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July 29, 2004

Announcement of Kevin P. Reilly as the next University of Wisconsin System President

Transcript of Press Conference Audio

Reilly: Thank you, all. I have a few remarks I want to make and then I'll be happy to take questions from the press.

Thanks, Regent Marcovich, or Regent Mar-CO-vich, as our Russian visitor from Kuban State called you a few months ago. And thanks to all the Regents for the real honor, the genuine honor, that I'm feeling very much right now of serving as the President of a public university system with one of the richest traditions in American higher education.

I'm grateful for the confidence you've placed in my abilities and experience. I'm eager to work with you in building on the excellence of the University of Wisconsin.

I believe that our job as a public university is to be Wisconsin's premier developer of human potential, of the jobs that employ that potential, and of the flourishing communities that sustain it.

My job as President will be to communicate the importance of that work and build lasting relationships with the people and organizations that make it possible.

With strong partnerships and a clear vision, we can tackle any number of challenges. Among them, we must address issues of affordability, access, economic development and quality.

We know that talent and creativity and drive and enterprise are not the exclusive purview of wealthy families, so we need to keep higher education affordable for all Wisconsin people.

I look forward to working with the students, the faculty, the staff, Chancellors, and Regents on a financial aid package that helps young people from lower- and middle-income families expand their knowledge and prepare themselves for lifelong success.

I might say that I stand in front of you as the grandchild of four Irish immigrants who came to this country in no small part because the kind of educational access and experiences that America offered were not available to them in Ireland at the time that they left. And they gambled that they would be for their children and grandchildren in America. It turned out to be a pretty good gamble. Here I am.

So we need to do the same for future generations here. I think one of the real geniuses of the American spirit has been that we figured out that by educating an ever broader and deeper cut of our population in this country to ever higher levels, we can succeed as a democracy and we can succeed as an economy, and we dare not fail in that regard.

Our Wisconsin workers need access to educational opportunities throughout their careers. Today's business climate, we know, demands flexibility, responsiveness, and we have much to gain by further developing our pool of experienced and talented workers.

That's why the University will work closely with the Wisconsin Technical Colleges on efforts that increase the number of residents with baccalaureate degrees, through degree programs, certificates and courses designed specifically for busy working adults.

Wisconsin ranks 31st among the states now in the percent of our adult population with college degrees. And we know there's a direct correlation between that percentage and the average annual salaries in states. And we need to do better in that regard in this state.

These and other efforts to address affordability and access will raise our per-capita income in Wisconsin, grow our tax base and stimulate economic prosperity.

I've focused much of my attention in my years as Chancellor of Extension on the University's role in economic development, and I expect to intensify that focus in the President's post.

As we level the pathway to higher learning and open wide the pipeline of research and discovery, the challenge will be to ensure that the education and research itself is of the highest quality. We must keep our brightest minds in the classrooms and laboratories, if we are to preserve the high academic standards that are synonymous with the "UW" name. That entails providing nationally competitive compensation packages for our faculty, staff and administrators.

Ultimately, we must see that the fruits of their labor are returned to the people who paid for it – the Wisconsin taxpayers. This is the public service obligation of our public university, and we must give people every opportunity to see how they benefit directly from their investment in higher education.

Thankfully, I will not be tackling these issues alone. I will work with a fine group of Regents, exceptionally talented faculty and staff across the UW System, and a strong cadre of Chancellors and Provosts.

I look forward to collaborating with the Governor, the Legislature, and all citizens – especially our own UW students and clients – to keep the future of the university bright, and to extend that light to every corner of this state.

I enter this job knowing that I have the distinct privilege – and the daunting challenge – of following in the footsteps of President Katharine Lyall, who could not be here today, by the way, because she's at a Board meeting for the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching out in California. But, in her absence, I would like to thank her for 13 years of commitment, service, and caring leadership of the UW System. I will miss her as a boss and a colleague, but know I can rely on her continuing friendship and advice. And I know I will need it!

Leading this university is a big job. The recently released "Charting a New Course" study gives us a useful roadmap, and I look forward to hearing from others who have ideas about where this great University should go, and how we should get there. In any case, I am confident that the journey will be a rewarding and exciting one for all of us.

I'd be happy now to take your questions.

# # #

Reporter: So when is your first day?

Reilly: I think we'll probably start around September 1st. I have to do my back-to-school shopping first. (laughter)

Reporter: Could you tell us any of your ideas for financial aid packages for low- and dual-income families?

