Office of the President
Kevin P. Reilly, President, University of Wisconsin System
April 13, 2005
It is a pleasure to join you for this UW-Madison Roundtable Luncheon, and to share some thoughts about the future of public universities and, more specifically, about the future of the UW System and UW-Madison, in particular.
I like very much the concept of this as a Roundtable, and I urge you to participate in the discussion with questions and comments after these remarks. The term "Roundtable" conjures up visions of the famous Algonquin Roundtable where fascinating people like James Thurber, Robert Benchley, Edna Ferber, and Alexander Woolcott came together to share insights, often witty ones, about the current state of human affairs.
One of its most famous members was the writer Dorothy Parker, and since I will be talking about state budgets among other things today, I was reminded of one of her famous quips: "The two most beautiful words in the English language are ‘check enclosed.’"
Funding, in fact, touches on the heart of our topic today – keeping the "public" in public university. There is no doubt that this is becoming more of a challenge at a time when public funding for higher education, here and across the nation, is in a slow but steady decline.
At the time of the creation of the University of Wisconsin System in the early 1970s, state funding accounted for about half of our overall budget – today, it accounts for about 25 percent. State funding represents less than twenty percent of UW-Madison’s budget. In fact, federal dollars make up the largest piece of UW-Madison’s budget pie though, I hasten to add that federal funds also represent public support, of course.
Even though we have seen our state support decline, I would argue that we are serving the public – in our regions, throughout Wisconsin, and beyond – even better and more aggressively today than we did in the early 1970s.
The "public" in public university, in my view, doesn’t simply represent a funding formula – it represents who we are and what we do. It represents service not just to our students, but to society as a whole. More than eighty percent of the 15 million people enrolled in higher education in America are enrolled at public institutions. What distinguishes us from private schools isn’t simply a funding formula, but a commitment to access and to public service.
Another prominent member of the Algonquin Round Table, James Thurber, said: "It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers."
So today, I would like to pose a series of questions and ask you to think about them now, and as you return to the important work you are doing for this university.
First, what does it mean to be a "public" university, and what are the responsibilities that go with that designation?
There is, at the core, I believe, our collective responsibility to students – students from throughout the state, from differing backgrounds and interests; students with differing talents, ambitions and abilities. Our responsibility is to make sure that every person has access to higher education, and the capacity to realize his or her ambitions and dreams.
As you know, we are working hard to secure our next two-year budget from the state, and I’ve described it as a "student centered" budget – a budget needed to ensure both student access and Wisconsin success.
In response to the Regents’ proposal on financial aid, as you know, the Governor has proposed a substantial increase in financial aid funding, and we very much appreciate that. It is vitally important for our students to have that support so that we can ensure student access and try to keep tuition at affordable levels.
Cost is a major factor in a student’s ability not only to attend and graduate from college, but also to realize his or her goals upon graduation. We don’t want our students to take jobs they don’t like simply to earn the money to pay off student loans. Our UW System students who borrow now graduate with an average of $17,000 in debt. (37% do not borrow at all.) Increased financial aid will help ease the burden for those who must borrow.
At the same time, public university students do get their money’s worth. Just a few weeks ago, the Chronicle of Higher Education carried a story based on the most recent census data that show that college graduates earned nearly double the pay of people with only a high-school diploma.
One commonly-used metric is that a college graduate will, on average, earn about one million dollars more in his or her lifetime than a high-school graduate! And the gap between the earnings of high school and college graduates is widening.
One of our major objectives is to increase the number of college graduates in Wisconsin, and we are working closely with the Wisconsin Technical College System to accomplish this. The Governor has provided more than one million dollars in his biennial budget to support this. We look forward to piloting accelerated degree programs, credit transfer initiatives, and increased opportunities for working adults as our two systems work to expand the number of college degree holders in the state.
This is not entirely altruistic on our part. If you consider that raising the percentage of college graduates in Wisconsin’s adult population would raise average per capita incomes for the state and therefore, increase state tax revenues, you can see that this effort would help grow the state budget without raising taxes.
We need to remember that ours is a very labor-intensive industry. As much as we employ new technologies and facilitate distance-learning, there is no real substitute for the special, personal interactions between teacher and student that take place thousands of times each day on this very campus. Hiring and retaining high quality faculty and staff who, in turn, provide a high quality education and services to our students, cannot be done "on the cheap."
Governor Doyle has acknowledged this in his budget, and we appreciate his interest in adding 125 new faculty members to our classrooms, along with providing a faculty retention fund so that we can keep our best people here in Wisconsin. We also strongly endorse his proposal to provide domestic partner benefits to our employees.
But we need to keep fighting very hard for a good, competitive pay package for our faculty and staff for the coming biennium. The Regents have proposed a 5 percent increase in each year of the biennium. We need a competitive pay plan to attract, and keep, the best scholars, teachers, researchers, and staff.
Earlier when I said that I think we are serving the public even better than we were in the early 1970s, I had our students, faculty, and staff in mind.
Our students come to us better prepared, and are more successful in terms of retention and graduation rates, than those in the classes of the early 1970s. The diversity of our student body has grown dramatically, along with its quality – we are serving wider populations in the state, and we are committed through Plan 2008, to continue making diversity a very high priority. Just last week, we gained new leadership to strengthen our emphasis on diversity when we introduced Vicki Washington, whom I hope many of you know, as interim Assistant Vice President in our Office of Academic Diversity and Development.
