Photo: Becky Blank for blog page

Blank’s Slate

A Blog by UW-Madison Chancellor Becky Blank


New opportunities to fund cutting edge research

By Chancellor Rebecca Blank and Vice Chancellor Marsha Mailick

Innovative research has always been at the heart of what we do at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. For decades our innovation has been fueled by support from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), and there are some exciting new opportunities coming this year from our valued partner.

WARF has pledged to increase support for research programs by more than $9 million this year, including a new program from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education (VCRGE), called UW2020: WARF Discovery Initiative. The program will provide $5 million in grants to faculty and academic staff with permanent principal investigator status who are conducting high-risk, high-impact research with the potential to fundamentally transform a field of study – in short, we want this to fund the research projects of your dreams. UW2020 is open to all areas of study, including the physical, biological, and social sciences as well as the arts and humanities. It is called UW2020 because the program aims to bring research at UW-Madison to a new level by the year 2020.

UW2020 awards will average approximately $300,000 over two years (up to a maximum of $500,000). The deadline to submit abstract proposals is Oct. 1, with a Nov. 15 deadline for the full proposal. Abstracts for the second round are due Feb. 1 and full proposals submitted by March 15. Applications can be submitted to Instructions and FAQs are posted on the VCRGE website.

In addition, WARF will increase the funding for the Fall Research Competition by $2 million by increasing the awards in the physical and biological science divisions, as lab-based research often is more expensive to carry out. WARF support for graduate students will also increase by $2 million, creating roughly 60 additional graduate student fellowships.

The Bridge to the Future program, designed to fund multi-investigator projects with a record of campuswide impact that experience a gap or significant reduction in funding, will be continue to be supported by WARF and funds from the university. These dollars allow research teams to keep their project’s momentum going even when there are delays in federal support.

WARF grants also play a significant role in our ability to recruit and retain the best faculty. In 2014, more than $8.5 million in recruitment and retention funding from WARF via the Office of the VCRGE leveraged nearly $30 million from other units of the university. This funding resulted in the successful recruitment or retention of 91 of the 127 faculty members where the Office of the VCRGE was asked to make a commitment. This year (FY16), WARF will offer even more support to help in faculty recruitment and retention.

We’ve had some bad news on the fiscal front this year, but it is important to remember that research on our campus is largely funded by federal and private dollars. As a result, we have some great opportunities in the coming years. With help from friends like WARF, UW–Madison will continue to expand our world-class research enterprise.

1,140 Miles With Lots of Water and Lots of Corn

I’ve been to many places in Wisconsin in my two years as chancellor, but always with a singular purpose: to meet someone, to speak to a group, to visit a company. Vacation is a time for travel with less of a purpose.


Chancellor Blank and the famous Hodag in front of the Oneida County Courthouse in Rhinelander.

My husband and I are just back from eight days of vacationing in Wisconsin. We drove around the state, making a big loop with stops at classic Wisconsin tourist spots, in our short sleeves, shorts, and sandals.

We started by heading north and east, with our first night in Kohler. We then headed into Door County for three days. That included biking around Peninsula State Park, taking the ferry to Washington Island, swimming in Lake Michigan on the sand beach at Whitefish Dunes State Park, and stopping at the UW Peninsular Agricultural Research Station to learn more about cherry, apple and grape crops in Wisconsin. Oh, and we definitely did the fish boil, as well as a few other whitefish meals, and had a memorable slice of cherry pie.

Then we drove across the northern part of the state to Rhinelander and Minocqua. Rhinelander definitely gets my vote for having the best county courthouse I’ve yet seen in Wisconsin (I love driving through county seat towns and checking out the courthouse…it comes from being the daughter of two extension agents.) North of Minocqua, we stopped at the UW Trout Lake Station, where UW limnologists have been studying interactions between people and lakes for 90 years.

Then it was on to Ashland and Bayfield. We spent two nights at a bed and breakfast in Bayfield started by two UW alumni who decided to leave Madison and do something different. There we sat and watched the Lake Superior shore. Of course, we had to take the boat trip around the Apostle Islands. When we returned to shore, we sat on the B&B’s porch to watch one of the most dramatic thunderstorms I have ever seen.

We finally turned south, through Hayward, staying overnight at a lovely resort on a lake near Rice Lake, which gave us the chance to do a little canoeing and lake swimming. Then back to Madison, with a short stop at (where else?) the Wisconsin Dells outlet mall.

