Photo: Becky Blank for blog page

Blank’s Slate

A Blog by UW-Madison Chancellor Becky Blank


Campus resources for the Tony Robinson decision

The following message was sent to UW–Madison faculty, staff and students earlier today. Dane Co. District Attorney Ismael Ozanne is scheduled to announce a decision in the Tony Robinson investigation at 2:30 p.m. today.

To the campus community –

As we await Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne’s findings in the death of Tony Robinson, we recognize that no decision will heal the pain that comes with the loss of a young life.

A university like ours plays a special role in bringing together people of different backgrounds and philosophies. Through discussion and debate, we learn from one another and, most importantly, we work together to solve problems – even those that may seem to defy solution. We encourage everyone in the campus community to engage in that practice today and in the weeks ahead.

Our campus community will offer several opportunities for those students wishing to share  their thoughts and feelings:

–2 p.m. watch news coverage of announcement, Multicultural Student Center, Red Gym, 716 Langdon St.
–6 p.m. discussion, Multicultural Student Center, Red Gym, 716 Langdon St.
–8:30 p.m. vigil outside Pres House, 731 State St.

For students seeking support with this or any other issue during our final exam period, University Health Services counselors are available by calling 608-265-5600 and selecting option 9. Faculty and staff may contact Employee Assistance at 608-263-2987 or emailing <>. Final exams will continue as scheduled.

Even as we prepare for today’s announcement, we want to look ahead and remind the community of three important initiatives that we believe hold promise for addressing some of Dane County’s deepest divisions.

The first is the Race to Equity Project, which produced a groundbreaking report on racial disparities in the county. The second is the Delegation to Create Economic Stability for Young Families, organized by United Way of Dane County to put in place the most effective strategies to help young families become self-sufficient.

The third, announced Friday, is a new NAACP-United Way task force co-chaired by Everett Mitchell, our director of community relations, and UW Police Chief Susan Riseling.

We also want to invite the campus community to participate in UW-Madison’s common reading program, Go Big Read, which this next fall will focus on inequality in America. We’re reading “Just Mercy,” Bryan Stevenson’s autobiographical account of working to make the legal system more just and humane.

Our community, like our nation, must continue forward. Together, we believe we can find ways to promote peace and justice through dialogue and change. We recognize you cannot have one without the other.

Rebecca Blank

Sarah Mangelsdorf

Patrick Sims
Vice Provost and Chief Diversity Officer

Lori Berquam
Vice Provost and Dean of Students

Susan Riseling
Associate Vice Chancellor and Chief of Police

Welcome back, Bud Selig


One thing that makes this place special is the loyalty of UW’s alumni. Madison is fortunate to have so many generous and loyal alumni who continue to give back to their university. Let me tell you about one.

Allan “Bud” Selig and his wife, Suzanne, have long been outstanding friends to the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Bud has just retired after more than two decades as acting and official Commissioner of Major League Baseball. It was my great honor to welcome Bud as he returned to campus this week with a reception at the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Reading Room, which I’m told was one of his favorite study spots when he was a student here. Continue reading

UW and worker safety in Bangladesh

There’s a serious discussion taking place on colleges and university campuses over the issue of licensed apparel and the textile workers in Bangladesh. On April 24, 2013, the Rana Plaza factory collapsed, killing more than 1,100 factory workers.

The question revolves around how to respond in order to make a real difference rather than to simply create publicity.

The tragedy resulted in the creation of two organizations made up of European and American retailers and brands. Both have the goal of improving the fire and safety standards of Bangladesh garment factories.

No UW-Madison products were produced at Rana Plaza. Continue reading

Support for our community after the Nepal earthquake

To our UW-Madison students and employees,

For those of you from Nepal and neighboring countries, I wanted to take a moment to let you know that my thoughts are with you in the wake of the deadly earthquake last week. With the estimated number of victims continuing to grow, people across the world, including our campus community, are grieving. Continue reading

Update on budget reductions

Back in October, I told you about a process that would allow us to plan for and implement anticipated state budget cuts. I asked our deans and directors to plan for these reductions in ways that maintain our teaching, research and outreach excellence and shield, as much as possible, the impact on our students.

Even while we continue to advocate for a smaller cut, we must now put our initial plans into action for Fiscal Year 2015-16, which begins on July 1. Our $36 million plan includes $21 million in budget cuts and redirects an additional $15 million from other campus units to our overall educational mission. This plan includes the elimination of approximately 400 positions.

It begins to bridge, but does not fill, a structural deficit that may be as much as $96 million as a result of state budget cuts in the upcoming fiscal year. The nonresident undergraduate tuition increases approved by the Board of Regents on April 10 will provide another $17.5 million in new revenue. There will remain, however, a significant deficit.

