- Associated Press - Thursday, March 6, 2014

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross promised Thursday to help the Board of Regents gain a basic understanding of system finances, reiterating his pledge to simplify accounting and talk about spending more clearly.

Cross addressed the regents for the first time since taking over the president’s position in mid-February. He succeeds Kevin Reilly, who stepped down in December after enduring months of stinging criticism from Republican lawmakers for allowing campuses to quietly build huge funding reserves while raising tuition year after year.

Cross said his top priority will be doing a better job communicating the system’s financial situation and promised to start by helping the regents learn about dollars and cents.

“You shouldn’t have to be a CPA to have a basic understanding of the university’s finances,” Cross said. “We’re educators. We’re supposed to take complex issues and explain them. It’s vitally important that we succeed. This is my top priority. I want everyone in this room to have a basic understanding of our finances.”

He pledged to provide a campus-by-campus breakdown of reserves, provide quarterly financial reports rather than annual reports and include reserve projections in the system’s next budget. He said the regents would see projections for fiscal year 2014 reserves at their April meeting

Cross went on to lay out a host of broad goals but offered few details on how he planned to achieve them, saying there’s no “magic formula” except engaged listening.

He said the university should focus on innovation, collaboration and communication. He quoted French philosopher Simone Weil on the need to pay attention to both friends and critics and called on the system to improve the human condition.

He also said the system needs to get more involved in K-12 education to ensure the “grand continuum” of education begins before children first step into a classroom. The system also must help alleviate urban poverty and leverage research into commercial products.

He also repeated that he plans to embark on a series of listening sessions around the state, saying he hopes to make his first trip this month.

“Our state needs us. Our friends and neighbors need us,” he said. “We can be the key difference-maker.”

The regents applauded.

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