Blank’s Slate – Office of the Chancellor – UW–Madison Fri, 15 Oct 2021 15:58:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Summer Term continues to keep students on track Fri, 15 Oct 2021 15:58:41 +0000 Read More]]> Fall is in full swing, and it’s wonderful to see a busy campus full of Badgers. But before all the leaves drop, I’d like to take a moment to talk about our success at expanding Summer Term and serving more students.

Summer Term at UW–Madison is a long-standing Wisconsin tradition, a great way for students to stay on track and fulfill academic goals. The successful expansion of our summer term is one reason our average time to degree – which now stands at 3.89 years, or 40 days less than 4 years – continues to improve.

During the pandemic, Summer Term was even more important for many students, giving them a way to stay connected to campus and remain focused on their studies during a challenging time. In the past two summers, almost all classes were offered online, but this coming summer we again anticipate having a mix of in-person and online courses.

A record number of students participated in virtual Summer Term 2020, three months after the pandemic started. More than 10,000 undergraduates enrolled, up 18 percent from 2019. They chose from more than 900 online and remote courses for more than 27,000 course enrollments. Students earned almost 80,000 credit hours.

These are impressive statistics, particularly when you consider pandemic pressures.

Badgers continued to advance their academic goals during Summer Term 2021, with thousands of students taking virtual and in-person courses, doing internships, working on campus and enjoying beautiful summertime in Madison.

For example, consider the experience of student Sarah Marie Candee. She’s a senior studying theatre and drama and communication arts with a digital studies certificate. Sarah’s also on the Wisconsin Equestrian Team. She’s taken Summer Term courses every year to make room for her athletic pursuits and other activities throughout fall and spring semesters. During Summer Term 2021, Sarah took Theatre 140 and Communication Arts 449 online and Theatre & Drama 360 in person. She also traveled to Portugal, worked at the Wisconsin State Capitol and was the stage manager for University Theatre’s production of Rashomon. A busy Badger!

Incoming freshmen have also benefited from Summer Term, taking advantage of early start programs, which provide opportunities to earn credit and meet professors and peers before the start of fall semester. This includes the Wisconsin Experience Summer Launch, engineering programs and early start for transfer students. About 900 students got a jump-start on their Badger journey in 2020 and 2021 with these and other summer start opportunities.

UW–Madison staff and instructors have worked hard to keep students engaged in Summer Term throughout the past year and a half, creating quality in-person and online courses – from chemistry labs to theater experiences. For example, in Food Science 120: Science of Food, Monica Theis and Tu-Anh Huynh taught an online introduction to the chemistry, microbiology and biochemistry of food. They perfected at-home experiments using candy, instant mashed potatoes and a variety of equipment available at home or nearby grocery stores.

From hands-on courses to internships, from studying at home to reading on the Terrace, students have really taken advantage of these past few Summer Terms.

And I’m proud to be making Summer Term more affordable with Summer Term scholarships. More than 2,800 students received the Undergraduate Scholarship for Summer Study or the Summer Finish scholarships in 2020 and 2021.

To learn more about Summer Term, students should visit the Summer Term website and talk with their advisors. Every season is a great season to be a Badger, but summer offers a special chance to take a needed class while participating in other summer activities, either on campus or off.

Some personal news Mon, 11 Oct 2021 14:22:38 +0000 Read More]]> I want to let you know that I will be leaving UW–Madison at the end of this academic year to assume the presidency at Northwestern University.

I will have served as Chancellor at UW–Madison for 9 years by the time I step down next summer. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as your Chancellor.

Together, we’ve faced some big challenges during my time here – from debates over tenure and reduced state funding, to the need for greater diversity on campus, to a global pandemic.

But I have continually been amazed by the strength of this community, the character of its people and the capacity of the university to do great things.

I’m truly proud of all that we’ve accomplished together.

UW’s educational outcomes have improved, the diversity of our staff and students has grown, faculty salaries have markedly improved relative to our peers, and our research dollars have increased.

