Photo: Becky Blank for blog page

Blank’s Slate

A Blog by UW-Madison Chancellor Becky Blank


State of the University address: It’s time to reinvest in UW

State of the University to the UW-Madison Faculty Senate

As prepared for delivery on Mon., Sept. 26, 2016 at 3:30 p.m.

(Audio of the speech available here.)

Good afternoon. It’s always good to see all of you at the beginning of a new academic year.  I hope you had a good and productive summer and that the fall semester is well-launched in your departments.

I want to welcome the new senators, and extend my thanks to a number of people here.

First, thank you to Amy Wendt for stepping into the role of UC chair, and to Barb Bowers and Rick Amasino, who are new members on the UC, succeeding Dorothy Farrar-Edwards and Beth Meyerand, the outgoing chair.

Beth led the UC during an extraordinary year that included what we believe to be a record nine Faculty Senate meetings.

Next, thank you to Secretary of the Faculty Steve Smith, who has done a terrific job working on some big issues.

And finally, thanks to all of you for your willingness to be leaders on this campus and to serve on the Faculty Senate.

I also want to note two terrific additions to the leadership team:

VCFA —  Laurent Heller joined us from UC Berkeley over the summer. He succeeds interim Michael Lehman, who stepped in upon Darrell Bazzell’s departure last March.

NursingLinda Scott joined us from the College of Nursing at U of I – Chicago in July.  She succeeds Katharyn May, who stepped down after 15 years as dean to return to the faculty.

And I want to recognize Francois Ortalo-Magne, dean of the Wisconsin School of Business for five years. He is leaving at the end of this academic year to become dean of London Business School, and the search for a successor begins this fall.

The New Semester

Let me start with a reminder of some of the things we’ve accomplished here at UW in recent months:

  • We kicked off the largest fundraising campaign in the history of this university – and we hit the halfway point to the $3.2 billion goal during the summer.
  • We launched two rounds of UW2020, one of the biggest, most exciting research competitions this campus has ever seen.
  • In a year with a larger-than-usual number of outside offers, we retained the great majority of faculty (70%) with outside offers.
  • We have 63 outstanding new members of the faculty, many of whom the people in this room worked very hard to recruit.
  • We just welcomed a freshman class that is the largest and one of the most diverse in our history.
  • Our retention and graduation rates are at long-time highs – and we’re among the top public universities in these statistics.
  • And finally, over the summer we were again named one of the world’s top 25 universities … and earlier this month U.S. News and World Report named us the 10th best public university in the nation (up from #11 last year).
  • None of this would have happened without all of you.

A Challenging Time 

While there is good news to share, there is no question that this is a challenging time for UW. Our budget has been cut in five of the last six legislative sessions, under both political parties. That’s kept us from hiring new faculty as aggressively as other schools, and it’s led to the loss of some really valuable top teachers and researchers.

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Summer term success

Many folks across campus have worked this past year to think strategically and help redesign our summer term offerings. We’ve just finished the first summer of our new summer term and the results were highly successful.

This summer, undergraduate enrollment increased 10 percent from 2015 to more than 6,800. That growth is the result of a concerted effort to make our summer offerings more useful to a larger number of students, and it all began by listening to students.

Responding to a survey last fall, students told us that summer term’s accelerated courses help them graduate on schedule. By staying on track, they save money on tuition and rent, and enter the workforce faster. Continue reading

What you missed over the summer

I love this time of year, when students return to campus and you can feel the surge of anticipation and energy.   For those of you who have been focused elsewhere during the summer, here are a few highlights from the last months:

There are a number of new faces on campus this semester. One is Laurent Heller, our new vice chancellor for finance and administration. Laurent is joining us from UC-Berkeley and took an interesting path to his career in higher ed. You can find out more about Laurent’s background from this Q&A.

Many members of the campus community have been engaged in discussion and planning around ways to improve the campus climate and make this a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all. I wrote a blog post last week highlighting these initiatives. In the 21st century, knowing how to live and work effectively in a diverse community is a necessary career skill.

As you probably know, we are headed into a budget year in 2017, when the governor and state legislature will set the amount of state funding for UW System over the next two years. The request approved by the Board of Regents in August is a forward-looking proposal with goals for new initiatives that align with our campus mission. Learn more about it here. I’ll continue to provide updates on my blog and at

While campus does slow down a bit during summer, there is still a lot going on here during those months. We are coming off the most successful summer term we have yet, with undergraduate enrollment topping 6,800 undergraduate students, a 10 percent jump from 2015. I plan to post a blog later this month which says more about the ways in which expanding our summer term enriches our educational offerings and adds to tuition revenues.