Reilly: What we know is that what's happened recently is that students from the lower three-fifths of wealth in this state have been decreasing in the UW System. At the same time the students from families in the top two-fifths have been going up. So we're going to see the kinds of resources that we have available and craft a package that will, to the greatest extent possible, hold harmless students from the lower income groups. Exactly what percentage of the students we'll be able to hold harmless, I am not sure at this point, it will depend on the resources we have. But that's what we're going to look at and we will try and do as much of that as possible.

Reporter: How does that fly in the face of $250 million in budget cuts and probably more on the way in the next budget? Can it be done?

Reilly: Well, I think it can be done. I think you have to set some priorities and I guess what I'm saying is for me and I think for this Board coming out of the charting a course study, and for the Chancellors and Provosts and other faculty and staff who worked on that study with the Regents, this financial aid package is a priority.

And I'd also say, you're right. The university did take a $250 million cut in the last biennium and I'll be reminding the governor and the Legislature of that as we go into the next biennium, with the hope that we won't be in the same position going through this next process as we were the last time around. I think it's time and I think we've got some interest now in re-investment in the university in this next biennium.

Reporter: Could you compare your leadership style with Katharine Lyall?

Reilly: I'd like to build on the legacy that Katharine has set out here in her 13 years as President. I think one of the things she's done most notably in the last several years of her presidency was to position the university where it needs to be in the future as an economic engine for the state. The work that's been done on the Economic Summits I think has been very good work. I think people around the state understand the importance of the university now in that regard. I certainly want to build on that.

I think I come to the job with a different set of background and experiences from when she came in. I've been the Extension Chancellor for four years and the Extension Vice Chancellor for four years before that and that job entails being out on the farms with the farmers all over the state, and the back and forth with the manufacturers, working with the small business entrepreneurs all over the state, and a whole range of other people – labor unions that we serve through UW-Extension.

So I hope part of what I'll bring to the job is that sense of a deep connectedness with people all over the state. And, with people especially, who may not have a son or daughter on a university campus, who may not have a degree from the university themselves, but whose lives, whose businesses, whose families are touched through one of the other aspects of outreach work that the university does and I've been in the middle of for the last eight years.

Reporter: Can you expand on the nationally competitive compensation package that you were talking about?

Reilly: Sure, I think it's just important that we be able to pay faculty and staff and our administrative leadership salaries that allow us to recruit the best people to come to Wisconsin. I didn't take this job to recruit a second or third class group of faculty or staff to the university. I don't want to do that. I think we need to be cautious with a pay plan. I think we are in a tough budget time and I fully recognize that. On the other hand, we need to make that a priority, too, so that we're passing on a legacy to future generations in this state that has been passed on to us - a legacy of first-rate minds and talent coming to this university and staying here to teach, to do research, and to do outreach work.

Reporter: As you know, next month discussions are going to begin again on the excecutive salary issue. Can you separate faculty, staff and administrative salaries if you know that faculty and staff are mostly out of your control right now? I mean from a public perception standpoint, can you move ahead with one if the other two are not moving ahead?

Reilly: I think our basic principle ought to be to hold them together in the sense that what we're driving towards is market competitiveness for faculty, staff and administrators. And we ought to make that the umbrella under which every possible action for increase is set.

Reporter: One of the issues that have been talked about in the Legislature recently is how your predecessor served on corporate boards for pay. I was wondering if you were considering doing that as well?

Reilly: Well, what I can tell you is I am not on any corporate boards now. If I got invited as president of the system to be on one, I would consult with the regents and make sure that the board I was considering serving on was one that was appropriate and met the needs of university service, and I would certainly consider that. I think there are some real advantages for the university president to understand how boards work in the private sector and to be connected to the business community in that way. But I think you have to be very careful, consult and make the right decision about which board you stay on, and then if there are any potential conflict of interest situations with the university after you get on a board, you need to recuse yourself from any votes or decisions related to those issues.

Reporter: As you know, there's been some very high tuition increases in the last five years, in the last ten years. How high is too high? What are you going to be willing to do to stand behind this as the new president?

Reilly: If I had my way, we wouldn't have any tuition at a public university, but I know that's not a real world for us now. I think this problem is a problem that public universities are facing all over the country – it's not just in Wisconsin. As government has withdrawn support from public universities, tuitions have gone up.

