Get to Know UW-L's Chancellor Joe Gow!

I had the opportunity to sit down with Chancellor Joe Gow and get the inside scoop on his day-to-day life! 


S: I was on the UW-L page looking at your profile page and it said you are a journalism bachelor’s degree and have a masters and PhD in speech communication. Did you see this happening? Was this your goal as a college student? What were you thinking?

JG: Oh no way! It was funny I was just over at the campus close up with high school students and I said, “when I was your age if you told me I was going to be chancellor of a university I would think that is crazy.” I mean no one aspires to that at that age. And I didn’t even know what a chancellor was until much later in my life. So you know like anybody I had some ideas of what I might do but you know I’ve always kept a very open mind and always looked for new opportunities and I’ve never been too reluctant to try something, stretch a little bit. Actually it wasn’t until graduate school that I thought maybe I’ll go into teaching as a professor at a University and once I did that I started to get more and more into administration and here I am.


S: So you wanted to be a professor then in college?

JG: Well in graduate school. I mean truth be known I’ve always wanted to be a rock and roller but I mean it’s hard to make a living doing that but that was my big passion and I still play music and it’s fun. I encourage people to keep with the things that you like and try to work them into your lifestyle.


S: I heard you are in a band and a guitarist. Do you perform a lot?

JG: That’s the thing. That band right now it’s on hiatus. My wife plays some instruments so we do some stuff together sometimes but we haven’t performed as much. Not only is hard to find time to go out and play but to practice is really challenging. I hate to say it but probably at this point in my life I’m sort of coasting on the fact that I’ve played for other 40 years and so you always have that so you don’t always have to practice a lot.


S: Has music always been a hobby of yours?

JG: Oh yeah! My mom got me a guitar for my 10th birthday and it took a little doing but then I caught on. This was at 1970 so with all the great guitar music in the 70’s wow it was just all around so I really did take to it. It was a big part of my life, particularly in high school and in college.


S: What is a day in the life of Chancellor Joe Gow like? What is your favorite part of your day?

JG: Well, there’s only one thing that’s the same everyday. I get up really early, like maybe about 4:30 in the morning, and I do some email and I exercise. I got to get an hour of exercise at least every day. That might be running, that might be on the elliptical machine, you know push-ups, sit-ups. I mean this morning I did boxing. It’s just something that gets me ready to do the day. I guard that. I will not meet with people early in the morning because I’ve got to have my time for that and then I go out and do what I do. The great thing about this job is really everyday it’s different and dramatically different. I mean I will get to go to classes, I will get to meet with people, like the governor was here the other day. Just so many different things, it really is a thrilling job and the best part about it is probably just walking around and people are so nice to me. There like, “Oh can I take a selfie?” So I’m just like, “well I’m really lucky.”  That’s nice to be the chancellor of a university. It’s a dream come true.

S: I know that whenever I’m with my friends at the U, Centennial, or Cartwright before it closed down, that whenever we would see you we’d all be like, “Oh my gosh, there’s Joe gow!”

JP: * laughs * Well get a picture after this and you can show your friends.


S: Well going back to your exercising, I know on your biography it said you are a runner and a vegan. I’m actually vegan too. What led to that decision? What made you want to do that?

JP: This is not a casual thing, as you know. It’s a whole lifestyle and I’ve been doing it since the late 80’s so we are talking coming on 30 years. Initially, I was active when I was a kid. I grew up eating everything like most people, lots of meat and dairy, and all of that. Then in college I was not very active. I didn’t eat very carefully and so I put on a lot of weight. I really wanted to do something about that and that’s when I started getting into exercising and then I first said let’s cut out red meat. Then I was like “wow, I could actually not have any meat.” I was still vegetarian because I was eating dairy. Then I found I had a lactose intolerance and then I was just vegan. It was a lot harder when I started. It was really out of the main stream. Now it’s getting a little more common and it’s really nice that we have …… doing great vegan options for us over in the student center.

