Photo: Becky Blank for blog page

Blank’s Slate

A Blog by UW-Madison Chancellor Becky Blank


“State of the University” speech

As prepared for delivery to the Faculty Senate, Oct. 5, 2015.

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.

Before I begin, I want to note the wonderful news today that Dr. William Campbell, who received his doctorate here in 1957, has won the Nobel Prize in medicine for his work on drugs to fight tropical diseases like malaria.

This is the 22nd time the Nobel Prize has been awarded to a UW-Madison faculty member or alum, and a proud moment for us.

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

First, thank you to Beth Meyerand for stepping into the role of UC chair, and to Anja Wanner and Ruth Litovsky, who are new members on the UC, succeeding Jo Ellen Fair and Grant Petty.

Next, thank you to Secretary of the Faculty Steve Smith, who has done a terrific job in the midst of some challenges. His deep understanding of this campus and what it takes to support world-class faculty in the current environment are of enormous value.

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

I had an opportunity in late August to welcome about 80 new faculty to campus and it reminded me all over again about the great people who work here, and who continue to seek positions at this world-class institution.

We have also welcomed some really talented people to the leadership team – some brand new to UW, others in new roles.

  • We now have a permanent Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education, Marsha Mailick, effective last March.
  • We have an interim Vice Chancellor for University Relations, Charlie Hoslet, filling in for Vince Sweeney, who retired this summer.  The search for a permanent replacement has just started.
  • We have a new Dean of the Graduate School, Bill Karpus, who comes to us from Northwestern University. Bill will report to and work closely with Marsha.  We were very fortunate over the last year to have Associate Dean Wendy Crone serve in an interim capacity.
  • We have a new Dean of the School of Education, Diana Hess. Diana is a longtime member of the faculty though she has spent the last few years as VP of the Spencer Foundation in Chicago. She succeeds Julie Underwood, who is returning to the faculty after 10 years as Dean.
  • And I want to recognize Dean of Nursing Katharyn May, who just announced that she is stepping down to return to the faculty after 15 years in that job. We’ll be launching that search as well this fall.

Outstanding faculty and staff are our most important assets. I know that this is a challenging time for leaders here at UW. To lead an institution through a period of change is not easy, but change also brings opportunities. I know together we can find ways to create a stronger and more resilient University that can grow and thrive into the next century and beyond.

I want to talk this afternoon about how we do that. But first let me give you an update on a few key issues. 


You all know that the state budget brought deep cuts to our finances – we were handed an $86m deficit, effective July 1. It’s unfortunately not news any more when states cut funding for higher education … that’s been happening for 25 years.

To fill this deficit, we have cut or redirected about $34 million. These cuts are being felt across the university.

We have also received permission from the Regents to raise out-of-state and professional school tuition over the next two years, which brings in about another $17 million this year and $15 million next year.

Unfortunately, if you’re doing the math, this leaves us with an ongoing deficit. I am also asking the Regents for permission to increase the number of non-resident undergraduates, while making a commitment to admit Wisconsin students at the same rate as we have for many years.

As some of you know, the number of high school graduates in this state has fallen by 2,000 in the past decade and is expected to decline further. That means that we can grow at least a little by expanding the number of out-of-state students while maintaining our strong commitment to Wisconsin freshman admissions.

In a state with declining numbers of young workers, we are an institution that can attract talented young people into the state. Top high school students from WI who stay here for college are far more likely to take jobs here. And about 15% of those who come here from out-of-state to study, stay here to work. I am committed to both working to attract the best WI students to Madison, to keep them in the state, and to working to attract some great out-of-state students and partnering with businesses in the state to keep more of them here as well.


Let me turn to the topic of tenure, about which we had a major debate this past summer.   As you know, we were unique in having tenure defined in state statute; at other universities, it’s embedded in the policies adopted by the Trustees or Regents.

When the legislature removed from state law the language that governs tenure, the Regents responded by adopting policies identical to the statutory provisions into Regent policy. This puts us on a par with our peer schools, which have tenure provisions in governing-board policy.