I hope all of you have had a chance to get away from work at some point over the summer. At the beginning of the summer my husband, Hanns, and I ventured to the southwestern part of the state. You can read more about our road trip here.

At the end of the summer, we had a different type of fun. Last week, Hanns and I went to the Minnesota State fair with Bucky, Goldy and University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler. We celebrated the many ways our two universities compete and collaborate. I grew up near the fair and it was great fun to go back for a day to see what was new and what had remained the same.

There have been many more developments over the summer. Get caught up here.

As we get started on a new semester, I want to say thank you to all of you who are part of the UW community and contribute to our mission of teaching, research and outreach. Every one of you plays a part in making this a world-class university and I appreciate the important work you all do.

Making UW a more inclusive campus community

As thousands of new Badgers move into our community and prepare for the semester ahead, they’re learning everything from the location of dining facilities to the right way to “Jump Around.”

I hope they’re also learning something about our values, traditions and expectations at UW.  As we integrate our newest members into campus, this also provides a chance for us to reaffirm to our continuing students, faculty and staff what it means to be a Badger and live together as a campus community.

It’s my belief—one that I hope you share—that everyone here deserves to feel valued and free from harassment and intimidation. Only when our faculty, staff and students feel at home here can we effectively achieve our three-part mission of education, research and outreach. By definition, learning and research are challenging enterprises.  In order to take the intellectual risks required in a top-flight university, an individual has to believe they are part of a community that will support them in these efforts. Continue reading

Minnesota-Wisconsin Friendship Day at the Minnesota State Fair

My husband, Hanns, and I put on our Badger red this past Friday and brought Bucky along with us to the Minnesota State Fair. We joined President Eric Kaler of the University of Minnesota, his wife, Karen, and (of course) Goldy Gopher. The result was a rare sight: the mascots and leaders of two rivals posing together arm-in-arm.

pasted_image_at_2016_08_29_12_54_pmEarlier this year, President Kaler invited Bucky, Hanns and me to the fair to celebrate our world-class universities. Having grown up just a mile from the fairgrounds, attending the Minnesota State Fair was part of my childhood, so I jumped at the chance to visit it again many years later. I was amazed to see how much of the fair has stayed the same over the years!

The joint visit by myself and President Kaler, along with our two mascots, presented a unique opportunity to celebrate the importance of these two land-grant research universities. We may be Big Ten border rivals on the field, but we share a common mission in the classroom: to give our students a great education and do outstanding research. Competition ­— athletic and academic — makes us each stronger.

Together, UW–Madison and UMN–Twin Cities educate more than 60,000 undergraduate students. Our tuition reciprocity agreement provides students from Wisconsin and Minnesota more options for a quality education (UW System enrolls more than 15,000 Minnesota students). The universities combined spend nearly $2 billion on research. We serve as economic engines for the Midwest, with a combined impact of $23 billion on our respective states. And we collaborate on a number of initiatives, including a study abroad program in Kenya, the Hmong Studies Consortium, and the Great Lakes School of Turfgrass Science Online.

Both universities are also important contributors to the agriculture industry. Fittingly, President Kaler and I kicked off the day by competing in a veggie race hosted by the UMN College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. (It was only slightly embarrassing when a 6-year-old beat both of us.) Agriculture is a core theme of the state fair, and I enjoyed touring the Dairy Building and learning about the newly born farm animals at the Miracle of Birth Center.

Goldy and Bucky joined President Kaler and me for a trivia quiz and a mascot competition. Naturally, Goldy won the head-spinning contest, while Bucky won the headstand contest. The stalemate was settled by a pushup contest, in which Bucky regrettably came up short (though I suspect he was just conserving his pushup energy for our football game against LSU this weekend). The mascots also joined us for a bumpy ride down the Giant Slide!

Although we left Paul Bunyan’s Axe in Madison, where it rightfully belongs, we found the giant himself — all 15 feet of him — in the Eco Experience Building. The larger-than-life statue’s outfits draw attention to a giant-sized problem: clothing and textile waste.

Adjacent to Mr. Bunyan was an equally sizeable display from Wisconsin: a 14-foot living greenwall exhibit from the University of Wisconsin–River Falls. UWRF researchers have found that adding foliage in classrooms, such as vertical vegetation walls, enhances students’ well-being and academic performance.

Other highlights throughout the day included state fair staples: the food (in addition to the Wisconsin cheese curds and summer sausage, I can now recommend the candied bacon BLT); the Princess Kay butter sculptures (always one of my favorites); and, most importantly, the people.

The state of Minnesota is home to more than 17,000 UW–Madison alumni and one of our largest Wisconsin Alumni Association chapters in the country. It was a tremendous pleasure to see so much red at the fair and chat with generations of proud Badgers — alumni and their children, current students and their parents, and (I hope) many future Badgers.

