Office of the President

Statement by UW System President Kevin P. Reilly

July 30, 2013

It has been my honor and my privilege to serve as the President of the University of Wisconsin System for the last nine years.

That’s a good chunk of anybody's life. I have served longer as President than many of my counterparts around the country. And I spent four years as Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Extension before that, for a total of 13 years in these 24/7, intensely public positions. Now we even let the President of the United States off after eight years, don't we, so I think it's time.

I am happy to say that I have been asked by the President of the American Council on Education, the nation’s most visible and influential higher education association, to serve as its Presidential Advisor for Leadership Programs. Effective January 2014, I will work with the Council in that capacity on developing the next generation of this country’s college and university leaders. I will do that half time next year, while dedicating the other half of my time to preparing for a return to teaching in 2015 in the disciplines of literature and higher education policy.

In my time as President, I have faced a number of major challenges. The debate over whether the System should stay together, the overheated partisanship in our political culture, and the worst economic recession since the Great Depression were not the least of these. But Wisconsinites stepped up to meet those challenges, and together we have achieved much.

In particular, I am proud of the UW System’s Growth Agenda for Wisconsin, and the record enrollment and graduation numbers that came in an era of tight budgets. In my years as president:

  • enrollments increased by 9%
  • transfer students increased by 13%
  • degrees conferred are up by 13% as well, and
  • private need-based financial aid grew by 124%

I am pleased too with the UW Flexible Option degree programs, where we are leading the nation in innovative higher education that emphasizes both access and quality. And I am proud of UW System’s national leadership in making the case for quality liberal arts and sciences as the essential foundation for career and citizenship in the 21st century. I am happy that we have positioned the university as a core economic engine for Wisconsin. We have earned our reputation as one of the finest systems of higher education in the country, and indeed, the world.

None of this would be possible without the commitment of legions of wonderful people.

I’m especially proud that we’ve been able to attract and retain a cadre of first-rate Chancellors to lead UW institutions, despite our relatively low compensation and an unstable state budget environment. In my nine years as President, I have hired 31 Chancellors and Interim Chancellors – gifted leaders who became my trusted and valued colleagues.

Every day, I appreciate the students who embody Wisconsin’s bright future, while enduring tuition increases necessary to sustain the quality of the UW.  I appreciate them as I ride up and down the elevator with them in Van Hise Hall!  I also appreciate and want to thank faculty and staff colleagues, and members of System administration, who have persistently applied their energy and creativity to delivering first-class education, research, and outreach, despite compensation cuts. Their efforts and commitment keep UW’s luster bright, and make us the envy of our peers.

In my days as President, and before that as Chancellor, I have encountered many government officials at the local, state, and federal levels who see the importance of the university in the life of Wisconsin, and have worked hard to advocate for it. That support is appreciated.

Over the years, I also have had the honor of working with Governor Walker and Governor Doyle, as well as with many Regents who labor tirelessly and selflessly without pay in the best interest of the citizens of Wisconsin. In particular, it is my good fortune to have worked with seven of the best Regent Presidents any university could wish for: Toby Marcovich, David Walsh, Mark Bradley, Chuck Pruitt, Mike Spector, Brent Smith, and Mike Falbo.

It is my even greater good fortune that my wife Kate, our children Liam, Adriana, and Darvin, and our granddaughter Joanna have been willing to live with a distracted man.

In his poem “The Municipal Gallery Revisited,” William Butler Yeats says: “Think where man’s glory most begins and ends/And say my glory was I had such friends.” I can say the same.

Those of us lucky enough to work at the UW serve at a time when higher education has never been more significant for the state and the country. In the 21st century, a post-secondary credential has become a key ingredient for making a decent living, and the products of university research are ever more central to economic strength. The UW enriches and extends and liberates people’s lives from the demons of ignorance, poverty, prejudice, despair, and ill health. The UW’s teaching, research, and public service are a noble profession. I am proud to be a part of it.

When I applied for the President’s job in 2004, I wrote: “I am committed to seeing that any Wisconsin student with the talent and work ethic to succeed in the university can attain a quality education here, and to ensuring that all Wisconsin residents are able to reap the rewards of cutting-edge research and public service programs. The Wisconsin Idea, and our best democratic ideals, demand no less of us in this regard than they did of our predecessors.”

Together we have found many new ways to deliver on this promise in the last nine years. I am confident that with the good will and dedication of its many stakeholders, the University of Wisconsin System will renew this promise again and again in the years ahead.

This university system, built by the toil and sacrifice of Wisconsin citizens over many generations, is a bright jewel.  I urge us all to keep it brightly polished.