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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Blank’s Slate: Archive

Women’s Hockey ‘culture of excellence’ shines, despite loss

It was a heartbreaking ending Friday night at the semi-finals of the women’s hockey Frozen Four in Minneapolis. As you might know, the Badger women fought through two overtimes, but finally lost to Colgate 4-3. It was the second longest game in our program’s history.

I was honored to be there for every last shot, along with hundreds of red-dressed Badger fans, a good representation from the band, and (of course) Bucky.

While it was a disappointment to fall a goal short of reaching the NCAA national title game, I want to appreciate the culture of excellence in this program, which continues to achieve great things nearly every season. They’ve won four titles and have 11 appearances at the Frozen Four since 2006. And I’m confident we’ll be back to earn our fifth very soon. Continue reading

Getting the word out on Bucky’s Tuition Promise

I wrote an op-ed about Bucky’s Tuition Promise and it recently appeared in several local newspapers around the state. We launched the program as one of many efforts to dispel the myth that UW-Madison is unaffordable or unattainable for Wisconsin residents. I encourage you to share it with any prospective students or families who may be interested in becoming a Badger!

With ‘Bucky’s Tuition Promise,’ UW-Madison’s commitment to Wisconsin students expands

Over the last several years, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has taken several steps to ensure that an education at the state’s flagship public university is accessible to Wisconsin students and affordable for their families. I’m very pleased to let you know that we’re expanding on that commitment. It’s called Bucky’s Tuition Promise, and here’s how it works.

Beginning this fall, incoming freshmen and transfer students from Wisconsin households with adjusted gross incomes of $56,000 or less will receive free tuition and segregated fees. For freshmen, that is a commitment of eight consecutive semesters tuition free, and for transfer students it’s up to four semesters free.

We’re doing this because we know many low- and middle-income families in Wisconsin are simply uncertain whether they can afford to send their child to UW-Madison. We don’t want even one Wisconsin high school student to automatically rule us out for financial reasons. Our goal is to ensure that anyone who is admitted can afford to be a Badger.

We’ve made eligibility as simple and straightforward as possible. It is based solely on one line from a family’s income tax form, called adjusted gross income. We chose $56,000 because it is roughly the state median household income. There are no other qualifying factors and no separate application process. All the information we need is contained in an applicant’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

I want to especially point out that only income, not assets, will be used to determine eligibility. This is important in an agricultural state where many farm families may have high reported assets but low incomes. We also know that, broadly speaking, incomes in rural areas have not kept pace with those in larger metro areas. We want this effort to be a boon for families in smaller towns and rural parts of the state. We believe we’ve structured it to achieve that goal.

With Bucky’s Tuition Promise, we are thrilled to be able to guarantee that students from so many Wisconsin families will know that their tuition is covered if they attend UW-Madison. You can read more about our promise at Or drop us a line with your financial aid questions to

2017-18 Budget in Brief is available

One of the things I requested when I arrived in 2013 was a short and straightforward document that showed where our money comes from at UW-Madison and how we spend it. The result was the Budget in Brief, which we have now produced every year for four years. The latest Budget in Brief was just released.

This is an easily digestible document that provides information on state revenues, research funding, our auxiliary operations, student financial aid, and UW’s statewide economic impact and commitment to Wisconsin students.

After receiving cuts in five of the last six budget cycles, UW System received a slight increase in the 2017-19 budget bill. UW-Madison receives about 15 percent of its overall revenue from state tax dollars. The state portion of our funding is approved by the state legislature and signed into law by the governor.

Using easy-to-interpret graphics, charts and text, the Budget in Brief tells our budget story. For instance, did you know that our administrative support costs, which include general administrative services, legal and fiscal operations, purchasing, printing and IT, are only 3 percent of our total expenses? That is second lowest among Big Ten universities. And did you know that out of more than 8,000 Wisconsin residents who applied for admission in the fall of 2017, more than two out of three were admitted?

These are the kinds of facts you’ll find in the Budget in Brief, which is the product of a collaboration between the Office of University Relations, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration, and the Office of Academic Planning and Institutional Research.

If you would like to receive a printed copy please email You can find it online on the UW-Madison state budget webpage.

Chancellor Blank remarks to the UW System Board of Regents

As prepared for delivery, Feb. 8. (See Chancellor Blank slides.)

There are a lot of good things happening at UW-Madison.

We’ve been focused on expanding revenues through entrepreneurial efforts of our own, and we have new revenues that we are using to make a few long-overdue investments, as I’ll talk about in a minute. This is the first year since I’ve arrived that we haven’t been dealing with budget cuts.

It’s also a year when demand for what we do at UW-Madison is higher than it’s ever been. Our preliminary numbers indicate that undergraduate applications have increased by more than 20% this year, with increases in applications from Wisconsin (+6%), Minnesota (+17%), as well as non-residents (approximately 30%).

And it’s a year when the number of outside offers to our faculty appears finally to be back to normal after several years of extensive efforts by other universities to raid our best faculty. It’s a year when it feels like we’re moving forward.

And, as usual, it’s a year when our students, staff, and faculty have achieved some pretty amazing things; including, I might note, a great Badger football season.