UW Extension and Wisconsin Public Media came back ‘home’ to Madison. We’ve completed an astonishingly successful fundraising campaign among our alumni that will help the campus move forward. I’m particularly proud of the increased scholarship dollars we’ve been able to dedicate to increasing access for Wisconsin students – today, we have almost 4,000 Bucky’s Tuition Promise students on campus.

Finally, in the midst of falling state dollars, frozen in-state tuition, and pandemic-related losses, UW–Madison remains in a strong financial position. We have been entrepreneurial, raising our own investment dollars and using this to fund key priorities on campus.

Even as I look forward to my next adventure, there are many things I will miss about UW, from game days on fall Saturdays to evenings on the Terrace to gathering each May in Camp Randall for graduation. Most of all, I will miss all of you, many of whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, talking with, and working with over my years here.

This is a great university because of the wonderful faculty, staff and students who inhabit this campus. Thank you for all you do for UW–Madison.

On Wisconsin!

Rebecca Blank

‘State of the University’ remarks to the Faculty Senate Mon, 04 Oct 2021 21:00:31 +0000 Read More]]> As prepared for delivery, Monday, Oct. 4, 2021.

Welcome. Thank you for your leadership and partnership as we transition into a new semester, and for all that you’ve done over the past 18 months.

I’d like to say a special welcome and thank you to new University Committee chair Eric Sandgren, and new UC members Susan Thibeault and Fernando Tejedo-Hererro.

I am told we have a number of new senators – how many of you are new? Thank you for serving.

We are welcoming three people into new leadership roles this semester: Nancy Lynch, Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs, Rob Cramer, interim Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration, and LaVar Charleston, Chief Diversity Officer & Deputy VC for Diversity and Inclusion.

I also want to congratulate a former member of the Faculty Senate, Chris Walker, who was appointed director of our Division of the Arts effective July 1.

Before I talk about COVID, the budget, and some of the things we’re working on, I want to share some of the good things happening on campus.

Washington Monthly recently named us the top public university in the country, and 4th overall behind Stanford, MIT, and Duke and ahead of Harvard.

This ranking is particularly important, because it measures each university’s impact on the country through education, research, and public service – which is at the heart of our mission.

We’ve welcomed an excellent new freshman class – the largest in our history – 8,400 students chosen from a record 54,000 applicants. The class includes: one of the highest numbers of WI students in the past 20 years; students from every state except North Dakota, and; international students from 45 countries outside the U.S.

The share of students of color in our freshman class is just over 25%, an all-time high, and the share of underepresented students of color in our freshman class is also at an all-time high of 14.8%. Both of these are up substantially from just a few years ago.

Thanks to improved scholarships and recruitment, this is the 5th year in a row we’re projecting an increase in the number of National Merit Finalists from Wisconsin.

We didn’t set out to enroll a class of this size, but to be a ‘hot’ school nationally is not a bad problem to have. We’re working to expand class sections, advising, and other student services – we’ve just hired nine new mental health providers.

In addition to new students, we also have new faculty. Despite all the challenges of the pandemic year, over the past year, we’ve hired 80 new faculty.

Finally – on an issue I know many of you care deeply about — environmental sustainability. Last April, we were one of five universities nationwide (and first in the Big Ten) to win a prestigious national designation as a ‘Green Ribbon School’ reflecting our commitment to creating a campus that’s more sustainable and resilient – and to being a leader in research and education related to the environment.

Turning to COVID – we are monitoring numbers from the campus and community very closely, and we’re seeing what we expected to see and what we planned for.

Our campus testing program is identifying cases and our contact tracers are making sure that any close contacts are notified so they can quarantine. Students living in the residence halls who test positive are moved into spaces we’ve set aside for isolation (some choose to go home to isolate).

We’ve mandated indoor masking for everybody, consistent with current Dane County requirements. All students and employees who have not shared proof of vaccination with UHS are required to test weekly. We’ve been clear that there are serious consequences for failing to follow these rules.

