By Jeff Sherman Staff Writer Published Oct 27, 2003 at 5:17 AM

{image1} Marquette University has a record-sized current student body, a recent trip to the Final Four and new campus improvements including a new library (John P. Raynor Library) and a new athletic center, Al McGuire Center. You could say the president of the University, Rev. Robert A. Wild, S.J., is on a bit of a roll.

But you may not know who he is. His quiet, professional and softly humorous personality isn't one that gains headlines or causes conflict. Rather, Wild is a consensus builder, collaborator and gentle community leader. He's joked that he's genetically programmed to be a Jesuit.

A Chicago native, Wild holds a doctoral degree in New Testament and Christian origins from Harvard University, a master's degree in classical languages, a bachelor's degree in Latin from Loyola University Chicago, and a licentiate in theology from the Jesuit School of Theology in Chicago. He has held visiting professorships at Loyola University Chicago and the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. Wild began his teaching career at Xavier High School in Cincinnati, where he taught Latin, Greek and speech and debate from 1964 to 1967. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1957 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1970. He's beginning his eighth year as president of Marquette.

As the new school year picks up steam, we talked to Fr. Wild about MU, his life, inspirations, the Warrior nickname and more. Here's our "Milwaukee Talks' with Marquette's leader, Fr. Robert A. Wild.

OMC: Talk about Marquette University. You've been there for seven years and there have been a lot of changes under your clock, especially last year.

FW: It was a spectacular year, last year. Obviously the Final Four. But, the year started with great involvement, a lot of student interest in the University. To the point where were had almost exceeded our available housing. Almost all of our students live on campus, so we had to get extra housing. The year started that way. There were a number of things: good rankings for a variety of programs, nice awards that the faculty received, really an exciting year ... and of course, we had a great moment when we were able to dedicate our new dental school. We were able to gather in all the money we needed for the athletic center and all the money for the dental school, which pleases the president that we can also pay the bills. And the library project has really come along. (The new Raynor Library opened Sept. 19, 2003.) We have also decided that we are in the position to build a new parking structure at 13th and Wells St. We are also adding to what we call Campus Town a group of apartment buildings on Wells St. Of course people over at Marquette from days of yore will remember that as (the place of the building site) the Old Avalanche Bar. The Avalanche went out of business several years ago; the building was falling down, not a whole lot of choice there.

OMC: Talk a bit, please, about "Marquette people."

FW: There is something unique, I think, about the undergraduate experience in people's lives (at any school). I am not sure of all of the factors that go into this here but we're big but we're not too big, people can wrap their hands around the place. I think the place grows on you when you get into some of the values we stand for, what we are as a Jesuit institution, the service outreach that undergrads particularly involve themselves in ... that can really change people's lives, that kind of experience and opportunity. People learn so much, but they are also giving their own gifts and talents and so that can be very positive to people.

OMC: Tell me about the city and its importance to Marquette.

FW: It's a complicated thing, we're getting kids from other parts of the country that come and stay, because they discover Wisconsin, whether they come as undergrad, grads or professionals. On the other hand you do have a flowing out of people, because while we want them to stay we can't stand in their way. I think one of the things that our students like to do is look around and be willing to move to where the jobs are. Job creation is an issue, certainly here in Wisconsin. We're going through a major change, although manufacturing is still very important here, I think sometimes we talk about it as though it is not that important, but it is still a major enterprise. Both in the old economy and in "the new economy," which is technology, biotech, the whole area of engineering, health science, all kinds of nursing, medical education, medical research, which is I think a strong area in Milwaukee. Clearly opportunities will open up here if we can continue to draw upon that kind of wealth of activity that's happening and turn it into commercial activity and create new job opportunities. But that's kind of a challenge in this area. And it probably has to be approached regionally, not just in the city of Milwaukee.

OMC: What are the best qualities of Milwaukee and a few things that you would change about the community?

FW: That's a good question. We tend to sell ourselves short a bit when we live here, we forget about the tremendous energy like the summer festivals that we have, the amazing cultural life and community. Just an example, we have an opera company -- a viable opera company -- that prides itself on its art and general cultural community. I think there is a long tradition of support, especially in music, but now increasingly in all areas with new addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum - we have efforts in the fine arts and theatre arts, there are a lot of thing going on. From experimental theater to Broadway plays to ballet, pro sports and the Green Bay Packers. There's nothing like the Packers, they're supported by the whole state, and every one feels a sense of ownership.