Thank you, President Kaler and the University of Minnesota, for your warm hospitality. I’m looking forward to another fun, fruitful year of competition and collaboration — on and off the field.

On, Wisconsin!



UW System budget request looks to future

On Thursday, the Board of Regents approved the UW System’s 2017-19 biennial budget request, which will now be submitted to Governor Walker for his review.

The System request is designed to address issues identified in the development of 2020FWD, the new strategic framework for the UW System.  In developing this framework, President Cross and other System leaders reached out to stakeholders across the state, including holding meetings here in Madison where members of the campus community as well as the broader community spoke about key challenges to the state and the role the university could play in addressing them. The 2017-19 biennial budget request identifies the needed investments from the state along with System resources that would be reallocated to begin these efforts.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s institutional goals align well with the goals set out in 2020FWD and the biennial budget request. I’m happy to support this request, and I hope you will join our efforts over the next nine months as part of the state budget process.

The budget proposal seeks a total of $42.5 million in new state funding over the next two years. In addition, the budget assumes that $50 million will be restored to UW System that we were required to lapse back to the state in the current biennium. Governor Walker has already said that he will also recommend restoring this $50 million. This would result in $92.5 million more state dollars for UW System in the next budget than in the current one.  The Regents budget request does not deal with compensation or tuition, both of which will be taken up later in the budget process.

2020FWD and the budget request focus on strengthening the educational pipeline, enhancing the educational experience of our students, expanding the Wisconsin Idea to further address the needs of Wisconsin’s communities and businesses, and pursuing greater operational efficiencies. Within these initiatives are a number of programs that are of interest to our campus.

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Creating community after a difficult summer

Across the country and around the world, this summer has, sadly, been filled with news of tragedy and violence, starting with killings in Orlando, Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Dallas. I suspect all of us have been horrified at one time or another as we’ve turned on the television.

This past weekend, there was significant unrest in Milwaukee, the largest and most diverse city in our state, as well as home to many of our students. And those who have stayed in Madison over the summer know that we’ve had our own series of controversial incidents and protests.

All of these events are likely to be on people’s minds as they return to campus to prepare for the semester ahead. Appropriately, one of this year’s themes– and the subject of our Go Big Read book, Evicted, is “what is community?”

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Thoughts from summer

Summer started on Memorial Day weekend for me. My husband and I ducked out of work a little early that Friday and drove along Highway 14 all the way to La Crosse. We detoured through some Amish countryside near Cashton and walked around the downtown of Viroqua.

We stayed overnight in La Crosse in an old candy factory, converted into a very modern hotel. On Saturday, we spent the day following the Mississippi. We ambled south along the river, reading all the historical signs. (Did you know that Gov. Patrick Lucey grew up in Ferryville, on the river?)

At Prairie du Chien, we toured Villa Louis, walked around the Fort Crawford Museum and then headed out to Wyalusing State Park for great views and hiking. We headed back to town, driving Highway 18 across the state to Madison, with a mandatory stop at the Rural Route 1 Popcorn store in Montfort. The trip let us see a bit of the state we haven’t visited before, and the Mississippi views were breathtaking.

Our trip also reminded me that Badgers are everywhere. At lunch in Prairie du Chien, the couple sitting by their bikes and looking at a map introduced themselves because she works at UW in our SOAR program.

And along the trail at Wyalusing, we turned a corner to see two young men heading toward us from the other direction. One of them looked up and shouted, “Hi, Chancellor Blank!” Turns out he works for the UW Police Department.

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Welcoming Laurent Heller to the UW-Madison community

I am happy to announce that we have hired Laurent Heller as our new vice chancellor for finance and administration. Laurent is currently the assistant vice chancellor, financial planning and analysis at the University of California, Berkeley, and has previously served in key administrative roles at Cal, including as director of the campus budget office and director of strategy and analysis for the Law School. He is expected to join us in mid-August. You can read more about him here. I want to thank Mike Lehman for the great work he has done as interim vice chancellor, and also the search and screen committee for their fine work.

On the end of the academic year and a way forward

At the last Faculty Senate meeting of the year, someone made a comment that suggested this past year has been all about “bad news.”

Following a number of no confidence votes by faculty at many of the UW System schools, along with recent debates about tenure and the proposed changes to the Wisconsin Idea, I know there has been a drumbeat of media coverage about the frustration and anger of many faculty and staff.

I recognize and understand that frustration.  We are facing some challenges and I’ll say a bit about how we plan to move forward into the coming budget debate this year.  But I also want to remind everyone of all the good things that are happening every day across campus.  This university remains strong and resilient.

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