The good news is, we have a very high vaccination rate. 93% of our students, nearly 95% of all employees and more than 99% of our faculty are fully vaccinated, and the numbers are continuing to grow – especially among students.

Based on what we know now, we believe that our high vaccination rate and public health measures will keep infections on campus low. Our seven-day positivity rate is very low – right around 1%.

But we will continue to see COVID cases on campus. This is now an endemic disease and we have to learn to live with it. The best defense is vaccination. We continue to consult weekly with the same team of public health experts from here on campus who worked with us last year throughout the pandemic.

I want to thank you for all that you are doing both in, and out, of the classroom. I don’t have to tell you our students are thrilled to be back in the classroom and not on Zoom sessions. I know many of you share that feeling. Being together, in person, leads to the best educational outcomes.

Turning to educational excellence, I am happy to tell you that we got new numbers just this week and they are the best we’ve ever seen.

Our six-year graduation rate highest ever (89%), putting us among the Top 10 among U.S. publics. Our four-year graduation rate is also our highest ever (just under 73%).

The graduation gap for undergraduates between white students and historically underrepresented students has been cut nearly in half over the last 10 years (now a 7-point difference).

And we have once again set a new record for average time-to-degree – 3.89 years – 40 days less than 4 years.

We have expanded institutional scholarship aid – from $25 million in 2012 to almost $100 million this year. For the first time in our history, we guarantee four years of zero tuition and fees for low-income students from Wisconsin. That’s the program called Bucky’s Tuition Promise.

Better scholarships and less time in school means less debt: More than half of our undergraduates (57%) graduated with no student loan debt in 2020. Nationally, fewer than one-third of students do.

These improvements didn’t happen by chance. They’re the result of a strategic effort we began in 2014, to identify and eliminate the roadblocks that keep students from graduating on time.

We’re also continuing to push on improving educational outcomes through high-quality advising and innovations like the new Center for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring that some of you are familiar with.

Among other things, the Center will be a clearinghouse for lessons learned in the pandemic about how to use technology to improve student engagement.

And now, I want to bring you up-to-date on some of the things we’re working on to make this campus a more diverse and inclusive place where all people feel like they belong.

First, I am happy to tell you that we had a substantial increase in applications from underrepresented students of color this year, and that’s translated into a substantial increase in enrollment.

As I mentioned earlier, we have been successful at increasing the share of our freshman class comprised of students of color. We have more work to do. Attracting top students from historically underrepresented groups is harder than ever – the national reckoning with racial injustice has fueled a new level of competition for these students among predominantly white schools like UW.

So we have to offer not only an outstanding educational experience, but also attractive scholarships.

One of the ways we’re doing that is with our new Raimey-Noland Campaign, named for the first two Black students to graduate from this university — Mabel Watson Raimey and William Smith Noland. Our original fundraising goal was $10 million. As of two weeks ago, we had raised $40 million.

About half of the fund is for undergrad scholarships. The rest is for graduate/professional scholarships, faculty support, academic programs, research, and outreach.

Let me highlight two faculty support efforts related to diversity.

This past academic year, the Provost’s office created the Exceptional Service Support Program to acknowledge the extra work by faculty members – often from groups that are underrepresented on this campus – who spend time mentoring students beyond what is usually expected.

In the first round, we provided a course release to six outstanding faculty members. We can fund as many as 10, but we need help getting the word out. Watch your inbox for an announcement this week, and please share it with people who you think might qualify.

And we’re continuing to invest in the TOP program, which began in 2018 to provide funds from the central campus to make it possible for departments to go after the people they’d like to recruit from groups that are not well-represented within their discipline.

In the past three years, we’ve hired 39 new faculty though TOP across a range of departments. The program’s goal is diversity in all forms – for example, we have hired women into departments that are heavily male. And about three-quarters of these new faculty are people of color from underrepresented groups.