S: That is nice. Well I was a vegetarian starting in October and my sister has always been vegan and I was like, “ehh no I don’t want to do that,” but then I just figured it was better for the environment and for your body.

JG: It’s just better all the way around. I wish people weren’t so quick to think “Oh I could never do that” As you know, there are vegan analogs and they taste great! I mean veggie turkeys, they really got it down. So I encourage people to check it out. It’s just something that is a big part of my life and if you name an airport in the country, I could tell you where to get the vegan food at that airport. Actually in cities, I know all the great vegan restaurants.


S: What are your goals for UW-L in the next few years? What do you plan to do?

JG: I want to keep moving forward and you can some of that in the buildings. The new student center is really fantastic. The new science labs will be wonderful. We’ll do a new field house behind the stadium area. So we have a lot of things coming. We are going to redo Wittich as a college of business administration. I think though even more importantly for the student experience is that we continue to get great faculty and staff. To do that we have to pay them a little more competitively. That’s something I’m always working to try and facilitate. We also want to be a more diverse university. We don’t, right now, mirror the demographics of the state. It would be nice to do that so we are always working on that as well. There are a lot of things to be doing and I’ve been here 10 years and I feel like I as excited about it now as I was then when I started. It’s a good feeling.


S: If you could describe yourself in 3 words, what would they be?

JG: Oh boy! I guess I’d like to think I don’t take myself too seriously, so maybe I’d say humble. And I am humble by this job. Energetic, that goes back to I like to get up in the morning and do things. Curious. I think it’s very important, particularly as you get a little older, keep that curiosity. I’m always looking for new things, asking questions, and I’m never sort of settled. Which some people might not like, but I like that.


S: Going back to when you were in college, you were a journalism degree. What made you do that? Did you always like to write? Was that always your plan?

JG: You know that’s interesting. I didn’t even really know if I wanted to go to college. I was playing the guitar; I was in a band. Then I was like alright, I have to do an education. I didn’t know what I wanted to study, so I started out in business and that didn’t work out so well. I went to my advisor and she said, “well what are the classes that you like?” I said, “English and political science.” She offered journalism. This was at a time when the Watergate episode in our history had happened when I was a little younger and I had watched the Washington post and Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and how they facilitated that. There was also this thing called New Journalism which is very experimental and people like Hunter Thompson and tom wolf. I just sort of got into that. I really enjoyed it as a major and wrote for my school paper and did a lot of fun and interesting things. I never became a journalist, but I learned so great skills that help me now which is how to put information together and how to write something concise and how to ask questions and find information and evaluate the credibility of it. It’s a great education for a lot of things.


S: You said you didn’t want to go to college in the beginning. What brought you to grad school then?

JG: Yeah that’s interesting. Actually after I finished my undergrad, I played in a band and made a living doing it. It was fun, but I could see that I might be playing in the same clubs and bars for the rest of my life. I just felt like I really wasn’t using my intellect and I thought maybe, grad school. Let’s give it a try. I went to graduate school and got my masters. That was probably one of the hardest thing I ever did. IT was really challenging for me, but I hung in there and got it done. Once you do a masters, a doctorate is more work, but you know how to do it. When I was in my masters, I got to teach some classes and I really enjoyed that. That’s when I thought I’d pursue a career as a professor.


S: Are you from this area?

JG: No. I was born in upstate New York. I grew up in Pennsylvania and went to school in New York and Pennsylvania and Alabama. I didn’t come out here until 2001. I was appointed dean at Winona State. It’s funny because when I got out here and I had never been at this part of the country really, they said to me,” when you get some time go see La Crosse. There’s a great Co Op in La Crosse and Dave’s Guitar store.” Have you been to that? Oh you must go! I know you play, but even if you didn’t it’s really amazing. Anyway, why I’m telling you this, I did one weekend come over here. I’d never been to La Crosse. I’m at the Coop downtown trying to figure out how to get to the mall and this was before the smart phones, so you can just put it in your phone. I had to look at a map and I came along La Crosse St. I turned and there was a sign for University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. I’ve heard good things about that university. That’s interesting. Then six years later, I’m the chancellor there. So that was wild! I didn’t see that when I was younger. Even later in my life being the chancellor at this particular university, I couldn’t have known that. I say that because you will do interesting things that you can’t even begin to imagine.



