Gov. Scott Walker said he’s committed to giving state universities more flexibility in how they operate but said it will only come about with a more robust dedication to transparency and accountability by campus leaders.

Walker’s 20-minute talk to the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents on Thursday was mostly lighthearted and complimentary in tone.

He started with a salute to outgoing System President Kevin Reilly and concluded with a pledge to cheer for both Wisconsin and Marquette in their coming basketball game, noting it is “parentally correct” to do so since he has a son at each campus.

Walker praised initiatives he’s long supported, including the System’s rollout of the flexible degree option for working adults and the System’s incentive grant program that rewards innovative efforts by campus groups to spur economic development.

Such efforts contribute to what he called the statewide System’s primary initiative “to continue to find ways to be relevant.”

Walker said he continued to support efforts to increase flexibility in operating the flagship UW-Madison campus plus other campuses statewide but hinted that some of the plans got scuttled by the Legislature last session due to a perceived lack of transparency and accountability on the part of System leaders.

It was among the only references to the turmoil at the Capitol last spring when lawmakers, most of them Republicans, reacted furiously to revelations that the System had about $650 million in reserve, mostly from tuition funds, and that a human resources system glitch initially caused about $33 million in benefit overpayments.

Reilly, who came under particularly intense fire from legislators in the spring and announced his departure this summer, sat next to Walker. The pair appeared very comfortable with Walker congratulating the outgoing president on his retirement.

Reilly later asked Walker if he’s able to see across Lake Mendota to campus from the governor’s mansion to make sure his son’s behaving. Walker joked that he has a clear line of sight to the dormitories of both his son and the lad’s girlfriend and checks that each light is on late at night.

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