Two years later, Wild reflects on tenure

From 1996 to 2011, former Marquette President the Rev. Robert A. Wild oversaw a host of changes on campus. Admissions applications increased from 5,000 to 20,000, the campus underwent construction resulting in the Al McGuire Center and Eckstein Hall, a new mission statement was introduced and the men’s basketball team went to the Final Four.

After a productive 15 years as an administrator, Wild said Wednesday he is “doing things on a much lower key” than when he was president. Wild lives on campus at the Jesuit Residence and is the special assistant for advancement for the Chicago-Detroit and Wisconsin Jesuit provinces. He said he helps fundraise for these provinces.

On Wednesday, the 73-year-old former university president sat down with the Tribune to talk about Big East Basketball, the Boston Marathon bombings, the new dean for the College of Arts & Sciences and the first Jesuit pope.

Marquette Tribune:  What was your reaction when you saw what transpired at the Boston Marathon Monday?

The Rev. Robert A. Wild: I was pretty shocked. I mean, the whole country would say that this is a lovely sporting event – I used to go to the top over by Boston College where Heartbreak Hill is. I was doing my doctoral studies (and went over) just to see the race run. From that hill, it’s all the way downhill into Boston and the finish line, where the bomb exploded.

It’s a great event – and it was like, “Really, you want to set bombs off and cause that kind of death and destruction?” It was hard to believe the news, and you feel terrible for the victims. … I thought it was an awful thing. But in any case, these kind of events change people’s perceptions of their safety, and it changes the lives of all of us.

MT: What was your reaction to the Big East realignment last year?

RW: When I was president, I knew a number of the football schools were really restless… The first solution was to find other teams who would be part of the league and raise the quality of Big East football, but that was easier said than done. … I thought it was the best move to form an all-basketball league in this context.

Marquette’s athletic director recently said this will give us a lot more stability. You don’t have this great problem and challenge you have with football, and I think it will work out well. (The Big East) will end up with 10 or 12 schools, all of which will focus on a great sport, basketball. And I think we’re going to get better and better in the process – we’re going to get better money, apparently, from the TV contract. I think it was well handled.

Photo by Danny Alfonzo/ daniel.alfonzo@mu.edu
Photo by Danny Alfonzo/ daniel.alfonzo@mu.edu

MT: How do you feel about the conclave’s decision to elect Pope Francis the first Jesuit pope?

RW: I was in Kenya when this news broke. That was a pretty amazing moment. I thought, “Really? A Jesuit? You got to be kidding, we never had a Jesuit pope.” I’ve got to say he’s personable; he’s got a pastoral heart. He loves people and he cares deeply about the poor. … I think he’s going to do well.

MT: Were you at this year’s NCAA Tournament in D.C. for the men’s basketball team? If so, did it bring back memories of 2003?

RW: I was certainly eagerly watching the games on television and, you know, I was thinking at the time – who would have thought at the beginning of the season we would go to the Elite Eight? The coaches in the Big East certainly didn’t think so – they ranked us seventh. So we got better and better as we went along in the season. Coach Williams has the incredible gift of taking players and melding them into a team. That’s what really matters, I think.

But those were very exciting games – we could have lost any one of them. You always have to have a certain amount of luck in the tournament, because we could have lost to Davidson. We certainly could have lost to Butler – but we didn’t lose, and you have to have games like that in the season – where it was close. And then there was the wonderful game against Miami, and then I had to say I was reminded of how it worked in 2003 in the Final Four.

We killed Kentucky to win the regional championship, and then we played Kansas in the first round of the Final Four and Kansas killed us the same way. So we killed Miami and got done in by Syracuse in what was rather an ugly game. But that’s college ball. I was thrilled to see the team to get to the Elite Eight. Nobody expected us to do that well, but that’s the kind of coach Buzz is. He’s really special, and the players are clearly a special group of people, so it was really exciting.

MT: In February it was announced that a new dean for the College of Arts & Sciences, Richard Holz of Loyola University, was chosen to begin this summer. What was your reaction to the news – were you relieved to see the college move forward with a permanent dean after five years of searching?

RW: Everybody agrees – one of the toughest searches to do for a university or college is to find is a dean of (the College of) Arts & Sciences. But we were never able to complete a regular search, successfully for that position. … So (after the university secured a new dean) I told Fr. Pilarz when I ran into him, “Well you did what I couldn’t do in 15 years!” … There’s nothing like having regularly named, permanent dean in a college, and they seem like they have a good person coming in. Hopefully he’ll do really well. I suspect he will.

MT: What advice would you give to the incoming freshman and the outgoing graduates?

RW: It’s probably very important to realize – because this strikes me out of my own personal experience – you start in life thinking that you will do X – whatever that X is. But the interesting thing is, as life goes along, life brings its own changes. The only job I expected to be doing is teaching in a college setting. … I never expected provincial superior of the Jesuits … or president of Marquette University … so life brings its surprises, sometimes some real difficulties, but you will be surprised what you accomplish in your lifetime. It’s probably a good idea for freshman to not get so narrowly focused. … And for seniors, your first job may not be exactly what you want, but it may lead you to things that will open doors, and you will discover more interesting things than you imagined. I think our God is a God of surprises.