By the same token, we have a more diverse faculty and staff – we offer a richer and, I would argue, more relevant array of academic choices. We are also using nontraditional means of teaching. We have embraced new technologies which have opened up our campuses and degree programs to place-bound students who 30 years ago, would never have been able to complete a four-year degree at one of our campuses.
What else does it mean to be a public university?
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 the flourishing communities that sustain it. It means taking ownership of some of society’s problems, and working to find answers to them. Improving civic engagement, energizing the economy, discovering cures for disease, providing intellectual leadership – these are just a few of the important ingredients of a public university.
UW-Madison is an internationally recognized example of this. It is the birthplace of social security, worker’s compensation, new approaches to gene mapping, the discovery of stem cells.
There are several recent exciting developments in this direction at UW-Madison that illustrate my point, and I extend my congratulations to the campus and all of those who have made these achievements possible.
Within the past month, both a UW-Madison faculty member and one of the campus’ most important institutions received the nation’s highest honors at the White House. Mathematician and computer scientist Carl de Boor won the 2005 National Medal of Science, the most prestigious science award in the country, recognizing pioneers in their fields.
At the same time, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the nonprofit patenting and licensing arm of UW-Madison, received the 2005 National Medal of Technology for its significant and lasting contributions to the country’s economic, environmental and social well-being through the development and commercialization of technology.
These are wonderful examples of service to society – not just to Wisconsin, but to the nation and the world. We should all be proud to see such prominent recognition of UW-Madison’s role. And the campus is poised to do more.
Governor Doyle, Chancellor Wiley , Jamie Thomson and others are working hard to keep Wisconsin competitive in the national race for primacy in the biomedical field. In November, the Governor announced a plan to invest up to $750 million in infrastructure and research support for UW-Madison to bolster our position in the fields of biotechnology, health sciences, and stem cell research.
Part of that investment will go toward a new $375 million public-private Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. Engineers, biologists, chemists, statisticians, computer scientists, medical researchers, and their colleagues throughout the UW System will have access to the latest technologies and research support. The Institute also will allow us to serve adult workers who wish to advance their skills for work in the changing biomedical industries.
Another investment of note is an additional $3 million in state support proposed for research on Alzheimer’s disease here at UW-Madison where groundbreaking work to fight this tragic disease is taking place under the aegis of Professor Jeff Johnson.
These are just a few examples of the "public university" working on solutions to societal problems. And it’s happening, not just here at UW-Madison, but across our campuses, and at public universities nationwide. Our campuses, like UW-Eau Claire, UW-Stout, and UW-River Falls, for example, are deeply involved in very successful efforts to help promote economic development in their regions, and to provide training and research services to local businesses.
But as you all know, it’s not all about economic development. At the same time as we are paying more attention to these areas, we are also strengthening our most fundamental educational goals. For example, the UW System has entered a partnership with the Association of American Colleges and Universities to promote the importance of liberal education for today’s university students. The AAC&U initiative, called Liberal Education and America's Promise, or LEAP, is a nice complement to our own initiative: The Currency of the Liberal Arts and Sciences: Rethinking Liberal Education in Wisconsin.
Business leaders tell us they want to hire graduates who are critical thinkers, who can solve problems, communicate clearly verbally and in writing, adapt to change, and work in an increasingly diverse and global environment. In this constantly changing world, our students will benefit from attention to this kind of learning. A liberal education is, indeed, a practical grounding for a productive and fulfilling life. And if you don’t want a productive and fulfilling life, you can even become a university president with a liberal arts education.
So, how do we sustain and build on all this good work in the face of public funding challenges we and other public universities around the country confront?
As a community, public higher education must create a new compact with the state and federal government. It must, in a sense, reinvent itself. Public universities must not only become more efficient and effective, but we must demonstrate that efficiency and effectiveness to lawmakers and the public.
We are making progress here as well—we used the Legislative Audit Bureau’s recent report on administrative staffing in the UW System to point out the more than 200 administrative cuts we’ve already taken, and the additional restructuring we will do. We also use our annual Accountability report to educate all of our stakeholders about our commitments to efficiency, effectiveness and excellence.
At the same time, we need reciprocal accountability from those who hold the UW’s public funding in their hands. We need the Governor and the Legislature to lift mandates that impede our ability to even be more efficient and to produce more savings.
In return, we will do our part to maintain enrollments, boost diversity, produce more degree holders, help the state’s economy, continue to act as a magnet for federal research dollars, and operate the university efficiently. But we must ask state government to do its part to increase financial aid, provide the faculty and staff compensation that we need to stay competitive, help us keep tuition as low as possible, and help us maintain and enhance our physical facilities.
As for the future, I am not only optimistic, but enthusiastic about public higher education. I believe that as long as the University of Wisconsin exists, it will be a public university, not only because that is our hallowed tradition, but because it is our nature, here in Wisconsin more than elsewhere.
Ray Bacchetti, a colleague from Stanford University, wrote that universities are "institutions that simultaneously function as preservers of epistemological canons and shifters of paradigms; bastions of privilege and engines of social change; conservators of hard-won wisdom, centers of contention, and creators of agreement; cellars of fermenting ideas and beacons of startling illumination." All of us privileged to work in this kind of prolific institution — especially when it is public — need to be about the business of persuading the public to value it as the place where the future is made.
I ask for your counsel, and your direct involvement, in that persuasion project. And now, I could be persuaded to take a few questions and hear a few comments. The floor is open.