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August 23, 2004

State of the University Remarks
University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

President-elect Kevin Reilly

Thank you, Jack. I very much appreciate your comments and your leadership at UW-Whitewater. I am really pleased to be here with you all today. This visit to Whitewater is my firs to a campus since being appointed President. So you should feel either honored or put upon depending on your inclinations. The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater is making excellent progress on achieving its five-year goals, and I'm very encouraged by your vigorous commitment to retention and graduation, especially for students of color. You do a terrific job of preparing our young people to make important contributions to the 21st century knowledge economy. Thank you for your hard work! And thanks, Jack, for keeping those goals and measurable outcomes in front of us so we can demonstrate not only that we're working hard, but that we're accomplishing the good things we set out to do!

Chancellor Miller suggested that I might begin my brief remarks today by saying a few things about my own academic background.

I'm a "dirty BAMAPHD," as one character says to another in Edward Albee's 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 area of teaching and scholarly interest is Irish literature and culture, especially biography and autobiography written about and by Irish writers.

It's a wonderfully, well ... innocuous 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!
Let me say that coming before a large, august assembly of faculty and staff such as this at the start of one's Presidency is daunting. I am ever mindful of what the former President of Harvard University, Derek Curtis Bok, said when asked what kind of job the faculty and staff on that campus thought he was doing. "Half of them think they could do a better job than I ... the other half think anybody would do a better job than I!"
Nonetheless, I will assume a honeymoon period with all of you until further notice, which notice I fully expect will be on my desk when I arrive back in Madison this afternoon.
As I told the Board of Regents last month when they selected me to succeed Katharine Lyall, I am genuinely honored to have been asked to serve as president of a public university system with one of the richest traditions in American higher education. 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 of the flourishing communities that sustain it. Let me repeat that ...

One of my primary responsibilities as president will be to communicate the importance of that work and to build lasting relationships with the people and organizations that make it possible. But I can't do this alone – I'll need your help and support – and your voices – as we articulate our value, our role, and our impact in educating students and stimulating economic prosperity in Wisconsin.

In talking with the Regents, I addressed issues of affordability, access, economic development and quality. I am pleased to report that just last week, the Regents voted unanimously to forward a budget request to the Governor and the Legislature that asks for much-needed reinvestments in the UW System, its students, its faculty, and its staff.

For me, the Regents' vote is a vote about hope and about optimism for the future. It is also a budget request that is very much focused on student access and Wisconsin success.

  • It is a student access budget because it contains financial aid that will help young people from lower- and middle-income families enroll in our universities, where they will expand their knowledge and prepare themselves for lifelong success. We know that talent, creativity and drive are not the exclusive purview of wealthy families. We must keep higher education affordable for all Wisconsin students.
  • The budget is a student access budget because it will enable working adults to have access to educational opportunities throughout their careers. Today's business climate demands flexibility and responsiveness, and we have much to gain by further developing our In-state pool of experienced and talented workers.
  • It is a student access budget because it will ensure that students have access to education and research of the highest quality. To keep our brightest minds in the classrooms and laboratories, to preserve the high academic standards that are synonymous with the "UW" name, we must provide nationally competitive compensation packages for our faculty, staff, and administrators. The Regents heard that message last week directly from your own Jeff McKinnon, associate professor of Biological Sciences here, who told them (quote) "When you don't pay people what they are paying at other institutions, you don't lose people at random. You lose your best people. The amount of money it takes for this investment is small compared to the returns." (unquote) Thanks to his testimony and that of others, the Regents took that message to heart and showed their support for providing compensation that will help us keep the quality faculty and staff we already have, and attract the next generation of quality educators.
  • Finally, this is a Wisconsin success budget. It supports our efforts to increase the number of state residents with baccalaureate degrees. We know that the higher the proportion of baccalaureate degree holders in a state's population, the higher the state' average per capital income. Our efforts to address affordability and access will raise Wisconsin's per-capita income, grow our tax base, and stimulate economic prosperity. As I told the Regents, when it comes to success, the state and the university are joined at the hip. 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.

As I begin my term as president, I am optimistic and hopeful – and you should be too. But we do have a lot of work ahead of us, and we all need to work together. We must work with the Governor, the Legislature, and all the state's citizens – especially all of our UW students, alumni, and stakeholders – to keep the future of the university bright, and to extend that light to every corner of this state.

I'd like to thank you and your colleagues for the outstanding work you are doing, and for your many achievements over the past year or so. At the risk of leaving someone or something out – you need to cut me a little slack since I'm not officially president yet – let me congratulate you for, among other things:

  • The 4th annual Authentic Voices of America camp, which helps young people with severe speech disabilities improve their skills on augmentative communication devices, and set education and career goals.
  • Justin Preiss' winning an MTV Award this year for his public service announcement "Every Vote Counts." This PSA will become part of MTV's "Choose or Lose" campaign, encouraging college students to vote in the 2004 election.
  • Conducting a study on how a restored lake affects a local economy, in addition to calculating the financial benefits of improved water quality.
  • Chancellor Miller's national "literate cities" survey which ranks the reading culture and resources of America's 79 largest cities. Madison ranks 4th in the nation. I agree with the Chancellor who said, "I hope the study prompts civic leaders to take interest and change practices where possible."
  • A gift from the estate of Frank Carpenter of Rockford, Illinois, to the Joseph and Madeline Chopp Scholarship, helping to create the university's second largest endowed scholarship. The Chopp scholarship honors juniors and seniors studying biological sciences.
  • The Wisconsin Innovation Center for all that it does to help companies, entrepreneurs, and inventors make smart product and marketing decisions. In the last two decades, Deb Malwiecki, Milissa Rick and their colleagues have investigated more than 6,300 product and market opportunities for private clients and companies.
  • Garnering over $3.5 million for support of construction of the College of Business and Economics building. I should add that three of UW-Whitewater's capital budget projects were approved by the Regents last week as well.

And I haven't even mentioned your athletic achievements! But I don't want to steal any of Chancellor Miller's thunder, because, well, he's a lot bigger than I am!

Let me close, therefore, by saying I look forward to hearing from you about your ideas on where this great university system 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.

Have a wonderful academic year. Never forget that the work we do as Wisconsin's premier developed of advanced human potential is noble work, and very much worth doing.

Thanks for listening.

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