Photo: Becky Blank for blog page

Blank’s Slate

A Blog by UW-Madison Chancellor Becky Blank


Reaction to the latest state budget news

Although we have not yet seen full details of Governor Walker’s plan, I am concerned about the magnitude of the proposed budget cuts and their impact on UW-Madison.

These proposed cuts are believed to be the largest in the history of the university. In the past, large cuts have always been mitigated by additional tuition revenue from resident and non-resident students.

The proposed cuts, on top of the reduction in the last state budget, would result in a more than 15 percent decrease in state funds to the university over a four- year period. Fully absorbing these cuts would have a harmful impact on our students and their educational experience.

I appreciate the opportunity for additional flexibility and management efficiencies that a public authority might bring, and would work hard to implement these effectively on our campus. It would be challenging, however, to engage in a major reorganization while also coping with a large budget cut.

The time-tested values of shared governance and tenure have made us strong and competitive. President Cross and Regent leadership have indicated that these values will continue to be honored through board policy.

As we learn more about the Governor’s proposal I will keep our campus community and governance groups informed. We will continue to advocate for funding levels and policies in the upcoming legislative session and budget debate that assure UW-Madison remains a top public research university.

An update on budget discussions

I have heard from many of our students, faculty, staff and alumni asking for my reaction to newspaper reports that Governor Scott Walker and the UW System are discussing additional flexibilities as part of ongoing budget discussions.

Yesterday, I responded to one such email that included many recipients on campus. I thought it might be valuable to share this more widely. Continue reading

A final look back on Fall 2014

Photo: Bascom view

As we head into a new calendar year and new semester, I want to reflect on the many honors and achievements of our faculty, staff and students this fall. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just some highlights that caught my attention.

With the many distractions and challenges we face in the current climate, it’s important to remember that our core mission is to educate the next generation of leaders and foster research that creates tomorrow’s knowledge. An example of someone engaging in both of these activities is sophomore Keven Stonewall, whose research on colon cancer has already drawn national attention. Continue reading

Happy holidays

Warm thoughts for the holidays and best wishes for a very happy new year from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Responding to Ferguson and Staten Island

The recent grand jury verdicts in Ferguson, Missouri, and in Staten Island have raised questions and concerns among many in the University of Wisconsin-Madison community, as they have nationwide.

It is easy for some of us to think briefly about these incidents and move on. That is not the case for others on this campus, who encounter subtle and less subtle examples of intolerance on a regular basis. Continue reading

Trying to break the cycle of poverty

I know this is a busy time as many on campus get ready for the last week of classes and finals week, but I wanted to post a quick note here about a United Way initiative I’m co-chairing with former Madison Police Chief Noble Wray. It’s called the Delegation to Create Economic Stability for Young Families. Over the next 11 months this group of 40 community leaders will study poverty in Dane County and recommend actions for the United Way that can help young families. This is an important issue in our community; poverty rates are particularly high among African American and Hispanic single mothers and their children. I am honored to be working with the United Way on this project and expect learn to a great deal about the Madison community at the same time that I hope I can be a useful part of the process.

If you want to know more about this effort, click on the United Way press release.

Thank you!

You may have heard about the incredible gift that we announced this past weekend, from John and Tashia Morgridge. Maybe it’s the amount that got your attention: $100 million. That’s the largest single gift from individual donors that we’ve ever received, and comes on top of a number of other gifts from the Morgridges in years past.

But it’s not just the amount that should catch your attention. This is a unique gift. It’s not for buildings. It’s not for naming rights to a college or center. It’s all designated as matching money to help fund faculty chairs. That means that anyone who wants to endow a named faculty chair need pay only half the usual endowment level and the Morgridge gift will match and endow the other half. And the name on the chair will be whatever name is selected by that donor. The Morgridge name will not be on any of these chairs.

This is a very Wisconsin gift, and a gift that reflects the values the Morgridges have always demonstrated. It’s not about them. It’s about making UW a better place and about inspiring other alums to give back.