As you know, there is only so much that we can do centrally to make this campus more diverse and inclusive. Each department and unit needs to identify what they need to work on and how to do that. We’ve seen some important initiatives at the school/college/department level over the past couple of years – and I want to thank those of you who have been deeply involved in this work.

This is not to say we always get it right – scheduling the start of classes on the second day of Rosh Hashanah was a misstep. Rabbi Steinberger invited me to speak during Rosh Hashanah services at Hillel, and I told the congregants what I have told you: We have a committee that is reviewing calendars to be sure this doesn’t happen again. Because UW-Madison has to be a place where Jewish students (and students from every faith community) feel safe, welcomed, and included.

Turning to research … I am happy to tell you that our research continues to expand. In Fiscal Year 2021, which closed at the end of June, we had an increase of more than 100 grant proposals over the previous year, and we grew our grant awards by $264 million, an increase of over 15%.

This is a result of faculty developing an unusually large number of new grant proposals when the pandemic forced us to shut down a lot of our research.

We want to continue to improve the success of our proposals. In part, this requires being strategic about targeting research areas that we know federal agencies are funding.

We are expecting a lot of new federal research dollars to become available in this next year. I’ve asked Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education Steve Ackerman to identify areas with substantial increases in federal funding, and to talk with faculty, departments and centers that have an opportunity to solicit some of these funds. We need to prepare today to put in proposals for this funding in the year ahead.

If we’re expanding our grants, we also need to improve how we support them. We’re doing that in a couple of ways.

First, by modernizing our operations. We are implementing new business systems across the university over the next several years. We expect these to reduce the amount of time faculty have to spend on administrative tasks – this is part of our Administrative Transformation Program which you will be hearing more about from Rob Cramer.

And second, by modernizing our facilities. We have a number of new research and teaching spaces in the works, as you know, including a renovated and expanded Chemistry Building – we’ve had some setbacks but remain hopeful that the project will be completed in 2022.

Work is also underway on an expansion of the Veterinary School – we broke ground in June. A new Meat Sciences building opened last November. There’s also the Center for Dairy Research, with a move-in date at the end of this month, and completion by next spring, and the Babcock Dairy Plant set to be completed by next fall.

And three weeks ago we announced a new $225 million Computer, Data, and Information Sciences building. There are no state dollars in this one, so we are in the midst of fundraising and hope to break ground early in 2023.

None of this is cheap or easy – which brings me to the budget.

The pandemic created a financial disaster. Last winter and spring we expected the budget hole to be $319 million – that includes lost revenues plus all the additional expenses we incurred due to COVID.

Fortunately, at the close of fiscal year on June 30, we were in a better position than expected: We had ‘only’ lost $226 million.

What changed? – Three things: the state returned $31 million that they had originally planned to reclaim; research expenditures didn’t fall despite the lack of travel and the furlough savings; and while housing and the unions lost more than we were projecting, athletics lost less.

As we go into this coming year, I expect we will be in reasonably good shape. I say this for three reasons.

First, we were on very strong financial footing going into the pandemic.

Second, we received substantial federal funding that helped offset some of these losses. Federal dollars covered over 20% of our losses.

Third, we have entirely absorbed the losses of the past year and a half of the pandemic…through furloughs and budget cuts, through reduced spending over the year, through additional federal dollars, and by using our reserves. That means we’re going into the current year with no overhanging budget problems from the pandemic.

We are also helped this year by a bigger-than-expected incoming class.

We got a new state budget in July. As always, there are some good aspects of the budget and some disappointments.

The not-so-great news: We received no increase in general state money to support new programs, faculty hiring, or inflationary cost increases. And we did not get funding for a new Engineering building that many of us thought would be funded. Though we did get funding for a major utilities project that will allow us to start planning for the new building.

The good news: 2% raises were approved for all faculty and staff in January 2022 and January 2023, and we did receive money for a new academic building for the College of Letters & Science .

Additional good news, not from the state, but from the hard work of lots of folks across campus.