Unfortunately, as you know, the legislature also adopted language that allows faculty layoffs to occur for a wider variety of reasons than is standard. But, as I’ve emphasized many times, this does not MANDATE faculty be laid off when programs change, it simply gives the Regents the authority to decide when faculty layoffs may or may not occur.

The Regents have already indicated that they expect to approve a policy consistent with our peers, and consistent with the standards of the American Association of University Professors.

I want to thank the faculty committee that worked diligently from July to September under the leadership of Dorothy Farrar Edwards to draft the proposed policy on your agenda today. The proposal adheres to state statute, Regent policy and relevant campus HR policies, and follows AAUP guidelines to maintain strong protections for tenured faculty, assuring academic freedom and decision-making through a shared governance process.

I also want to thank the UC for moving quickly to accept and distribute the committee’s report and hold listening sessions.

Today we’ll have the first reading of these proposed changes to Faculty Policy and Procedures. We’ll vote on these changes at our November meeting. They will then go to the Regents for approval, before becoming formal policy.

The policy you’ll be discussing today applies only to UW-Madison. Because we have our own HR system, it is appropriate for us to adopt our own policy on this. Another committee, with representatives from across the UW System, is also writing a policy that will apply to other UW schools. I suspect that our final recommendations may be a model for the entire System.

Shared Governance

As you know, the legislature also made changes that weakened the authority of governance groups. But they left intact quite a bit of the governance statute.

If you compare even the changed language to governance language at many other schools, we still have extensive faculty, staff, and student governance involvement at UW.

I have written to all governance groups and indicated that I see no reason why our standard practices around governance should change as a result of the modifications made in the budget. I expect to continue to consult broadly, and expect the faculty to hold responsibilities for those decisions that faculty must have: over tenure, hiring and faculty disciplinary actions.

In other words, I expect that our system will continue to operate as it has in the past.

I think you all know that I feel strongly about this issue.  I have suggested that the shared governance chairs develop a statement that reaffirms this university’s commitment to shared governance and emphasizes that we will continue in the same proud tradition that has served us well for over a century.  I am happy to add my signature to such an effort.

The bigger issue

Our biggest problem in this coming year is not any of these individual issues by themselves, which we are handling. More damaging is the accumulation of these negative events – chronicled in every major national newspaper and particularly in higher education publications – about the cuts and changes at the University of Wisconsin.

Now, as you know, much of that publicity was inaccurate. Virtually every publication had a headline that read something like, “Tenure eliminated at Wisconsin.” That’s just not true … but it’s what our colleagues around the country have read. In the language of business, we’ve suffered some brand damage, and we need to work on brand recovery.

When our reputation is threatened, we become a target for outside offers … and all of this is likely to make recruitment a little harder this year.

The Provost, the Vice Chancellor for Research, and I have all stated our strong intention to work with deans and department chairs to respond to outside offers whenever feasible. I want to send a clear message that UW is NOT open for raiding. We’ve already made some progress in sending that message: In July, five of our top international relations faculty in the Political Science department were approached by one university, who proposed to move them as a group. We responded, and in early September we learned that all five will be remaining here.

I want you to carry that example and that message back to all of your departments.

Future Efforts

Which brings me to what I think is the key long-term question in front of us: How do we build a university that is stronger and more resilient, and which is financially stable even if faced with further budget cuts in the years ahead?

There are a lot of answers to that, but let me talk about two. 

Strengthening trust & confidence

The first is strengthening trust and confidence among our diverse constituencies. This will take the leadership of every person in this room.

We need you to correct misperceptions when they’re raised by colleagues outside (and inside) UW … and we also need you to share the good things happening here. The challenges we have faced are difficult … but we are, and will continue to be, one of the world’s great universities.

There is lots of good news … here are a few of the things I talk about frequently:

  • We were just named, for the second year in a row, one of the world’s top 25 universities. The others are in California (UC-Berkeley, UCLA, and UCSD) and Michigan. Michigan’s population is double Wisconsin’s, and California is six times as big.   We are, indeed, ‘the Madison Miracle.’
  • Our undergraduate applications are stronger than ever.
  • Our retention rate between freshman and sophomore year is now 95%. Our graduation rates are going up and our time to graduation is going down.
  • We continue to be a place of world-changing research, and are the only university ranked in the top five in total research expenditures every year since NSF started reporting that data in 1972.