I think part of the role of the president is to try to make clear how vital it is, as I said before, to keep education accessible to all cuts of economic wealth across this state. And we know that even if we have a good financial aid plan – I hope we will have a good one – there's a sticker shock effect for students from poorer families. They see a price and say, "Oh, we can't even consider sending our daughter or son there." And we know in Wisconsin, perhaps in particular, people are loathe to take out loans - more perhaps than in some other states - and have to pay them back.

So we understand that, and that's part of the case I think we need to make to the governor and the Legislature to keep as much public funding under that core activity of teaching our undergraduate students as we possibly can get, and to hold ... the tuition increases down as much as possible. The less public support we get, the more those tuition rates are going to rise, and that's not good. We all ought to be resistant in trying to prevent that from happening.

Reporter: Do you think your experience in the extension department gives you an advantage as far as getting this job in the first place over some other national candidates and being able to hit the ground running when you actually start?

Reilly: Well, I certainly think it gives me an advantage of being able to hit the ground running, because I have been on the ground a lot all over this state over the last eight years as I said. As far as what advantage it gave me with the other candidates, I think you would have to ask the regents for that. They didn't let me sit in on their discussions. (laughter)

Reporter: How much of an option is private funding? You say you are going to hold the line or try to hold the line, but when it comes down to it if you can't, are you going to start reaching out for more private donations to maybe offset tuition, or is that a viable option, something that you are really going to have to look at?

Reilly: I think all of what you said is probably true. That is, I think the University of Wisconsin has been very successful in its quest for outside funding. At the federal level, for instance, we bring in more money than any other agency into Wisconsin. If it weren't for this campus in particular, UW-Madison, the state would really be very low on the amount of federal money that gets brought in. I think overall if you look back we were bringing, about 10 years ago, in the $200 million dollar range. We have got now more than $700 million in outside fundraising that goes on, so we've ramped that up quite nicely.

But I think the basic point that we need to keep making is most of that money is targeted when it comes in. It is targeted by the donor, it is targeted by the federal agency, it is targeted by the grant making agency for specific work. If we get a large grant from the National Science Foundation, for instance, for cancer research, we can't use that to hire somebody to teach freshman English courses in the English department.

It's that (general purpose revenue) that lets us do that core undergraduate education of the citizens of this state and also lets us leverage the outside money. So I think a challenge for the incoming president is again to put the spotlight squarely on that core GPR support and how important it is. At the same time that we are doing a good job and continue to ramp up our efforts to raise outside money. But it is not like one substitutes for one, because that outside money, much of it coming in, is earmarked for very specific purposes.

[...] Folks on the phone from remote locations, any questions?

Reporter (on phone): You mentioned earlier about public support. How do you plan to bolster public support for the university system?

Reilly: I think what I want to say to folks who are out there in the general public who don't have a direct connection to this university yet - If you're not an alumnus or you don't have a child on a campus currently, or a grandchild of yours is not on a campus, it's entirely likely and it's entirely appropriate that in the years ahead you will have a child or a grandchild or a niece or a nephew who's a student on one of our campuses. I ask for the support of the general public because in the Information Age, in the Knowledge Economy, we'll need more and more of our future generations to be educated at least to the baccalaureate degree level. So the whole public has an interest, a vested interest, in the University of Wisconsin because it will be one of the main drivers for the future of this state.

And I'd certainly say, not forgetting my roots as Extension chancellor, that right now the university influences lives in thousands of ways through our outreach and extension work even if you don't have a student or you're not an alumnus of this university. So I think it's really a matter of getting out, telling that story, setting up maybe some new venues for those stories to be told with members of the general public so that they understand the situation the university finds itself in, and so that we can generate more support for it in the future.

Reporter: Could you share with us your views on embryonic stem-cell research and affirmative action?

Reilly: Sure. On stem cell research, let me again go back to my role as extension chancellor. We right now have a project going in extension called Engagement and Controversy. And it is really an effort to educate faculty, staff and students in extension that if the public university is doing its public work in the way it should, it is out there in the middle of the society dealing with some of the toughest, most contentious, most controversial issues that our fellow citizens are confronting. This is one of them at the moment.

I am comfortable with the research agenda that the university has laid out there, and I am hopeful that it will lead to breakthroughs in health for all of us in the future. I think we need to always listen very carefully to people who object to what we might be doing. We need to do that in a civil and collegial way and we need to consider their opinions. And then we need to think about what the university's mission and role is and make a decision about what that is and then get on with it. That's what I think we are doing in that area.

