Office of the President
Remarks by President Kevin P. Reilly
February 4, 2005
10:00am – 12:00pm
Memorial Union, Madison WI
Thank you, Ann (Faulken, President of PLATO, will be introducing you). Good morning. It is a pleasure to be here today with PLATO! Thank you all for inviting me to be a part of your winter lecture series. I am encouraged to see such a large group of community members and former UW employees who are committed to fostering their intellectual curiosity. 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 before I get to the topic at hand, let me tell you a little a bit about my own academic background, and how I ended up in Madison. 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. I am particularly proud of contributing to a four-part series on "Yeats, Joyce, and Irish Literature," for the University of the Air program for Wisconsin Public Radio. Irish literature, you know, is a wonderfully 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!
Before coming to Madison, I worked as Associate Provost for Academic Programs and Secretary of the University for the State University of New York System. In 1996, I came to Wisconsin to serve as the Provost and Vice Chancellor for the University of Wisconsin-Extension, and later was named Chancellor of Extension. While I will always have a passion for scholarship on Irish literature, my energies these daysare focused on promoting and strengthening the UW System for all citizens of the state.
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 in 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." (laughter)
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 today.
It is a great privilege to lead the eighth-largest, most accessible, and most productive university system in the nation. Since being named President, I have received notes and letters of congratulations literally from around the world. This experience has reinforced for me not only the national, but also the international, reputation that our university has earned. The University of Wisconsin is truly a signature brand for the state. That is due, in large measure, to the strong support that we have enjoyed from generations of Wisconsin citizens like yourselves, and to the marvelous leadership we have had on our campuses, on our Board of Regents, and from past university leaders like Katharine Lyall, and as some of you might recall, our 2nd president, former UW-Madison Chancellor, Ed Young.
As I begin the "second semester" of my new presidency, I am proud of the progress my colleagues and I have made over the past five months. But in case you haven’t heard my pitch, here are my priorities to ensure a vibrant university system.
- First, we must work 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. 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 are doing a better job of communicating how and why decisions are made. You may have read about the report we submitted to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee on Tuesday, which highlights more than 250 cost-saving measures we are pursuing. These measures will save an estimated $15 million annually. We stand accountable to all citizens of the state, and 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, 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 may have been active participants. These summits laid the groundwork for several recent state economic development initiatives, including angel investment networks; more technology transfer; the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs Network; greaterregional collaborations; and cluster initiatives, such as printing, plastics, and paper. Of course, we do more than summits, but these were a good way to get the university, business, government, and labor more or less on the same page in planning the state’s economic future.
- Finally, and most important for our discussion here today, 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 two biennia 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.
Now, during this time of tight state financial resources, it is pertinent to ask how the UW System will be able to help strengthen the state’s economy, and remain accessible for Wisconsin’s citizens.
Well, we must "hold on to what we’ve got," as the old song goes. If we continue to reduce state support for the UW—at a higher rate than other areas of state expenditures, as we have been – our capacity to help grow the state’s economy will be severely eroded.
Our most important contribution to the economy, after all, is the 160,000 students we educate, and the 30,000 students who get degrees each year from the UW System. More than 80 percent of those graduates 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 have children or grandchildren with UW degrees, or who might want a UW degree in the future? How many of you have worked at or taught at UW-Madison? So we can see here a visible manifestation of the UW’s impact!
Our university system produces more than 60 percent of the state’s teachers, more than 50 percent of the state’s nursing professionals, and UW-Madison, as another example, produces more than 90 percent of the state’s pharmacists. We also graduate a large percentage of the state’s lawyers, accountants, managers and business leaders. In fact, UW-Madison ties Harvard University for educating the most S&P company CEOs!
All of these represent good-paying jobs for Wisconsin. There have been stories and editorials recently that imply a college degree is a luxury. Of course, not everyone needs a college degree to succeed, but many professions are closed to someone without a college degree. And the wage gap between those with, and those without, college degrees is growing. In 2002, BA degree holders earned 83 percent more, on average, than high school graduates. Twenty years ago, college graduates earned 61 percent more.
I’ve already said that one of our goals is to increase the percentage of Wisconsin’s population with college degrees. I am happy to report that all of our benchmarks in that regard have been moving in the right direction for the state. Our retention rates are up, our graduation rates are up, and our enrollments are up.
Another way that we help the economy is through our robust academic research enterprise. The Wisconsin Technology Council released a report late last year that illuminated the tremendous impact of academic research and development on Wisconsin’s economy, concluding that it creates more than 30,000 jobs and generates more than $800 million annually. This places academic R & D on par with the state’s plastics and printing industries, and ahead of construction.
In addition, our outreach and public service work helps to put a "face" on the university, through direct contact with the citizens of the state. I am very familiar with the important work that the UW System does in that regard, and as a former chancellor of Extension for the past four years, I have long been a strong advocate of using our talent, expertise and resources to support local communities.
