Office of the President
October 11, 2004
Remarks at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Oktoberfest
President Kevin P. Reilly
Thank you, Doug. I very much appreciate your comments and your outstanding leadership at UW-La Crosse. I am really pleased to be here with you all today. And what a wonderful time to be in western Wisconsin and to have my first "official" visit to La Crosse as UW System President, in the midst of changing fall colors, Oktoberfest, and your just completed Family Weekend events.
Thank you all for inviting me to talk at this important gathering. I'm glad to see faculty, staff and students together in the same room. After I share some of my thoughts about the UW System and its future, I want to hear from you about what's on your minds and to get your reactions to my comments.
But, let me begin by telling you a little about my own academic background. To start, I'm a "dirty BAMAPHD," as one character says to another in Edward Albee's award-winning play, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (GREAT TITLE!). That "BAMAPHD," of course, is B.A.-> M.A.-> Ph.D., in my case all in English. My special areas of teaching and scholarly interest are Irish literature and culture, especially biography and autobiography written about, and by, Irish writers.
It's a wonderfully, well ... vicious field of inquiry. The great Anglo-Irish satirist Jonathan Swift recognized this when he said: "The Irish are a fair people ... They never speak well of one another." It's a field of inquiry, therefore, that is quite solid preparation for high administrative posts in the academy!
Let me say that coming before a large, august assembly of faculty, staff, and students such as this can be quite daunting. I am mindful of what the former President of Harvard University, Derek Bok, said when asked what kind of job the faculty, staff and students on that campus thought he was doing. "Half of them think they could do a better job than I ..." admitted Bok, "and the other half think anybody could do a better job than I!"
As I told the Board of Regents in August when they selected me to succeed Katharine Lyall, I am genuinely honored to have been asked to serve as the sixth president of a public university system with one of the richest traditions in American higher education. I firmly believe that our job as a public university is to be Wisconsin's premier developer of advanced human potential, of the jobs that employ that potential, and of the flourishing communities that sustain it.
Let me repeat that ... I firmly believe that our job as a public university is to be Wisconsin's premier developer of advanced human potential, of the jobs that employ that potential, and of the flourishing communities that sustain it.
One of my primary responsibilities as president is to communicate the importance of our human potential work and to build lasting relationships with the people and organizations that make it possible. But I can't do this alone – I need the help, support and voices of all of you as we articulate our value, our role, and our impact in educating students and stimulating economic prosperity in Wisconsin. The many achievements of UW-La Crosse are an essential part of this Wisconsin success story, and we need to constantly remind the more than 50,000 people in this community just how important the university is to their quality of life.
Currently, the UW System is focusing on such issues as affordability, access, economic development and quality. I have added openness and candor to this agenda as well.
I am pleased to tell you that in early September, the Regents voted unanimously to forward a budget request to the Governor and the Legislature that reaffirms these priorities and asks for much-needed reinvestments in the UW System, its students, its faculty, and its staff. For me, the Regents' vote is a vote about hope and about optimism for the future. Or, you might have heard me put it another way by saying that it is also a budget request that is focused on student access and Wisconsin success.
- It is a student access budget because it contains a financial aid package that will help young people from lower- and middle-income families to enroll in our universities, where they will expand their knowledge and prepare themselves, we hope, for lifelong success. We know that talent, creativity and drive are not the exclusive purview of wealthy families. We must keep higher education affordable for all Wisconsin students.
- The budget is a student access budget because it will enable Wisconsin's working adults to have access to educational opportunities throughout their careers. Today's business climate demands flexibility and responsiveness, and we have much to gain by further developing our in-state pool of experienced and talented workers.
- It is a student access budget because it will ensure
that students have access to education and research of the highest
quality, including the 85 undergraduate programs in 30 disciplines,
and the 21 graduate programs and emphases in eight disciplines, that
are offered by UW- La Crosse. To keep our brightest minds in the classrooms
and laboratories, to preserve the high academic standards that are
synonymous with the "UW" name, we must provide nationally
competitive compensation packages for our faculty, staff, and academic
The Regents have taken that message to heart and indicated their support for providing compensation that will help us keep the quality faculty and staff we already have, while allowing us to attract the next generation of quality educators, scholars and researchers. They are also asking the public to share their thoughts about these issues, scheduling two public hearings in Eau Claire (October 18) and Oshkosh (Oct. 25) to gather more public opinion.