This fall, we’ll celebrate the end of the most successful fundraising campaign in our history – We had a goal of $3.2 billion. We will be over $4 billion by the end of this year.

Let me be clear: This doesn’t mean we have $4 billion to spend. Much of it is allocated into endowment – that means it pays out at 4.5% far into perpetuity. This will generate millions of dollars far into the future for, among other things, faculty support and research.

A substantial share is still pledged, often as part of a will, and hasn’t yet been collected. And some is directly and immediately expendable.

These dollars go toward merit compensation, increased graduate student support, scholarship programs, and faculty support. For example: We’ve created 255 new faculty chairs and professorship funds all over campus.

We will be celebrating the end of the campaign on Homecoming weekend, the last weekend in October.

I want to close with a few words about compensation. As you know, in recent years, we’ve put significant money into a compensation program designed to provide merit and market adjustments.

Two years ago, we made a large commitment to raise faculty salaries. The result: This past year, we were ranked number five in faculty salaries within the Big 10. That’s after two decades of being at the bottom of the list. I’m very proud of this progress – it’s long overdue – and I hope the faculty are aware of this.

We need to keep from sliding backwards. This year, we are putting $2 million in a faculty compensation fund for merit and matching salary increases. We will also be funding equity increases for staff. And we’re putting out a $5 million bonus fund, aimed primarily at rewarding employees who worked particularly hard this past year dealing with the pandemic.

In conclusion, this past year was difficult but we are in a much better place than we were last fall.

I hope you will all be thinking about how we can apply what we’ve learned in this pandemic to improve some aspect of our work. This is a great university, and our reputation is stronger than ever – but we can be even better.

Let me close as I began – with “thank you” – I know that none of this is easy and I appreciate all that you do for this university.

I’ll be happy to take a few questions after UC chair Eric Sandgren speaks.


What a rock has to do with racism Thu, 16 Sep 2021 12:00:50 +0000 Read More]]> On August 6, the University of Wisconsin–Madison removed a 42-ton boulder formerly known as Chamberlin Rock from our main campus. This was not, as some have assumed, a knee-jerk decision. Rather, it came after more than a year of in-depth conversations with stakeholders from across the spectrum, engaging in the process of shared governance.

Members of the Wisconsin Black Student Union and Wunk Sheek (a Native American student organization) met with the Campus Planning Committee to present their point of view and the harm they described. That Committee also heard from members of the geology department, researchers, historians, campus leadership, the Ho Chunk tribe, and others. The Campus Planning Committee, after thoughtful deliberation, recommended moving the rock and I endorsed this action.

The process began in the summer of 2020. I listened as WBSU and Wunk Sheek members explained why they saw the rock as a symbol of anti-Blackness. I’m sure you remember that time. It was the first summer of COVID-19 and our campus community was bewildered, overwhelmed and in pain. On May 25, George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, sparking a protest movement around the world.

As chancellor, one of my responsibilities is to build a community that supports each student who studies here. We want to hear about students’ lived experience in the campus community. The students who came to me to ask for the removal of Chamberlin Rock were not performing. They were thoughtful. They were seeking change and interrogating the past and its impact on the present in their own daily lives. And they were brave. The process was a reasoned and deliberative one, viewing the question of the rock through different perspectives, experiences, and practicalities.

To assume they were doing this for other motives, as some have done, is to be something worse than cynical. It is to be uncurious.

The rock, they said, had a negative impact on campus climate as African American students, on their own lives, and they asked us to remove it. Students knew of the rock’s association with a vile racial slur in the 1920s because the rock is part of the campus cultural landscape tour in which, as an effort to own and learn from the mistakes of the past, we acknowledge that history. The slur’s direct, documented association with the rock provided a compelling foundation for the proposed change.

