University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross has announced his retirement as head of the state’s colleges and universities. Cross said he’ll stay on until a new UW president is chosen by the Board of Regents.
Cross said he's retiring to spend more time with his wife and family and "do some things that are more relaxing."
Cross expressed confidence about the strength of the UW System and its leadership.
"I feel like the university is in a solid position," Cross said. "I think we have a solid board. The challenges facing us are significant, but I have a lot of confidence in the people that are a part of the university and their ability to deal with those."
On Friday, Gov. Tony Evers, who worked with Cross as a former member of the UW Board of Regents, released a statement praising Cross and his commitment to education.
"I want to thank Ray for his five years of leadership and service as president of our UW System," Evers said. "The UW has been in good hands under his leadership, especially during a time when higher education in our state faced significant cuts and challenges and a difficult political environment."
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, also applauded Cross' tenure as a UW System leader. In a statement, he thanked cross for "outstanding leadership" and innovative "strategic management" of the system.
"Ray has left a rock-solid foundation for future system leaders to meet the challenges and opportunities of bringing a world-class education to every Wisconsin student," said Vos. "I appreciate his efforts to ensure free speech is protected on college campuses in our state."
Cross is the seventh president of the UW System. He was appointed by the Board of Regents in February 2014. Prior to that, Cross served as chancellor of the former UW Colleges and Extension from 2011 to 2014.
Cross has also served as president of Morrisville State College in New York and Northwest Technical College in Minnesota, and was a professor and department head at Ferris State University in Michigan.
Prior to his time in academia, Cross was a small business owner, engineer and served with the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.
When asked about the legacy of his seven years of leadership within the state’s university and college system, Cross said relationships between the UW and state lawmakers have improved partly because the system is now more open and transparent about its finances than it has been in the past. Cross also said UW has worked to better address sexual assault and sexual harassment on campuses and has improved diversity and inclusion efforts.
"I also think that work we’ve done to develop a strategic framework around the educational pipeline around improving the university experience, around operational excellence and of course engaging more effectively with businesses in our communities," said Cross. "Those four pillars remain, and they will remain a long time. And I think that we’ve made progress on that."
Cross Led UW System Restructure
In 2017, Cross announced the largest restructuring plan for the UW System since its creation. It merged the state's two-year colleges with its four-year universities. As a result, the division formerly known as UW Colleges and Extension was eliminated — with services, including WPR, moving to new homes within the UW System.
The rollout of the plan was criticized by some student and faculty groups who said they weren't included in creating the restructuring proposal. Even the former chancellor of the soon-to-be nixed UW Colleges said she learned about the restructuring proposal one day before the announcement was made publicly.
Cross made the case that restructuring was necessary to address projected declines in the number of Wisconsin high school graduates.
"We knew this was going to be incredibly difficult for the two-year campuses given the demographic challenges of the communities in which they exist," said Cross. "So, preparing for that, trying to get ahead of that has been important."
According to data from the UW System, 2019 fall enrollment at the state's two-year campuses declined by an average of 25 percent from the year before. UW-Platteville Richland had a 58 percent drop in enrollment this year compared with fall of 2018.