Office of the President
December 3, 2004
United Council General Assembly Keynote Address
President Kevin Reilly, University of Wisconsin System
It’s great to be here with you this evening. Thanks to all of you for all that you do to represent the 160,000 students enrolled in our UW System.
One of the most rewarding aspects of my job as president has been meeting and working with so many UW students throughout the state – you represent a remarkable group of bright and dedicated people. I also want to say a special thank you to the United Council staff — David, Vicki, Hugo, Bethany, Sandy, Brian, Dan, Rachel and Stephanie. You are all passionate about the work you do, and I’m enjoying working with you.
In addition to her duties as president, Stephanie Hilton is also an outstanding ambassador for UW-Superior. You know, there’s a certain other UW-Superior grad now serving as the Governor of California, so who knows what Stephanie’s future holds?
I want to leave plenty of time for questions, so I will talk briefly about my early impressions as president of the UW System, tell you a bit about our priorities, and about the important role students play, both internally through shared governance, and externally as ambassadors for the university. Finally, I’ll outline some of the challenges ahead – challenges that we need your help to overcome.
During these first three months, I have spent considerable time traveling the state visiting our campuses and communities, and meeting many of you. The good news is that in my previous travels as UW-Extension Chancellor, I already knew the best places to eat while on the road.
Here are a few other impressions. I continue to be in awe of the caliber of students, faculty and staff at our institutions – the UW is a remarkable community that represents, in many ways, the future of this state. We graduate 30,000 students from our 13 four-year universities each year, and at least 3,500 students move on to four-year universities after attending a UW Colleges campus. Many of our grads stay and work here in Wisconsin, and especially given the Governor’s recent support for creating jobs, through the Wisconsin Entrepreneur’s Network – we hope you will, too!
Talk to almost anyone on the street, or back in your hometowns, and you’ll find that support among the people of Wisconsin for this university is very strong. And that reputation and respect also reaches around the world. Governor Doyle has said he was impressed during his two trade missions to Asia when he discovered that when people he met thought of Wisconsin, they didn’t think first of cheese or the Green Bay Packers, they thought of the University of Wisconsin.
At my first Board of Regents meeting, I laid out a number of priorities; first and foremost, our students. I know you care about quality, affordability, and access, and so do I.
Our Regents, as you know, join me in this commitment to keeping tuition increases modest for the next biennium, and to growing financial aid so that a UW degree is within reach for all, including our neediest students. We will need your help with this because tuition, as you know, is directly tied to state support. These are the two primary sources for our entire instructional budget, so as our state general purpose revenue support declines, tuition rises.
I have tried to make myself available to students, and I really gain a lot from our interactions. I’ve held regular sessions with student reporters and editors, I’ve met (by teleconference) with elected student leaders, and I continue to work with United Council and to talk with students on my visits to campuses. I hope this dialogue has been valuable to you as well.
My other priorities are to make the business of the university more transparent; to make us a more efficient institution so that we can direct resources into the classroom; and to be visible – I hope that by traveling the state talking to the public and opinion leaders about the importance of investment in public higher education, and working with our elected leadership, we can make the case for reinvesting in the UW System.
All of you here today have dedicated your energy to this cause, and we are very appreciative. I am especially grateful for the fine work you did to register new voters and to turn out the student vote in recent elections. Student votes count, no matter which party or candidate you vote for. Your efforts, along with those of the New Voters Project, made a huge and, I hope, lasting difference in making sure that students will keep civic involvement and democracy as top priorities.
On a more personal level, I want to thank you for leading your respective campus student governments. I am a strong proponent of the shared governance process. It has helped to make our institutions strong and to make our university system one of the most admired in the world.
You know, leadership becomes contagious. You’d be surprised how many of our state leaders, and university leaders, were active in student government. I hope some of you will follow their example and run for office, or consider careers in public service. One of our former student regents, Robin Vos, was just elected to the legislature. Our Associate Vice President Margaret Lewis, a former state assemblywoman, was involved with United Council as a college student at UW-Madison, and our graduate project assistant, Bryan Gadow, was chair of Madison’s student government association. We’re able to take advantage of their student government experience, and I value their counsel and expertise as former student government leaders.
As our stakeholders, your involvement in our decision-making processes is vital. As many of you know, we involve students in our searches for new chancellors (and Presidents!), and on many of our policy-making committees, such as the recent Regent study to “chart the future course” of the UW System. We recently reached agreement with United Council on a process that will make our selection of students for systemwide committees much more systematic and representative. That said, there is always room for improvement, and we will continue to work to ensure that student voices are present in campus decision-making. Each of you plays a very important role, internally, in the operation of your campus, and with us, in the operation of the system. (I might add that you have excellent representation on the Board of Regents with Beth Richlen. She has been a strong advocate for student issues and concerns.)
You also play an important role as some of our finest ambassadors. We need you to represent the UW System and to tell the stories about the real difference this university makes in the lives of students and citizens. This will be extremely important as we look squarely into the 2005-07 biennial budget. The state has a lingering budget deficit, and growing demands for scarce resources. At the same time, the university has taken disproportionately large cuts in the past few years, and is the only one of the five areas of major state spending to actually have experienced a decrease in funding in this biennium. We need your help to turn that around.
You are all working in creative ways to make sure student voices are heard. One recent example of this came from students at UW-Stevens Point, who organized a phone-and e-mail bank to communicate with the Governor about the importance of funding the university and supporting student financial aid. You as student leaders can carry this message to the Legislature and the Governor through the budget deliberations.
We must work together to secure a budget that truly meets the needs of this university, not only to keep tuition affordable, but to adequately compensate our faculty and staff who have had an average half a percent raise in each of the past two years; and to make sure that financial aid is funded by the state, and not from your auxiliary funds.
We must also make sure the 2005-07 budget can begin to restore some of the 700 faculty positions we’ve lost over the past decade, even while we’ve added 10,000 students; to rebuild our maintenance-starved infrastructure; to replenish and support our libraries; and to provide the best services in advising, health, safety and career counseling that all of you have paid for, and have the right to expect.
I know many of you have concerns about diversity and campus climate as well. Let me assure you that we hear your voices, understand your concerns, share them, and are working to improve what we do. The Board of Regents will be addressing Plan 2008 and the system’s Inclusivity Initiative in the next couple of months, and student organizations have played a strong role in keeping these initiatives vital.
Just this week, we celebrated the anniversary of Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a public bus in Montgomery to a white passenger. Her arrest touched off the successful Montgomery bus boycott of 1955-56 — one of the seminal events in the Civil Rights movement.
Rosa Parks’ action took courage, but it also required hope, hope that a better day awaited her and her children. As the civil rights spiritual said, she kept her eyes on the prize.
And we need to keep our eyes on our prize.
Yours are powerful voices because you know our campuses, faculty, classrooms, and services, and you live with the impacts of the cuts we’ve had to make. What you have to say to your local legislator carries much more weight than what I can say. You are a constituent and your legislator’s job is to represent your interests. Make sure that he or she understands that the UW should be a top priority.
We need a strong budget for the university; we need for the state to reinvest in you and your futures and in your children’s futures. But we can’t just focus on budgets and elections. We need to keep our eyes on the prize.
The prize is quality education, a great university, jobs that will engage and enrich you and your communities, a future that is bright and promising, a world where we all can live and work together in prosperity and harmony. Let’s not lose sight of those “prizes” as we grapple with budgets and tuition and campus climate, and for you, final exam and semester paper preparation!
Again, thank you for inviting me to join you and to share my thoughts. I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have.