There is an additional item that I wish to present to the Board, and I hope you will listen carefully. These words have been uttered here before and are eerily relevant to today’s circumstances. I quote:
“Your University has never before feared change; it need not fear it now. Indeed, if it is to attain its rightful destiny – if it is, in fact, to validate its greatness – it must always be ready to meet the demands of change with well-considered change.
“Proposals for major change often arise out of some immediate dilemma or problem. The issue now before us, as to whether the State of Wisconsin wishes, or is able, to continue its present level of public university commitments and to pledge ongoing support for higher educational opportunity and the advancement of knowledge emerges in just this fashion. There is an ever-present danger of loss of perspective in attempting to deal with a question of this magnitude on short notice, and in an environment where current economic distress can unduly and unwisely influence decisions concerning the longer range public interest.
“We do not attempt to hide our belief in the priceless cause of public higher education, nor do we avoid our responsibility to answer the concerns that have been laid before us… On the one hand, we have a commitment to serve Wisconsin citizens who seek and can profit from higher educational opportunity… On the other hand, we cannot serve effectively a constantly growing demand for our services on the basis of static or declining real dollar resources; even though that is precisely the situation we now face.
“The immediate public policy issue becomes clear. If we are to fulfill our missions as historically defined, we need to be certain the state still supports those missions, and supports them with the full realization that they cannot be fulfilled on the basis of static or declining resources. If we are to plan for long-term fiscal austerity and retrenchment, this needs to be directed with the complete understanding that this will require a most basic change in direction for the State of Wisconsin – a deliberate decision to constrain, for fiscal reasons, the levels of access to educational opportunity that have historically been provided.
“I obviously am not neutral on the issue nor am I oblivious to the current fiscal dilemma of this state. I happen to believe that this Board’s present course of action, and the state’s traditional commitment to public higher education, should be sustained. If we face hard times now and then, we will seek to limit our requests to only those things we consider to be the irreducible minimum. However, I am persuaded that this state will recover from its momentary distress. I am convinced that advanced public education for our citizens is an essential ingredient in that recovery, as in long term economic growth and social improvement.
“We are acutely conscious of the fiscal problems that face our state government, and of the fact that unlimited access to new resources is not a realistic possibility for any public institution. Thoughtful people will differ as to the priority to be assigned to higher education among the many claimants for public dollars; they will, indeed, even differ regarding the extent to which government can fully support maximum access to educational opportunity. Notwithstanding these things, there still is clearly a choice – a choice between those who would join me in saying that strong education has built Wisconsin’s very foundations – that quality education is, indeed, still its greatest strength and asset, both for today and tomorrow, and that we have a state’s future at stake in keeping the opportunity for it open and fully available; and there are those who would say that such a goal is no longer realistically possible. It is that critical choice that now hangs in the balance of public decision… It is an almost desperately fateful choice, because of a few irrefutable facts:
“First enrollments in the System will continue to grow unless restraining decisions are made now that will operate to limit access to our University System.
“Second, the University of Wisconsin System cannot provide education of quality for more students without appropriate, compensating increases in resources. Our services are provided by people for people. We should give fair warning, and we must continue to warn, that we cannot go on reducing faculty and staff, as well as support for instructional materials and equipment, and simultaneously undertake the teaching of ever-increasing numbers of students. To attempt such is an inescapable proscription for irreversible mediocrity.
“Third, it follows clearly that if our fiscal future includes no enlargement of our present resources then we cannot provide educational opportunity for all Wisconsin citizens who would, if permitted, seek such services No other consequence can lead from the established facts.
“Decisions of great importance should not be taken without some sense of history We should remind ourselves that for well over a century, the people of Wisconsin have held certain propositions to be self-evident:
(1) That Wisconsin’s citizens should have ready access to higher educational opportunity of quality and of relevance to their purposes, interests and abilities.
(2) That personal and societal need for knowledge constantly increases as a direct function of the complexity of society and the mounting aspirations of our citizens.
“Our unwavering confidence has been that public university education is a public good, and that the public investment in such endeavors is repaid to society many fold, and in countless ways:
- The investment is repaid through the lives and taxes of citizens who realize more fully their potential for making wise personal and civic decisions, and who develop the skills needed for productive lives and careers.
- The investment is repaid through the functioning of communities of scholars which bring the power of vibrant, useful knowledge to bear on the problems of people and their institutions.
- The investment is repaid further through the impact of knowledge on the intellectual, cultural and economic vitality of society in general.
- The investment is an expression of the fact that what a society honors and values best describes its goals. Wisconsin has honored the search for and transmission of knowledge and, in so doing, has established a quality of life that even in the face of sacrifice, its citizens have been unwilling to do without.
“These beliefs and their consequences are both present fact and matters of history. The issue now before the State of Wisconsin is whether it wishes, or is able, to continue its adherence to these beliefs.
“I must now rest my case with you. In turn, you must, without delay, place our case before the people of Wisconsin. You and I, and others, who have a deep and abiding concern for longstanding traditions of intellectual pioneering for the public good. The people of Wisconsin have had great faith in public higher education. Above everything, I would covet the hope that through the difficult days of decision that lie immediately ahead, the citizens of Wisconsin will sustain that faith.” End of quote.
These words were spoken by then System President John C. Weaver, to the Board of Regents, in this very room, on Friday, April 18, 1975 – twenty-seven years and fifty-one weeks ago to the day. His eloquence far surpasses my own, but his message is every bit as relevant today as it was then. I hope that it will inspire us all to strive mightily for this great institution. Thank you.