Reilly leaving as UW president
MADISON, Wis. — University of Wisconsin System President Kevin Reilly announced his resignation on Tuesday, following a tumultuous six months that saw an angry backlash from the Republican-controlled Legislature over how the university was handling its money.
The UW System said in a statement that Reilly will leave to advise the American Council on Education in January 2014 and return to teaching. He’ll continue as the UW System’s chief executive through the end of the calendar year.
“We overcame financial headwinds to build a higher education system that expanded access to college classrooms for Wisconsin families and responded to the needs of our economy for skilled graduates able to compete and succeed in a global economy,” Reilly said in the statement.
Regent President Michael Falbo credited Reilly with being a “strong, effective leader for the UW System.” The system now serves more than 182,000 students systemwide.
Gov. Scott Walker told reporters at a public appearance in Milwaukee on Tuesday that he has known about Reilly’s plans to resign for a couple of days. Walker’s spokesman Tom Evenson said Walker spoke directly with Reilly, who has held his job for nearly nine years, about his departure.
The university has scheduled a news conference for 2 p.m. The expected announcement was first reported by the Wisconsin State Journal, citing unnamed sources.
Reilly, 63, has been president of the UW System since September 2004. He presides over a system that includes 13 four-year and 13 two-year universities that enrolls more than 181,000 students. The university also serves more than 1 million people throughout Wisconsin through its extension programs.
Reilly faced a hostile Legislature in April after an effort led by a handful of Republican state lawmakers who were also accountants that led to the discovery of nearly $650 million in reserves throughout UW campuses.
The building of those reserves came at the same time the university increased tuition the maximum 5.5 percent in each of the previous six years. Reilly had recommended another 2 percent hike in each of the next two years, but the Legislature instead instituted a freeze.
Reilly defended the reserves at an April hearing before a legislative committee, saying they were built up to protect the system as state funding dwindles. He also acknowledged that anger over the accumulated money was, in many ways, justified.
“We’re not angry,” Republican Senate President Mike Ellis said to Reilly at the time. “We’re disgusted.”
Republican Rep. Steve Nass, chairman of the Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee, called for Reilly to be fired after news of the surplus hit.
Reilly also faced upset lawmakers in January when he was forced to explain that a payroll glitch had caused nearly $33 million in benefits overpayments to UW employees.
Reilly previously worked as chancellor of UW-Extension from July 2000 through August 2004. He was provost and vice chancellor of Extension from 1996 to 2000.
He is a native of New York City and came to Wisconsin from The State University of New York system where he served as associate provost for academic programs.