We went through 25 counties on this trip and saw a lot of the state. Here’s what we noticed:

  1. Every night (except in Kohler) we had a water view. Wisconsin abounds with great places to stay and just look out at the water. West, north, or east, there are great lakeshore vacation opportunities.
  2. Wisconsin has plenty of visitors who’ve learned about the beauty of our lakeshores. We saw about an equal number of out-of-state license plates as in-state.
  3. While the water was striking, the agricultural land was pretty amazing as well. We saw corn and soybeans everywhere. It’s clearly a good year for agriculture in Wisconsin. We didn’t expect cornfields outside Bayfield within sight of Lake Superior. And we saw some HUGE dairy operations.
  4. The food is good no matter where you go. We experienced a vibrant food scene throughout the state. Whether locavore or simply local, we had some really good meals.
  5. Finally, we found UW-Madison wherever we went. Of course, there were lots of tourists wearing red Badger T-shirts and hats. We visited only two research stations, but could have turned our vacation into a busman’s holiday if we stopped at each one we passed. Badgers are everywhere.

Wisconsin is green and verdant, with beauty in every corner. It was a joy to see more of it.


Moving Forward

Gov. Scott Walker on Sunday, July 12, signed the bill that lays out the state of Wisconsin’s spending plan for the next two years. I know that over the last six months, members of the campus community, as well as our alumni and friends, have followed this process closely, and many are as disappointed with some of the outcomes as I am. But we also have some wins in this budget. Let me summarize some of the main points in the budget that will affect UW-Madison and talk about how we move forward.

Budget dollars

The budget cuts to the UW System totaled $250 million in our base funding (what the state calls general purpose revenue, or GPR), along with a few other specific cuts. The UW-Madison share of this is $59 million in base dollars from the state, and another $4 million in cuts to specific programs elsewhere in the budget. We are also cutting $23 million from our current spending plan as a result of the last state budget. We avoided this cut two years ago by spending down our reserves, as requested, but now must take these cuts on a permanent basis. This means we need to cut $86 million out of our budget in the coming year. Any necessary additional spending deepens this deficit further.

We are addressing this cut in three ways:

  • The Regents approved increases in tuition for out-of-state and professional school students. This coming year, that will bring an additional $17.5 million in revenue.
  • We have implemented $34 million in either direct budget cuts to units or budget redirection. This is a very large budget reduction effort on our part and it will be felt in almost all units in one way or another.
  • As I have suggested in the past, I plan to talk with the Regents at their September meeting about how we guarantee ongoing access for Wisconsin students while still allowing a somewhat higher level of out-of-state students on campus. Of course, this will not provide any funding this year, so we will have some deficit this year that we still have to cover with other funds. As always, our goal is to limit the impact of these cuts on students as much as possible, but these are deep enough that they will be felt.

Shared governance and tenure

I am sorry that we did not succeed in getting more of these provisions removed from the final budget bill, but I think there are clear ways forward which will leave this university as strong as ever. On shared governance, we operate here under the Faculty Policies and Procedures document, approved by the Board of Regents. I see nothing in the changes to shared governance that should affect those practices and expect that we will continue to operate as before. While the shared governance language is somewhat weakened, we still have more extensive language on shared governance –built into state statute – than many of our peer institutions.

On tenure, definitions and policies adopted by the Regents have replaced the former statutory language and put it in Regent policy. This puts us on a par with our peer schools, all of which have tenure provisions in governing board policy.

Many faculty are more concerned with the new statutory language that was adopted and authorizes the Regents to lay off tenured faculty under a broader set of circumstances than before, and which is nonstandard language relative to our peers. As I’ve said before, we can deal effectively with this issue. The new language is simply authorizing language; the standard approach for dealing with such language is for the Regents to approve policies that detail how and when (if at all) they utilize this authority. The president of the Board of Regents has said that they expect to approve policies that are consistent with language used by our peers and with the standards of the American Association of University Professors.

Here at UW-Madison, the University Committee has appointed a faculty committee to write such a policy, to be presented to the first Faculty Senate meeting in early October. Once the Senate has approved this language, which would be an addition to faculty policy documents, it must be approved by the Board of Regents and then will be standard and approved practice on campus. (The Regents will be working with other campuses to draft a System policy for other schools; our separate HR system gives us the ability to write our own policy on this.)

Our lawyers, the System lawyers, and the legislators who voted for this language are convinced that we can write policies that allow us to be as restrictive as we wish in our rules for faculty layoff.   In short, we are in the midst of a process which should lead us to have policies in place that give faculty the same protections they would receive at any of our peer schools. Until such policies are adopted, I have pledged to continue operating by existing practices.


