University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross on Monday praised the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point campus as "wonderful," and as a place that fostered independent and problem-solving thought.
Cross, who served as chancellor of the UW Colleges and UW-Extension since 2011, was chosen in January by the Board of Regents to serve as system president, replacing Kevin Reilly who left the
job after nine years. Cross saw his pay increase from $227,250 to $525,000 with his new job.
The Monday visit was his first official trip to the UWSP campus since his promotion. After meeting with vice chancellors and college deans, Cross met with State Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, UWSP Legislative Liason Rob Manzke, the Faculty Executive Committee and Student Government Association.
Cross also toured the campus with stops at the Waste Education Center, a paper-making machine in the science building, the Center for Collaborative and Interactive Technologies, and the STEM shuttle bus. The bus, sponsored by UWSP and community partners, gives high school students a chance to explore careers in the science, technology, engineering and math fields.
Cross then sat down with a reporter from Stevens Point Journal Media for a question-answer session about the campus, student finance and proposed building projects scheduled for coming years:
Question: What is being done to help make college more affordable for students?
Answer: We will have another tuition freeze this coming year, and I suspect another two years after that. That will help students, whether we agree with it or not. We also hope that our recommendation for the Wisconsin Higher Education grant program will go through the Legislature, which will allow more people to get the grant (and) then expand the amount they can receive the following year."
Question: Why is it important to make college more accessible?
Answer: About 40 percent of the population in Wisconsin has a two- or four-year degree. We hear a lot about having a talent gap in this state, and we want to have that number up 60 percent by 2025 to close that gap. We need skilled workers for our businesses, and we get that by having more students with those degrees.
Question: Given that state support for the UW System has been steadily declining for four decades, can more be done to give individual schools more flexibility to deal with a loss in revenue?
Answer: I think so. We're working now towards giving our institutions more ability through local procurement to address capital issues or adjust salaries on their own, and we'll keep looking at the issue.
Question: Do you have confidence that the process to build a $75 million biology and chemistry building currently being designed and tentatively scheduled to be completed in summer 2017 will continue as planned?
Answer: I'm pretty confident. I think the university made an excellence case for the science building, and it's one of our building projects that is right there at the top of the list to be completed.
Question: Are you confident the $40 million health and wellness facility that UWSP students voted to pay for through segregated fees this year will move forward as well?
Answer: The funding for the project is already there because students voted for it, so it's a matter of when it will get approval from the state.
Nathan Vine can be reached at 715-345-2252. Find him on Twitter as @SPJNathanVine.