UW System President Ray Cross announces plans to retire

Ray Cross

MADISON — University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross announced Friday, Oct. 25 he is retiring after more than five years on the job and more than 40 years in higher education.

Cross, 71, said he will formally step down after a search committee finds his replacement. That process is likely to take months.

Cross led the university during a time of budget cuts, a tuition freeze that continues to this day, and scrutiny from the Legislature and former Gov. Scott Walker, declining enrollment and a reorganization plan that merged two-year colleges and four-year colleges.

The university’s budget was cut by $250 million in Cross’s first year as president. In the most recent budget, UW funding was increased but less than the rate of inflation. Cross said he felt like he had been “kicked in the shins” by Republicans after they voted on the funding level.

He arrived in 2014 as Republican lawmakers were criticizing campuses for holding millions of dollars in reserve funds even as tuition increased. Cross made it a focus to engage with lawmakers as he made the push for more funding and this year he did secure $1.1 billion for a host of improvements to campus buildings.

“Serving as president of the UW System has been the most rewarding work of my life,” Cross said in a statement. “I believe there is no better investment for the state of Wisconsin than the University of Wisconsin System. From cutting-edge research on cancer, water quality, and how children learn to educating Wisconsin’s future leaders, the UW System has never been more important.”

Cross previously served three years as chancellor of UW Colleges and UW-Extension and has spent more than four decades in higher education, previously working in Minnesota and Michigan. He also served three years in the U.S. Army in Vietnam.

UW Board of Regents President Andrew Petersen praised Cross as being tireless in leading the system with vision and integrity.

“Ray stabilized the UW System at a time of legislative skepticism and financial challenges, and he restored transparency and credibility at the Capitol and among the public,” Petersen said. “He has guided the System through financial uncertainty and has positioned the System extremely well for the future.”

Cross won bipartisan praise.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who served on the Board of Regents when he was state superintendent and Cross was president, called him a “fierce advocate for kids and the pursuit of knowledge throughout his more than four decades of service in higher education.”

Evers praised Cross for his leadership during what he called a “difficult political environment.”

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Cross had left UW with a “rock-solid foundation.”

Rebecca Blank, chancellor the flagship Madison campus, said Cross provided “steady and valuable leadership” during “frequently challenging” times.

“He did this with a warm smile and sincere interest in supporting the work of our students, faculty and staff,” she said.

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