submitted by Kevin Hoffman; photo by Valerie Renk
UW System President Ray Cross gave an impassioned talk about the past and future of the UW System, and the role it has played in the development of the state and impact on the world.
With his impending retirement Cross spoke openly about the challenges the University System and state face together and the successful partnership the two have employed to create opportunities and real growth for both. That partnership embodies the philosophy and values of the Wisconsin Idea in the truest sense.
He made the observation the people of Wisconsin often do not understand or appreciate the significant historical impact the University has on the economic and agricultural development of the state. For context, Cross related how University faculty and research was critical to navigating difficult times from the mid-1800’s to today. Without knowing where we have been and how we got to the present there is little appreciation for the foundation we have today.
With the rapidly growing over-65 demographic and the nearly flat growth of the working-age population, one of the most pressing challenges is to have adequate human resources to meet future employment needs. The quality of a University of Wisconsin education attracts students from across the country and the world. A huge opportunity for attracting a qualified and talented workforce is to create opportunity that retains UW graduates that are already here for an education. While there are programs to attract people from Illinois and veterans, little is being done to retain UW educated talent with the result that only about 15% of the out-of-state graduates remain in the state after graduation. He encouraged the UW and businesses to work more proactively to welcome and attract students to remain in the state.
Another challenge the University is positioned to have significant impact on is improving access to clean, fresh water. This is important to quality of living issues as well as manufacturing, agriculture and recreation. Almost every campus in the state has some program on water quality, management, or research. From agricultural effluent to lead contamination to invasive aquatic species to pollution, the University has the locations, experts and laboratory resources to partner with local and state government and industry to solve problems that threaten future water resources.
His last challenge to consider was for us, as citizens of the state, to support deeper and stronger ties to the University. At a time when the knowledge and expert resources of the University are needed most there is a skepticism, negativity and distrust toward academics, intellectuals and learning. Problematically, the Internet allows access to great volumes of information but also has allowed citizens to cherry-pick what to believe.
With the outreach and engagement embodied in the Wisconsin Idea, the UW System remains positioned to help Wisconsin (and the world) navigate the challenges and create opportunities. The UW and the people of Wisconsin need each other. Continued support for the University will drive future capability to meet the challenges and create opportunity for citizens of Wisconsin and improve the human condition beyond state borders.
If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.