University of Wisconsin System President to retire once his replacement is found after four decades in education, including five years of overseeing the state of Wisconsin’s public universities and colleges.

According to the Journal Sentinel, UW System President Ray Cross, 71, fought many battles during his time with the UW System. Cross experienced the elimination of collective bargaining for his employees and state funding cuts. Cross also attempted to free the university system from state regulations, which he was unable to do.

“I hope that folks will remember me as an advocate for higher education and someone who believes strongly in the value of higher education — its role in our society, its role in our economy and its value individually,” Cross said announcing his retirement in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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Chancellor Rebecca Blank released a statement about Cross’ retirement.

“I will miss Ray’s wisdom, humor and dedication to service in the state of Wisconsin,” Blank said. “I wish him all the best in retirement.”

Blank said Cross’ leadership has been “steady and valuable.” She said he endured challenging times for the UW System with interest and dedication.

Blank also said Cross’ commitment to the Wisconsin Idea was valuable.

“Ray has been a standard bearer for the Wisconsin Idea, believing that the education and research we conduct at the university should reach beyond the boundaries of the campuses and benefit the people of the state and beyond,” Blank said.

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Cross named a couple of highs during his career to the Journal Sentinel, including Republican lawmakers agreeing with Gov. Tony Evers to spend $1 billion in state funds on UW projects as well as seeing an increasing number of graduates with a record number of students of color graduation from UW schools.

UW is seeing a drop in enrollment at smaller campuses in rural areas and fewer high school graduates to enroll statewide. UW—Madison, however, is currently experiencing the highest number of undergraduate enrollments since the 1980s. UW—Madison welcomed its largest freshman class last year, which was made up of 6,862 students selected from 42,741 applicants. This year, the proportion of Wisconsin students is the smallest in the last 25 years. Cross was not concerned, as more Wisconsin students with high ACT scores are being enrolled.

“I find (the breakdown) very appropriate,” he said. “I want them to bring in out of state talent.”

Cross told the Journal Sentinel what he hoped he’d accomplished during his time with the UW System. He said he’d worked to tailor the UW System’s goals to creating well rounded students.

Cross said he hopes students graduate with more than just the tools to build a successful career. He said he felt the UW system pulled in the direction of raw career preparation rather than holistic learning. 

Hopefully we’re building the whole person and we’re doing it at a time when students, individually, are the most formative,” Cross said.