- Finally, this is a Wisconsin success budget because it supports our efforts to increase the number of state residents with baccalaureate degrees. We know that the higher the proportion of baccalaureate degree holders in a state's population, the higher the state' average per capita income. Our efforts to address affordability and access will raise Wisconsin's per-capita income, grow our tax base, and stimulate economic prosperity. As I've told the Regents, when it comes to success, the state and the university are joined at the hip. The state needs a strong university to spur economic development, and the university needs a strong state economy to reinvest in our teaching, research and public service.
I must tell you that my first 40 days as president (who's counting?) have been extraordinary. Not only do I get to travel to places like La Crosse and meet with audiences like you, but I'm also able to encounter so many university stakeholders, all of whom help me to build an even deeper understanding of the many diverse and profound connections the people of Wisconsin have with the UW System.
I've heard over and over just how vitally important the UW System is to so many people. We have a responsibility to uphold our commitment to all of our constituents, to ensure we provide the tools they need to strengthen our quality of life, and to make sure we seize every opportunity to contribute in the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea.
In the past month, I've met with groups of UW employees and students, many of whom, like you, are eager to better communicate with our stakeholders at the State Capitol, so that they can help our institutions to focus on our core missions of teaching, research and public service.
I've met with administrators from Wisconsin's K-12 schools, who rely on the UW System to provide them qualified teachers and are working with this university to live up to the promise of "seamless" PK-16 education for all Wisconsin students.
I've also met with Milwaukee's Latino leaders and workforce development board members, and business, government and community leaders from Green Bay to Superior, from Janesville to Hudson, all of whom share our interest in preparing youth and adult workers for higher education and the workforce and in forging creative partnerships that are transforming the Wisconsin economy.
About 10 days ago, I met with this year's group of UW System Student Ambassadors, including your own James Mangerson, a sophomore here at UW-L. I must tell you that they are a bright and enthusiastic bunch, and are very aware of the effects of budget cuts on their campuses. They are engaged to ensure that it doesn't happen again.
I also held a discussion with UW student journalists, who are asking the tough questions and informing their fellow students about tuition forecasts and what it means for students to be a part of this great system.
And I've reached out to the Governor and to scores of legislators, in hopes that they will recognize the importance of the UW System for building a prosperous and healthy Wisconsin. The Governor and the Legislature are acutely interested in our plans for efficiency, and we've already had many good discussions about what it will take for the UW System to remain a quality, accessible part of Wisconsin's landscape. They want to hear your stories, and I encourage you all to tell these stories by writing or emailing to the Governor and your local legislators.
And having spent a few hours here today, I think I have a better understanding of your priorities at UW-La Crosse:
- I understand that you are committed to maintaining a global perspective. Just last week, the UW-L campus signed an international exchange partnership agreement with Goethe-University in Frankfurt, Germany. Congratulations to this campus for being among the first in the Midwest to establish this type of relationship, adding to your list of 25 other formal, international student exchange agreements worldwide.
- I know that this campus is truly committed to teaching and learning. A few weeks ago, the UW System Board of Regents named the UW-La Crosse Physics department as a winner of the 2004 Regents Teaching Excellence Award. As you may know, in 1987, the Physics department here consisted of just a handful of faculty and only five students majoring in physics, and the Board of Regents recommended phasing out the department. This year, your physics department has eight faculty and 130 student majors and is considered among the best programs in the nation. Now that's tenacity and progress if I ever saw it!.
- I'm also impressed with UW-L's teacher education program, now entering an agreement with the School Districts of Onalaska and La Crosse to improve placements for student teachers. This partnership will also provide additional professional development opportunities for university faculty and for those already teaching in these districts. This means improved learning opportunities for all PK-16 students, and that's something State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster, all the public education community, and we are committed to.
- And I understand that, as a community, you are showing your dedication to public service. Thanks to a Wisconsin Campus Compact grant, the UW-L campus has its first-ever, full-time service learning coordinator. Through the Americorps*VISTA program, all faculty have the chance to incorporate service-learning into their classes, giving students the opportunity to participate in community-based learning. Service-learning is a great way to enhance classroom learning, while emphasizing civic responsibility and critical thinking. I'm sure UW-L students, and the greater Coulee community, will benefit from these opportunities.
I could keep on going, but I think you get the picture – UW-L is doing many wonderful things and is having a profound impact on the quality of life in western Wisconsin.
We need to hear your thoughts and ideas on where UW-La Crosse and our great university system should go in the future, and how we should get there. I am confident that, working together, we can build a bright, rewarding and exciting future for all of us.
Enjoy the rest of the academic year. Never forget that the work we do as Wisconsin's premier developer of advanced human potential is noble work, and very much worth doing.
Thanks for listening. I'll be happy now, to listen to you and to respond to your questions.