Photo: Becky Blank for blog page

Blank’s Slate

A Blog by UW-Madison Chancellor Becky Blank


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

People are hearing our message

Photo: Bascom Hall

As you know, our campus community, alumni, parents and the state as a whole have all been intensely engaged in discussions and debate about the state budget. I’m told that higher education in Wisconsin has never been “front page news” for a longer period.  In my opinion, it’s usually a better day when the university isn’t on the front page.  But we didn’t start this debate, it found us. And we need to keep talking about what UW-Madison does in this state and the importance of keeping this university and the UW System strong. Continue reading

Update on budget proposal and campus forums

Last week, I shared my concerns with you about the forthcoming state budget and its implications for our university.

On Tuesday, Gov. Scott Walker released his budget plan for the UW System and as expected, it includes a funding reduction of $300 million and formation of a public authority providing greater autonomy from state government. Adding together all of the recent cuts, it would amount to a $86 million annual reduction for UW-Madison. Continue reading

Update on MIU results: Continuing good news

The Madison Initiative for Undergraduates helps Wisconsin students to graduate sooner and with less debt. It is a prime example of our university using new resources effectively to improve the experience of our students.

Former Chancellor Biddy Martin launched the program in 2009 with the goal of improving value, quality and affordability of undergraduate education. Approximately $40 million in undergraduate tuition is set aside and divided equally between instructional support and student services, and funding for need-based aid.

I highlighted the MIU in this blog last year, and I am happy to say that the news this year is just as good. One of the most important facts in a new report on the program is that time-to-degree has been improving steadily since the MIU was initiated. For 2013-14 graduates, average time to degree was 4.16 years, improved from 4.20 years for 2008-09 grads and 4.29 years for the class of 2002-03. In addition, our first-year retention rate, or new freshmen in fall 2013 who went on to enroll in fall 2014, was 95.3 percent, the highest ever recorded at UW–Madison.

Furthermore, gains have been made across groups that have historically had somewhat lower graduation rates, including men, low income students, students who are first generation in college, and targeted minority students.

One of the reasons this is happening is that some of the MIU dollars were used to hire faculty in high-demand, introductory courses. Our current faculty headcount of 2,220 is the highest since 2005. Overall, the report shows that MIU has helped to stabilize the undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio during a time of growing enrollment. In 2014 the ratio was 13.2 students to each faculty member, down from 13.5 the prior year.

In the past five years, more than $90 million in MIU-funded financial aid has been distributed to students. In the MIU era, annual institutional financial aid has increased from $6.9 million in 2008-09 to $30.1 million in 2014-15.

In 2013-14, 7,265 students received aid from MIU dollars. Low income students from inside our state have seen their loan burden reduced due to the program. The percentage of financial need met by UW–Madison has improved from 15 percent in 2008 to 21 percent, more than offsetting declines in state and federal gift aid and reducing students’ reliance on subsidized loans.

As I’ve written before, we are in a difficult budget climate. We are facing a major reduction in the amount of support we receive from the state. I am grateful for programs like MIU – which is not reliant on outside funding – that help improve the quality of the Wisconsin experience for our students while exposing them to less debt.



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