Welcome back

I love walking around campus in late August and seeing the mix of new and returning students arriving on campus, parents dropping off freshmen at the dorms, and faculty and staff getting ready for the semester. There’s a sense of energy and possibility that comes from a new academic year.

For those who were here all summer, you already know that it was an active and eventful several months. For those of you just returning, I want to offer a brief recap of campus headlines you may have missed over the summer.

First, we’re lucky to have welcomed a number of new leaders to key positions, most notably the addition of Lori Reesor as our vice chancellor for student affairs. This is a new position. Lori is primarily charged with providing leadership in thinking and planning strategically around student life issues. Lisa Carter joined us as our new head librarian, and Lois Brooks is our new Chief Information Officer who will be helping restructure and improve our IT infrastructure.

Also, as of July 1, we welcomed back Cooperative Extension, Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR), Wisconsin Public Television (WPT), UW-Extension Conference Centers and Mailing Services, and the Department of Labor Education.  There is still major work to complete the transition of all of these employees to UW-Madison…this will bring 958 new staff into our campus.

You will notice a number of construction projects across campus, a change in the campus landscape that shows progress on many fronts. Construction on the expansion and renovation of the Chemistry Building will begin this month. In July, work began on an addition and renovation to Babcock Hall that will house the new Center for Dairy Research and moderninze the Babcock facility. The new UW Meat Sciences and Animal Biologics Discovery Building will be finished next year. The “Nick,” or Nicolas Recreation Center (formerly known as the SERF) project is well underway. It’s scheduled to open in early 2020.

On the corner of Lake Street and University Avenue, you will notice the Hamel Music Center taking shape; it’s scheduled for completion in 2019. You’ll notice a new connecting tower at Witte Hall, along with a new 11th floor and many renovations on floors 8, 9, and 10. The presence of construction equipment and cranes is a sign that our campus is thriving.

I had the pleasure of visiting a number of communities around the state this summer, including Beloit, Eau Claire, Waukesha and Milwaukee. Meanwhile, our deans fanned out across the state on outreach trips as well. Letters & Science Dean Karl Scholz was in Milwaukee; Veterinary Medicine Dean Mark Markel visited Sheboygan; Nursing Dean Linda Scott was in Wausau; CALS Dean Kathryn VandenBosch in southwest Wisconsin; School of Medicine and Public Health Dean Robert Golden in Green Bay; and Engineering Dean Ian Robertson in the Fox Valley.

This outreach is especially important this year, as the Governor and Legislature will once again take up the biennial budget deliberations that will determine the state’s contribution to UW-Madison over the next two years. We need to build relationships, reinforce the reasons that it is imperative for Wisconsin to continue investing in UW, and correct misperceptions about us. You’ll be hearing more about our plans for outreach around the budget, once the November election is over.

Finally, in case you missed the headlines, last week we announced a $100 million gift from Foxconn Technology Group and indicated our intentions to partner on a variety of research projects in engineering, health, and computer and data science. Part of this gift will be used to help us construct a new building for the College of Engineering to house research and teaching. Foxconn is building a science and technology institute at the company’s facilities in southeast Wisconsin; we have agreed to have a presence there while they will partner with us on research done here. If we build this partnership well, both UW and Foxconn can accelerate work on key scientific areas of shared interest, which can help innovations move more quickly from the lab to the marketplace, create jobs and help to drive Wisconsin’s economy.

In conjunction with the Foxconn gift, I also announced a targeted subcampaign as part of our larger All Ways Forward campaign to raise $200 million to advance research and innovation in engineering, computer and data science, and human health. The Foxconn gift essentially pledges the first 50 percent of funds for this campaign. We want this effort to build our capacity in these key areas.

The numbers for this semester won’t be finalized for a while, but we are estimating that we will once again set a record for the largest incoming freshman class ever this this fall. Plus, we are welcoming over a 1000 new transfer students. Our incoming students hail from 48 states (only Wyoming and West Virginia are missing) and 45 countries, although the majority are from Wisconsin. We also expect to welcome a greater number of students from under-represented groups in this class than in the past.

And there’s much to look forward to in the coming year. We just announced a second group of cluster hires, and will do a call for another round of proposals this academic year. We’re announcing a new Target of Opportunity faculty hiring program. Our faculty and staff will all receive a total of a 4 percent pay raise from the state this year (2 percent came as of July 1, and another 2 percent will come on Jan 1). We raised graduate student stipends 13 percent over last year, finally putting them near the median among our peers.  And we’re working hard to get word out across the state about Bucky’s Tuition Promise, which aims to make it affordable for any lower-income student from Wisconsin who is admitted to attend.

As I told an audience last week, “It’s a very good time to be at UW-Madison.” I look forward to seeing you all around campus as the semester begins.