Office of the President
Ohio State University, James F. Patterson Lecture
Kevin P. Reilly, President, University of Wisconsin System
May 10, 2006
“Who We Are Now: The Vitality of the Land-Grant Mission in a Global, Knowledge Economy”
Thank you, President [Karen] Holbrook. I am honored to have been invited to join you today. And I really mean that. Thanks to Bobby Moser and his colleagues for thinking to invite me to deliver this prestigious lecture. I would also like to extend my thanks and appreciation to Mr. James Patterson… both for making today's event possible, and for his lifelong commitment to furthering the vital mission of land-grant universities.
As you heard in the introduction, I am President of the University of Wisconsin System. I am privileged to lead a public university system with one of the deepest and richest traditions in American higher education. Although my family and I have lived in the Badger State for nearly 10 years, it seems I'm far less than six degrees of separation from many Buckeye connections. My executive vice president back home, Donald Mash, earned his Ph.D. here, as did one of our campus chancellors, Jack Keating, of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.
And during the NFL draft, the Green Bay Packers drafted one of your own, A.J. Hawk… who's reportedly engaged to the sister of Brady Quinn… who's the quarterback at Notre Dame… where I earned my undergraduate degree! Fittingly, the news says they'll be married next St. Patrick's Day — a great day for a wedding, if I do say so myself, being Kevin Patrick Reilly! I suspect that's not the story you expected when you invited me here to talk about engagement.
I don't know if Ohioians have the same appreciation for Minnesota Public Radio's Garrison Keillor as Wisconsinites do, but I think we can all appreciate his insights. As a two-degree holder from the University of Minnesota, I'm very partial toward his humor and analysis. Mr. Keillor once wrote:
“American universities have seen many radicals and revolutionaries come and go over the years, and all of them put together were not nearly so revolutionary as a land-grant university itself on an ordinary weekday.”
Today, I want to talk with you about the radical changes we see happening in our global society, what this means for the land-grant mission, and the potential for a “new university revolution.”
In Wisconsin, our education revolution began with the founding of our public university, the University of Wisconsin, in 1848. In fact, improving society through education was so important to Wisconsin's founders that establishing the university was one of the state Legislature's very first acts. Every school kid in Wisconsin knows: “ Wisconsin became a state — in 1848.” The university was established that same year. Over the course of 150-plus years, the university has become a system of two doctoral campuses, 11 comprehensive universities, 13 freshman-sophomore transfer colleges, and our statewide UW-Extension, which serves more than one million citizens each year.
Like Ohio State University and so many other land-grant universities across the nation, our top priority is to provide our citizens with world-class education, research, and public service. Without this commitment, where would we be?
Let's take a look. Please show the first video clip.
Video Clip: Medical Advancements
The delivery is humorous, but the message is quite serious. It communicates a clear mandate that this nation must invest in colleges and universities so they can continue to research, to serve, and as you heard, “prepare the people who solve the problems, and teach the people who change the world.” I'll say more about the reason for this particular message in a few minutes.
I believe the best way for us to earn this public investment is to do more of what we do best — to fully integrate outreach, engagement, and the land-grant spirit of public service into the very heart of our colleges and departments across all of our campuses.
In Wisconsin — where we really don't any longer rely on Steve Martin's old Saturday Night Live character, Theodoric of York, the bloodletting medieval barber, for medical advice, despite what you sophisticated Ohioans may think! — our commitment to fulfilling our teaching, research, and public-service mission extends far beyond the campus. In fact, for more than 100 years, this commitment has had its own name. We call it the “Wisconsin Idea.”
The Wisconsin Idea holds that the “boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state” … that the UW has a responsibility to serve and stimulate society, and to make available its knowledge and resources to the state's citizens wherever they live and work.
In 1905, then-UW president Charles Van Hise issued a challenge. He said:
“I shall never be content until the beneficent influence of the university reaches every family in the state.”
His colleague, Charles McCarthy, a leader in the state agency that served the Wisconsin Legislature then, posed this question in the fiery, Progressive rhetoric of the time:
“Is there not some means by which we can maintain the youth of the nation, keep poverty at a minimum, and wealth, caste, and privilege from commanding, conquering, and finally destroying the nation?”
McCarthy's answer… the University of Wisconsin's answer… was “yes.” And herein were the humble beginnings of Wisconsin's first statewide outreach program, the University Extension Division. The program grew, more quickly than expected, and soon became a national model.
The first county extension agent position — the first employee ever paid for by both county and state funds — was established in Wisconsin in 1912, and became the standard for the 1914 federal Smith-Lever legislation. And, in 1912, some Cincinnatians were so taken with the concept of the “Wisconsin Idea,” that they established a relationship between the University of Wisconsin and The Ohio State University to bring some of these solid UW ideas back home. So we'll take credit — or blame — for having colonized you early on!