Some will tell you that a rock is just a rock. That to fear harm from an inanimate object is prescientific, irrational. But to be human is to imbue objects with meaning. It’s why we offer flowers when we mourn or love, why we all have keepsakes stowed away in our drawers and closets, and why people unknowingly begin to whisper when they approach the U.S. Constitution in the National Archives. To be sure, the rock is an innocent object, in which we invest meaning. This is a conversation about its symbolic associations, which have intense meaning to some and no meaning to others. When we made the decision to move the rock, we listened to those who saw a legacy of racism and present-day pain where others saw a mere rock.

Our geologists wanted to preserve the rock. They saw a unique pre-Cambrian glacial erratic (a rock carried hundreds or thousands of miles in glaciers until it was left behind when the glacier melted) which they sent their students to study. As a result, we chose to relocate the boulder to university-owned land southeast of Madison, where it remains accessible for teaching purposes. By some estimates, the rock traveled to Wisconsin from Canada some two billion years ago. The forces that smoothed its edges, the landscape it traveled, are hard to know. But curiosity drives us to find out more and to understand its history and its intersection with our own.

At UW–Madison, like many institutions, we are working to acknowledge the often painful history of racism and other forms of exclusion on campus. Three years ago, I commissioned a study of the history of groups associated with the Ku Klux Klan on campus. Based on that study’s recommendations, I funded a public history project to investigate and uncover the historical experiences of marginalized groups on campus, whose story is often not part of our traditional campus histories. I strongly believe that if we do not acknowledge both the good and the bad parts of our history, we cannot construct a better future. That’s why I took seriously the symbolic concerns associated with Chamberlin Rock.

It’s also important to note that the rock is not a well-known campus monument. If I had to guess, I would estimate that many of our students and alumni did not know there was something called “Chamberlin Rock” on campus prior to the recent publicity and, if asked, few could have told you where it was located. If one is going to move a campus object, you have to ask to whom it has meaning. While the rock has clear symbolic meaning for those students asking for its removal, for many other students the rock has had limited meaning.

In the midst of all of this, few people have said anything about President Chamberlin, to whom the rock was dedicated. He is clearly unimplicated in any modern symbolic meaning placed on this rock. But President Chamberlin’s memory was important enough that people in the past created something by which to honor him, and that decision should be respected. Colleagues on campus have prepared a new plaque honoring President Chamberlin which will be placed in Weeks Hall, which houses the Geosciences Department, which was President Chamberlin’s home department.

Creating a more inclusive environment in our universities and our society is a difficult task, but a critical one in our contentious, polarized times. Progress is made incrementally, with real ¬– not performative – change. Higher education is deeply invested in this process and UW–Madison is no exception. That’s why, at the same time we were discussing this symbol with students, we were also expanding a fundraising campaign to recruit and retain more diverse students and faculty. It’s named for Mabel Watson Raimey and William Smith Noland, the first Black woman and man to graduate from the university. We’ve already raised nearly $50 million. That’s just one example of the tangible actions we’re taking.

Outsiders, such as those in the national media, don’t know our story or our history. They may not read deeply enough to see our decisions on this rock in the context of scores of other actions undertaken last summer. They may only think of a world-class research university where vitamin D enrichment was invented, the first embryonic stem cell line was developed. But we know that a committed campus community learns and grows together. We continue to be curious about our past and how it has shaped who we are. Chamberlin Rock is part of that history.


Where we are headed, together Tue, 14 Sep 2021 12:00:58 +0000 Read More]]> We welcomed the largest freshman class in our history last week, and as I stood before these new students at Convocation, I was struck by the level of sheer joy and excitement I felt in that room. When the (fully masked) students stood to sing “Varsity” together for the first time, they reminded those of us on stage why there is still no better place to be than on a college campus in early September.

Over the past two weeks, you’ve all heard about our campus Covid-19 protocols and high vaccination rates – as of Sept. 14, 90 percent of our campus community has been fully vaccinated. Among faculty, that percentage is 99%; among all students it is 90.5%; and among all employees it is 92.8%. I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to get vaccinated and encourage those who have not to think about doing so. Having as many of us as possible vaccinated is the single best thing we can do to ensure that we can remain in a community where we can teach, learn and pursue new knowledge together.

