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August 26, 2004

State of the University Remarks:
University of Wisconsin Colleges
UW-Fox Valley

President-elect Kevin Reilly

Thank you, Margaret, for that kind introduction. I am very pleased - and honored - to be joining you on this special day, the fall convocation for all UW Colleges faculty and staff! I feel especially fortunate to be able to join you in welcoming our newest colleagues.  I am always impressed by the quality of the credentials of our hires - the quality of these individuals. The UW System hires good people! (And I'm not just saying that because I start my new job next Wednesday!).

Let me also add my congratulations and thanks to Margaret Cleek for her willingness to serve as interim chancellor.  Thank you, Margaret.

People tell me that, as president, I will represent the UW System.  That's only partly true.  YOU represent the UW System. and no one does it more enthusiastically - and effectively - than all of you.

This visit to UW-Fox Valley is my first to a two-year college campus since being appointed President, so Jim, you and your campus colleagues here should feel either honored or put upon, depending on your inclinations. Speaking of your feeling put upon, I thought I might begin my brief remarks today by saying a few things about my own academic background.

Well, to tell the truth, 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. . . 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!

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 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 a chancellor in the UW System, I know something about the UW Colleges. And, having been a jogging partner of Bill Messner's for the past seven years really has given me even greater insights into the outstanding work that you do. As much as we all miss Bill - and I especially miss finishing ahead of him in various road races - he and you have helped to forge the 13 freshman-sophomore campuses into a vital network serving more than 12,000 students statewide, and you have positioned the colleges as a potent force in educating the Wisconsin workforce.

Also, as Chancellor of UW-Extension, I know a little bit about your impressive history and the special mission of this institution, in part because once upon a time you were administratively connected to UW-Extension. Perhaps this is why we both feel so strongly about the Wisconsin Idea, adult access and service to our communities.

Dean Perry and his colleagues hosted our legislative liaisons and public information officers up here a couple weeks ago and many of them have told me about the sense of excitement and momentum here at UW-Fox. Your outstanding facilities and, more importantly, your outstanding faculty, staff, and students, have generated a buzz beyond the Fox Valley.

I want particularly to single out and congratulate UW-Fox geology and geography professor Jim Brey who was recently named the 2003 Wisconsin Professor of the Year from among nearly 400 nominated professors by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council of Advancement and Support of Education. Jim won for the pioneering use of technology in his classes and his remarkable efforts to enhance education.  He exemplifies the quality of our faculty and staff as a whole - as well as the quality of our students! 

You see, Jim started at UW-Sheboygan and went on to earn bachelors, masters, and doctorate degrees in geography from UW-Madison!  And there are others among you - Jean Berger, Paul Martin, and more - who are helping develop this region's next generation of leaders and problem-solvers.

I want to talk about our future and how we can provide access to the future generations of Jim Breys.  I also want to leave a few minutes at the end to hear what's on your minds.

When I spoke to the Board of Regents last month after they selected me to succeed Katharine Lyall, I told them how genuinely honored I  am 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 our 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 some of our own faculty and staff. Thanks to their 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's average per capita 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. I firmly believe that the UW Colleges, in concert with the other UW System institutions AND with the Wisconsin Technical Colleges, can be instrumental in our ability to expand access to working adults and increase the number of state residents with baccalaureate degrees.

As I begin my term as president, I am optimistic and hopeful - and you should be too. That's because, as your Deans and the leaders of your community boards have articulated, the UW Colleges play a vital role in the growth and development of so many Wisconsin communities.

You also help the entire UW System by being such an important avenue of access to higher education.  Your special focus on helping freshmen and sophomores succeed in the critical first two years of college is part of your access mission, as I see it. You do this in many ways, including small classes with professors who are hired for their dedication to teaching undergraduates.  It also doesn't hurt that you offer the lowest tuition in the UW System!!

We have a lot of work ahead of us, and we all need to work together. You are modeling the right behavior here at Fox Valley with important programs like your collaboration with UW-Platteville to provide a B. S. in mechanical engineering which benefits local employers, and with UW-Oshkosh on offering a Bachelor's Degree in Organizational Administration that allows working adults the opportunity to pursue a college education in the evenings.

These examples - and I recognize that there are many more of this kind across the UW Colleges campuses - are terrific. and, frankly, it's what we're going to have to do more of if we're going to remain strong and relevant in the 21st century.

We must also 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.

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 developer of advanced human potential is noble work, and very much worth doing.

Thanks for listening. And if I haven't put you to sleep - and Margaret isn't too anxious to give her report - I hope you will go ahead and ask me a question or give me some advice.  I'm getting a lot of it these days, as you might imagine, so the Colleges might as well put their oars in the water too!  Questions or comments...?

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