Office of the President
President Kevin Reilly, University of Wisconsin System
Thank you, Dennis (Petersen, vice president of Delta Dental). Good evening everyone. It is a pleasure to be here tonight. Let me say that visiting with a few of you over dinner, I’m already impressed with your commitment to the development and success of this region. It is this type of enthusiasm, creativity, and collaboration that will ensure a vital future for the citizens of Portage County.
This is my second trip to this area since I was appointed president last September. The first was to meet with the faculty, staff, and students who were beginning their fall semester at UW-Stevens Point. So, if I can get back here every three or four months, maybe Bob and Mary Williams will believe me when I say that I love central Wisconsin! Chancellor Bunnell gave me two pairs of Pointer socks during my earlier visit this fall, and I have been dutifully jogging all over the Madison campus wearing them. Probably the only time that UW-Stevens Point gets to talk all over UW-Madison! Speaking of Madison…
In thinking back about how busy my first few months as president have been, I am reminded of a story about the Duke of Norfolk. The Duke took great pride in his race horses, and he was very particular about their care. He would visit the stables every morning, and he was emphatic that no performance enhancing drugs were to be given to his horses.
On the morning of a big race, the Duke was nervous and, breaking his routine, he stopped by the stables before dawn, only to find his trainer feeding something to his prize race horse.
The Duke demanded to know what was going on. The trainer said he was just giving the horse a sweet, and took a couple of sugar cubes from his pocket. Popping one into his mouth, he offered the other to the Duke who, embarrassed that he had misjudged the situation, ate the candy.
Later that day, as the trainer was helping the jockey mount the horse, he gave this jockey his instructions for the race – "Hold the horse back until the final quarter of the race, and then let him fly," said the trainer – "and if anything passes you, he added with a wink, it’ll either be me or the Duke of Norfolk."
I must admit that being UW System president is a little like flying around a race track. But, all in all, it’s been a rewarding and enjoyable ride, and I’m delighted that my route has brought me here tonight.
It is a great privilege to lead the eighth-largest, most diverse, accessible and productive university system in the nation. In my first remarks to the Board of Regents in September, I outlined four priorities for my presidency. You may find that you’ve set goals parallel to these as priorities for your organizations and businesses.
- First, we are working much more closely with all of state government to increase "brain gain" and raise the percentage of Wisconsin residents who have a college degree. This is both a supply and a demand issue. We need to produce more — and we also need to import more! As many of you know, Wisconsin does well in retaining graduates in the state workforce after they receive their UW degrees, but we rank nearly last in the nation in the number of college graduates we recruit into our state’s workforce. This is important because states with higher than average personal incomes have a higher percentage of the adult population with a college degree. This, in turn, creates more prosperity, generates more tax revenues, and improves the quality of life. I’m sure you’re aware that due to a large wave of expected baby-boomer retirements, a worker shortage is predicted to hit in just a few short years. For many of you in more specialized fields, you may already be feeling the crunch. An aggressive "brain gain" strategy can help, and as long as I’m president, this will be an important goal for this university —one that can help businesses and the public sector as well.
- Second, we are working hard to make UW System operations both more transparent, and more efficient. We are a large and complex enterprise, but we can do a better job of communicating how and why decisions are made. We stand accountable to all citizens of the state. We are very administratively efficient when compared to other university systems. In fact, when compared to many industry clusters, our administrative costs are lower. Nevertheless, we are committed to working with our campus leaders and all our stakeholders to ensure that we operate as efficiently and effectively as possible. Indeed, we intend to be as thrifty with your tax dollars as you would be if they were in your own checking account.
- Third, we must directly engage all of our students — and potential students —who live and learn on our campuses, and depend on the UW System for learning opportunities at their homes, communities, and businesses. The deep state budget cuts to the university over the past three years have resulted in erosions to quality, as well as double-digit tuition increases. Our students are now paying almost half of their instructional costs – the highest percentage in our history. Our rising tuition and declining state support have closed our doors to many who desire a UW education, particularly returning adult students, and students whose families have lower incomes. The Regents have made financial aid a priority in this upcoming state budget, and we hope the Governor and the Legislature will support us so we can expand access to our UW campuses. The Governor indicated in his State of the State Address that he will propose an enhanced financial aid package in his budget, to be released on February 8th.
