Ray Cross Holds Statewide Listening Sessions

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Ray Cross Holds Statewide Listening Sessions

Premiere Date: 
May 9, 2014

The UW System president is hearing Wisconsinites' thoughts on UW schools.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

Since taking office in mid-February, UW System president Ray Cross has barnstormed the state hosting listening sessions everywhere from the state Capital to UW-La Crosse, from Waukesha campus to today’s meeting with students and faculty at UW-Green Bay. That's where we catch up with President Cross for a update on his travels. Thanks for being here.

Ray Cross:

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here, Frederica.

Frederica Freyberg:

It's kind of like "Where in the World is Ray Cross?" but you've been listening to people across Wisconsin. What stands out?

Ray Cross:

Well, there are probably several things on the campuses. There are a number of conversations going on about compensation for faculty, and that issue is one we're trying to deal with. In most of the communities, how do we grow businesses? How do we help existing businesses expand? Students are concerned about maintaining quality on our campuses, maintaining high-quality faculty. Those kinds of issues stands out.

Frederica Freyberg:

What do you hope to learn most as you listen?

Ray Cross:

One of the things that's important to me is that the university as a public university in the state of Wisconsin needs to be connected to the needs of the people of Wisconsin. If you will, it's the modern-- modernization of the Wisconsin idea, listening to what their needs are and trying to understand how the university might have an impact on those needs, what's most important to the people and citizens of our state. They support us. How do we support them and deal with their issues directly?

Frederica Freyberg:

So how do you translate then what you've heard and learned into UW policy to take that forward?

Ray Cross:

Well, there's probably a number of ways to do that conceptually. This is very similar to a component of an environmental scan, what's going on in the environment around us. And that ultimately leads to conversations about, what can we do in order to respond to those environmental issues. In addition to that, Frederica, I think it's important to note that sometimes you find a particular need that the university is already dealing with elsewhere, and how do we bring that to this community or translate that around the system in a manner that best serves the people of the state? We want to be responsive, very sensitive to those needs, and engaged as a part of the public entity we are, to better serve this state.

Frederica Freyberg:

Is it your sense, having been there now, that your position puts you above the political fray or right in the midst of it?  

Ray Cross:

Don't I wish. I think we all wish we were above the political fray. I don't think it works that way. Standing in the middle of it is probably appropriate, but being honest and open-minded, respectful, both sides. And trying to understand how the university can help each of them deal with the issues facing the state. And there are many that the university could be helpful in. And trying to figure out how to do that is the challenge. Most legislators appreciate that position.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, the legislature's joint finance committee voted this week to set a number to UW reserve funds after last year's kind of mega flap over that. 12% max and 0%  minimum, what's your reaction to that?

Ray Cross:

I think it's very good. We worked closely with the Legislative Audit Bureau, the joint Committee on Audit, the joint Committee on Employment Relations to try to figure out the best way to do that. It's not that there's a cap on the resources that are in the fund balances. It's very confusing to the public because in many ways they don't understand the balance. The 12% cap actually just triggers activity, a reporting process. The whole idea is to build awareness. And in some ways it's hard to explain that these dollars are similar to having $1,000 in your checkbook, but you also have $400 in bills sitting on the table that you have to pay. So when you have all this money in your checking account, how much do you really have? Well, it's considerably less because the bills you have to pay have not been subtracted from that yet. So that's part of the challenge within the university, being able to explain what are those bills, what are we waiting to pay. In reality, the university only has about $220 million in discretionary funds, or about 4.1% of our overall budget.

Frederica Freyberg:

Just very quickly, with not very many seconds remaining, the governor has called for another two-year tuition freeze. Can the UW sustain that?

Ray Cross:

I think it's possible to do that, but it will depend on the support we get elsewhere and how that plays into the overall picture. At this point, it's hard for me to tell because we don't have our forecasting and projecting tools fully implemented. We want to be able to do that. At this point, it's difficult to tell. Obviously, we will try to work with the governor. And he's indicated his willingness to work with us and the legislature to work out an amicable kind of process here.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. President Ray Cross, thanks very much.

Ray Cross:

Thank you very much. 


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