UW System President Kevin Reilly lured former UW-Madison Chancellor David Ward out of retirement to serve as interim chancellor of the state’s flagship university, an effort to provide an experienced and familiar leader after a period of contentiousness.
“He’s someone who can bring people together on campus, who can reach out to the other UW System chancellors and can serve as a very strong advocate for our flagship, land-grant, global institution that is UW-Madison,” Reilly said at a news conference Wednesday at Bascom Hall.
Biddy Martin announced two weeks ago she would resign as UW-Madison chancellor to take the presidency of Amherst College, leaving the campus after an unsuccessful effort to split UW-Madison from the rest of the UW System.
Reilly said he was looking for someone who could move the campus forward after a “bruising budget battle.”
Ward, 72, was chancellor from 1993 until Jan. 1, 2001, and, more recently, served as president of the American Council on Education from 2001 to 2008.
Ward has experience on the job, with the benefit of having some distance from it. He and his wife, Judith, currently live in Washington, D.C. That means he has mainly stayed out of the battle of the last few months over UW-Madison’s future within the UW System.
“I think it will be a breath of fresh air and a relief to many,” said John Wiley, who served as chancellor immediately after Ward. “It’s a terrific choice.”
Ward will take over as chancellor on July 18. He said he’s not interested in a permanent role as chancellor, joking, “I’m too old for that.”
Ward said one of his major challenges will be to deal with budget cuts. UW-Madison will lose about $94 million in state funding over the next two-year budget cycle, beginning July 1. Furthermore, UW-Madison employees, like all state workers, will take the equivalent of an 8 percent pay cut due to increased contributions to health insurance and retirement accounts.
But another challenge, he said, will be to show that the university can operate more effectively with the flexibility it has long sought from the state.
That was the issue that divided Martin from UW System administrators and the UW Board of Regents. Martin wanted more autonomy through public authority status and UW-Madison’s own board — effectively splitting from the UW System. Reilly, the regents and other chancellors wanted to keep the system together.
Ultimately, the state Legislature sided with the UW System, giving all campuses some freedom from state regulation.
Ward said he wants to first listen to people on campus to learn their reactions to the political challenges of the past six months.
“I get the sense there’s a lot of angst out there, and what I’d like to do is listen first,” he said.
Ward, originally from Manchester, England, first came to UW-Madison in 1960 on a Fulbright scholarship. He didn’t leave until 2001, when he resigned his post as chancellor.
During Ward’s tenure, he oversaw 57 construction projects, including the Kohl Center, tangled with sweatshop protesters, sent the football team on three trips to the Rose Bowl, and won state funding for the Madison Initiative, a four-year project to hire faculty members.
“David’s sense of history, his breadth of experience and personal leadership style are the right fit ... for this great university at this critical moment in time,” said Regent President Michael Spector.
After Martin announced she was leaving, Reilly consulted with members of the UW-Madison community to solicit ideas for an interim chancellor. He made the decision in consultation with Spector and Regents Vice President Brent Smith.
Ward’s appointment will last for one year. During that time, Reilly will commence a search for a permanent replacement for Martin.
He said he hopes to have a leader in place by next summer.