The partnership worked. Today, the University of Wisconsin, The Ohio State University, and nearly every other major American public college and university has a vital outreach or extension function. Millions of Americans testify that the personal and professional assistance they have received from university extension and outreach programs has transformed their lives. We hear this every day from faculty, students, alumni, parents, colleagues, and people around the country, and the world, who reaffirm the value of our engaged university. They inspire us to do everything we can to keep our institutions strong, responsive, and engaged. But our efforts, our commitments, and our voices are not enough by themselves.
While university extension and outreach continues its life-changing work, public colleges and universities across the country are, in truth, struggling. We struggle to maintain academic quality as we receive fewer and fewer dollars as a proportion of our budgets from our state and federal governments. We struggle to keep our doors open to as many students as we can, and we struggle to help our students pay for their college education.
At the same time, the states that support us struggle to provide basic government services, and our elected officials are forced to make tough choices about how to spend scarce tax dollars… meanwhile, they're also looking for ways to keep states competitive in the 21st century knowledge economy.
And our nation struggles to find its niche in a global marketplace of ideas… to secure the number of college-educated physicians and nurses, engineers, scientists, and mathematicians that we will need for a healthy economy… to make the discoveries that will propel prosperity… and to prepare our children and grandchildren to be active, competent, engaged global citizens.
Is there an urgency in getting the American people to understand higher education's need to address its own challenges, so it can help solve those of the wider society? Let's a take a look. Please play the second video clip.
Video Clip: First Responders
The public-service announcements I'm showing you today are part of a national campaign by the American Council on Education. Its very title, “Solutions for Our Future,” underscores the importance of outreach and engagement … taking university work beyond the borders of our campuses.
The FOX network is donating the TV time for 36 30-second prime-time spots for these ads. They are being aired during “American Idol.” Now that's prime time! The NCAA is also donating TV ad time, during March Madness, the College World Series, and other NCAA live coverage events.
The University of Wisconsin System is a partner in this campaign, as is The Ohio State University. The “Solutions for Our Future” effort emerged following some in-depth, national research. The American Council on Education in its polling research found that 84 percent of Americans believe that by investing in colleges and universities today, we can solve the problems of tomorrow.
Further, 92 percent said that today's higher education policy will determine the United States ' competitive global position 25 years down the line! But only 60 percent of respondents say colleges and universities are prepared, right now, to meet those future challenges.
In the surveys, we lose a bit of support from Americans when they are asked who benefits the most from higher education. 48 percent say the biggest return is in personal benefits to individual students. And just 28 percent said that communities and regions where colleges and universities are located gain the most from investing in higher education. That's a relatively low number — not great news for land-grant colleges and universities. Don't tell your neighbors in Columbus!
Further, 37 percent of respondents do not think higher education is creating the right kind of workforce for economic success. And just a slim majority — 51 percent — say that colleges and universities share their own, personal values.
This is the public-opinion terrain we need to understand if we are to persuade the public that higher education is integral to their future success. The University of Wisconsin is supporting the goals behind this important campaign, designed to win public support from our citizens, and to gain the tools we need to find the solutions for the future.
It's no doubt surprising to many of us in the academy to learn a number of our fellow citizens do not believe that their future is tied to that of American's colleges and universities. We must constantly remind Americans why well-educated citizens are crucial to our ability to confront future challenges, and those we're confronting today. Using our decades of experience in outreach and engagement, we can make it clear that colleges and universities do contribute to our economy, well-being, and quality of life. We need the public's support to gain the investment we need to expand college access, and improve student achievement… to build the human capital the country must have to succeed in the international knowledge economy.
To earn this investment, we must prove our worth. We must show, in concrete ways, how we solve society's most pressing problems. We must re-energize and broaden our approach to university outreach and engagement.
We need to apply the concept behind the “Wisconsin Idea” to every aspect of our universities. And we must do this in every community, every presentation, every activity, every communication we have with our publics.
In Wisconsin , I've articulated a vision that captures, I believe, the essence of the new Wisconsin Idea, and the goals of a 21st-century engaged university. It goes like this:
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.
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.
Now, I know that's a tall order. To achieve this vision, we must transform our universities to make it clear that outreach and engagement are not just options… not a bonus… but are truly at the heart of what we do. Today, it is not enough to reach only small pockets of our citizenry. We need to interact with a larger cut of our public.
Certainly, I am not suggesting that we abandon our traditional clients and customers. It has, perhaps, never been more important that we serve family farmers, small business owners, and entrepreneurs. And we must assuredly continue to develop the talents of the young people who will become the next generation of leaders.