S: Do you see yourself staying in the Midwest?

JG: There was a time when I was like, “what’s next?” I got divorced and then I got remarried and my wife now is also an academia. She’s the provost at Dickinson State university in North Dakota. I looked at a university closer to her and I was just struck by how much I fit here and it fits me. I just really like it here and I’ve come to the conclusion that I really don’t think I could find a better situation. So I’ll be here for a while. I’m really happy here.


S: What do you like most about UW-L and La Crosse?

JG: The people. We really do some pretty incredible things and people win big awards. I’m very privileged that I get to share the news, that this person’s professor of the year, or this team one a national championship, and this play got selected for the Kennedy center. All of these things. But we don’t put on airs. Like people don’t work around here like, “Oh I’m special and great.” I really like that and I’ve been to some places where that’s not the case. I feel more at home here. I feel like when I meet with perspective students and families here, I can really promote UW La Crosse with my whole heart, I really believe in it. That’s something that is special.


S: Besides music, do you have any other hobbies?

JG: Oh you know; I like to watch films. My wife and I get together on weekends and watch movies. She’s a great vegan cook. I help a little with that. We enjoy our white wine from time to time. Some sports now and then. Professional football really fits my schedule because Sunday you can watch it and things. I also like to when I can go out and see the UW-L teams in person and events. Along with theater and music and other art and so on. There is so much going on here. One of my favorite things is also tied into my job. Which is to go and speak with groups. I really am privileged to get a lot of invitations and I just enjoy that.


S: Do you have a favorite UW-L sport to watch?

JG: Oh I don’t know. They are all great in their way. I will say that there is something about gymnastics that I guess because I use to play quite a few sports. I’m still pretty active. With gymnastics, I just don’t know how the young women do it. It looks both challenging and dangerous. I’m always odd when I see that.


S: If you could tell you 18-year-old self something what would that be?

JG: Well I would’ve gotten into a healthier lifestyle a little earlier. Go vegan and exercise. Other than that, there’s people who are like, “do you regret anything?” and I’m like no I don’t. I always try to do the best I can with what I had. I’ve made mistakes, but I learned from those mistakes. You just go out there and try. That is the thing that is very important. That’s something that is a little sad to me when students come to this university and don’t get engaged in activities and clubs. There is so much to do and so many people to meet. It really is a once in a life time thing, except if you get a job like mine. I know a lot of people my age who do the same thing each day, and they may love it, but I just like a lot of variety and I think the university, when you’re coming in here, there is a world of possibilities. So take advantage of that.


S: “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”

JG: “Right now, I’m the longest serving Chancellor in the UW system. I think in another 10 years there won’t be anybody near me. I would be very happy here. It’s kind of amazing how far technology has come. I know that education will always be a core of the teacher and the students and the support people and all that. How will some of the things we do change in the next 10 years? It’s pretty interesting to ponder. I mean, the new building. I think about that all the time. We’re opening that building that will last 50 years at least and I won’t be here then. But we’ll be able to say we were here when it started and opened. There is something really nice about being apart of an institution that has been here a long time and you know will always be here and we have our chapter. It’s really exciting!”


S: “What are your thoughts on Governor Walker’s budget proposal to put more funds into the school system, while decreasing tuition?”

JG: “It’s fantastic! I wish this wasn’t the first time, but it really is the direction we need to be headed, which is to put money in and not take it out. In all the other budgets money ended up being taken out. I’m really delighted that he’s saying let’s reinvest. The challenge of course will the be the budget. He starts it, while the other legislatures will now finish it. I hope they feel the same way. We will see. The tuition decrease idea is very novel. I’ve never really heard anything quite like that. I think that is well intentioned but I’m doubtful that that will happen because of the other legislatures don’t think we will have the money for it.”