- Finally, and perhaps most relevant tonight, the UW System will strengthen its commitment to local, regional and statewide economic development. I know many of you are familiar with the Wisconsin Economic Summits that we sponsored over the past four years – some of you were active participants. These summits laid the groundwork for several recent state economic development initiatives, including angel investment networks; the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs Network; regional collaborations; and cluster initiatives, such as printing, plastics, and, of special interest to you and your neighbors, the paper industry.
So, what more can the UW System do to help further strengthen Wisconsin’s economy?
To begin, we must "hold on to what we’ve got," as the old song goes. This applies not just to public higher education, but also to our key industries. If we continue to reduce state support for the university at a higher rate than other areas of state expenditures as we have been, our capacity to further economic development will be severely eroded.
The UW System’s most important contribution to the economy is the 160,000 students we educate, and the roughly 30,000 students to whom we award degrees each year. More than 80 percent of those graduates who start as Wisconsin residents stay and work in Wisconsin. How many in this room, out of curiosity, have a degree from, or have studied at, one of our 26 UW campuses? How many of you have children, grandchildren or other relatives with UW degrees? I rest my case.
Our university system produces nearly two-thirds of the state’s teachers, more than half of our nursing professionals, and nine out of ten of the state’s pharmacists. We also graduate a large percentage of the state’s lawyers, accountants, managers, business leaders and state elected officials. In fact, UW-Madison ties Harvard University for educating the most S&P Company CEOs!
I believe strongly that the University of Wisconsin System is the single best investment the state can make in its future – not only because more college graduates will boost the state’s economy and reduce our tax burden, but also because more college graduates add immeasurably to the quality of life in our communities.
Some have suggested that the state can no longer afford the university’s 26 campuses and UW-Extension, given the fiscal constraints facing the state. I would argue just the opposite. The state can no longer afford to continue its disinvestment in the university. In the past budget cycle, the university was the only one of the five major areas of state spending to take an actual cut to its budget. The result? Fewer students from lower-income families, and a 37.5 percent biennial tuition increase — and still, this was not enough to fill the gap left by cuts in our state support.
Yes, the state has faced and is facing budget deficits, but the state budget has been growing, and is expected to grow an additional $600 million per year over the coming two years. Cutting several hundred UW positions while adding nearly 600 positions to the Department of Corrections, as was done in the last state budget, will not lead Wisconsin to prosperity.
While state wages grew on average more than three percent per year, our faculty and staff received zero and one percent increases. Many of you are involved in running companies and organizations – could you keep your most talented employees with such a pay plan if the prospect for similar increases were on the horizon?
Finally, the state needs to reinvest in the university because it’s good for business. Conservatively, UW-Stevens Point’s economic impact on Central Wisconsin is about $300 million each year. The campus renovation of the Fine Arts Center is an example of how this impact is generated. This renovation was made possible by the generosity and good spirit of successful entrepreneurs — and UWSP alumni — John and Patty Noel. We owe them a great deal of thanks for their continuous support of the university, and in particular, their $1 million donation to fund completion of the Fine Arts Center. John and Patty are here tonight. …
This investment will bring returns to the community several times over. The renovation of the Fine Arts Center provided well-paying planning and construction jobs, and the center will continue to create jobs, draw visitors, take in revenues from ticket sales, and encourage arts patrons to visit local businesses. The impact from this kind of attraction really adds up!
Apart from the many public services our campuses and UW-Extension offer to large and small businesses throughout the state, our research endeavors represent a major industry cluster for Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin Technology Council recently found that the academic research and development industry in the state employs more than 30,000 people, and brings in more than $850 million annually to Wisconsin’s economy. It is critical that we nurture this industry because of the economic benefits and brain gain jobs it offers. And as is quite clear here in Portage County, much of this research has a direct benefit on our lives and health.
Community-based research is important for the symbiotic "town-gown" relationship between the University of Wisconsin and Portage County. Your community — citizens, families, business owners, and elected officials alike — all look to UW-Stevens Point, and UW-Extension, for leadership and expertise. And the university looks to you for ideas, feedback, and hopefully, support.
