Posted August 31, 2010
Q. Why did you accept the call to Marquette? What opportunities do you see — for yourself and the university?
A. When I began my service at Scranton, I was acutely aware of its accomplishments. It was and is an excellent institution with a storied history and vibrant, hopeful community. I was equally aware of its vast potential. Similarly, Marquette has a distinct opportunity to live out on a national stage two of the fundamental principles of Jesuit education: commitment to the concept of magis, the relentless pursuit of excellence, grounded in gratitude, combined with a deep commitment to students--and to making sure that students of all backgrounds have access to this type of education. Marquette is uniquely positioned to advance its reputation as a top national university while continuing to be true to its heritage as an institution providing access to Catholic, Jesuit higher education for all students and, especially, first generation students.
In reading the comments of the more than 500 people who participated in the development of the Presidential Profile, I was struck particularly by the hopeful spirit of students, administrators, faculty, parents, alumni and members of the community. Marquette means so much to all of you. I look forward to learning more about why and about where you believe that we can go together.
Q. What do you think are Marquetteís greatest strengths and challenges?
A. Marquette plays on a national stage, both academically, in terms of its research and student achievement, and in athletics. Thatís important — to the university and to Milwaukee. As an institution that is nationally ranked and that draws students from all across the country and the world, Marquette is well-positioned to be a major player, particularly in Catholic higher education.
Thereís also a sense of momentum at Marquette. Marquetteís on the move, and thatís a real credit to Father Wild, Marquetteís other leaders and to the universityís faculty.
In terms of challenges, I worry about the cost of higher education. Thatís not a Marquette issue especially. Itís a nationwide issue. In fact, I talked about affordability in my inaugural address at Scranton seven years ago. We have to continue to find ways to make private higher education accessible. That depends not only on the good will of our benefactors but on our own attention to costs and efficiencies.
I also think Marquette, like all Catholic, Jesuit institutions, needs to embrace its identity in a shared and collaborative way. We have reached a time when lay leadership and partnership are essential to maintaining our commitment to Ignatian principles and pedagogy.
Finally, the comments I read from the listening sessions and submitted online reveal many wonderful aspirations for Marquette. As I noted before, all colleges face challenges in remaining affordable. We must, therefore, choose carefully what we do and when we do it. I anticipate that we will engage in processes to clarify our hopes and dreams and establish a clear direction for the future.
Q. Itís more than nine months before you will actually take office as Marquetteís 23rd president. What do you expect your role to be during that time period? How will you stay connected?
A. As a Trustee of Marquette this past year, Iíve been kept abreast of university happenings and issues. When Iím on campus for Trustee meetings or other events in the next nine months, I hope to have time to meet face-to-face with many people, including faculty, students and staff. I think Iím a good listener, and that will be especially important in the year ahead.
Marquette Law School Dean Joseph Kearney, at the request of Father Wild and Board Chair Darren Jackson, has agreed to serve as the point person for the transition, helping me gather information about important issues at Marquette and identifying opportunities for me to interact with the Marquette community. Iíve met with Joe and am looking forward to working with him and the entire university community in preparing for this role.
Q. What are your impressions of Milwaukee?
A. I donít know it well yet, but I've loved Milwaukee when Iíve visited — and not only because itís a city that has Polish restaurants and a Polish Fest, although I like that, too. I even made it down to St. Josaphatís on my last visit and was just amazed by its beauty. Like a lot of English faculty, Iím a big fan of the theatre, and Iím glad to see that Milwaukee has an active visual and performing arts scene, including on campus. Most importantly, I look forward to developing the kinds of friendships and relationships that will make it my home.
I know Marquette has established partnerships with other higher education institutions in the Milwaukee region, and early on, Iíll want to meet my counterparts at those institutions. Higher education is an important factor in the economic development and stability of a community. Marquette, as the largest private university in Wisconsin and as an expression of its Jesuit mission and identity, needs to be a leader in that area.
Q. Father Wild has done much to change the face of Marquette University, especially physically. What do you see as the priority needs of the university in the next five years?
A. I certainly have a tough act to follow, donít I? I hope we will all take time this year to celebrate Father Wildís many accomplishments.
As a Trustee, Iím well aware that we need to finish the job for both Eckstein Hall and the Discovery Learning Complex. And I applaud the universityís push for scholarships. Beyond that, Iím not sure Iím ready to go into specifics, but I can share some of the things I want to look at. Iím very interested in interdisciplinary programs. I think we have to look at existing programs and everyoneís ďwish listsĒ and establish priorities that help guide our decision-making and fundraising. Thatís really how I spent my first two years at Scranton — listening and researching as we developed a strategic plan.
Q. Tell us about your family.
A. Iím very close to my parents, Joan and Ron Pilarz. In fact, my father visited Milwaukee with me recently. I was the first in my fatherís family to go to college, and I am enormously grateful to them for the sacrifices they made to make a Catholic, Jesuit education possible for me. Theyíve always been so supportive of my ministry as a Jesuit and proud of my success — but my mom, in particular, doesnít hesitate to tell me if Iíve made a decision she thinks is off-base.
I also have a sister who lives in Texas with her family, to whom Iím also close, and a large extended family of cousins, aunts, uncles, the whole thing. Theyíll join me at Marquette on occasion, and Iíve already told them to start shopping for blue and gold.
Q. How do you spend your free time?
A. I love to cook, and although it can be hard for me to find the time, Iím happiest when Iím cooking for a group, whether itís students, faculty, alumni, friends or family. I read a lot — thereís still a lot of the English teacher in me. And then thereís my dog, Jack. Heís eleven years old now, heís been with me since my faculty days at Georgetown, and Iím hoping heíll make the trip to Milwaukee, too.
Probably most importantly, the Board made it clear to me that being a college basketball fan was basically a prerequisite for the job. Luckily, I was able to clear that hurdle easily. Youíre going to see me at Marquette games.
Q. Why are you passionate about Catholic and Jesuit education?
A. A Jesuit education is one of the greatest gifts that St. Ignatius gave to the world. I am awed by the transformative power of what we do in the lives of our students and what they do in a world waiting to be made more just and more gentle.