Wild announces an end of his presidential ride

University President the Rev. Robert A. Wild discussed his past and plans for his final 15 months in his position.

When the Rev. Robert A. Wild steps down as president of Marquette on June 30, 2011 – or whenever a successor takes office – the tenure of one of the university’s most successful leaders will come to an end.

Wild, who turns 70 later this year, said “the time is right,” and plans a one-year sabbatical upon retirement. He said Marquette stands on firm ground and is ready for transition.

During Wild’s 15-year tenure, new buildings were constructed, $725 million was raised, the Athletic Department became a member of the Big East Conference, and undergraduate applications reached an all-time high.

For all these achievements, the 22nd president in Marquette’s history knows that running a university cannot be done alone.

“You can’t just send down an order that everyone salutes the flag and follows the mission,” he said in an interview with the Tribune. “You’ve got to win hearts and minds.”

Wild began his efforts to win over the Marquette community when he replaced the Rev. Albert DiUlio as president in June 1996.

Wild inherited a host of problems, including shaky finances and resentment from city residents over Marquette’s proposal to close off a section of Wisconsin Avenue.

Changes began in the form of new construction projects.

In 1997, a campus master plan was formulated to lay the groundwork for a new School of Dentistry building, Raynor Library, the Al McGuire Center and landscaping improvements along Wisconsin Avenue.

“Under his presence, we’ve had unprecedented construction progress,” said Tom Ganey, university architect. “He’s changed the physical face of the university.”

Rana Altenburg, vice president in the Office of Public Affairs, said Wild leaves a legacy of “beautifying and unifying the campus, both physically and spiritually.”

“A great university needs to look the part, and now it does,” Altenburg said.

The push for improved infrastructure continues today with the Law School’s Eckstein Hall and the College of Engineering’s Discovery Learning Complex. Wild said completing the fundraising for both projects is one of his main priorities for the remainder of his presidency.

“In this climate, it’s going to be a little longer than we’d like,” he said. “Donors are more cautious about making large gifts at this time.”

Julie Tolan, vice president for university advancement, called Wild’s fundraising ability “masterful.”

“Raising ($725 million) is stunning, but his impact is far greater than dollars,” Tolan said. “Think about all the new buildings and all the scholarships. The money went to changing people’s lives and has a ripple effect.”

Wild said one of his biggest disappointments has been failing to reach a $1 billion endowment. Today, the endowment sits at about $300 million. Overall, Wild said things are looking up and Marquette is undoubtedly strong financially.

Marquette has received more than 19,600 applications for next year’s freshman class – a record number that shows how interest in Marquette has grown in Wild’s tenure. When he became president, the number of freshman applications was about 5,000, he said.

“We used to think it’d be the ultimate when we reached 10,000 applications,” he said.

According to his colleagues, Wild’s legacy will be multi-faceted.

“I call him Bob the builder,” said Senior Vice President Greg Kliebhan. “He has an incredible work ethic and the university has flourished under his leadership.”

Provost John Pauly said Wild is leaving Marquette in a good place – stable financially and better academically.

“He reminded us why the Jesuit, Catholic mission matters to us as a university. He made that palpable for people,” Pauly said.

Jeff Snell, special adviser to the president, said he notices Wild’s daily commitment to the university’s mission: a call to excellence, faith, leadership and service.

“He is truly a gifted leader,” Snell said. “Fr. Wild is always striving for what is best for the university – never selfish ambition. Day in, day out.”

For Wild, Marquette’s mission means more than “raising boatloads of dollars,” but working to change lives and create opportunities for the underprivileged.

Wild said he is particularly proud of the establishment of the Ethnic Alumni Association and the number of administrative leadership roles filled by women under his tenure.

Wild’s track record is largely untarnished, but his reputation took a hit when Marquette decided to change its nickname from “Golden Eagles” to “Gold” in 2004. Following criticism from students, alumni and fans, the university returned to its current name.

But it would not go back its “Warriors” nickname dropped in 1994 under DiUlio’s tenure.

Today, Wild said he regrets the amount of time and energy wasted on the 2004 controversy, and that the university should have stuck with “Golden Eagles.”

Nickname-issues aside, those who work closely with Wild said he has been a blessing to Marquette.

“He left Marquette a much better place than he found it,” Tolan said.