Perhaps most importantly, this vital relationship in Portage County manifests the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea. Here, in Portage County, the Wisconsin Idea means action. Nowhere in Wisconsin is it more evident that the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the county, and the state. Ready examples of this are the many collaborations in this region to develop the economy and preserve Wisconsin’s land, air and water.
To this end, the UW System is proud to have named several UW-Stevens Point faculty and staff members as Wisconsin Idea Fellows for this academic year. The Wisconsin Idea Fellows program, championed by your own public relations guru Bob Williams and Regent Roger Axtell, was created to highlight the extraordinary public service contributions of UW faculty and staff. These Wisconsin Idea Fellows offer research and outreach to area businesses and nonprofit organizations, and their expertise continues to lead to significant contributions in their fields of study, especially related to quality of life and economic development.
If you don’t know them already, you might want to jot down the names of these Fellows — I suspect you’ll find their expertise particularly helpful in your business and economic development goals.
- Bryant Browne is an associate professor of soils and water resources. The university has helped Professor Browne secure a patent for a device he developed to measure multiple dissolved gases in surface and groundwater. Graduate students at UWSP are already using the technique. I bet they’d be delighted to give you a demonstration.
- Randy Cray and Scott Wallace are professors of economics, and lead the Central Wisconsin Economic Research Bureau. Perhaps some of you have worked with them. They provide timely economic analysis, and information to stimulate economic development here in Portage County, as well as in Marathon and Wood counties. Regional collaborations have been greatly influenced by their overviews of national economic conditions and the health of the Central Wisconsin economy.
- Tracy Hofer is the director of the Center for Economic Education, which partners with UW-Extension and K-12 school teachers to help students learn about economics. Good practice for a future in business! The center also works with the National Council on Economic Education and EconomicsWisconsin.
- A Wisconsin Idea Fellow who needs no introduction to this crowd is George Kraft, director of the Center for Watershed Science and Education, and the Central Wisconsin Groundwater Center. Dr. Kraft’s outreach accomplishments are too numerous to list, but you have all benefited from his involvement with the Perrier proposal to tap spring water in Adams County, and his work with the River Alliance of Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association. Perhaps most notably, George successfully worked to help reform Wisconsin’s groundwater pumping laws, and continues to help stewardship groups organize and manage our precious water resources. His contributions have been immeasurable, and the UW System, and indeed Wisconsin, are fortunate to have his talents.
- And finally, the UW System is proud to recognize the work of Michael Dombeck, who in addition to his title as a Wisconsin Idea Fellow, is also a Pioneer Professor of Global Environmental Management, and a UW System Fellow of Global Conservation. That’s a global mouthful!
Dr. Dombeck is nationally known for his efforts on watershed health and restoration, sustainable forest ecosystem management, sound forest roads, and roadless area protection. He worked to help develop the $100 million Global Environmental Management Center at UW-Stevens Point, and we are privileged to count him as our colleague.
I have no doubt that each of these experts has something to offer you, your businesses, and your collective efforts to develop the economy of Portage County. They were named Wisconsin Idea Fellows because of the work they do for the community, and I urge you to seek out their talents.
The contributions of these Wisconsin Idea Fellows are just a few of the many positive stories the UW System has to tell. We are populated by wonderful students and dedicated faculty and staff. We are in the forefront in many fields, and we are the envy of many states – and our athletic teams are pretty good, too! I am very proud of the UW’s achievements and I hope you share in that pride.
Likewise, I hope my remarks illustrate the importance of protecting what the UW System has to offer. When it comes to success, the state and the university are joined at the hip. You can make that undeniably clear to the Governor, and in the coming months, to your area legislators. These next few weeks are crucial for the future of this university. Governor Doyle is set to deliver his budget message on February 8, and the Legislature will begin its budget process directly following his announcement. There’s still time for us to collectively make the case for reinvestment in the UW System, and I ask for your help in doing that in your communications with your legislators and the Governor’s office.
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, which, in turns, drives the economy. We must work with the Governor, the Legislature, and all the state's citizens – especially parents, local business leaders and alumni – to keep the future of the university bright, and to extend that light to every corner of this state.
Thanks very much for inviting me to join you this evening. If there’s time, I’d be happy to take a few questions. And if you see anyone lapping horses on the track, you’ll know it’s either me, or the Duke of Norfolk! Thank you for listening!