The world is changing, however, and so are the demographics of the people who need our help. We must do more to meet the unique needs of our states' growing diverse populations. We must do more to improve the public health and welfare of our most urban centers, as well as our most rural communities. We must share university research and expertise to help local governments, and regional economic development organizations, make the right choices as they work to improve the lives of their citizens. We must encourage all citizens to practice good citizenship, and to work with us to create “solutions for our future.”
As we look outward, and seek to engage more of society, I encourage us to also turn inward, and fully engage the extraordinary capacity of our universities, and the talents of our students and colleagues who achieve excellence in them every day.
We had one example of this kind of thinking in our own State Capitol late last month. At an event we call “Posters in the Rotunda,” more than 125 undergraduate researchers, and their faculty mentors, displayed research findings on a whole host of societal concerns, including poverty, health care, the environment, and business development.
We modeled the showcase on other national undergraduate research events, but with an important twist. By our displaying the research literally right outside their office doors, our state senators and representatives could not help but take notice. And our Lieutenant Governor spoke at the event. Some of the student projects were based in the liberal arts and sciences… others investigated scientific phenomena with titles even a university president couldn't pronounce! What they had in common was the enthusiasm of young people who had thought seriously about ways to use their education to contribute to public service and/or the knowledge economy.
Public service, in a not-so-traditional sense, does mean serving business, industry, and the public institutions that drive the growing knowledge economy. Where does that leave colleges and universities today? Let's watch. Please play the third video clip.
Video Clip: Technology and Innovations
I suppose I have colleges and universities to thank for transporting me here overnight! As the engine behind our economy shifts from manpower to brainpower, high-level innovation like this is more important than ever.
Today, all public universities must answer the question: “Are you doing all you can to translate university-developed innovation into positive economic and social impacts?
I'm proud to report that in Wisconsin , academic research and development is an $800-million-a-year industry. It has created more than 30,000 jobs, and more than 100 companies in Wisconsin are based on intellectual property from our flagship campus alone.
Our flagship, UW-Madison, is home to world-class biomedical and biopharmaceutical engines, and was awarded 77 patents in the last year. The faculty and researchers there are not only discovering cures for disease, but engaging with the community by creating these spin-off companies and high-wage jobs that have helped rank Madison consistently as one of the country's most attractive places to live (despite the winters!).
It will take regular, concerted outreach and engagement by us to convince our citizens and elected officials that there's a need to feed this economic engine. Wisconsin has had a bit of luck there. Within the last several weeks, we were able to announce that the state is helping us establish two major research centers. The first will allow a world-renowned UW researcher to continue research on avian flu — one of the world's most-pressing health concerns.
The state is also contributing to the $375 million Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, a public-private research hub that will drive the UW's leadership in biotechnology, medical sciences, and stem-cell research. The new center is expected to foster integration and collaboration across disciplines, schools, and UW campuses, allowing the fruits of this research to touch every Wisconsin community. And we wouldn't have been able to do it without reaching out to our state leaders, or without cultivating public support and private money.
Re-energizing outreach and engagement will require us to use university tools not only to conduct research and develop innovations, but also to support the people and networks that make these innovations possible.
For example, our systemwide patenting and licensing agency, called WiSys, and its parent institution, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, help UW researchers tap the commercial potential of research.
These entities have partnered with our UW-Extension, the Agricultural Innovation Center , and our state system of technical colleges to establish what we call the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs' Network. In cooperation with our state Department of Commerce, we have put university resources to work to support Wisconsin 's “creative class” of entrepreneurs, and to ensure that their innovations create more jobs for Wisconsin citizens. It's an exciting example of how a university can engage many partners to realize a truly remarkable, ongoing cycle of benefits.
It's clear to me, then, that the distinctive mark of a great public university in the 21st century, when campuses no longer hold the exclusive charter for discovery and dissemination of knowledge, rests in how the institution uses public service — broadly defined — to inform its research, and inspire its instruction.
By reaching out to citizens… by sharing our knowledge beyond the borders of the campus, I believe we can fulfill the vision of Van Hise and McCarthy — and Patterson! We can improve and educate the youth of the nation. We can keep poverty at a minimum. And we can create a world in which citizens have equity in access and opportunity, and the tools they need for health, security, and stability. In short, university outreach and engagement are the keys to the “solutions for our future.”
Should we heed the call of Theodoric of York, who said: ”Well, let's give her another bloodletting!”
No… Instead, let's follow the lead of the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, who wrote: “The task of a university is the creation of the future.” I know with the leadership you have here at Ohio State with President Holbrook, Vice President Moser, and others — with the way you've positioned your outreach and extension functions in this university — you are moving strategically on that task.
So, I wish you all well in your efforts to create your future here in Ohio . May your blood donations be voluntary, may your homes stay safe and sound, and may all your packages arrive on time! Thanks for listening today.