Because most of the new state bonding this year went to the transportation budget, the original budget proposed by Gov. Walker funded no major new building projects on any System campus. Through the good work of our government relations staff and others, UW-Madison did get funding in the final budget to start work on our much-needed renovation and addition to the Chemistry Building. The budget provides funding for only 80 percent of our request, so we need to figure out how to finish funding this building, but we can begin phase I of the project as soon as possible. Our chemistry education program has been handicapped by a lack of adequate lab space.

Other issues

There are several other items in this budget that are important to us. First, the statutory language needed to support our new HR system was approved and we began implementing it July 1. Second, we received changes that will allow our Admissions office to consider moving UW-Madison onto the Common Application system used by a growing number of our peer schools. This should make it easier for many students to apply here. Other big public schools that have moved to the Common App have seen a significant increase in the number of applications, including applications from top-rated students.

On the other hand, our efforts to increase management flexibility around procurement and construction projects were not as successful as we had hoped. These flexibilities would have saved money. We plan to work with the Department of Administration, the Governor’s office and the legislature so that these flexibilities will be granted in the next budget, if not before.

The coming year

For the year ahead, I’m going to work with leadership across the university and the System to figure out how we avoid repeating this experience in two years when the next state budget process rolls around. We must engage in a thoughtful and productive discussion about how UW–Madison and UW System benefit the state of Wisconsin and how the state can ensure its university system remains world-class. We need to do as much as we can to better convey our institution’s value to citizens of the state, as well as legislators. We will continue to do our part to make Wisconsin a great place to live, work and play. I welcome your ideas on this front.

My biggest concern is not any one item in the budget, but the barrage of negative national publicity that we received over several months – particularly (and frequently inaccurately) on tenure. This has put a target on our back for faculty retention and may make recruitment harder. Provost Mangelsdorf, Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education Mailick, and I have said unambiguously to the deans that we are prepared to counter outside offers and aggressively fight raiding efforts.

We need everyone’s help on this. More than ever, this is a time to step back from all the heated rhetoric and think about what makes this place special. It’s the people, the commitment to the Wisconsin Idea, the wonderful students and the supportive alumni who remain lifelong Badgers. It’s our history of world-changing discovery, of major intellectual and artistic contributions, and of interdisciplinary collaboration. It’s this community, both on- and off-campus. It’s an evening at the terrace, watching the sun set.

Take a minute to remind yourself of the good things that happen here every day. And remind your colleagues as well. Particularly in this coming year, we all have to stay focused forward.

What are some of the good things to look forward to? You’ll be hearing more about these in upcoming blogs and elsewhere:

  • The public launch of our fundraising campaign. We have had wonderful early success in the quiet phase of this campaign. For instance, just about every school and college is going to be positively affected by the new chairs available through the Morgridge Match.
  • An incoming class of freshmen, new graduate and professional students that is as strong and as diverse as ever. We had record-breaking applications.
  • Groundbreaking for the new Music Performance Center at the corner of Lake and University, which will provide a wonderful new arts facility, right next to the world-class Chazen Museum.

And this doesn’t even begin to cover the ongoing stream of news about the discoveries and successes of our faculty as they push the boundaries of new knowledge. Did you know that we’re fifth in the nation in the number of faculty who received Fulbright awards this past year?

Suffice to say, there’s ample reason to believe our university is ready and able to meet the challenges ahead, whatever they may be.

On, Wisconsin!

(This post was updated on July 24)

Chancellor Blank statement on conclusion of JFC

Chancellor Rebecca Blank issued a statement Friday in response to Thursday’s final meeting of the Joint Committee on Finance. The 2015-17 state budget next goes to the full Assembly and Senate.

“I am disappointed that the budget proposal coming out of the Joint Committee on Finance does not eliminate or modify the language around faculty dismissals to align with the standards of our peer institutions and the American Association of University Professors.” Read the full statement.


Blank responds to legislative action on UW budget

Chancellor Blank commented on the Joint Finance Committee’s action on the UW System budget in a news article posted today, expressing concern about changes to governance and tenure provisions.

“Many across campus have raised significant and legitimate questions and concerns about the proposed changes to shared governance and tenure,” she said. “I share those questions and concerns and am eager to see the actual language so that we can understand the precise impact of the proposed changes.”

“An inclusive, transparent governance process brings the best ideas to the forefront, builds consensus, and helps improve decision making,” Blank said. “I strongly believe that universities run best when there is broad consultation, and fully expect that this will continue as has historically been the case at UW-Madison.

“Similarly, tenure protections are vital to our ability to attract and retain the best students, faculty and staff and have served the people of Wisconsin well over many decades,” Blank said.

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