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blanks speaks during her presentation at the UW System Board of Regents meeting hosted at Union South at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Feb. 8, 2018. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

I’ve often opened this talk by telling you about the many good things happening around campus but because my time is short, I’m not going to do that today. We’ve provided you with handouts showcasing some of our outstanding recent accomplishments and I hope you’ll look at those.

I want to use the next 30 minutes in a different way.

We are at a moment where there is a debate about the role of universities in our society. A recent survey found a substantial number of people who said that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country. This despite the fact that all the economic data suggests that those with a two year or four year college degree will have the best chance of finding jobs with decent wages and a low chance of unemployment.

But I don’t want to talk about higher education in general, I want to talk about UW-Madison, the flagship university of this state. UW-Madison has come in for its share of criticism over the years, some of it well-justified. But we attract higher quality students than any other school in Wisconsin, public or private.  We are among the best research institutions in the country. And we are regularly ranked among the top public universities in the U.S.

The primary question I want to address: Why does it matter that Wisconsin is home to one of the nation’s top-ranked research and educational institutions?  There are a lot of other good schools in the state, so why does it matter to the state and its citizens that the flagship university is among the best in the country?

Let me suggest five answers to that question.

  • UW-Madison provides access to a world-class education for Wisconsin students.
  • Students can earn a degree from one of the top-ranked public universities in the nation for $10,533 in tuition/fees per year.
  • The only higher-ranked public in the Big Ten is the University of Michigan. But if you’re a Wisconsin resident and want to attend Michigan, it will cost you more than $47,000 a year in tuition/fees.
  • Of course, you could go to the University of Minnesota, given our reciprocity agreement. But that will cost you $4,000 more in annual tuition…$16,000 more for a 4-year degree… and they’re ranked number 25, well below us.
  • This access to excellence is important to keep our best students in this state. We are committed to making it possible for every qualified Wisconsin applicant to attend.
  • As the Regents know, we guarantee a minimum of 3,600 Wisconsin students in every freshman class
    • This year we have more than 3,700
  • Our admit rate among in-state applicants is typically about 2/3
  • Less than half of out-of-state students are admitted
  • It’s particularly important that we keep the best students from Wisconsin here at UW-Madison. Especially in higher-income families, students now do a national search for colleges. Fifty years ago, we could expect that most of the best students in the state would come to UW-Madison; now they look at public and private colleges across the nation.
  • And once they leave the state for college, they are much more likely to take first jobs and establish careers elsewhere.
  • We’ve started Wisconsin PRIME to keep the state’s best students in Wisconsin.
  • PRIME targets Wisconsin high school students with top grades and an ACT score of 30 or higher; our goal is to reach 800 students with high-touch recruiting to communicate why a top student would want to attend Madison. I had lunch with some of this year’s PRIME candidates last week.
  • We’ve just started this program, but think we’re on the right track. Our share of Wisconsin applicants with an ACT score of 30 and above rose by 7% last year, our first year of PRIME.
  • The more of these excellent students we attract to UW-Madison and keep in Wisconsin for college, the easier it will be for Wisconsin’s businesses to recruit them into jobs.
  • We bring more highly skilled young adults into WI from outside the state than any other institution.
  • We have almost 20,000 graduate & undergrad students on this campus (19,796) who come from outside of Wisconsin. No other institution in the state attracts highly talented individuals to Wisconsin in such large numbers.
  • We are choosing these students from a growing pool of out-of-state applicants.
  • Good marketing and great reputation have driven out-of-state applications up more than 70% in the past decade. Our preliminary numbers show they’re up nearly 30% this year alone.
  • We are extremely selective in our out-of-state admissions … last year we admitted less than half of our non-resident applicants – far below the admission rate for our Wisconsin applicants.
  • Over the next five years, we are looking at expanding our freshman class a little by tapping into this deep pool of talent. This in no way lessens our commitment to Wisconsin freshmen. But at a time when the number of Wisconsin high school students is stagnant or declining, growth is going to have to come from out-of-state.
  • Expanding non-resident enrollment is both smart for the university and good for the state. Our out-of-state students, including our international students, bring more diversity to our student body and that improves the educational experience for Wisconsin students. It prepares them better to compete for top jobs in global companies, where the ability to work with diverse colleagues is highly valued.
