Pilarz takes on big questions at his first forum

Students ask questions during the Rev. Scott Pilarz's first presidential forum. Photo by Katie Doherty/ kathleen.doherty@mu.edu

The Rev. Scott Pilarz answered student questions Monday night at his first MUSG-sponsored presidential forum. Questions ranged from tuition to diversity to Greek life.

Instead of sitting in the provided chair, Pilarz set a conversational tone as he opted to stand and move amongst the crowd. He said the chair was too formal.

One student asked Pilarz about the process and training that goes into becoming a university president. Pilarz said he had no previous training when he took the job as the University of Scranton’s president. He also said there is no one specific method of becoming a president.

“The learning curve at the beginning was very steep,” he said.

Originally intimidated by the position, Pilarz said he had a lot of “on-the-job training” and asked questions to learn and grow as a president. He said the presidents of Jesuit universities form a community that is very helpful and welcoming.

Pilarz said as a president, he had to learn to trust his faculty because it is impossible to micromanage everything at Marquette.

Besides living in the Campus Town East apartments, Pilarz said he tries to engage and interact with students any way he can while still getting his footing on campus. One student said that on behalf of all students, she wanted to thank Pilarz for his involvement.

Pilarz will teach an English course on British Literature in the 16th century Monday afternoons next semester.

When asked about fine arts programs at Marquette, Pilarz admitted that he did not know the university had a dance minor.

“I have a lot to learn about Marquette,” Pilarz said.

Liz McGovern, a sophomore in the College of Communication, asked Pilarz what he thought of Greek life’s presence on campus and the stereotypes associated with it.

Pilarz said Greek life is brand new to him, as this is the first campus he has been on where it exists.

“I want to learn because I want to get beyond those stereotypes,” he said.

Another student tour guide said he always gets asked about Marquette’s high tuition. He asked Pilarz if he expects the tuition rate to ever drop. The president said he expects it will not.

Pilarz said Marquette can work to provide as much financial aid as possible and to reduce incremental increases in tuition. He added that the university currently gives out about $95 million in financial aid a year.

Kristen Steinfeld, a sophomore in the College of Business Administration, asked if the university plans on creating any more residential space on campus.

Pilarz said he is confident that the university will be fine through the next year, but he is looking toward what campus housing will look like in 10 years. He said this topic is a priority.

On the issue of diversity on campus, Pilarz noted that there is only one tenured African-American male. This is unacceptable, he said.

Marquette has a duty to enhance diversity in all aspects, Pilarz said. He also said that a quarter of the freshman class are the first in their families to attend a university. As a first-generation college graduate, Pilarz said he could relate to them.

As for the drama in the Big East conference, the president said the conference will remain competitive in basketball.

There is, however, one sports aspect that Pilarz said he will not budge on — football. He said there are better ways to spend money at Marquette.

“As long as I’m president we’re never going to have football,” he said.

Pilarz said one of the biggest struggles he faces as president and balancing his religious duties, is time. He said he wishes he could have more time for prayer, to say mass and to interact with campus ministry.

Trent Carlson, executive vice-president of the Marquette University Student Government, said MUSG approached Pilarz about continuing the forums started by the Rev. Robert A. Wild, Marquette’s former president, to continue dialogue between students and the presidents.

“Student interaction with the president has always been important to us,” Carlson said.