As to your question about affirmative action and diversity - I can say that diversity begins at home for me. I have three children, two of whom are adopted from Colombia in South America. They are of mixed Andean, Indian and Latino heritage, so I am very personally committed on this issue. I think our 'Plan 2008,' which I was in the middle of helping to construct, is a good plan. We are about halfway through it now, as you know from the recent reports that we did on that.

As I look at our student body, we have added about 2,000 minority students since we started the plan five years ago. We had about a 4 percent minority enrollment in the system as a whole four years ago. We are now up to about 9 percent with that addition of the 2,000 students. I think in the population as a whole we have about a 12 to 13 percent minority population in Wisconsin. So if we hold that out as our percentage goal in a simple-minded way, in terms of percentages in the student body, well, we are about halfway toward that goal, about halfway through the plan.

We need to keep focused very hard on making progress in that regard. And then I think there is a retention issue here. It is not just about bringing students in the door, it is about how many do you get through the pipeline and graduate. There, we are not doing as well and I think we need to think about some new ways to get at that.

Some of the ways that I'm familiar with from some previous experience, and I'm not quite sure if we're doing this widely enough or well enough here, is based on the work of Uri Treisman, who's a mathematics professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

He was one of the first people to start thinking about the role of academic departments in dealing with diverse students when they arrive at the university. I think we've gotten pretty good at providing cultural, ethnic clubs and associations and activities that help to embrace students from different backgrounds.

But maybe one of the things we haven't done as well is to have the academic part of the apparatus get directly involved in some of those students early on, so they start talking to them and saying, "You're a member of this ethnic group. You come from that background. What academic area are you interested in? How can we make you feel a nascent member of the physics department when you arrived at our campus? What are the activities that we can do to draw students in based on their academic interests so they become part of an academic community earlier on, not just socially or ethnically speaking.

That's just one idea, but I'm aware that we need to do much more work on retention. Let me say this. The pre-college programs that we've got going – the PEOPLE Program on the Madison campus is a good example, and many of our other campuses have them – a lot of good programs. I think they show signs of success. I think they have a lot of potential. But we've got I think total Systemwide about 30,000 students from diverse backgrounds enrolled in those pre-college programs.

If they're working right, they help not only to get students in the door, but help to get them prepared to be successful once they're in the door. But 30,000 students I think is still only about between 10 and 12 percent of the total percentage of the university population in the K-12 system.

So we're still only cutting a very thin slice of that total population. And I think we need to do more work there, and if we're going to do more work there, the university can't do it alone. We're going to need financial help from the governor and the Legislature to do more of that kind of pre-college programming in cooperation with the K-12 system.

Regent President Marcovich: Excuse me, just let me interrupt briefly. We're still in formal session here and I think it would be ... I'm going to let President Reilly be available to you for as long as he wants to.

But before we do that, I'd like to simply wind up this formal board meeting, and I can't do that without first expressing my thanks to both, and first, Dave Walsh who chaired the Search and Screen Committee and who did such an exceptional job of bringing in a whole host of highly qualified candidates from all over this country for us to review and pick from.

And I want to also include my personal thanks to the Regents in the Selection Committee, Regents Davis, Bradley, Axtell, and I'm speaking on behalf of my co-chair Guy Gottschalk.

But I just want to say one last thing – I hope you all realize that I tried to pick the broadest possible representation in this process. You will look at the Search and Screen Committee and see that there are people from all walks of life representing virtually every group that has an interest in higher education in this state and nationally.  I think they did an exemplary job of bringing this outstanding candidate to our Selection Committee.

Interestingly enough, we went through the entire process and here we are ending up right in our own backyard the most highly qualified candidate in the whole United States. And so I want to thank everybody for all the effort they did. It was a daunting task. We got it done. We got it done on a deadline that was difficult for everyone, but it needed to be done.

So with that I would entertain a motion to adjourn...

Reilly: Mr. President, could I make one final remark? I just wanted to say that I liked very much what then-Interim Chancellor Bob Greenstreet of UW-Milwaukee said to Katharine Lyall at the Regent meeting a couple months ago on the Milwaukee campus, which was: "Being the president of the University of Wisconsin System is a little like being the superintendent of a graveyard - You have a lot of people under you, but nobody's listening." (laughter)

So I hope over the next few months that people will be listening to some of the new ideas that we bring forward and that we can have a very, very interesting discussion.

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Listen to the press conference audio - (25:29) RealPlayer format

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