A last look back on 2015

The year 2015 has certainly been an eventful time at UW-Madison.

We’ve lived through state budget cuts and continue to work on new policies that appropriately respond to changes in state statutes related to tenure. While these developments have been significant and challenging on many levels, and they have generated extensive headlines, they are only a part of the story for this University over the past year.

As we embark on a new year, I’d like to take a moment to note that the many amazing and positive developments on campus this past semester that have received less coverage.

For instance:

  • For the second year in a row, UW-Madison was named one of the world’s top 25 universities by the Academic Ranking of World Universities. The other U.S publics on this list are UC-Berkeley, UCLA, UCSD, and Michigan.
  • We continue to be a place of world-changing research, and are the only university ranked in the top 5 in total research expenditures every year since NSF started reporting that data in 1972.
  • We have great students and much to be proud of on the student achievement front, which reflects the hard work of our faculty, staff and, of course, students. Our four-year graduation rate at UW–Madison is 60.3 percent, better than the 57 percent average for all AAU publics, while our six-year graduation rate is 85.1 percent vs. 78 percent for all AAU publics. (AAU is the American Association of Universities, comprised of the top 62 research universities in the U.S.)
  • We were recognized by the Education Trust for extraordinary improvements over the last decade in graduation rates and in closing the graduation gap between underrepresented students and white students. Among more than 1,300 institutions nationwide, we were in the top 15 in progress toward closing the graduation gap.
  • Graduate student Colin Higgins was selected as a Rhodes scholar – one of only 32 in the nation, and the third from UW-Madison in the last four years. Senior Bill Mulligan was a finalist for the award.
  • Senior Chandler Davis was a semi-finalist for the inaugural class of the Schwarzman Scholars Program, which funds a one-year master’s degree program at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

There are far too many faculty and staff achievements to mention in a short blog post, but I want to recognize a few that were particularly noteworthy.

  • Associate professor of anthropology John Hawks and his team’s discovery in a South African cave of bones from a previously unknown human ancestor, Homo naledi.
  • “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” a book by Craig Werner, chair of the Afro-American Studies program, and Doug Bradley, a retired academic staff member and distinguished lecturer, has been selected by Rolling Stone magazine as the best book about music in 2015.
  • Tim Frandy, an outreach specialist at the Collaborative Center for Health Equity, based at the UW–Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, has been working with Wisconsin’s tribal communities to develop innovative approaches for improving Native American health statewide, a major priority.
  • Scandinavian Studies professor James Leary has been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Album Notes for his collection “Folksongs of Another America: Field Recordings from the Upper Midwest, 1937-1946.”

Having recognized a number of faculty and student-related accomplishments, there are two other groups to which it’s important to give particular recognition:

Our University Staff members support our campus operations on a daily basis, helping to house, feed, and protect our community and maintain our facilities, among many other roles across campus. They do a super job, occasionally under difficult circumstances.

Similarly, our Academic Staff members provide vital instruction, outreach, administrative management and scientific expertise, among many other important duties.

Both University and Academic Staff are central to the success of everything that we do. If you’re a faculty member or a student, when you get back to campus after January 1, I’d encourage you to say ‘thank you’ to a staff member who you see and whose help you rely upon.

I also want to acknowledge our human resources leadership team and their work to ensure a smooth transition to a new HR system this year. This new system, designed specifically for UW-Madison, will help position the university to continue to be one of the world’s preeminent universities.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the biggest, and most potentially transformative, developments of this semester was the launch of our comprehensive campaign, All Ways Forward, including the transformative Morgridge Match. The goal of the campaign is to focus resources in four core areas: student support, the educational experience, faculty excellence, and research and innovation.

A successful campaign will strengthen our ability to continue attracting top-notch teachers and researchers, who in turn make us more competitive for federal research dollars and help us to attract more of the best faculty, staff and students.

Many of UW’s strengths and excellent work in education and research and outreach have been too often ignored in the past tumultuous 12 months. Yes, we have challenges (like all other big public universities), but we also have a long history of excellence that has survived many past challenges.

I believe our institution will continue to thrive, thanks to the efforts of our students, faculty and staff.

I’d like to wish everyone a happy new year. I look forward to seeing all of you on campus in 2016. As Wisconsin’s motto states: Forward!