{image2} Our challenges, I think one of the biggest is that we should surround diversity, that we should make this work for all people. This is not just a Milwaukee issue this is a national issue. I really like some of the energy I see that is focused upon within the young professional group, were this is their vision. That this is not just for one segment of the population, this is to create professional opportunities and professional interactions between all people across all different ethnic and racial groups. That seems, so much of where we want to go. And for the community of ours to draw upon that talent, there are several different groups. The Young Professionals of Milwaukee is certainly a group I have been familiar with because we have had them for a large gathering here on campus and I am familiar with some of the others. But this is a challenge we would like to be able to bring into the university. We some times struggle with when we are look for people of color, the issue can become can I live happily here in Milwaukee, can I be part of the professional community? Hopefully the answer more and more will be "yes." So that is a challenge, I think we have done a lot on downtown renewal finding the right formula and continuing with some of things that are at hand. The Third Ward is a great effort; there are some very good things on the East Side, the RiverWalk, hopefully the Shops of Grand Avenue mall, the convention center that is really a nice project, and the Bradley Center. So we have to be careful not to get down on ourselves, but there are definitely some challenges. When you attend a school a public school, it's not again a unique problem in Milwaukee. I think what we have done, in choice and charter schools, is a way of creating, or forcing everyone up to the mark; there's a certain spirit of competition. Frankly if you don't make it better, from here to eternity, most kids are going to go to public schools. They only way the choice and charter schools are ultimately successful is if you make the standard up for the public school sector as well. That is very important for the future of the economic well being of the community.

OMC: From your day-to-day duties, what are your favorite parts of your job? And what are the challenges of being president of a university?

FW: Well, it is a big job, but it is an awfully interesting job. You get into all kinds of things, one day to the next - you deal with all sorts of different things. Today alone, I've been involved with the Greater Milwaukee Committee and the Courthouse, with County Executive Scott Walker, involved in opening up the public view to Milwaukee County for the Courthouse. Which is somewhat controversial, so I have been involved with that a little bit. But, the people part of the job I really enjoy. Where I am certainly responsible to the board of trustees for the University at large -- internal and external operations -- I have a lot of help in terms of the day-to-day operations. I do have to spend a lot of time with external relations, from the alumni, government relations, and public duties that you have to carry out as the official person representing the University. In that job I have a lot of duties and a lot of people. That's a huge and positive task for me. It's been a real privilege to get to know people alumni across the country and on campus the faculty and students. That's a major aspect of the job. Then there is the leadership in this community and a lot of people working in the government. Say what you will, there are a lot of dedicated people who have committed themselves to government. God knows that they don't do it to bring in the huge dollars, they don't and won't. So, people sometimes make mistakes in that area and sometimes it can be problematic, but there are still a lot of good people. So, these are some of the things that energize me about the job.

I was here the last two years when Coach Al McGuire was coaching and that means I was here for one of the greatest teams in 1975-1976 and the championship team. And I certainly think I recognized, even when I was teaching High School, how important athletics can be as a sort of emotional force that drive and enormous number of people together around an institution; in this case Marquette University.

And certainly we are seeing that energy work in a wonderful way now with Coach Crean who has managed to do this in four short years. The energy that flows through the student body and through the alumni, through a lot of other people who connect to Marquette through our athletic program is an amazing thing. I have always, even as a faculty member I used to go to all the home games and also a few of the away game. Not because I was personally athletically gifted, but I have always enjoyed it, as I do now. And so it is, at the end of the day the University is about education, nonetheless in the American system sports find a place in the University context. And certainly in our experience basketball, men's and hopefully increasingly women's, is energizing for us and for a lot of people and broadly brings together the University as a whole.

{image3} OMC: If you could have a cup of coffee with one person, who would it be and why?

FW: I don't know. That's a tricky one. I have met interesting people along the way. Political leadership fascinates me because it looks so challenging. I suppose growing up in Chicago around our kitchen table we talked politics pretty much every night. I admire the Secretary General of the United Nations, that is a thankless job and he has probably done as well as anybody in the last 25 years. Any of our recent presidents, they all have their strengths and weaknesses that would be fascinating to talk to. There are some outstanding figures in the church, on that side of things. Beyond that I don't know what I could say. But you meet people of all different levels and each person, I spent a couple summers on the Rosebud Sioux reservation in South Dakota, where I met some of the greatest people I have ever met in my life. There are a lot of problems and difficulties that many Native American communities struggle with and even across the country. But I tell you, some of the best people that I have ever met in my life where out there. People who have certainly had struggles in their own lives, but are great human beings. And I think that is what I like best of all, meeting somebody who is great human being.

