, Foster was interim provost. She said she asked Reilly if he might want to bring someone from the outside in.
“He said no,” Foster said. “He thought the campus needed consistency. So I was obviously very flattered to accept.”
Upper administration was never Foster’s goal in pursuing an education.
“I would just read or get involved in what interested me,” the physically active 58-year-old said. “I didn’t do it because I thought it would necessarily take me somewhere.”
Foster said she loves physical activity and tries to stay active through any job she has held. Three to four times a week she can be found running five miles as early as 5 a.m. She takes a spin class and swims at the Hudson YMCA.
“It keeps me focused and balanced,” Foster, who competes in triathlons, said. "It's just a good time to let your mind relax and to feel the rhythm of the exercise and be in tune with what you are doing and how your body feels.”
A passion for physical activity can be seen through Foster’s education choices. Her undergraduate degree is in psychology and her master’s and doctorate degrees are both in physical education with a sports psychology emphasis.
Foster received an associate arts degree from San Bernardino Valley Community College in 1970 and a bachelors of science from California State University-Long Beach in 1972. Five years later, Foster earned a master’s at the University of Southern California.
Rounding out her education in 1983, Foster achieved her Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota.
Foster said she thought she would move back to California after she got her doctorate, but when she met her husband, Fred Roethlisberger, who was the men’s gymnastics coach for 33 years, that plan fell by the wayside.
"I really had to adjust to the winter,” Foster said. “It seemed like none of my clothes where right and I had to buy a down jacket and long underwear.”
Married for 27 years, the two lived in St. Louis Park, Minn., and Afton, Minn., before having settled in River Falls when their son Gus was born.
In 1984, Foster was hired as the head coach for the women’s gymnastics team and to teach in the department of health and human performance and UWRF.
A coaching highlight she said she remembers is a meet at Hamline involving Hamline, Winona State and UWRF.
“We were predicted to be third and we just hit everything and won that meet,” Foster said.
Foster began to move up the ranks in 1992 when she became a full professor and the women’s athletic director. Five years later, she moved to the overall athletic director and chair of HHP.
Interim Dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies Faye Perkins was Foster’s coaching and teaching colleague in the earlier years. Perkins started in 1988 and said Foster is very collaborative, understanding and compassionate.
“She has a creative mind for working out solutions to problems when, at times, there seems to be no possible solution,” Perkins said in an e-mail interview.
In February of 2002, Foster took over as interim dean in the College of Education and Professional Studies. A year later, she applied for and landed the job which she held until 2007. In August of 2007, Foster stepped in as interim provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, according to her résumé.
Her most recent administrative career, Foster said, is a positive for everyone to see that it could happen to them if they are ready and willing.
“I thought back in my career and it seems like whenever anybody asked me to do something I almost always said OK,” she said. “All of us need to think of ourselves as leaders and be willing to step in when asked to do so. Leadership isn’t always about what title you have. It’s about what you contribute.”
Foster said her biggest accomplishment as interim chancellor has been working with a lot of other people to move UWRF’s program prioritization forward. The most difficult part of being the interim chancellor has been making difficult decisions.
"Particularly in this budget crisis we've had to make difficult decision on how we allocate our resources,” Foster said. “We can’t do as much as we would like.”
Improving salary compression is goal seven of UWRF’s strategic plan and only a few initiatives for instructional academic staff were made, Foster said.
Interim Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance Lisa Wheeler said she got to know Foster in the early 1990s through serving on various committees together and both having a personal interest in running.
Wheeler said she will miss Foster’s optimism and laughter.
“My office is next door to the conference room in North Hall,” she said in an e-mail interview. “I can
always tell when she is in a meeting because I can hear her (and others) laughing. But no one should doubt that she is also very serious and thoughtful."
A favorite memory of Foster's is a budget retreat two years ago when she worked with Wheeler and many others to rethink the way UWRF did planning and budgeting.
“We started using a model of integrated planning by linking our resources toward strategic planning," she said. "That was first and just an exciting time."
Foster said she is looking forward to the opportunity to have a little more time to herself, but she will miss her colleagues.
“The meetings aren’t that bad,” she said. “I’m ready for a change, but I will miss working with my friends -- working with people I consider friends.”
Administrative Assistant Dianne Monteith, who has worked directly under Foster this past year said she will Foster's personal skills, energetic personality and laughter. “She has been a wonderful academic leader and one of the greatest persons I have worked with at the University,” Monteith said in an e-mail interview. “We will be losing an incredible person and a valuable resource.”
Perkins said she would describe Foster as a caring leader.
“I will miss watching how she can bring people together to work toward a common goal," Perkins said. "It's a gift of Connie's."
Foster said her advice to students would be to pursue a passion versus a paycheck especially in today’s world when the jobs change so much.
“So often students will say, ‘I have to find this major so I can get this job,’” she said. “And I’ve often said, ‘you know, first of all just find something that you like to do and usually the rest starts to take care of itself.”