What’s the effect of this gift? It’s transformative. The current levels established to endow named faculty awards are $1 million for a professorship, $2 million for a chair, and $3 million for a distinguished chair. We currently have 34 faculty awards that are funded at or above $2 million in endowment — FAR less than many of our peers — and another 102 chairs that are funded below $2 million. Most of these were given by generous alums at a time when the “price” of endowing a chair was less.

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Budget in Brief offers transparent view of UW–Madison budget

As I’ve written in a previous blog, there is no more important item on my agenda than the next biennial state budget. One of the tools I hope will help legislators, alumni and other stakeholders to understand UW–Madison’s budget is the Budget in Brief document. The goal of the document is to explain in plain language and charts where the university’s money comes from, and how it is spent. It’s important that we be as transparent as possible about our current budget and our financial needs.

Last week, I did an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about our budget circumstances. Please give it a read and take some time to review the Budget in Brief. We all must be ready to make the case for why investment in higher education is essential for Wisconsin.

A new budget model: More flexibility and transparency

I held a conversation with each of the deans before I started in this job and heard from almost every one of them that the budget model at UW-Madison no longer worked effectively. I and others across campus have spent quite a bit of time over this past year reviewing the current model and thinking about improvements.

Let me start by being clear about what is meant by “budget model.” I’m primarily talking about the ways in which the money in what we call Fund 101 is distributed from Bascom Hall to all of the schools and colleges. Fund 101 is composed of the state and tuition dollars we receive to support our core missions. This budget review also includes a discussion of the formula by which UW-Madison’s indirect federal research funds are distributed to schools and colleges.

Deans have always had substantial discretion in how they distribute money within their units, and the changes we are discussing will not change the ability of deans to spend their dollars in the ways they find most effective.

UW–Madison has used the same approach to budgeting since the UW System merger in 1972-73. The best description of that model: Each school and college gets what it got last year, unless they can convince the provost that they require additional money for a specific need. In particular, there has been no assurance that budget changes would occur as activity levels changed. And there’s little transparency about how dollars are distributed or why.

Much has changed since we adopted the current model more than 40 years ago, not the least of which is that the share of revenue the state provides to UW–Madison has shrunk ­­from 43 percent of the university’s overall revenue to 17 percent. At the same time, tuition as a share of the university’s total revenue has risen from 11 percent to roughly 17 percent.

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This year’s most important topic: Budgets

BascHill_Wban_capit06_7792It’s a biennial budget year here in Wisconsin and as soon as the November elections are over, the 2015-17 state budget will be the focus of much of the work of our elected state leaders. As I said this week during my State of the University speech to the Faculty Senate, this upcoming budget will be particularly important for us at UW-Madison, given that we received substantial cuts in the budget two years ago. I want to describe the challenges facing us and what we’re doing to prepare for them.

The higher education system in this state is central to its long-term economic competitiveness and growth. Having a world-class educational and research institution in UW-Madison gives this state a big advantage in attracting high-tech and growing industries to this state. Maintaining the excellence of our university and our overall Wisconsin system should be a high priority for anybody who cares about future job growth.

It’s no secret that the UW System and, in turn, UW–Madison received some major cuts in the current budget enacted in the spring of 2013. Over the past year we were able to absorb the impact of these cuts by spending down our fund balances to fund programs and services across campus, as the state legislature directed.

However, we can’t continue to fill the budget gaps with fund balances. At the end of this fiscal year, our tuition fund balances will have declined almost by half, from 14 percent to 8 percent. I cannot in good conscience draw them any lower, given the need to keep some funds on hand to deal with the uncertainties we face as a large and complex institution.

In fact, most of our fund balances are already fully committed to approved programs or facilities, but just haven’t been spent yet. We have little that can be labeled as true reserves. That means that the university has very few discretionary dollars available to meet unanticipated needs that might arise on campus this year.

If we do not receive an increase in our educational funding, we will have to implement substantial cuts. With no change in the budget, we will need to cut a little more than 4 percent from all of our state and tuition-funded programs.

The 2015-17 biennial budget request made by UW System President Ray Cross and the Board of Regents proposes to avoid many of these cuts and would help put the higher education system on a firmer economic footing.

Continue reading