OMC: How do you define success for yourself or Marquette or for a student coming into Marquette?

FW: Those are really three different questions. For the student there is more than just grades, I mean people get caught up in that obviously as part of what we have. To motivate and educate the students and have some way of gauging other areas of knowledge. But there is more to life than that, a sense of satisfaction or discovery. This is what I want to do with my life, in a sense that I am well prepared to do that. That would be really important to an under-grad, not necessarily one's life professionally but in the larger things; a sense of direction, a sense of vocation. I use that very wisely, as a priest and a Jesuit I think God guides people. If a penny drops, God is involved if people revert to that or not; there's belief. But for the University that it is facilitating and delivering really high quality education. I don't think that can be done if our professors are not active in research. Then that is something that we have talked about before, that larger and values, what the Institution stands for, promotes and encourages. The kinds of things we talked about, excellence and not simply academic excellence, but human excellence - fostering leadership skills, engagement in service for others not simply for self. That can be a positive and powerful thing in an individual's life. I think the private university exposes people to that, and it encourages people and offers people opportunities for spirituality. Then I think that success is found in the whole area.

OMC: How about the nickname change? I miss the Warriors.


Oh, yeah, the Warriors. Listen, I was a Warrior. I had to get used to the new name when I arrived here as president. I was very aware with the reasons (for the change from Warriors to Golden Eagles) because these go back to when I first went to the University. I knew that the Native American connection, which had more to do with not so much the name, itself, but the sports logo, the traditional feather warrior, and even more the mascot. We had Willie Wompat. Willie came and went in a really short period. Willie was awful. Willie was not around when I was here in 1975. Willie had gone as the mascot probably in 1970-1971. Part of the general awakening and social conscience, you can't have such a cartoon figure running around, it's degrading to the whole people. So, then we had the first Warrior for a while, but that didn't work because the student who would be chosen for that was from one of the Wisconsin tribes was representing his own people and he had to be dignified. But, the crowd expected a mascot so you had a massive tension. For most of the period we had nothing. So, the decision was taken that we had to solve this once and for all. And it's a tough decision, and certainly there is still sensitivity from the Native American community about these names. And we know some of the other schools that have had battles about this. But we are a Jesuit/Catholic school and we just cannot be doing something that is being offensive to one of the major groups in our culture. That's just not our way. I understand where people come from, and if you want to cheer for the Warriors, be my guest. If you want to cheer Eagles, be my guest ... as long as it is for Marquette. But everybody wants to talk about the issue because it is important. If I were the class of '77 particularly, they really had strong feelings; that was special thing that happened in that year they won that championship and they worked hard. So, those kinds of changes are hard.

OMC: Can you talk for a few minutes about Tom Crean?

FW: Well, I tell you when we went though the change of coaches, never have I got more e-mail, fan mail as I have joked about as people explained to me how absolutely wrong Kevin O'Neill (former MU coach) was. So, I was real happy when we brought in someone new. We really wanted to hire Tom Crean, but he had never been a head coach. But he was certainly a recruiter and he was, I think fair to say, one of the two top assistant coaches that was ready to go to the head coach level that year. Both people have done very well.

Tom was just an instant connection at Marquette. He is more than just a good basketball coach, he became a good game coach too. It's not simply because he is a good coach, good recruiter and a good person, he is good at marketing, A lot of the ideas, like the gold T-shits the students wear, go back to Tom Crean. He is a good human being and he really fits well with the institution. He has meant a lot to us, and I think we have tried to be responsive to his needs and I get the feeling that that this is working well.

Jeff Sherman Staff Writer

A life-long and passionate community leader and Milwaukeean, Jeff Sherman is a co-founder of OnMilwaukee.

He grew up in Wauwatosa and graduated from Marquette University, as a Warrior. He holds an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University, and is the founding president of Young Professionals of Milwaukee (YPM)/Fuel Milwaukee.

Early in his career, Sherman was one of youngest members of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and currently is involved in numerous civic and community groups - including board positions at The Wisconsin Center District, Wisconsin Club and Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.  He's honored to have been named to The Business Journal's "30 under 30" and Milwaukee Magazine's "35 under 35" lists.  

He owns a condo in Downtown and lives in greater Milwaukee with his wife Stephanie, his son, Jake, and daughter Pierce. He's a political, music, sports and news junkie and thinks, for what it's worth, that all new movies should be released in theaters, on demand, online and on DVD simultaneously.

He also thinks you should read OnMilwaukee each and every day.