Marquette University President Robert A. Wild, S.J., will announce his intent to retire during his annual President’s Address Thursday afternoon (March 4). Wild informed the Board of Trustees Wednesday of his desire to retire, effective June 30, 2011, or until a successor takes office, whichever comes later.
“For several years people have been asking me when I’m going to retire,” Wild said. “I tell them I enjoy what I’m doing – and I do, but there comes a time when you know it’s right. This is that time, with the university in a strong position.”
Wild, who will turn 70 this month, is the university’s 22nd president and one of the longest-serving. He came to Marquette in 1996, a time when the university faced fiscal difficulties and tense relationships with its urban neighborhood and the City of Milwaukee.
Wild has raised more than $725 million for the university, including several eight-figure gifts that have accelerated campus construction projects, including the new law and engineering buildings, and added to endowed funding for student scholarships. In total, the university will have completed more than $350 million of construction, renovation and beautification projects during Wild’s presidency; those projects, including the Al McGuire Center, Raynor Library, School of Dentistry and the newly opened Zilber Hall, also spurred economic development in the university’s near west side neighborhood.
“We have to be a good neighbor,” Wild said. He cited the university’s active role in the Avenues West Association and the Menomonee Valley Partners, as well as the dental, legal, literacy, nursing and speech clinics that provide services to the community.
Mary Ellen Stanek, immediate past chair of the Board of Trustees, called Wild both a healer and a builder. “He spent his first years as president building relationships with various stakeholders – alumni, faculty leaders, students, city and state officials,” she said. “Having won their trust and admiration for his vision of what Marquette could be, he began to build momentum, not just in fundraising but in the recruitment of talented leaders, the creation of new academic programs and a return to athletic prominence.”
During Wild’s tenure undergraduate applications to Marquette increased fourfold, from approximately 5,000 applications to nearly 20,000 for fall 2010. At the same time, he stressed the importance of access to higher education, significantly increasing funding for student financial aid and creating scholarship programs specifically targeted at underserved populations.
Darren Jackson, chair of the Marquette Board of Trustees, said Wild emphasized Marquette’s Catholic, Jesuit identity in many ways, while welcoming students of all faiths. Soon after his installation, Wild led the development of a mission statement that emphasized the university’s pillars of excellence, faith, leadership and service and created an Office of Mission and Ministry. “Outside observers, including accreditation teams, comment on the pervasive awareness of and ability to articulate the Marquette mission,” Jackson said. “Our students, faculty, staff and alumni are conscious of our call to ‘Be the Difference.’”
Wild stressed that he has much to accomplish before he retires, including fundraising for scholarships and for the university’s new law and engineering facilities, the appointment of new deans in the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering, the opening of Eckstein Hall and construction of the new engineering building, with groundbreaking scheduled for Friday.
“I would not even contemplate my own retirement — even after 15 years — if Marquette wasn’t in such a good place, and if we didn’t have lots of talented leadership in place to support my successor, whoever he will be,” Wild said.
Jackson appointed Stanek, an alumna and managing director and director of asset management at Robert W. Baird & Company, as chair of the search committee. University bylaws currently require that the president be a member of the Society of Jesus.
“Leadership succession has been a part of annual discussions between Father Wild and the board,” Jackson said. “Father Wild has prepared us well for transition, and we will continue to rely on his leadership, counsel and commitment.” Jackson said the Board of Trustees in the near future will announce a scholarship campaign to honor the retiring president.
Wild said he will take a year’s sabbatical following his retirement.
A native of Chicago, Wild is a biblical scholar. He holds a doctoral degree in New Testament and Christian origins from Harvard University and has written two books and numerous scholarly articles. He is a member of the boards of the University of Detroit Mercy, St. Joseph’s University, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, the Big East Conference, the Wisconsin Association of Independent College and Universities, the Greater Milwaukee Committee and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce.
In 2008 Wild received the 2008 Chief Executive Leadership Award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education – Region V. During the past few years under his leadership Marquette has been named a “Great College To Work For” by the Chronicle of Higher Education; one of Milwaukee’s “Best Places to Work” by MRA — The Management Association, in cooperation with Milwaukee Magazine; and one of The Business Journal’s “Top Places to Work.”
One of Milwaukee’s largest employers, Marquette has more than 2,700 employees. The university has more than 11,500 students who come from all 50 states and more than 70 different countries. Marquette annually awards more than 1,700 bachelor’s degrees, approximately 600 master’s and 70 doctoral degrees, and 360 professional degrees in dentistry, law and physical therapy.
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