Kevin P. Reilly, President
University of Wisconsin System

Thank you, President Marcovich, and good morning everyone. Since most of you had the stamina to listen to me at some length yesterday, I’ll try a little harder to keep my remarks today brief.

I’m pleased to report that the 2004-05 academic year has “commenced” with an abundance of “good news” from our UW System campuses.  Now, I should point out that each of these recognitions and announcements that I will mention has a personality and a story behind it. That’s why we will be making an effort at every Board of Regents meeting to have one or more of our “good news” people physically present so that you can put a face on the name and hear their story.

Much of the power of our great university resides, I believe, in the extraordinary stories that our students, faculty, researchers, staff and administrators have to tell. So, I hope you will not only be proud of these illustrious achievements, but that you will be moved by the stories, and that you will help us to share these stories of the positive impact of the UW System on our state and its citizens.

To start, I’m very honored to welcome Associate Professor Jeff Johnson of the UW-Madison School of Pharmacy. Through pioneering research, Dr. Johnson and his colleague, Thor (Tor) Stein, are making major contributions to the fight against Alzheimer’s disease. Their findings, published in the current issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, are the first to show that increased levels of a certain protein in the brain can combat the onset of Alzheimer’s. This new concept suggests that introducing this “good” protein in the brain can successfully fight the “bad” proteins that cause Alzheimer’s. Their work could give other researchers and drug companies new ideas about therapies for the disease, and could allow Alzheimer’s patients to live a more normal life and I should say their families as well. The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation has filed for a patent on these findings, and WARF hopes to soon begin licensing the technology to drug companies.

Wisconsin is truly fortunate to have Jeff Johnson as a member of our UW faculty. On behalf of Alzheimer’s patients, their families, and all those interested in finding a cure for this dreadful disease, please join me in congratulating Dr. Johnson for this important research.

Dr. Johnson, thank you for being here. Would you like to say a few words to the Board?

[Johnson/Stein – 2 minutes]

Thank you. We wish you all success with the next phase of your research, and we will all be watching.

Our campuses gained collective praise this summer in the new edition of “America’s Best Colleges” by U.S. News and World Report.

We are always proud when our campuses gain the kind of recognition they deserve, and this year, U.S. News again lists five of our campuses among the top-10 best public Midwestern master’s universities.

Congratulations to UW-Eau Claire and UW-La Crosse, which for the second year in a row, are tied for third; to UW-Stevens Point, ranked seventh; to UW-Whitewater, ranked 10th; and to UW-River Falls, tied for 11th. Others in the upper tiers include UW-Green Bay, UW-Stout, UW-Oshkosh and UW-Platteville. UW-Madison is ranked 7th for the second year in a row on the list of best public doctoral universities, and 32nd among all national universities.

These rankings show that, despite budget cuts, we have done an admirable job continuing to offer students access to a quality, affordable higher education.

The magazine also notes that on some of our campuses, class sizes are larger and there are fewer full-time faculty to teach our students. These changes are a result of our campuses having fewer state dollars to maintain basic quality in the classroom.

So, even as we continue to debate how we should use these rankings, and as you know, this is a perennial debate in higher education and beyond, let me suggest that we congratulate all our campuses for another strong showing. At the same time, keep these rankings in your back pockets. We know students and parents pay attention to guides like these, and this year’s rankings support our case for reinvestment by the state in our university system.

Those of you who watched the Summer Olympics may have seen a familiar face or two. Many athletes with UW connections competed at the Summer Games, and the UW System is home to not one, but TWO gold medalists! Many congratulations to UW-La Crosse senior Andrew Rock, who will graduate this December after achieving a 3.75 G-P-A in his Finance major. Rock helped the UW-L track team win its eighth consecutive N-C-Double-A Division Three track-and-field championship, and he brought home an Olympic gold medal as a member of the men’s 4-by-400 meter relay team.

Let’s take a moment now to learn a little more about Andrew’s story.

[DVD presentation]

Regent Smith met Andrew at UW-La Crosse’s opening convocation this fall, and he’s agree to join the men’s 4-by-400 meter relay team!