  • Furthermore, the deep pool of students from elsewhere that we bring to Wisconsin is a recruitment opportunity for state businesses and an opportunity to keep at least some of this talent in the state after they graduate. A Wisconsin business that wants to recruit a top engineer or an excellent writer is much more likely to land them if they’ve spent the last four years here than if they’ve never come to Wisconsin before their job interview.
  • One year after graduation, about 22% of our non-resident students have a job here in Wisconsin. This is a number that represents thousands of high-skilled workers, most of whom would not be here if they hadn’t come to UW-Madison. It’s also a number that’s been growing.
  • We at UW-Madison can’t force people to stay in the state after they graduate. But we deliver a deep pool of talented prospects to state businesses. And we will continue to partner with Wisconsin recruiters to showcase all the reasons to stay and work in this state.
  • For instance, Dean Karl Scholz earlier today in the REDI committee described his extensive new efforts to increase career counseling and industry partnerships with the College of Letters and Science, which serves the majority of our undergraduates.
  • UW-Madison is not just the biggest research entity in the state … it’s the sixth biggest research entity in the country. Why is this good for the state? Three reasons:
  • First, Wisconsin residents benefit directly from much of this work, whether it involves modern dairy herd management or more effective cancer treatments. Because this innovation occurs in the state, much of the early knowledge from this research benefits state residents and businesses first. This aspect of UW-Madison is an important attraction for FoxConn, for example.
  • We’re in a number of conversations with FoxConn about potential research partnerships. They are particularly interested in our outstanding work on artificial intelligence (our AI program is ranked in the top 20 nationally) … our research and development of automated vehicles (we’re one of just 10 programs in the nation) … and our world-class cancer research.
  • They have a good sense of the extraordinary talent on this campus – in part because their Director of US Strategic Initiatives, Alan Yeung, is a UW-Madison graduate.
  • Second, this research provides partnerships with industry that helps them stay on the cutting edge of technologies in their field. Companies want to be located near research universities.
  • Third, this research spurs start-ups.
  • We’ve identified 362 Wisconsin start-up companies based on UW-Madison discoveries and innovations and that number grows each year.
  • Beyond the innovation benefits of a research university, there are major economic benefits as well.
  • We bring more than $1 billion into Wisconsin in federal and private research funding. This is money that is largely spent here, primarily to create jobs and buy materials. Based on our research enterprise alone, we are one of Wisconsin’s largest employers and a major source of jobs and spending in the state, largely funded by outside revenues.
  • We also bring more than $300 million into Wisconsin from out-of-state tuition revenues every year, which is spent on jobs and services here.
  • This is particularly striking because people often think of us as a public entity. But only 15% of our revenue comes from the state. We are much more like a private company – except very few other companies bring $1.4 billion into the state every year.
  • That money creates significant economic activity, jobs and tax revenues.
  • For every $1 of state investment, the university generates $24 in economic activity.
  • I want to be clear that the economic benefits of the research dollars we bring into the state benefit communities across the state. It’s not just Madison that gets these dollars … they’re used to buy goods and services statewide.
  • The map shows UW-Madison research expenditures across WI counties over 3 years (2013-2016). We buy equipment, supplies and technology from across the state and out-source work to local businesses.
  • It isn’t by chance that the concept of state outreach from the public university to the state emerged more strongly at UW-Madison than anywhere else in the country.
  • We coined the phrase the Wisconsin Idea to embody that commitment…that the university’s boundaries are not the campus, but the state.
  • We started extension programs before the Federal government created the Coop Extension Service.
  • We started the first public radio station in the country – 100 years ago.
  • We initiated some of the earliest public weather forecasting for farmers … and became the birthplace of weather satellite technology.
  • A few examples of what we do today:
  • Our College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is deeply involved with almost every agricultural group in the state;
  • The School of Medicine and Public Health places medical students in rural Wisconsin communities every year to help address the physician shortage;
  • The School of Veterinary Medicine provides guidance to veterinarians, farmers, and pet owners across Wisconsin, and also cares for police dogs throughout the state.
  • Our Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research created the Northwoods Tour that took them across the state to share technology and expertise with local historians and families wanting to digitize their precious artifacts – from historic posters to home movies.
  • Our re-integration with Cooperative Extension will only strengthen/expand these efforts.
  • We look forward to welcoming Coop Extension back to UW-Madison, and finding ways to strengthen both their outreach mission and our own by working together.