Rankings are impressive, but I have found that the most powerful stories of all aren’t about numbers. They’re about people.

When I meet alumni and parents and community leaders, I talk about our great teachers:

  • People like Professor Anja Wanner, who took a class on English syntax and turned it inside-out to engage students in whole new ways.
  • People like Professor Andrew Lokuta, who re-designed one of this campus’ largest and most challenging courses – Physiology 335 – to be more culturally inclusive, and substantially reduced the D-F-drop rate among students of color.

I also talk about people when I talk about our world-class research, and our commitment to the Wisconsin Idea.

  • People like Assistant Chemistry Professor Trisha Andrew, whose work to develop disposable solar cells from inexpensive materials will help nations around the world (not to mention the state of Wisconsin) to harness energy in new ways.
  • People like Math Professor Jordan Ellenberg, whose book How Not To Be Wrong has informed the world about the power of mathematics in the real world.
  • People like Entymology Professor Claudio Gratton and graduate student Jeremy Hemberger, whose work to improve the bumblebee population will translate to better crops.
  • People like political scientists Don Moynihan, Barry Burden, David Canon and Kenneth Mayer, whose paper on the unintended consequences of electoral reform just won a major national award … and may change the way national elections are run.
  • And people like Professor John Hawks and his team, whose discovery in a South African cave of bones from a previously unknown human ancestor captured the world’s attention last month.

There are thousands of stories like this all across campus. Fill in your own stories. We need you to tell them, in order to reassure:

  • Families who want to know that their students will get an outstanding education here;
  • Junior faculty who want to know that you – their senior colleagues – are committed to UW;
  • Scholars who need to know that the University of Wisconsin at Madison remains a place that presents extraordinary opportunities; and
  • State policymakers who need to understand the value this university brings to their constituents.

Building a stable financial base

The second strategic priority I want to talk about, and my biggest challenge as Chancellor, is stabilizing our finances so UW isn’t constantly facing budget crises of the sort we’ve been through this past year. That means we have to do everything we can to build revenues as creatively and effectively as possible, including:

  • Reaching market rate tuition for out-of-state students, and working with the Legislature on reasonable in-state tuition. Long-term tuition freezes – as we are currently experiencing – will hurt the quality of our education over time. Our costs are not frozen, and tuition has to reflect those changing costs. We’ll discount tuition for students who are eligible for scholarships.
  • Continuing to make the case for the importance of state support of higher education in Wisconsin, as we move toward future budget years. One of my high priorities this year is to continue building closer connections between state legislators and UW-Madison. I want to make sure even more legislators are invited to visit campus, and that we have alumni reach out to them in their districts. We’re in a campaign, and that campaign shouldn’t end now that the budget is finished this time around.
  • Continuing to find new ways to generate revenues. Many of our departments and programs have done creative things in this space, for instance: Expanding learning opportunities for mid-career professionals – and in particular expanding professional masters’ and capstone certificate programs.
  • One of our biggest opportunities to increase revenue is through more strategic use of the summer semester.
  • UW is last among seven peer institutions in the average number of summer credits taken by undergraduates, and our summer tuition revenues are way behind our peers. Berkeley enrolls 16,000 students in summer and generates $42 million in tuition revenue. We enroll 13,000 and generate $18.5 million
  • By offering courses that students need to graduate, we can reduce time-to-degree and limit debt … and also reach out to new audiences such as visiting international students.
  • To create the right incentives for summer semester changes, we will need a new budget model for summer term that returns some of the summer tuition revenue to schools and colleges, giving them an incentive to offer high-demand courses over the summer.
  • We will also need to make some minor changes to the academic calendar, which I know you will be considering today.
  • Jeff Russell, the Dean of Continuing Studies, deserves enormous thanks for leading this initiative. You’ll be hearing more about it in the year ahead.
  • And of course, in addition to working on the revenue front, we need to work on the expense side. Budget cutting isn’t something we should do only when forced to by the state legislature. Everybody here needs to be looking at opportunities to run more efficiently.
  • Finally, we have to continue to work on fundraising. As many of you know, we’ll be publicly launching a fundraising campaign on the Thursday of Homecoming Week. The Deans and many of their advisory committees will be involved, and all Department Chairs are aware of this event and planning for it.
  • The public launch comes at the end two-years of focused effort and preparation. The Deans worked hard to develop campaign-funding plans for their units. These roll up into four larger priorities: student support, faculty support, support to improve the educational experience at UW, both inside and outside the classroom, and support for research and innovation.
  • The quiet phase of the campaign has been remarkably successful.
  • Our alumni have made an extraordinary investment in this university over the last year. Let me close with news about three transformative gifts that have recently come through.
  • First: The new Grainger Institute for Engineering, for which the Grainger Foundation made a $25 million commitment. It will give us the ability to deepen our engineering research in areas related to high-tech manufacturing. Two weeks ago we announced an additional $22 million gift from the Grainger Foundation, all directed at enriching undergraduate education in the College of Engineering.
  • Next: the $100 million gift John and Tashia Morgridge pledged to match any donor who wanted to endow a professorship, a chair or a distinguished chair.
  • So many matches came forward so quickly that we worried we wouldn’t be able to accommodate them all. But the Morgridges generously offered to extend their match. In the end, their original $100 million became nearly $250 million.
  • Here’s what that means. Prior to the Morgridge gift, we had 142 fully funded chairs and professorships. We now will have 300 fully endowed faculty chair and professorship funds at schools and colleges all across this campus.
  • And the third gift I want to tell you about is one we announced over the summer: $50 million from Ab and Nancy Nicholas for student support.
  • The Nicholas gift will match the gifts of other donors to create endowed scholarship and fellowship funds. This will build permanent support for our undergraduates, student athletes, and graduate students.

I am happy to tell you the gift has already inspired nearly $10 million in additional gifts. 

  • These gifts are a sign of the level of support we have from our alumni, and the ways in which alumni support can enhance the things we can do on campus, leveraging our state dollars and tuition money.
  • Having said all of this, there are three important things to remember about gift dollars: First, these are not discretionary funds — they are tied to donor intent.   Second, these gifts I am discussing are not spendable; they are endowments.  They will be invested and managed by the Foundation, and will pay out 4.5% annually. Those payments will be what is available to support the programs these donors want to support. Third, many gifts are pledged now but not paid out until far into the future, such as bequest intentions. So announced gifts are not the same as available endowment funding.


In all of these efforts to build trust and confidence and to create a long-term sustainable financial plan for this campus, we need innovative leaders willing to try new approaches and to think differently.

We talk a lot about what to do, but sometimes we forget to talk about why it matters.

There are lots of reasons why it matters that we keep this university strong and thriving. One important reason is that we continue to provide access to a world-class education for a diverse group of students.

People like Alan Chen, a Chinese immigrant who grew up in Minocqua and became an outstanding student here. After his graduation last spring, Alan sent me an e-mail that described his Wisconsin experience as “Four years of pure magic.”

And people like Drew Birrenkott, an engineering graduate who is now a Rhodes scholar. Drew told us that the Wisconsin Idea, the commitment to improving lives outside of the classroom, made all the difference in his education. He said: “I don’t know of many places that would let a single undergraduate write a senior thesis on comparative health care systems, build an infant CardioRespiratory monitor and a cleanwater system, and conduct research on regenerative cardiovascular medicine, but in our pursuit of improving lives outside the university, UW not only does, but it thrives on it.”

Drew and Alan and the thousands of students like them who have brought their hopes and dreams to this campus for 167 years, students who have worked hard and achieved much, who have gone on to change the world – or at least one small part of it … they’re the reason why we’re here.

As long as we can continue to provide this type of experience to top students, attract superb teaching and research faculty, and generate ongoing alumni loyalty, UW will remain a world-class institution.

Thank you for your dedication to this university. I am honored to work with you. I’ll be happy to take your questions.