The reductions have been planned and will be carried out by our deans and directors, who know best which programs can be cut while minimizing the impact on the student experience and our core educational mission. Starting today, campus leaders are sharing information about their plans for budget cuts in their units.

Our programs and services are all useful and worthy of support, but we have attempted to prioritize those most essential. I recognize that this process will impact good people and limit our ability to serve students and the state. I particularly regret the impact these cuts will have on our employees and their families.

While the real impact of the staff reductions and budget cut will take some time to implement and measure, we do know that all parts of campus will feel the effects of these cuts. Among the areas affected:

  • Program closures and mergers: Several programs across campus will be ended or restructured, including in the areas of information technology, agriculture, and the arts.
  • Academic offerings and services: The job eliminations will likely lead to larger classes and fewer course options. Reductions in advising services may hurt time to degree and retention.
  • Support services: Services that support students, faculty and staff, such as information technology, will be reduced. We will invest less in maintaining our buildings and facilities.

As mentioned, we are directing our schools, colleges and units, including our Athletic Department, to make greater financial contributions back to our central campus. The tuition increases I mentioned earlier will allow us to support the freeze on in-state student tuition and maintain the quality of our programs. We will continue to pursue ways to operate even more efficiently.

While our true uncommitted reserves equal only $54 million today, we are in the process of estimating our fund balance as we close this fiscal year. We intend to delay some number of projects and utilize a portion of those fund balances to help bridge the gap with the expected budget shortfall.

I want to emphasize that these changes, as difficult as they are, cannot and will not stop with this year’s budget. We will continue a thorough review of university operations, guided by our new strategic framework, to invest in our strengths and reduce or eliminate underperforming programs.

I recognize that these are stressful times, particularly for the members of our workforce. We have a number of resources designed to help those directly impacted, and anyone else who needs support. We want to remind all staff that confidential counseling and consultation is available through the Employee Assistance Office (EAO). For more information: or call 608-263-2987.

The university has weathered many challenges over the past two centuries. The strength of our mission, and the quality of our students, faculty and staff, set us apart and will carry us through.

I will continue to update you as I have additional information.

Download a version translated into Spanish, Hmong, Chinese and Tibetan.

Explanation of tuition increases for out-of-state and professional school students

Update: On Friday, April 10, the UW System Board of Regents approved tuition increases for UW-Madison as well as LaCrosse, Milwaukee, Parkside, Platteville, River Falls, Stevens Point, Stout and Whitewater.

Madison’s increase affects non-resident undergraduate tuition and graduate professional school tuition (resident and non-resident) in selected schools. The Regents amended the request, approving the increase for the first two years (2015-2017) and requiring that the final two-year increase be brought back to the Regents for discussion.

As I’ve previously mentioned here and in public forums, we plan to ask the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents to increase tuition for our professional school students and our out-of-state undergraduates. That plan will come before the Regents on April 10.

There are many reasons we need to do this. First, like all organizations and institutions our costs of operation – in this case providing a first-class education – continue to rise. In addition, we’ve fallen behind our peers, substantially behind in some cases, in these tuition categories and have some ability to increase prices to match the quality of and demand for a UW-Madison education. And finally, our institution is facing a difficult budget situation and increased revenue from tuition can help maintain the quality of the educational experience our students rightly expect.

All UW System schools have been under a tuition freeze for the past two years, a freeze that resulted from the controversy over the amount of reserve balances UW institutions should keep. Gov. Walker has proposed extending the tuition freeze for in-state undergraduate students for the next two years, while also proposing a cut to state support for the UW System. In addition to the proposed cut in the next biennium, we are currently trying to manage a $23 million deficit that resulted from cuts in the past budget. Taken together this leaves us with a structural deficit of $96 million in the coming year.

We will be dealing with this deficit in two ways. First, we are making budget cuts in many of our educational programs (which is almost entirely where our state funding goes), and redirecting revenue from other activities into education (which means budget cuts in those programs as well). I will write about these budget cuts in another few weeks. We anticipate raising about $37 million in savings from cuts or redirected funds this coming year, which is about as much as we can reasonably do with just a few months of preparation. Second, raising tuition will also help us deal with the budget deficit. In fact nine system schools including UW–Madison will be seeking tuition increases for professional program students, nonresident students or both.

Our proposal is to increase nonresident tuition by $3,000 per year for the next two years, followed by increases of $2,000 for the following two years. By the end of the four-year period, our nonresident tuition rate would be $35,523 per year, more than $6,000 less than the University of Michigan’s current nonresident rate. Our peers’ nonresident tuition has been rising at an average rate of 3.2 percent each year for the last decade. If that trend continues, our proposal would place us no higher than fourth or fifth in the Big Ten by 2018-19, an appropriate position given our strong out-of-state application pool and our overall quality.

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Reflections on the 2015 Final Four

What a ride!

