UW System president planning departure at end of the year

UW System President Kevin Reilly has announced plans to leave the system at the end of the year to take an advisory role with a national education association.

Reilly, who has been president of UW System since 2004, will become the presidential advisor on leadership for the American Council on Education starting January 2014. Reilly will continue to serve as system president through the end of the year to ensure a smooth transition.

“In my time as president, I have faced a number of major challenges,” Reilly said during a press conference at Madison’s Union South. “The debate over whether the system should stay together, the overheated partisanship in our political culture, and the worst economic recession since the Great Depression were not the least of these. But Wisconsinites stepped up to meet those challenges, and together we have achieved much.”

UW officials are no strangers to ACE: not only does Reilly already serve as secretary on the ACE Board of Directors, but former UW-Madison Chancellor David Ward served as president of the organization from 2001 to 2008.

Board of Regents President Michael Falbo said talks of a “transition” for Reilly began last fall and added that he’ll soon call a search committee to find a new UW System president, a process that would likely conclude in spring 2014.

Falbo said they would decide somewhere down the line whether an interim UW System president would be needed but added it would depend on “where we’re at” later in the search process.

Reilly and Falbo dismissed suggestions that Reilly’s departure resulted from his row with the Legislature over revelations of large UW System reserves and the system’s share of the state budget.

Reilly said at no point did any of the regents ask Reilly to step aside.

Reilly once again defended his handling of the issue, saying only that perhaps the system didn’t put out enough information to explain the reserves. However, Reilly decried the “partisanship” of national and state politics he said seemed to eschew the idea of compromise.

“The university always needs to be seen as a nonpartisan entity,” Reilly said. “So when you’re the leader of a university system, you’re kind of in the middle of a partisan back and forth. I have struggled, and I think a lot of my colleagues … have struggled to figure out how to keep the university in the middle of that, not be pulled to either side.”

Gov. Scott Walker expressed the state’s “deep respect and gratitude” for Reilly’s contributions.

“He initiated conversations with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation leading to a very promising partnership with the UW System,” Walker said. “I also appreciate the leadership he has provided for the innovative UW Flexible Option, which will enhance college access for working adults. ”