In a down-to-earth and sometimes self-deprecating way, Marquette University’s new president, the Rev. Scott Pilarz, S.J., offered a vision Monday of a university that simultaneously strengthens the quality of its academic programs and its research while becoming more involved with addressing Milwaukee’s needs.
Speaking during an “On the Issues” session with Mike Gousha, distinguished fellow in law and public policy, in the Law School’s Eckstein Hall, Pilarz described Marquette as one of the nation’s great universities. He said great universities successfully walk a tightrope in which student education and research are complementary, not competitive, interests.
Asked by Gousha what other universities he felt Marquette was competing with, he said, “I think we’re competing with Marquette to be the best Marquette we can be.” He said university leaders shouldn’t spend a lot of time looking over their shoulders. “We’re a major national university,” Pilarz said. The focus should simply be, “How do we improve Marquette?”
Pilarz took office as president on Aug. 1. Ceremonies to inaugurate him officially are scheduled for Thursday and Friday.
Gousha asked what the new president does best. Pilarz answered, “Listening. Listening. And admitting what you don’t know. That’s really important.” He said it was important to listen to “not just the likely suspects” and to not only the good news. “I think it’s really important for me to say, from time to time, ‘I don’t know. I need to learn that.’ And in order to learn, I need to listen to people.”
In addition, as president, Pilarz said, “I think you have to be the great story teller for the institution. . . . Let the world know what great things are happening at Marquette and why this is such an important and exciting place.”
Pilarz downplayed his own qualifications to tackle Milwaukee’s problems (“If Milwaukee has a 16th Century poetry problem, I’m your guy”), but talked up the role Marquette can, should, and already is playing. His role, he said, is help that occur.
“We have a responsibility as a Jesuit university to promote justice, and a big part of promoting justice is to attend to economic issues,” Pilarz told the audience of about 200.
He said other local college presidents look to Marquette for leadership on community engagement and respect Marquette’s faculty resources. “Think of the brain power we’ve got on this campus and the ways we can harness all that great intellectual power” in dealing with Milwaukee’s issues, Pilarz said. “I would love to see us move more in those directions.” He said Marquette students are doing “some amazing things” in community service.
In other matters, Pilarz said he had sent Marquette students a firm message that the university has zero tolerance for sexual misbehavior; that student safety is his “baseline” concern when it comes to the future of the campus and that Marquette is “doing great” overall on that front; and that the university needs to do all it can to be affordable, especially for students who are the first in their families to go to a university.
Amid news about major changes in the membership of the Big East basketball conference, Pilarz said he was determined to keep Marquette competing at the highest level of college competition and that he is working with other Big East presidents on the issue. Amid speculation that a basketball conference of Catholic universities might emerge, Pilarz said, “I don’t think we want to limit ourselves along sectarian lines when it comes to college athletics.”
The session with Father Pilarz may be viewed by clicking here.