I had the opportunity to attend the Final Four in Indianapolis and cheer as our Badgers men’s basketball team marched to the NCAA national championship game.

Although we didn’t get the ending we all hoped for, this team captured the nation’s imagination for more than what they have accomplished on the court. They were a disciplined team that embodied what it means to be a student athlete at UW–Madison.

They combined great athletic success, academics, and service to their community with a spirit of fun. I’m excited about everything they’ve done for America’s vocabulary. At the same time, they’ve represented us with class and grace.

This was the 17th consecutive trip to the Big Dance for the men’s team. That is an extraordinary achievement … only three other schools in the nation have had longer NCAA streaks. It’s all the more remarkable considering the total number of NCAA Tournament appearances for UW between 1948 and 1993 was … zero.

The skill that Coach Ryan and his dedicated staff bring to building students into extraordinary athletes, and the skill with which they mold those extraordinary athletes into a winning team, is unmatched in this nation.

The skills that our student-athletes learn serve them well long after they leave our university. Coach Ryan refers to them as life skills, and he’s right.

Even with a loss in the final minutes, this team will be remembered as our best basketball team of all time. We are all lucky to have experienced one of the most exciting runs in Badger sports history.

A broader perspective on faculty workload

Over the past several months, there have been a number of public statements suggesting that faculty at the University of Wisconsin should have higher teaching loads. These comments often demonstrate a limited understanding of what our faculty here at Madison actually do. It’s our job to better communicate to those outside the university what we do at UW–Madison and how we do it.

At a major research university like UW–Madison, faculty members have two major responsibilities: teaching and research. In addition, because the Wisconsin Idea guides our mission, many of our faculty members engage in outreach and service activities as well. And a number of faculty members also have administrative responsibilities, such as serving as a department chair or research center director.

A study conducted last year gives insight into our faculty workload. Surveying faculty across 10 departments in the biological sciences, physical sciences, social sciences and the humanities, faculty reported 63 hours of work each week on average. According to the survey, 96 percent of faculty work with undergraduates, spending an average of 18.4 hours a week teaching, advising and mentoring them; 97 percent work with graduate, professional and postdoctoral students, spending an average of 16 hours per week teaching, advising and mentoring them. Ninety-nine percent of faculty do work that strengthens the university’s outreach mission, spending an average of 8.7 hours a week on service-related activities.

According to an analysis of our 2,117 faculty members in fall 2013, UW‐Madison faculty funded by state tax dollars taught on average 3.41 classes per week, in addition to time spent working with students individually through independent study and field courses.

At UW–Madison, 100 percent of faculty are expected to conduct research, some of it alongside graduate and undergraduate students, and they spend an average of 21.3 hours per week on research activities. This research is essential to our state economy, bringing in approximately $800 million in outside investment to the state of Wisconsin. UW–Madison’s $1.1 billion in total research expenditures was the fourth highest among all universities nationwide in 2013.

The state funded portion of the faculty payroll in 2013-14 was $186 million. At the same time, expenditures from external sources (including funds raised by faculty in competitions for grant funds) was $643 million. That means for each dollar in state‐funded salary, UW‐Madison faculty bring in $3.50 in funding to support their research, most of which comes from outside Wisconsin. On average UW-Madison faculty members bring in about $250,000 in research funding each year. These research dollars are generally awarded based on a competition for grant money from funding agencies, including the federal government, and foundations. We also have some gifts from private donors that support research, instruction, and outreach.

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Promoting an efficient university administration

When I talk with alums and with state legislators about impending budget cuts at UW-Madison, I’m often told that there is a lot of fat that can be trimmed out. I take my responsibility to constantly look for ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of this university seriously. But I also want people to understand the limits to this argument.

Folks often believe that we must be inefficient because we’re big. UW­–Madison is a $3 billion-plus enterprise with 43,000 students and roughly 21,000 full-time employees, plus an additional 13,000 undergraduate students working part-time. We’re big because we have a large mission focused on education, research and outreach. But big doesn’t need to mean inefficient.

I have been impressed with how lean of an operation we run. UW–Madison’s central administration costs are among the lowest in the American Association of Universities, an association of 62 leading public and private research universities in the U.S. and Canada.

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Reflecting on the budget, advocacy and civil discourse

The ongoing debate about the proposed UW System budget has attracted national attention, perhaps not surprisingly, as it has gotten caught in the swirl of media and presidential politics.Chadbourne_game_fall14_6703

I have been dismayed to see my statements advocating for a strong budget for UW-Madison presented as attacks on Governor Walker.

I want to be clear: I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to become acquainted with Governor Walker over the past two years and appreciate his interest in higher education. I’ve had many conversations about the budget over the past month with many people, including students, faculty, staff, legislators, alumni and business leaders. In all of them, public and private, I have focused on the proposal and what it means for the university, our students and the state of Wisconsin. Continue reading