In talking about all that UW-Madison does in this state, I’m not disrepecting any of the other excellent institutions of higher education, in the System or elsewhere in the state. This isn’t meant to take anything away from the ways in which they serve their students and the state. We are all partners in one of the best public higher education systems in the country. But UW-Madison has some unique features that matter to this state, that have been important to its past economic and civic success, and that need to be valued.

There is no economically successful area of the country that does not have a major research and educational institution in its midst. For UW-Madison to continue to provide value to the state, it needs to retain its reputation and its quality. Making sure that happens is my highest priority as chancellor.

  • So let me segue into a discussion about what we’re doing on campus to make sure we remain one of the top public research universities.
  • Our biggest problem over the past decade has been a lack of investment dollars. Revenues among our peer public schools grew almost twice as fast as they did at UW-Madison – I’m not just talking about state dollars, but all types of revenue. As a result, we lost ground because others were investing more in their future.
  • Since arriving here, I’ve been working aggressively to expand revenues, promoting the message that we need to be entrepreneurial to generate the investment income that we need. But … parenthetically … We continue to need to be a partner with the state in funding, particularly for capital projects.
  • As I’ve told many of you more than once, we’ve developed a 6-point strategy to bring in new dollars for investment:
  1. Expand summer semester
    • Rolled out in 2016. In summer 2018 there will be 192 new courses not offered in summer 2017.
  • Brings in revenue while expanding opportunities for students
    • Finish degrees faster
    • Flexibility to take internships during semester
  1. Grow programs for professionals
  • Designed in collaboration with employers
  • In last 5 years, 40 new professional masters & capstone programs – and launching 9 new ones over the next year.
  1. Set market-based tuition
  • Reaching market levels for non-resident and professional-school tuition
  • The Regents have been a partner in making sure we can charge tuition equivalent to peers for professional schools and out-of-state students. Helps us provide the same quality of educational experience at UW that other schools provide.
  1. Grow alumni support
  • Currently in a $3.2 billion campaign, All Ways Forward
  • Nearly 3/4 of the way to goal, thanks to record participation by more than 170,000 friends/alums.
  • Not spendable income
  1. Explore student mix & numbers
  • Just talked about this – expanding non-resident undergraduate enrollment while maintaining our strong commitment to WI students is one piece.
  • We are also growing our professional schools where that makes sense.
  1. Grow research funds
  • I’ve talked about how important our research enterprise is. When I arrived our research dollars were declining, leading to a drop in our relative rankings. I’m pleased to let you know that after 3 years of declines, we’ve had two years of significant increases in research funding because of the efforts we’ve made in this area.
  • As a result, we have invested in several important new initiatives. Let me tell you about the five most important.
  • First, we announced a plan for cluster hires this fall which has generated enormous excitement across campus.
  • A cluster is a joint hire of three faculty who work on similar scientific issues but from different disciplinary perspectives. This allows us to build strength in key research areas and to hire top people by demonstrating our commitment to this field.
  • For example, one cluster created 15 years ago (the last time we ran a cluster hiring program) has advanced our neuroscience research, moving us closer to better treatments for neurological problems caused by Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injuries. That cluster has produced 17 new patents, a start-up company dedicated to translating the research into the marketplace, and $33M in grants and donor gifts.
  • We solicited proposals for cluster hires from our faculty and research centers, receiving 48 proposals involving 150 faculty from every academic school/college.
  • We’ll be funding six of these in this first round.
  • This is a partnership with WARF that provides seed funding to promising new research projects by our faculty.
  • 49 new projects funded in first two years. Examples:
  • A virtual dairy farm that gives farmers a low-cost way to try out new management techniques
  • Research on a new therapy for Alzheimer’s disease that involves editing the patient’s DNA.
  • As this research matures, the projects we’ve helped initiate through UW2020 have already attracted far more in outside research dollars than we provided as seed dollars. You can see UW2020 expanding our research portfolio.
  • Our full professors make 12.7% less than professors at our peer institutions. That’s not something to be proud of. You can’t run a great university and underpay your best people.
  • We have been able to increase the funding we provide for merit and equity increases in this past year.
  • The 4% raise approved by the state for next year will also help.
  • But we won’t get out of this problem with one or two years of investments. It will take a while to catch up. Investing in market-based compensation is a lot less expensive than replacing faculty.
  • We are also 8.5% below the peer median in our graduate student stipends. Graduate student applicants weigh a number of factors, including stipend rates, when deciding which school to attend, and lower rates put us at risk of not being competitive with other universities. Attracting strong graduate students is closely tied to attracting strong faculty. Faculty want to come to places with top students.
  • We are substantially raising our stipends this year for teaching assistants ….that will bring our stipends to around the median of our peer schools, but those schools will give raises, too, so again, solving this problem requires annual investment.
  • We have also worked to increase fellowship dollars through gifts and we’ve increased our support for graduate students from WARF dollars as well.
  • I unveiled the Badger Promise here one year ago … today, we have 139 BP students on campus. Reminder: This is a guarantee of free tuition for first-generation students who transfer to UW-Madison upon completing a degree at one of the two-year Wisconsin public schools.
  • About one-quarter are from rural Wisconsin high schools
  • More than half are underrepresented students of color
  • About a third are Pell-eligible, which means they qualify for two full years of free tuition
  • There’s one new major investment we want to announce today
  • We want to make sure that all students from Wisconsin who are admitted to UW-Madison can afford to come.
  • Over last four years, raised money to fund 1,000 new scholarships for undergrad and graduate students.
  • Directing more institutional dollars into need-based scholarships
  • We have almost tripled the dollars available for need-based scholarships over the past 10 years
  • Last year 14% of undergraduates attended UW-Madison tuition-free
  • Badger Promise helps affordability for first-generation students as well – but this isn’t enough. Many low and middle-income families in Wisconsin are simply uncertain whether they can afford tuition at UW-Madison. Complex financial aid forms make it hard for families to figure out what financial assistance they might expect. We want to simplify our message, so we’re announcing a program similar to what many of our peer schools are doing.
  • New program expands our commitment to affordability for Wisconsin families by pledging to cover four years of tuition and segregated fees for any incoming freshman from Wisconsin whose family’s annual adjusted gross income is $56K or less – roughly the median family income in Wisconsin.
  • This program will begin next fall. This are need-based grants, not loans.
  • For freshmen – 8 consecutive semesters (4 years)
  • For transfers – 4 semesters (2 years)
  • Let me be clear…students from low-income families may get more aid than this, to help cover living expenses as well as tuition. But we want an easily understandable message about the minimal level of financial aid that can be expected by low & moderate income Wisconsin families.
  • I want to note that we continue to work on expanding merit aid as well as need-based aid. Many of our peers lure top students away by offering such aid, even in the absence of need. But making sure that low and moderate-income families in Wisconsin receive aid is our first priority.
  • I know I’ll be asked how we are affording Bucky’s Tuition Promise. First, we already cover many of these expenses for many families. To expand this commitment to all eligible families, we are are redirecting some aid dollars that were used elsewhere and raising money from our alumni to cover additional costs.
  • For instance, we just announced in December that we have $10 million in matching money for need-based scholarships from John and Tashia Morgridge. When this match is completed, it will generate a $20 million endowment for need-based scholarships. The payout from this endowment will provide a substantial part of the new funding we need for this program.
  • Bucky’s Tuition Promise is just one of the ways in which we are investing in our students and in our university. A great university will not stay that way very long if we aren’t constantly investing in new ways to attract great students, to provide them with an excellent education, and to attract and retain the faculty who teach our students and who also conduct world-class research.
  • UW-Madison has been part of this state for 170 years. Our partnership with the state is central to who we are as a public university and the state’s partnership with us is central to its economic future. It’s exciting to think about all the things we can do together in the decades ahead.
  • Thank you – will take questions.