Why new admission policies are needed to meet Wisconsin’s need for a strong workforce

This week, the UW System and UW-Madison will bring a proposal to the Board of Regents to waive the enrollment cap on non-resident students, allowing a modest increase in their numbers, for the next four years while continuing to enroll at least 3,500 in-state high school grads in every freshman class.

I first started talking about this idea last spring and I am thankful that the board is considering it. It’s designed to address an acute problem facing Wisconsin businesses: a shortage of highly qualified employees.

This proposal is driven by the serious demographic challenges in the state of Wisconsin. The number of Wisconsin high school graduates peaked at 71,000 in 2009 and has been falling since. For 2015 there are projected to be only 64,100 high school graduates, and the number is expected to remain virtually flat over the following five years and fall even further in the future (figure 1).

High School Graduate Projection

At the same time, the number of working-age citizens is declining, a problem that will only worsen as the number of high school graduates declines (figure 2). Many businesses indicate they are challenged to find workers. A ready supply of skilled and able workers is often central to company location decisions.

In short, the state of Wisconsin needs to retain and attract as many young workers into the state as possible.

Wisconsin Population/Labor Force

UW-Madison is uniquely positioned to help on two fronts. First, as the highest ranked school in the state, we have the best chance to keep the very top high school students in the state for college. Many of our admittees, if they don’t come here, go to out-of-state schools. That greatly increases the likelihood they will accept jobs out of state and not return to Wisconsin. Our admissions office has stepped up its efforts to reach out to top Wisconsin students from across the state. This includes contacting high-performing students earlier (before their senior year), creating a new campus-wide “Experience Wisconsin” event for around 1,000 invited recruits, bringing top admitted Wisconsin students to special events like the Chancellor’s Reception, and partnering with alumni volunteers to identify and court prospective Wisconsin students.

In the face of declining numbers of high school graduates, our commitment to enroll at least 3,500 Wisconsin freshmen is a commitment to this state. We actually enrolled fewer freshmen in 2009, the year high school graduates peaked, and we have been at or above 3,500 in every year since then. If high school graduates continue to decline, we will be enrolling an increasing share of the high school class in Wisconsin. That means we’ll have to work hard to recruit the best and the brightest Wisconsin high school grads to come to Madison. (It is also worth noting that UW-Madison regularly enrolls another 700 to 800 Wisconsin residents each year as transfer students, and it will continue to enroll these students as well.)

Our second responsibility is equally important. As one of the top-ranked schools in the nation, we attract highly skilled young people from around the world to Wisconsin. This is an opportunity for the state to retain these individuals after they graduate.

It’s not a surprise that Wisconsin residents are more likely to stay in the state following graduation. Among our Wisconsin students, 72 percent are in the state in the year following graduation. Among non-resident students, 15 percent stayed in Wisconsin in the year following graduation in 2014. We’re partnering with UW System to do all we can to raise those numbers. That means collaborating with Wisconsin-based businesses and industry groups like Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce or the Wisconsin Technology Council. We need more Wisconsin businesses engaged at UW-Madison, sponsoring events, offering internships, and getting known by students before job interviews in their senior year. If students know Wisconsin companies, they are more likely to be interested in interviewing with them and working for them.

Given today’s demographics, the 27.5 percent enrollment limit for non-residents no longer makes sense at UW-Madison, particularly as the number of high school graduates in Wisconsin declines. UW-Madison is highly competitive nationally and internationally for undergraduates, but is one of the few schools in the Big Ten that has a policy that limits nonresident enrollment. Removing this limit will allow UW-Madison to compete on a level playing field with peer universities nationally.

Should the board approve our recommendation, there would not be a drastic change in our enrollment profile. We estimate that with our current classroom and housing capacity we can accommodate a few hundred more non-resident students per year.

The request to the Board of Regents is to waive this enrollment limit for four years. We’ll need to report regularly on what we’re doing. Critics have charged that we are doing this only for budgetary reasons. It is true that there are budget advantages to this proposal, which can’t be overlooked in the current higher education climate. But the demographics in Wisconsin clearly show that this is a policy change that we should be making in any case regardless of the budget situation.

