Wild reflects on legacy, looks to retirement

Father Wild discusses his legacy as Marquette’s 22nd president. Photo by Cy Kondrick / cy.kondrick@marquette.edu

As the academic year draws to a close, so too does the 15-year tenure of the Rev. Robert A. Wild as University President.

But even as the prospect of “retirement” lurks in the shadows, and after having endured a year chock-full of turmoil, his resolve has never faltered.

“Doing what’s best for Marquette and the people who make the university what it is has always been at the forefront of my thoughts,” Wild said. “And while that will soon be someone else’s job, Marquette will remain with me forever.”

That someone else is the Rev. Scott Pilarz, who will take over the leadership reins from Wild in August after having headed the University of Scranton for the past eight years. And as the last day of Wild’s tenure soon approaches, the two have been in constant conversation.

“I’ve talked (with Pilarz) often, either by phone or face-to-face,” Wild said. “We’ve talked about everything from university finances to mundane office procedures and I’ve been impressed with the level of connection he’s made to the people in a fairly short span.”

Wild, while assisting the transition process as best he can, sees great potential in Pilarz.

“Granted Scranton is smaller than Marquette, he brings great experience and a fresh perspective full of ideas to the job,” Wild said. “From what I’ve collected, the people (in Scranton) loved him, and campus here should be very excited.”

Wild said he would stay on as president till late summer due to a Jesuit project Pilarz is slated to take part in. But after his term ends, whatever Wild will be doing, it surely won’t be relaxing all day while sipping a cold beverage. Countering questions about his retirement all year, Wild has routinely held that “Jesuits never really retire.”

“Wherever it is that I’ll find, rest assured it will be gainful employment,” Wild said with a grin.

After his presidency, Wild will take a sabbatical as well as travel with his sister on a trip. And he hasn’t ruled out a return to Marquette.

“I’d certainly be taking a much more low-key presence if I do return,” Wild said. “But I’m also not looking to get back into teaching, so probably something administrative or pastoral. (Pilarz) needs room to operate and I don’t want to create any confusion on who our president is.”

During his 15 years, Wild has overseen the growth of Marquette, both as a nationally recognized university and as a campus. And while the future may be out of his hands, Wild believes it will hold good things.

“It’s natural that some evolution occurred,” Wild said. “But I firmly believe this is not the end of Marquette growing as a school and as a people.”

Recently, Marquette’s growth has been forced by LGBT students and allies pushing to make campus more inclusive and safe

“Different people have different needs, and that’s something we need to accommodate and understand quickly,” Wild said. “As we continue to become more diverse in almost all facets of the university, it’s also important that Marquette be a place those people can call their own.”

Wild also said he doubts Marquette is done expanding in terms of size and space.

“I would say confidently, that as Pilarz looks around at available space, we’re not done quite yet,” Wild said.

As his time at the top comes to a close, Wild also reflected on his legacy — in particular, his ties to the priest sex abuse scandal, that recently came to light and could potentially have a negative impact on his tenure.

“Issues arose, and there were certain things we could have done better,” Wild said. “No matter how you slice it, people were hurt. And no one involved could be happy with what transpired.”

As for the impact on his legacy, Wild is less concerned about that.

“The legacy is what it is,” Wild said. “I’m not too worried about that as I am for those who might have been wronged.”

Whether Wild cares about his legacy or not is a moot point. His infectious smile and trademark gold sweater vest have left an indelible mark on Marquette. And while it might be time for his departure, Wild will miss the school he spent 15 years guiding.

“Above all, it will be the people of Marquette I’ll miss the most,” Wild said. “Colleagues, students, alumni alike. We’ve all achieved so much to make Marquette the school it is and will be and it could not have happened without the support and work of those around me.”