What Is UW-Madison Doing to Identify and Address Sexual Misconduct by Faculty and Staff?

In these past weeks, it’s been horrifying to listen to the testimony of over 100 young women about the sexual abuse they experienced from a doctor associated with one of our fellow Big Ten campuses. It’s been impossible for me to watch these events without asking what we at UW-Madison need to learn from this.

We have a huge and very decentralized campus. As I’ve noted before, this university – students, staff and faculty – is about the size of Janesville. Because of this size, it is inevitable that some bad things will happen here, despite all of our efforts. Indeed, we too have received reports of sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment and sexual assault, from members of our community. Let me say a few things about what we have done to respond better to these problems and our ongoing efforts at improvement. Because the MSU situation is on all of our minds, I want to talk specifically about situations in which a staff or faculty member is accused of misconduct.

Let me start with a clear statement of values: We are committed to providing a welcoming, supportive environment in which all students, faculty, and staff are able to succeed and thrive. When things happen that harm individuals in our community, we must first assist those who have been harmed with support services. We must also provide clear channels for reporting, and appropriately respond to these reports. Finally, we must work to change the culture so these behaviors are no longer tolerated in our community.

We’ve done several things in recent years to improve our response to sexual misconduct among staff and faculty. In 2015, we hired a full-time Title IX coordinator within the Office of Compliance, who is coordinating our response to reports of sexual misconduct. (Title IX is the legislation that guides educational institutions’ responses to these charges.) We created a campus specific policy on sexual harassment and sexual violence that’s been endorsed by the staff and faculty governance groups.

Furthermore, over this past year we created and implemented mandatory training for all faculty and staff on sexual harassment and sexual violence. Over 93 percent of our workforce have completed training. This training must be completed for employees to receive any future wage increase. The training clearly describes how a victim can report a problem and how to respond if someone else reports a problem to you. It emphasizes the critical role bystanders can play in responding to improper behavior. More information about the training and other campus resources is here:

Our UW Madison Policy on Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence now clearly defines which UW-Madison employees are “Title IX Responsible Employees” and communicates their duty to provide all reports of sexual misconduct to the campus Title IX Coordinator. This year, we’ll provide additional mandatory training to those employees to ensure they can carry out that responsibility.

But the work of building a culture that discourages sexual misconduct and appropriately responds to such allegations cannot be accomplished by people in “Title IX Responsible” roles alone. With our campus policy now in place, we need better systems and practices to ensure we are listening broadly, identifying trends or patterns that require action, and equipping managers with the training and tools needed to address these issues.

Because we are a very decentralized organization, historically the reporting of sexual harassment (when it is reported) has been to supervisors or department chairs. Much of the campus response to allegations of sexual misconduct has been handled at the local level, through a resolution process that allows the complainant to remain anonymous. While this provided an avenue for problems to be resolved that would otherwise go unreported, it also meant that we in more senior positions were often unaware of a pattern of problems unless an individual was willing to come forward publicly.

This is something we have to change. It is not an adequate excuse to say, “we didn’t know about this,” particularly in cases where multiple individuals have made problems known. Being able to spot troublesome trends and address them swiftly is essential to ensuring our community remains safe.

In the coming months, I will challenge UW-Madison to ensure that all reports of sexual misconduct, other than those made to people who must hold them in confidence if asked, are reported to the Office of Compliance. We must provide a straightforward way to make sure that the information about these complaints is sent forward beyond the immediate unit.

The natural starting place for this is with stronger centralized reporting and record-keeping. Title IX Responsible Employees, reporting to the Office of Compliance, will play a key role in this. We are also working to strengthen record-keeping systems through the Office of Compliance and related units, such as the Division of Student Life and Office of Human Resources. I am asking these units to accelerate their efforts and present a broader plan to me this semester. And, I am ensuring that the funds are available to carry out this project.

But, of course, simply knowing about complaints isn’t enough. We also have to have the correct mechanisms to respond. Our Title IX Coordinator and her deputies are trained in helping identify an appropriate response to complaints. I’ve also begun conversations with our shared governance bodies to identify and address further policy changes that may assist us in gathering needed information and taking action where appropriate.