It is worth noting that if we continue to enroll Wisconsin students in about the same numbers as the past, this ensures access to UW-Madison. This fall, our admission rate for Wisconsin high school grads was more than 67 percent, and that’s the average admission rate among Wisconsin applicants over the past 20 years. In short, Wisconsin students who apply to UW-Madison have a good chance of getting in, far above the 42 percent admission rate among non-Wisconsin students.

By shifting from a percentage to a numerical enrollment requirement for Wisconsin residents, we will be able to focus on recruiting talented Wisconsin students and encouraging their enrollment, while also allowing Wisconsin businesses to benefit from our strong out-of-state applicant pool.

New e-newsletter highlights partnerships across state

As many of you know, recently I have been visiting some of Wisconsin’s major industries and drawing the linkages between what businesses and researchers accomplish together.

To build on those efforts, today we launch the first issue of Wisconsin Ideas, an email newsletter that shares some of the ways UW-Madison works throughout the state. 


We want to show how people everywhere in the state connect with the university and our research. Many understand our education mission, but fewer understand our research mission, which is absolutely central to Wisconsin. It affects our economy, our health and our quality of life. 

The first issue highlights some of these examples, such as the work we do with Oshkosh Corp., which employs about 100 of our alumni and has a strong history of collaboration with our College of Engineering. Oshkosh recently won a multi-billion dollar defense contract to build a safer, more mobile combat vehicle that will take the place of thousands of Humvees. 

In addition to presenting stories of collaboration and success through research, we are sharing ways in which people, businesses and organizations throughout Wisconsin can engage the university. 

These collaborations are the heart of the Wisconsin Idea. Every university where I have been supports outreach. I’ve never been to a place where that’s built into the DNA as closely as it is here, and I believe it’s critical to our success. 

I invite you to subscribe to this blog to receive the newsletter, which we are sharing with business, community and government leaders throughout the state.

Thank you and On, Wisconsin!

Blank remarks on AAU sexual assault survey

Chancellor Blank shared the following remarks at a Monday news conference about the release of UW-Madison information from the American Association of Universities Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct. View complete details about the university’s participation in the study.

“Thank you all for being here this morning. We’re here to share new information that will help us further strengthen our response to one of the most important issues facing the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and campuses across the country.

Sexual assault concerns me deeply, not just as the leader of this university, but as the mother of a college sophomore. The question on the mind of every parent dropping their son or daughter off at college is always “Will they be safe here?”

I want to state unambiguously that every student has the right to be safe. Sexual violence and misconduct is unacceptable. Far too many sexual assaults are still happening, at UW and at campuses across the country. Continue reading

Cool new research data center comes to UW Campus

It’s no secret that I love data.

My background is in microeconomics, analyzing government data on labor markets, economic well-being and public policy. It wasn’t by accident that I got hired to be the Undersecretary for Economic Affairs at the U.S. Department of Commerce in 2009. Among other things, that meant overseeing the data collection and reporting efforts of the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Statistics. From my perspective, there was nothing more fun than getting briefed on the details of the latest GDP release or the latest income statistics.

So I am excited about the opening of the Wisconsin Federal Statistical Research Data Center (FSRDC) on our campus. The center, located on the third floor of the Sewell Social Sciences Building, will be dedicated on Sept. 21.

The FSRDC allows researchers to access data available only to those with certified and valuable research projects. Among other things, it allows researchers to merge administrative data with survey information.

This is a highly collaborative interdisciplinary endeavor with faculty from six schools and colleges – Agricultural and Life Sciences, Business, Education, Human Ecology, Letters & Science, and Medicine and Public Health – participating in the research.

While 23 FSRDCs have been opened at other universities, this is the first to be opened without funding from the National Science Foundation. Instead, those six schools and colleges pooled resources to fund the center. This center grew entirely from the commitment of our dedicated faculty and staff. Their determination to bring this critical research tool to UW–Madison was sufficient to defeat some major challenges along the way.

