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Friday, November 4, 2004

Remarks to UW System Board of Regents: Regent Listening Sessions

Toby E. Marcovich, President

University of Wisconsin Board of Regents

Good morning everyone. As Regent Bradley mentioned yesterday, we held two listening sessions, one at UW-Eau Claire and another at UW-Oshkosh, in October. I attended both sessions, and I also want you to know that I worked on my listening skills before these sessions – just ask my wife Sharon – who may be listening over the internet right now. Hello, Sharon!

At both Eau Claire and Oshkosh, we heard public input on three key issues currently challenging the UW System – affordability, the economic development role of the university and its campuses, and our ability to recruit and retain quality faculty and staff. Regent Bradley and I were joined by Regents Connolly-Keesler, Gottschalk, Pruitt, McPike, Walsh, and Rozenzweig at one or both of these sessions, and I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we were very impressed by the numbers of people who attended and the power of their statements. We heard from students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, community leaders, business owners and government officials, all of whom feel very strongly about their local campus, their alma maters, and the entire UW System and its role in the quality of our state.  

In all, the sessions were attended by more than 150 people, not to mention the numbers of people who listened over the internet. More than 60 offered their opinions. Let me share, briefly, what we were told by the public:

  • Public higher education is a key element to the long-term economic future for the state.
  • We need to pay our faculty and staff competitive salaries in order to attract and keep the best faculty, staff and academic leaders. Charlie Grossklaus, owner of the Royal Credit Union in Eau Claire, said that it is less expensive to compensate employees adequately than to pay turn over and recruitment costs.
  • We need to endorse state group health insurance for domestic partners of all state employees and work with the Governor and the legislature to amend state statutes to provide that benefit.
  • We should not compromise on maintaining the quality of a UW education – a poor quality education is not worth the price. 
  • The quality of education is eroding despite our best efforts. Students can’t get the classes they need, campuses are without crucial faculty, and our physical plant is in need of upgrading.
  • Our students expressed concern about tuition increases and spoke, sometimes choking back tears, about the personal hardships they have incurred as a result. Meredith Marx, a UW-Eau Claire student senator, summed up the feelings of many of her peers when she said that students would accept a slight tuition increase but that they did not want to pay more for less.
  • There is very strong support for financial aid increases; however, students do not feel it is fair that it be taken from student reserves. They urge us to work with the state to find another, more stable funding source. There is special concern for our most disadvantaged students and for those “in the middle,” not wealthy, but who do not qualify for financial aid.
  • Many participants cited the economic impact of the university and its importance to regional and state growth. This stems from their personal experience as county board members, business owners and local economic development directors. People like Craig Culver said they feel it is very important that we preserve our ability to drive economic recovery by providing UW graduates to the workforce, supporting our research spin-offs and assisting communities, business owners and entrepreneurs.

I’ve touched on just a few highlights here.  We received other specific suggestions from participants, including some related to collective bargaining for faculty, and a summary of all that we heard is available at www.wisconsin.edu .  And let me say how much we appreciate the support and assistance of Chancellors Mash and Wells and all of their colleagues for helping us to host these listening sessions on pretty short notice. 

Overall, we gained a much better understanding of how the public feels about these issues and what we need to do to better serve students and Wisconsin citizens, to be responsible in spending, and to be forward-thinking and innovative, as a world-class university system should be.

We thank everyone for their time and their valuable suggestions.  Now, it is my pleasure to introduce Tom Still who participated in our Eau Claire listening session and provided some powerful testimony about the economic value of academic research and development.

Tom is the President of the Wisconsin Technology Council.

Before I introduce him, I want to thank Tom for his many contributions and long-standing support for the university. As the editorial page editor of the Wisconsin State Journal, Tom was always a supportive voice for a strong public university system.  Many of you know that he moderated our four very successful, statewide economic summits.

In his more recent role as president of the tech council, he continues to be very involved with the university.  I want to take this opportunity to thank Tom, his staff and the council for the fine work they did on our topic today: studying the economic value of academic research and development in Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Technology Council is an independent, non-profit organization that serves as the science and technology advisor to the Governor and legislature and as a catalyst to technology-based economic development in Wisconsin.

Prior to assuming the council presidency, Tom was the associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal and he continues to write a weekly political column for Corporate Report/Wisconsin magazine.  He also contributes to Madison magazine and Wispolitics.

Tom also was a founder and president of “We the People/Wisconsin, Inc.” Many of you are familiar with this successful partnership between our own Wisconsin Public Television, Wisconsin Public Radio, WISC-TV and Wood Communications Group. Together they have sponsored more than 45 rounds of citizen forums on important public issues in Wisconsin.

A native of Alexandria, Virginia, Tom is a graduate of Drake University is Des Moines and he attended the UW-Madison’s law school.

Tom, your study is very timely as we seek to grow Wisconsin’s economy and to educate the public to the importance of the university in that regard.  We appreciate your being with us here today.

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