As this issue has taken on national prominence, we’ve seen an upsurge in requests from units across campus for additional, more customized training. I commend the units across campus that are taking this proactive approach. To help meet this demand, we are creating an additional training position within the Office of Compliance.

The Provost’s Advisory Group on Sexual Assault and Misconduct (PAGSAM) continues to be an important driver of policy and program changes in this area. I am grateful to all who are a part of that effort.

Last Friday I received an email from one of our alums who was following the MSU situation: “I am not at all suggesting anything comparable is happening at UW, but don’t take any chances. Be on the right side of human dignity. Listen to victims, take every claim of abuse or misconduct seriously and respect due process – regardless of who is accused.“

“I know this isn’t easy, but transparency is a good place to start. You will have the support of the UW community.”

I promise the writer, and all of you, that I and the entire UW leadership team are engaged with these questions. We must use the current moment of high awareness and concern about sexual misconduct as an opportunity to change our campus culture and deal as effectively as possible with the problems of sexual assault and harassment on our campus.

Looking back on 2017 successes

I want to take a moment to reflect on past year and some successes here at UW that are worth savoring.

Let’s start with a few items on the education and research front side that I am delighted about:

  • Applications for next fall’s freshman class are now coming in, and we’re expecting another record-breaking year. This is part of a long-term trend: applications for admission have doubled in the last 20 years. That reflects our deep investment in great teaching. I am very proud that U.S. News and World Report now ranks UW-Madison in the top 10 public universities in the nation for commitment to undergraduate teaching.
  • Our undergraduate retention rate (freshmen returning for sophomore year) remains high at 95 percent, one of the best retention rates among public universities. Helping students earn a degree in less time means that they can start their post-college lives with less debt. Over half of our undergraduates leave UW-Madison debt-free.
  • Our total research expenditures grew by $88 million in the 2016 fiscal year, good enough to maintain our sixth place in the National Science Foundation’s rankings of nearly 900 institutions.
  • We welcomed 105 outstanding new faculty this year.
  • Several exciting new facilities for research and education moved forward, including the Meat Science Building, the Hamel Family Music Performance Center, the Crop Innovation Center, and the Center for Dairy Research. And we celebrated our newly renovated Memorial Union and opened our wonderful new Alumni Park.
  • We’ve created 1,000 new scholarships for undergrad & graduate students, and student athletes over in the last four years and are extremely excited for our latest gift from John and Tashia Morgridge, which will add to our need-based aid funds.

Our athletic honors deserve recognition as well. Headed into the Orange Bowl, we’re rightly focused on the success of a Badger football team that will go down in history as one of our winningest teams.

But it’s not just their win record that distinguishes our football teams. The Wall Street Journal’s annual ranking of top football programs earlier this year singled out UW as the #1 most admirable football program in the country for our overall performance, both on the field of play and as an academic institution.

This year, we joined Duke, Northwestern and Stanford as the only FBS football programs to earn academic recognition awards in each of the last five years.

It’s been an amazingly successful time for Badger athletics across many sports – we are the only program in NCAA history to play for 15 straight years in both a football bowl game and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

This fall, the men’s and women’s soccer, cross-country and women’s volleyball teams each excelled in their respective postseasons. And the men’s and women’s hockey teams are thriving, with the New York Times recently noting that “the soul” of U.S. hockey resides in Madison.

Much credit goes to Athletics Director Barry Alvarez and our many great coaches for their leadership for maintaining standards both on and off the field: 56 of our student-athletes from 19 different sports have been named Big Ten Distinguished Scholars.

I’m quite proud of our scholars and our student-athletes. The point is this: Although we, and all other institutions, continue to face challenges, we’re blessed with a wonderful and thriving community.

As 2017 draws to a close, thank you to all our faculty, staff, students and supporters who make UW-Madison a world-class institution. I look forward to an even better year in 2018!

Winter 2017 Commencement Remarks: How to Choose Well

As prepared for delivery, Sun. Dec. 17, 2017:

Good morning, and welcome to the winter 2017 commencement of the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Congratulations to the new graduates, and a special welcome this morning to family and friends.

I also want to welcome and thank our guest speakers … Hollywood producers of some of your favorite hit shows who met as undergraduates here at UW … Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis.

Adam and Eddy – thank you for being here today!

  1. Introduction

Today we’ll confer just over 2,000 degrees upon our undergraduate, graduate and professional school students. Whether you have earned a medical degree or an MBA … a PhD … or bachelor’s degree … your credential means you are now part of an important and powerful group – the highly educated.

Just 7% of the world’s population holds a college degree – and less than 1% have earned a Ph.D.

December graduates are always an interesting group. Some of you took a little more time to reach this milestone because you incorporated an internship or study abroad to enrich your education and open up new opportunities. Some of you took a little less time because you focused like a laser on completing your degree.

And one person here finished his degree 50 years ago but was so needed in his new job that he could not stay to participate in the graduation ceremony. After a lifetime of work helping developing countries to grow and thrive, Luciano Barraza has returned to accept the Ph.D. in economics he earned in 1967.