With my UW-Extension ties, I hope you will indulge a little down home humor, as I remind you of the story of the chicken and pig who were walking down main street early one morning, when they spied a sign on a local café window which read: "Ham and Eggs Special: $2.95." The chicken said, "Hey, look there’s a sign about us; we make that possible."
The pig replied: "That’s easy for you to say. For you, it’s a contribution, but for me, it represents a total commitment." (laughter)
Well, the University of Wisconsin System does represent a total commitment to the state’s prosperity, in almost every aspect of what we do. Every day, hundreds of businesses throughout Wisconsin, large and small, get the benefit of UW faculty and staff expertise, or employ UW graduates. We are also committed to developing global citizenship and enlightened thinkers in our classrooms. Our students have the opportunity to enrich themselves by participating in the liberal arts, whether it is through foreign languages, philosophy, dance, poetry, or a myriad of other subjects. We are in the business of developing critical thinkers, who are able to actively engage not only in the labor market, but also our civic society.
This state must have the more highly educated, creative, professionally trained workforce to address the demands of the new "knowledge economy;" those who will create the companies and institutions that will generate the jobs of the future.
In a world in which knowledge is doubling every five years, we cannot afford to fall behind other communities, states, or nations in producing a highly educated workforce.
I was delighted to learn that, according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor, Wisconsin has added more than 50,000 jobs the past year – the most new jobs of any state in the upper Midwest. Among those were 19,500 "high-wage" jobs – positions in finance and other professional services that I’m sure our campuses across the state have helped to generate, and their graduates have helped to fill.
But it is important not to rest on our laurels. Wisconsin still ranks below the national average in the percent of its adult population with a college degree and, not unrelated, below average in per capita income. Wisconsin ranks dead last in the number of federal dollars brought back to the state, despite the research success I’ve cited. In fact, as a state, we are a net exporter of federal dollars. The academic research and development engine of the University can help turn around these trends, but not if we keep cutting it.
Looking across this room, I am reminded of a quote by the French novelist, Anatole France, who said, "The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards." I mentioned that I am excited to speak with this vibrant group of "young minds", because you represent an important force within American society. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2000, there were 35 million Americans age 65 and older, and more than 17 percent had a college education. Many of these individuals, like yourselves, are enjoying, or are near enjoying, retirement. This group of individuals currently makes up more than 12 percent of the U.S. population, and is expected to increase rapidly over the next few decades as the almost 79 million members of the "Baby Boomer" generation reach retirement age.
While many members of this age group may no longer actively participate in the nation’s workforce, they are extremely active in our civic society. According to the Independent Sector’s 1999 national survey of giving and volunteering, seniors are now volunteering at a higher rate than ever before. Among seniors, aged 55 and over, more than 47 percent are active volunteers, contributing a total of almost 5 billion hours of volunteer time per year, at a value of over $71 billion. Whether their service is through their local religious organizations, school groups, or neighborhoods, seniors possess life experience, education, and time that are beneficial to their communities. Furthermore, seniors are also invested in our nation’s political system, as CNN exit polls show that individuals 60 years and older made up 24 percent of the electorate in the 2004 election.
I highlight these figures only to make the point that you and your colleagues have an enormous amount of political and social capital that we desperately need during this time of financial uncertainty for public higher education. I have long been told about power of the "ask", that one of the most effective ways of getting people involved is to directly ask them to participate. Well, I am here today to ask you to join our cause to strengthen the UW System during this upcoming biennial state budget process. Whether it is contacting your local legislators, organizing letter writing campaigns with your local church, mosque, and synagogue groups, or simply spreading the word about the importance of the university system to the state, your help is needed.
In closing, I recommit our energy and resources to fostering student academic success and growing Wisconsin’s economy. But, in return, I ask for your support of the budget priorities our Board of Regents have proposed to the Governor and the Legislature that will enable us to keep that commitment with just a modest reinvestment of state support.
Indeed, the themes we’ve identified in the budget – rebuilding quality, remaining competitive, keeping college affordable, maintaining and, we hope, enhancing access – resonate here and around the state.
I look forward to doing all that I can as President of the University of Wisconsin System to work even more vigorously to secure a bright future for all Wisconsin’s people.
I believe in what we stand for: opportunity for Wisconsin’s citizens and Wisconsin communities. We are in the "human potential" business. It is our job to help our citizens realize their dreams, for themselves and their families. It’s our job to develop a citizenry that will make the American dream thrive here in Wisconsin in the 21st century, and that is what we pledge to do.
I would like to leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Irish poet W.B. Yeats, who said, "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire". I see that fire is burning inside all of you, and ask that we work together to help light the fire within all of our "students" in Wisconsin.
Thank you for your time, and I would be happy to take any questions that you have.