Welcome back to Fall 2014

One of the things I love most about working on a campus is the bustle of activity that comes each year when students return in the fall. Nothing equals the rush of energy, anticipation, and enthusiasm that accompanies the beginning of an academic year.

In this post, I want to take a few moments to look back, but then, turn toward the future to a year that I believe is full of promise for UW.

My own summer has been bookended by two moves. My husband Hanns and daughter Emily officially moved here in mid-June after Emily finished her final year of high school, so I’m happily done with commuting back to Washington, D.C. But we’re now preparing to drive Emily to her first year of college. In between, it’s been a busy summer here in Bascom, but I did have time to participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge in support of UW’s groundbreaking ALS research. I hope your own summer was equally productive and also relaxing.

Much of my first year on this job was spent meeting with and listening to faculty, staff, and students on campus, key leaders around the state, and alumni. A number of new initiatives moved forward over this past year, such as our new federal relations office in D.C., changes in commencement, and progress toward a new budget model (read a description of some of last year’s activities). It’s good to be starting my second year on the job, and I look forward to working with many of you on the challenges and opportunities ahead of us. 

I’m delighted with the leadership team in place at Bascom Hall. I’m excited to begin collaborating with Sarah Mangelsdorf, who has joined us as provost and chief academic officer, moving here from Northwestern, where she was the dean of the liberal arts college. She has already proven herself as a skilled administrator.

Marsha Mailick, whom many of you already know, is our new interim vice chancellor for research and graduate education. Over the summer we said goodbye to former Provost Paul M. DeLuca, Jr. and to Martin Cadwallader, vice chancellor for research and dean of the Graduate School, and celebrated the good work they did as leaders at UW.

In addition, we have welcomed two new deans (Guido Podesta in International Studies and Steve Swanson in Pharmacy). Ben Miller is our new director of federal relations.  John Lucas is the new director of University Communications, and Aaron Olver will be starting in early September as the director of the University Research Park.

As I look forward to the coming year at UW, there are a number of opportunities for us to seize upon, and a host of challenges to deal with. I’ll mention these briefly, and expect that I’ll write about many of these topics in more detail in the months to come.

As in any year, budget issues are front and center. The university is facing a challenging budget climate in the coming biennium. The UW System has proposed a budget that would provide additional funding, but we need to persuade the state legislature that these funds are vital to our education and research missions.

Depending upon how the budget debate is resolved by next spring, some cost-cutting measures may need to be taken. We have significantly reduced our reserves, as the legislature asked in the spring of 2013. We used these reserve funds to replace budget reductions in the current biennium, but that tactic is not sustainable. You will be hearing more about this challenge from Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Darrell Bazzell and myself in the near future.

As a leading higher education institution, we must keep pushing the boundaries of educational innovation and experimentation, evaluating what new technologies are most effective, and implementing successful models. There are interesting experiments going on across campus in this space. I am particularly enthusiastic about our latest round of MOOCs, which incorporate the shared theme of sustainability and the environment, including one covering the land ethic of Wisconsin’s own Aldo Leopold.

A key purpose of education is to prepare our students for the world beyond our campus borders. One of the important experiences that college should provide is to give students experience working with people whose ideas and experiences may be quite different from their own. Campus diversity has real educational dividends. Last spring, a governance committee released a Diversity Framework, containing a series of recommendations and ideas for making sure that the UW community reflects the diversity of the world around us. The implementation of this plan is something you’ll be hearing more about in the near future.

There are two major management changes that will be moving forward during the academic year. First, as you know, the state gave us the ability to establish our own HR system, effective July 2015. This will allow us to operate a modern HR system that meets the needs of a university community. While the detailed model for a new system has been worked out in extensive previous discussions, you will want to pay attention to the preparations that will go into the launch of the new system.

Second, a governance committee last fall strongly recommended that we develop and implement a new budget model for the distribution of resources to the schools and colleges. A Budget Model Development Committee has been working through the summer to develop specific recommendations. We’ll be talking about those recommendations and seeking campus input this coming fall.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the comprehensive fundraising campaign. Working closely with the UW Foundation and the Wisconsin Alumni Association, we plan to launch the fourth comprehensive campaign in the UW’s history next year.

As private support will continue to play an increasingly important role in the UW’s budget, we are very fortunate to have a passionate base of alumni and friends who have generously supported the university over many years. Our deans have been working with faculty and staff to put together their vision and their priorities for private donor fundraising, and I am working on the development of a university-wide set of goals and priorities. I will be spending a substantial amount of my time meeting with alumni and friends in cities across the U.S. this year, to share ideas, hear feedback, and help build excitement for our upcoming campaign.

This is a preview of only a small number of the activities and issues that you’ll be hearing more about in the coming academic year. I’d encourage you to stay tuned in to our efforts and progress, which will be shared in future posts and issues of Inside UW, our faculty and staff e-newsletter.

Thanks to our staff and faculty for all that you’ll be doing in the year ahead to advance education and research at UW. And welcome back to all of our students. On, Wisconsin!