We also want to congratulate UW-Madison swimmer Carly Piper, who won a gold medal as part of the U.S. women’s 800-meter freestyle relay team. Just two examples of the extraordinary students we have in our midst.

Extraordinary faculty, too. Just this week, Governor Doyle appointed a UW-Green Bay professor as the state’s new Poet Laureate. Denise Sweet is an associate professor of Humanistic Studies, and adviser for the American Indian Studies minor at Green Bay. For the next four years, she will serve as the state’s “ambassador of poetry.” As a student of literature myself, I admire her achievement and applaud her work in bringing poetry to the public. I wish her all the best with this exciting opportunity.

I could go on for hours about the good news emanating from our campuses, but let me quickly mention just a few more.

  • UW-Extension and the Wisconsin Department of Commerce are helping entrepreneurs learn from each other through a new educational program. This fall’s debut of the Wisconsin PeerSpectives Network invites CEO’s, presidents and business owners to roundtable discussions about business ideas and solutions. The sessions will be offered through the UW’s network of Small Business Development Centers.
  • UW-Oshkosh astronomer Michael Briley has been named Director of the Stellar Astronomy and Astrophysics program at the National Science Foundation in Washington D.C.
    Dr. Briley will recommend funding for federal research on the activity of the sun and stars and will oversee a $9 million budget.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Congress have awarded UW-Stevens Point $2.5 million to continue a national effort to help educators teach about the environment. The National Environmental Education Training Partnership at UW-SP has brought in $12.2 million in grants over the past five years. I echo the campus in thanking Congressman Dave Obey and Senator Herb Kohl and their staffs for their strong support of the program.
  • UW-Platteville recently announced a $2 million gift from the family of Ed Busby, Dean Emeritus of Engineering. This very generous gift will support capital projects for the campus’ signature engineering program.
  • The U.S. Department of Education has granted funding to our western Wisconsin UW campuses and their partners to help teachers learn new ways to teach American History. UW-Eau Claire is sharing in a $1 million grant to work with school districts, the campus history department, and the Chippewa Valley Museum. Likewise, UW-River Falls and UW-Stout are part of a $750,000 grant to fund a project titled “U.S. History through the Heartland along the I-94 Corridor.” Congratulations to these campuses for these successful collaborations.
  • And, finally, something of special note for the Governor and other public officials, our friends at United Council have informed us that the New Voters Project has now registered 91,000 new 18-24 year old voters!!!!  Their goal was 85,000 by October, so they are well beyond their goal.  The  next major registration push will come after the primary, focusing on the end of September.  On average, the New Voters Project  is registering 2,000-4,000 young people everyday across the state.

This is just the tip of the iceberg in the “good news” department ― and I look forward to sharing such items throughout the year. I also want to thank everyone on our campuses ―faculty and staff ― who have worked hard this summer to get ready for the semester and assure a smooth transition for our students, particularly our new freshmen.

In the spirit of our academic beginnings, let me end with a timely poem from Denise Sweet, our new Poet Laureate. It’s titled:

In September: Ode to Tomatoes

In September, the order of business
will always begin with tomatoes
the passionate fruit
of defiant grandmothers
of bachelor lords
in their kitchens of chaos
and of the occasional gardeners like myself
who can marvel the wonders of nature
while complaining of lower back pain.

Even then, the flaming Big Boys
and voluptuous Romas gather themselves
in dishpans, in aprons, yes, even at the doorstep
waiting for the enthusiasm of an early riser
to spill with poetic love
over a Mason or Kerr of the stewed,
the brewed, the blended, the pureed:
this is destiny,
this is immorality,
this is salsa
in the dead of winter!

Tomatoes suspended in jars,
smiling their fetal smiles
outshining the corn relish
and the bony heaps of mutant squash
amidst the basement darkness
and the stacks of dying Milwaukee Journals.

Yes, even though we walk through valleys
of shadowy Death,
we will always can tomatoes
we will ladle together
the green into red
secrets into sauce
we can because we can
and not because we must.