This facility will serve researchers throughout the state, both within and outside of the UW System. Prior to this, researchers had to travel to Chicago or Minneapolis to access the data.

Ultimately, the work done at the FSRDC will yield new insights that can help our national and state leaders to make the best possible decisions about how and where to invest public resources. It will provide valuable data to study demographic change, economic circumstances, health issues and the impact and operation of public policies.

These FSRDCs are all about providing more data and better data. To a social scientist like myself, that’s about the most exciting thing you can make happen.

The facility will be officially kicked off with an event at 1 p.m. Monday in Union South. If you are interested in learning more about the FSRDC, go to (

Morgridge Match exceeds all expectations

I am very pleased to announce the results of a major gift which invests in the future of the university and which is already having positive impacts across campus. As you may recall, last fall, two of the university’s most generous benefactors, John and Tashia Morgridge, made the largest individual gift in the university’s history – $100 million – to match gifts from other donors who wished to endow a professorship, chair, or distinguished chair.

Chair and professorship funds help us recruit and retain outstanding faculty members by providing the status of a chaired and named professorship, such as the Hilldale and Bascom professorships. Endowed chairs pay out funds which are used to pay a share of salary and provide research funding to the person holding the chair. We cannot fund named faculty chairs with state or tuition dollars or with federal dollars. Only donor dollars can provide this resource.

The Morgridge gift matched dollars from other donors to establish an endowment for a new named chair or to increase the endowment of a previously established chair, funded at a lower level. This allowed a donor to give $1 million and fund a $2 million endowed chair, with a name selected by the donor.

When the Morgridges’ challenge was publicly announced, I had a number of conversations, guessing how long it would take us to match $100 million. Most people (myself included) figured that it would take us two to three years to fully utilize this gift.

But I should never underestimate the support and generosity of Badger alumni. Within five months of the gift announcement, interest was so strong in this matching program that the Morgridges agreed to match anyone who made a commitment by June 8 rather than holding to a cap of $100 million. Ultimately, by the deadline date and only seven months after the gift was announced, more than 1,000 generous donors stepped forward (individually or in groups) to make an investment in the current and future faculty of the University of Wisconsin, providing more than $124 million in matching dollars.

By the time these gifts are paid, rather than 142 fully endowed professorships and chairs, we will have 300. The ability this provides for us to retain and attract top talent is transformative.

In total, the Morgridge Match effort has generated nearly $250 million in new endowment dollars for the university. These gifts will be invested in the UW Foundation’s endowment and once fully funded, will generate more than $11 million in annual payments to schools and colleges for the faculty who hold these chairs.

Every school and college received at least one new or enhanced chair from the Morgridge Match and the positive effect of these gifts is being felt across campus. For example, the brand new Department of Emergency Medicine in the School of Medicine and Public Health was able to create two endowed chairs in its first year, adding remarkable momentum to its rapid national ascendency. The School of Education has enhanced its endowment for two chairs, which are helping to retain the most sought-after and experienced scholars in the education field. L&S, our largest college at the UW–Madison with more than 750 faculty members, will now have 41 new fully endowed chairs and professorships in departments from History to Computer Sciences.

At UW–Madison, our base budget is like a chair with four legs: public investment through tax dollars; tuition and fees; grant funding (primarily federal dollars) for research; and philanthropy. Without any one of those four sources of funds, the chair collapses.

Over generations, Wisconsin taxpayers have invested in this institution, building it into a world-class place of higher education and research. The state funding and tuition dollars we receive through the biennial budget process pays our faculty and staff, maintains our buildings, and provides financial aid to students with need. In other words, it is absolutely crucial to being able to function as a university.

Funding that we receive from private individuals or companies helps us to leverage our state and tuition dollars. Private donors typically want to fund things that would not happen without their support, often things for which we do not have other dollars available. This includes such items as the renovation of Memorial Union, core support for research centers, dollars for internships or public outreach, or named chairs for our top faculty.

I am incredibly appreciative of the generosity of John and Tashia Morgridge and of every donor who participated in the Morgridge Match. Thank you all! This campus is blessed by your support and generosity.

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)