Over the past month, during commencement season, about 25,000 students have graduated from our university system.
That is a remarkable achievement – and an important statement about what we mean to this state. Almost 20,000 of those students will live and work here, raise families here and contribute to the quality of life in Wisconsin.
Our June board meeting is a commencement of sorts. It’s a time of transition.
We close one fiscal year and open another, we choose new leaders – and, under normal circumstances, we welcome new Regents to the board and say goodbye to others.
We reflect on what we’ve accomplished and we take time to look ahead.
In the spirit of our commencement or transition, I’d like to comment on what we’ve accomplished together as a board and to look briefly at the challenges going forward.
I am proud of our board – not only for what it has accomplished, but also for its strong and courageous leadership of the UW System.
What have we accomplished over these past few years? Quite a lot, actually.
- We have strengthened the UW System with new partnerships and collaborations across the State of Wisconsin, which include K-12 education, the technical colleges, and new regional economic partnerships.
- We’ve made measurable progress on key benchmarks of quality such as retention and graduation rates, while strengthening accountability.
- We’ve challenged and improved our own practices, and gained significant management flexibility from the state.
- With courage, we have managed the long-term issue of competitive salaries for system leadership. By making our University leaders’ salaries competitive with our peer institutions, we can keep them here working in Wisconsin.
- We’ve provided early statewide leadership on the economic challenges facing Wisconsin. We’ve done so by developing the first ever, statewide economic summits.
- We’ve pressed hard and successfully for a GPR budget and a capital building budget that will maintain quality for our students of today and tomorrow. Needless to say, this has been accomplished during a very difficult economic period.
- We’ve improved the quality of the student experience by winning a Supreme Court case on our student’s rights to determine the use of their fees, by taking on issues like substance abuse and by taking a strong position on the importance of diversity.
- We’ve reached agreement on a multifaceted approach to building the university’s financial resource base and established new approaches to attract federal money.
- We’ve managed well our fiduciary responsibility with sound financial management, as well as its stewardship of university assets. We have established efficient governance in the public interest.
- We’ve been willing to take a number of courageous actions to maintain quality in the classroom – and in the executive team. These actions have laid a positive foundation for the future.
- And we’ve laid a positive foundation for the future by recently bringing on board seven outstanding new leaders: Chancellors Wiley, Reilly, Lydecker, Wells, Hastad, and Shepard and Senior Vice President Marrett.
Needless to say we have had a lot of help. We couldn’t have gotten here without the leadership of President Lyall and her team. Their performance has been outstanding.
We couldn’t have gotten here without Jude Temby and her staff and we thank them.
In many cases, we have been building on the extraordinary work of our chancellors and their staffs. We have excellent leaders in the system and this board must continue to support and nurture them. The board and system staff work well together and we get important things done. It shows in the results.
So what about the future?
We’ve laid a strong foundation and that’s important because going forward the University faces many challenges.
This morning I want to discuss four:
- Funding for the University.
- Personnel and compensation issues.
- Best practices for the University and the Board.
- Building a state relationship and partnerships.
A great university system must have adequate resources – that’s fundamental. Despite the gains of the last two biennia, our GPR support per student continues to decline. In two decades there has been no real growth in state GPR support for higher education even though overall state spending has grown.
The formula of flat funding, low tuition and increased access does not compute. That formula, in the long run, will add up to a decline in the quality of higher education.
The solution to the issue to me is fundamental. A constructive conversation needs to take place on what the legislature — and the people of Wisconsin — want the UW System to be. How much are the state and our students willing to pay for access and quality? How should we position ourselves vis-a-vis our peer institutions?
When, and if, that conversation can take place, the appropriate role of the Regents, the Governor and state lawmakers in the management of the university should be determined. And, hopefully, some of the management constraints that cost us time, money and energy can be removed.
Once that conversation takes place, I believe state government and the UW System can and will work together effectively toward the common goal: to sustain the best public higher education system in the nation.
Our most vital resource is our people – the leaders, faculty and staff. When people refer to the UW System as a national leader they are not referring to the buildings. They are referring to its people and the results they produce.
The State of Wisconsin must get realistic when it comes to compensating its leadership. We must be competitive.
This bar continues to be raised. In neighboring states alone jobs are open for university presidents at Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio. The salaries of newly hired university system leaders are double or nearly double what we pay our loyal leader. (And that’s even after her much publicized recent increase.)
The regent compensation policy is fair and appropriate. Now that we are where we should be, the board must stay within its own policy.
Best practices: Look outside.
We have learned at the economic summits that we are too insular. In the past, too often we have had conversations with ourselves.
We need to benchmark and study best practices more than we do today. We should share our successes and in exchange, study the successes of others.
The board must be more in touch with our campuses, and more in touch with our neighboring University systems. We should study more what others do well and perhaps collaborate. We can be more effective working with others on federal issues, study abroad programs, academic partnerships, enhanced public support of education, etc.
Building State relationships and partnerships:
- We need a renewed partnership with some of our state government leaders. One built on common goals and expectations.
- We have made good progress with our partnerships in education. This collaboration is important, it must continue.
- Our partnership with business is also a key to our future. This has been an important aspect of our economic development work. Many barriers have fallen over the past decade between education and business. This progress must continue. We must foster entrepreneurs in education.
- Our partnership with the State to help improve our State economy is also critical. Our summit leadership has helped. The board as a whole needs to get more involved in this activity and the debates that will follow.
- Lastly, as we look outward, we should look inward also, strengthening our partnerships with our students. The students and the board share many aspirations for the University and we can be effective allies for support if we work together.
So as I leave as board President and look forward to future challenges let me leave you with four recommendations:
1.) Grow the University
Approach the next biennial budget (which will be a tough one) with a commitment to grow the University in real dollars.
- Have a conversation with state leaders on expectations and find some common ground.
- If the state can’t accommodate this growth, insist that leaders help us to grow in other ways. Protect quality – this will be critical at a critical time.
- Establish a policy of tuition that will sustain and enhance education quality.
- Continue the work to generate more federal dollars.
2.) Work to help the State economy.
In my view, the state’s financial future is its most pressing challenge. The university must stay engaged – we have much to contribute and our own future is riding on our success. I expect that commitment will be reflected in our next budget request to the Governor and in our sponsorship of a third economic summit this fall.
There are broad issues that need to be addressed at the state level. The university can and should play a critical role in resolving the issues. Be prepared to make strong recommendations.
3.) Intelligence Gathering.
I suggest that board members do more intelligence gathering. In the future I’d like to see delegations of board members and System staff be formed to visit other systems to see what can be learned and applied to our circumstances here.
The education committee might find more informal sessions with students, faculty, deans and provosts and business leaders very productive.
The physical planning and development committee would find value in visiting all of our campuses to assess conditions first hand. And the business and finance committee would find value in a visit to Washington to learn first hand about the issues regarding Federal funding; or visits to other systems to learn how they have found efficiency and raise private funds.
I would hope that the system could find a way to hold regent meetings more often in various regions around the State, and change its agenda to incorporate direct exchanges with business leaders, educators, and students.
4.) Have a plan:
Our planning efforts have been important. We have reached consensus on what is important. They have helped us focus our efforts and be more productive. They have helped us communicate our priorities to our own University, constituencies, opinion leaders and the public.
The board should continue to do strategic planning in concert with the president and chancellors.
Thanks to Katharine, our chancellors, our vice presidents, Jude Temby and their staffs for the fine work they’ve done. And I want to thank all the members of this board for their hard work, dedication and political courage. You’ve stood up for the university and its needs and that will long be remembered by the university community.
Beyond all that it’s been kinda fun.