Luciano is here with his proud family – please stand so we can recognize you.  Congratulations!

  1. Three questions

As we celebrate your achievements today, I know many of you are thinking about the multitude of choices that lie ahead. That can be little scary – even if you feel like you have it all worked out – because every positive choice eliminates some other possibility. You can’t walk through two doors at once (… unless you’re at that one entrance to Grainger Hall…).

Whether you’re deciding on a job, or a major move, or a graduate school program, or making more personal choices … say, whether to get married or have a child … there are three questions you need ask yourself – think of them as tools for helping you choose well.

First, what do you love to do?

The constant demands of school can make it easy to lose track of what you’re passionate about. The things you have to get done today can take all of your attention. But it’s important to spend some time thinking about what feels meaningful in the long run… what you want to be and do in your life…

If your first answer is “binge-watching Last Week Tonight” you’ll have to dig a little deeper.

If your first answer is watching the Badgers win the Orange Bowl at the end of this month… we’re all with you. But until you figure out how to add ‘Jump Around’ to your resume (and some of you just might…) – keep thinking.

When Matt Howard, Alex Wyler, and Eric Martell sat where you are sitting just a few years ago, they asked themselves this question, and their first answer was: “We really love ordering take-out.”

They met here as freshmen, so they had lots of experience. But they didn’t stop there. They then listed the things they didn’t like about the process – they couldn’t always order late at night, or get delivery from their favorite places.

With degrees in economics and computer science, they decided they could do better.  They co-founded EatStreet, which last year delivered food to nearly two million people in 250 cities around the country. Matt and Alex were just named to the 2018 Forbes Magazine ‘30 under 30’ list of rising stars.

And yes, they still love ordering Ian’s Pizza at all hours.

When you can name what you are passionate about, making choices about your career and your life will seem a little more straightforward.

Second, what are you good at?

Those of you earning bachelor’s degrees today might be thinking, “I’m not entirely sure what I’m good at.” And that’s OK. If we’ve done our job right, we’ve given you a foundation of knowledge and skills, and now your job is to build expertise.

I can’t tell you exactly how to do that, but I can tell you it’ll happen a lot faster if you focus on being present and productive.

Yours is the first generation to have been plugged in since you were old enough to press a button.

How many of you tried to look like you were paying attention in math class while you were feeding your Tamagotchi?

I won’t ask for a show of hands, but I suspect quite a few of you. Hopefully that wasn’t just last week….

There was a time when we all thought multitasking was a great way to get things done – but it turns out most people really can’t do two things at once, and do them both well.

Just like your laptop, you will work a whole lot better when you unplug once in a while.

And whether you’ve achieved a level of expertise or you’re just starting out, know that the number one predictor of a person’s impact is not genius or luck … it’s how hard you try and how hard you work.

Thomas Edison patented 1,000 inventions you’ve never heard of before he created the phonograph and the light bulb. Thomas Jennings, the first African-American to receive a U.S. patent, spent many years experimenting with different formulas for cleaning clothes before he invented dry cleaning in 1821.

When you find that place where what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about come together, that is where your life’s work awaits you. Choose opportunities that put you there.

The third question to ask is:  where can you make a difference?

Each of you has been educated in the UW tradition of public service – what we call the Wisconsin Idea. I hope one of the things you’ve learned is that success means serving a cause bigger than yourself.

Let me tell you about two of today’s graduates who understand that lesson better than most. Corporal Matt Johnson and Sergeant Ross Gundlach came to us a little later in life than most of our undergraduates. They are both U.S. Marine veterans.

Matt was training with his unit in a desert in East Africa when he promised himself he would come to UW-Madison and study finance, so he could help businesses succeed.

Ross was serving in Afghanistan, working with a bomb-sniffing dog to clear explosives from the roads, when he promised himself he’d come here and study real estate, so he could develop housing for low-income families.

Matt and Ross and 19 more student-veterans are earning degrees today. We are thankful for your service, and very proud of you all. Congratulations.

I hope that each of you is thinking about how you can use your education to make life better in some way – maybe for one person, maybe for many.

If that sounds like a tall order, I’ll let you in on a secret: It’s easier if you don’t try to do it alone.

I hope teamwork and collaboration have been part of your education here at UW because we know that many minds are better than one for solving difficult problems … and because being able to play well with others is even more important now than it was in Kindergarten.

Whether you’re volunteering in the community or playing in a band or solving complex scientific problems, I hope you will continue to seek out opportunities to work with people you can learn from … and who can learn from you … to make a difference.


Before I end, I want to ask a favor. If you have your phone with you, please take it out now. We’re going to do one last (unofficial) portrait with your classmates.

I want every one of you to take a selfie or a picture with the classmates around you and tweet it and hashtag UWgrad. We’ll collect them and post at If you follow me @BeckyBlank, I tweeted a link to it earlier today.

While you’re doing that, Adam and Eddie are going to help me take a class photo from up here.

With your help, the Class of 2017 is going to have the biggest and best collection of commencement photos and memories we’ve ever created!

Thank you. Be sure and visit the website to see all the pictures.

