Eleven months from now, the Rev. Scott Pilarz will step in as Marquette’s new president. That gives University President the Rev. Robert A. Wild 11 months to leave a lasting impression on Marquette. That is, 11 months for Wild to accomplish even more than he already has at Marquette.
Wild is not taking his last year in office lightly. Some goals for his final year include creating a more inclusive community for Marquette’s LGBTQ students, raising money for endowed scholarships and helping Pilarz and Marquette transition into the next administration.
Becoming a more dynamic university
Wild hopes to focus on exploring Catholicism as less of a “rule book” faith. He said Catholicism has a long tradition of reflection, artistic endeavors, political thought and a great array of other things that could give people a better understanding of the faith.
Alumna Peg Heinzmann Ekerdt, Arts ’72, agrees that a better understanding of Catholicism will help Marquette grow into a more dynamic university.
“It’s a very difficult time for universities to work alongside the Roman Catholic Church,” Ekerdt said. “My hope would be that Marquette could continue to develop academic excellence and spiritual excellence to be a place where people could claim their Catholic faith, know it … and to understand what it means to be the Catholic Church in the 21st century.”
One way Wild wants Marquette to grow is by becoming more responsive to LGBTQ students. Chris Miller, vice president for student affairs, is working closely with Wild on making that happen.
“[Wild] was particularly moved by the level of student involvement as a result of the Jodi O’Brien matter and made it very clear that it was his expectation that we create an environment that was not only inclusive, but also visible,” Miller said.
Erin Ruckoldt, president of the Gay/Straight Alliance, said what happened last spring was definitely not a good thing for Marquette, but “good things are coming out of it.” This year, the organization will change its name to the Gender/Sexuality Alliance.
The Division of Student Affairs website has been redesigned to more prominently display resources for LGBTQ students, with a letter from Miller and links to the Center for Health Education and Promotion, the Gay/Straight Alliance, the Counseling Center and various other resources.
Miller said Student Affairs is also setting up a resource space for LGBTQ students that will serve as a meeting area, library and social spot available to all students. The space has not yet been set up.
“We’ll have a better idea of how the makeup of that space will be once we’ve engaged students,” Miller said.
Ruckoldt would like it to be a “safe space” for students where GSA can hold its meetings and host events. She envisions a lounge-like room with couches, computers and books to serve as resources. Ruckoldt would love to see a television in that room for GSA to hold movie nights, which have previously been held at members’ apartments.
Miller said there are discussions scheduled with students in the coming weeks, and several discussions took place over the summer with leaders of the LGBTQ community, including Ruckoldt.
Ruckoldt sees this year as a crucial time for the university to change, and said there are many opportunities to change how the LGBTQ community is included in the greater Marquette community.
“This is a huge year for Marquette to make a difference,” Ruckoldt said.
Miller said Student Affairs will also be working with Ronni Sanlo, founding chair of the National Consortium of LGBTQ Campus Resource Center Directors, to learn how to make Marquette an even more inclusive place.
“None of these things can happen without the president,” Miller said. “[Wild] has continued to convey his support and commitment by way of inclusivity.”
The future of funding
Another goal of Wild’s is to raise money for scholarships. For this, he said the university would mainly be looking to individual donors.
“It’s a huge need,” Wild said. “We really need to keep Marquette affordable … even for families of limited means.”
Tim Rippinger, senior associate vice president of development, said Wild will be traveling, as he usually does, and talking to alumni about donations. Wild’s work with alumni to raise scholarship ranges from large receptions to one-on-one meetings.
The goal this year is to exceed last year’s $75 million raised, Rippinger said.
Charles Ries, senior director of development design and innovation in University Advancement, said while donors have been generous in the current economic uncertainty, he believes once the economy stabilizes, people will be even more giving.
Rippinger said Wild is extremely committed to raising money to fill the need for financial aid for students through endowment.
“I don’t think you could have a more persuasive person asking, given the amount of affection people feel for him,” Ries said.
Mary Louise Neugent, an alumnus who recruits high school students, has noticed Marquette’s price tag can get in the way of her work.
“One of the things I have heard from families that would love to come to Marquette is a lack of scholarship money,” Neugent said. “And sometimes, that is the deciding factor. … That is a real positive to find alternative avenues where students can receive financial aid.”
Tying up loose ends
Though he knows every loose end cannot be tied before he leaves, Wild hopes to leave Marquette in a “healthy, strong condition.”
“Everybody, when they’re leaving, wants everything nailed down,” Wild said. “That won’t happen, I don’t think that can happen … I would really, dearly love it if my successor can build on that and march forward and do even better.”
One thing Wild anticipates leaving as a “loose end” is raising money to fully fund the newest building on campus, Eckstein Hall.
“We probably won’t get every nickel of that raised this coming year, but we should be able to make some real progress,” Wild said.
According to Wild, $11 million remains to be raised for the construction of the $85 million building, which is not a lot “in relation to the project.”
When Wild announced his retirement last spring, he said in a message to the university, “I would not even contemplate my own retirement even after 15 years if Marquette wasn’t in such a good place, and if we didn’t have talented teams at every level of the university to support my successor.”
When asked if he had any advice for Pilarz, Wild recommended he take his time to really get to know and understand the unique culture of Marquette.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about the university,” Wild said.