Wherever your path leads you, I hope you will choose well – find work that you love, and define your success by the difference you make in the world.

Thank you for making this university a better place while you were here. Keep in touch. Let us know how you’re doing. I can’t wait to learn what you accomplish in the years ahead.

And remember to occasionally come back and visit. You will always be part of UW and I hope that UW will always be part of you.

Congratulations … and On Wisconsin!

UW-Madison’s research ranking matters

Last month, the National Science Foundation released its FY2016 Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) Survey results.  This survey indicates how much each university spends on research and is commonly used as a measure of comparative research activity across campuses.

We were pleased to learn that UW–Madison retained its 6th place ranking among the nearly 900 institutions that were included.

Being in the top 10 is great and this ranking continues to affirm UW-Madison’s reputation as a research powerhouse. The HERD Survey reported that UW-Madison had nearly $1.16 billion in annual expenditures for research across all fields. Our federal expenditures increased represent a 6.3 percent increase from the previous fiscal year, or totaling nearly $34 million in additional spending, while our total research expenditures (including state and local government, business and nonprofit research funds) increased by 8.3 percent or $88 million. This ends a four-year decline in research expenditures.

However, this good news has to be taken with a grain of salt and not just because some are skeptical about rankings. UW–Madison’s research expenditures increased, but they also increased at many of our peer institutions. We also know that slight differences in reporting methodology can produce huge differences—both from one institution to another, and from one year to the next.

Nonetheless, rankings matter. High rankings strengthen our national reputation and that affects our ability to recruit and retain the best and brightest students, faculty and staff. Rankings matter to our partners and our competitors for benchmarking purposes. The university’s research enterprise is a powerful economic engine as well as a creator of knowledge and innovation. The benefits are felt throughout the state and beyond.

Employers use rankings to identify universities where they want to recruit, so attending a high-ranking university can help in a competitive job market.

Rankings also hold up a mirror to ourselves and monitor our performance. Rankings influence our institutional decision making as we identify strategies that can raise our performance, and in the case of the HERD survey, help us rejoin the elite top five.

UW-Madison had been in the top five universities in in research spending every year since 1972, the year the survey started, until it dropped to 6th last year. That drop demonstrated that continual cuts to funding have consequences.

We are, and want to continue to be, a top-ranked university.

How do we do that in an increasingly tight and competitive funding environment?

Peer universities are investing in their faculty, and we need to do the same.  Fortunately, our efforts to generate new investment revenue for the university are beginning to show results. WARF has also expanded its support for UW–Madison. This has given us an opportunity to expand and improve support for faculty research on our campus.

UW–Madison’s efforts to invest in its faculty include new initiatives that provide seed funding for growing research on data science and on the microbiome. With the WARF-funded UW2020 grant competition, we hope to position our faculty to be more competitive when applying for federal and other extramural funding for their research. The first two rounds of UW2020 projects have already generated more than $11 million in new extramural funding.

Over the next three years, UW-Madison will also make a substantial investment in new cluster hires. This will help deepen the faculty’s interdisciplinary research strength in key areas of current and future research promise.

We have also recently announced a substantial (13.3 percent) increase in the stipends for graduate student TAs. Our graduate student salaries have become increasingly noncompetitive. Attracting stronger graduate students makes us a more attractive campus for top faculty as well.

Tabulating expenditures is one way to measure academic research activity and the HERD survey is just one indicator of our success as a research institution, but it’s one we take seriously. Our recent drop in these rankings has only spurred our efforts to strengthen the research enterprise at UW–Madison. We celebrate that we have secured our spot in the top 10, but we are not content to rest at 6th place.

Rebecca Blank, Chancellor

Marsha Mailick, Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education

Remembering and honoring UW’s veterans

In recognition of Veterans Day on November 11, I want to recognize the members of the U.S. Armed Forces who are part of University of Wisconsin–Madison’s heritage and its future.

When you are at a game in Camp Randall, think about how it was once a training ground for soldiers during the U.S. Civil War.

When you stop by the Red Gym, imagine campus when the building was the Armory, home to military training at UW. For some period, as a land-grant institution we were required to offer courses on military tactics.

When you visit the newly renovated Memorial Union, reflect on its dedication to those who fought in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I. Pause to read some of the names on the Gold Star Honor Roll, a wooden plaque inscribed with the names of those who died in active duty during those wars.

On Saturday, an interactive, electronic kiosk will be unveiled at a ceremony in the Memorial Union’s Memorial Hall commemorating the names of UW-Madison students who died while serving in the armed forces. The new memorial will include soldiers’ names ranging from the Civil War to more recent conflicts.

When you study in the Memorial Library, consider that it honors those who served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

Today, as you go to class, study, or work on campus, you are likely to interact with a veteran, reservist, or member of the National Guard. Thousands of Badgers — students, staff, faculty, alumni — have served abroad or in domestic duty, such as recent disaster relief. This is a large and diverse group of individuals, whose life experiences and skills enhance our campus in countless ways and embody the Wisconsin tradition of public service.

Please join me in recognizing the service and sacrifices of our present and past Badgers in the Armed Forces on Veterans Day.