While adhering to Covid safety protocols and having a high vaccination rate are important steps to help us reach our destination, they are not the destination itself. There is much that we plan to accomplish during the 2021-22 academic year to move beyond the pandemic, fulfill our university’s mission and ensure its continued excellence.

Improving Educational Outcomes

It is not by chance that we’ve been able to improve educational outcomes while also serving a growing number of students – we are again among the top 10 public universities in six-year graduation rates. These improvements are the result of a strategic effort that we continue to build upon.

Many instructors will be implementing some of the new teaching tools they became familiar with during the pandemic. Even though we are predominantly back in person, faculty have learned how to use new technologies that can enhance learning in their courses and we will continue to provide resources and training to assist them.

Supporting Diversity

Continuing to expand our work on inclusion and diversity is another top priority. Our newest campaign, the Raimey-Noland Campaign, has been a quiet success story. The campaign will support scholarships and programs aimed at increasing diversity, equity and inclusion on campus. We initially hoped to raise $10 million – but before it went public this past winter, we’d already raised $20 million.

I am excited about the leadership that our new Chief Diversity Officer LaVar Charleston, Deputy Vice Chancellor of the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Educational Achievement, will bring to this area. Dr. Charleston is dedicated to creating a model of shared responsibility and commitment that emphasizes a cross-campus approach to creating a more diverse and inclusive campus community.

Administrative improvements

Although it isn’t glitzy, there are many important administrative developments that will affect almost every employee on campus. Our new titling and compensation structure (TTC) will go live in November, giving us (for the first time) a way to do for staff what we already do for faculty — ensure that titles and pay reflect the labor market. No one will have their pay cut as a result of this change, but some will see a pay increase as we move staff salaries that are below minimum in their new salary ranges. We’ll also enhance benefit options beginning in 2022.

The Administrative Transformation Program (ATP) is working to standardize essential business processes, simplify policies and rebuild our finance, human resources, and research administration operations and services. This will reduce the complexity of the current administrative environment and refocus valuable staff time on our mission.

Cybersecurity continues to be a growing concern that can affect anyone at the university. We have a university-wide effort called Cybersecurity to the Edge, to make sure every device is secure. You can help by deleting old files and staying aware of phishing attempts.

Growth in Research

Another focus this year will be growing our research and improving the ways we seek and receive research grants while also providing better support for our faculty and PIs.

We are already off to a great start. When the pandemic forced us to shut down a lot of our research, many of our faculty focused on generating new grant proposals. In the first three quarters of this financial year, we had 200+ more grant proposals submitted than in the previous year, and a nearly $200 million increase in awards.

We want to continue to improve the success of our proposals. That means getting more strategic about targeting research areas where we know there will be big increases in federal funding in the near future. VCRGE will identify areas with substantial increases in federal funding, and talk with faculty, departments and centers that have an opportunity to solicit some of these funds. We need to be setting ourselves up TODAY to put in proposals for this funding in the year ahead.

Good News Looking Forward

I will provide you with an update on the university’s finances later this fall. It warrants its own blog post, but I can share here that the damage is not as great as we initially feared. We have entirely absorbed the financial losses of last year and are moving into this year with no carry-over of financial problems.

In addition to celebrating being back together, we will be celebrating the end of our All Ways Forward campaign on Homecoming weekend, the last weekend in October. Many of our advisory boards are meeting then and I hope we’ll have large numbers of alumni back in town to share in this success.

I want to end by thanking you for your hard work and resilience during difficult circumstances. The last year and a half have been among the most challenging, personally and professionally, that many of us will ever face. But as I hope you can see, our university is strong, healthy and full of plans for the future. It’s great to see thousands of students back on campus and ready for the new semester.

Looking back at Sept. 11 Fri, 10 Sep 2021 13:00:43 +0000 Read More]]> Probably anybody over the age of 30 has memories of September 11, 2001.

I was teaching a class that morning. I walked back to my office to see everybody clustered around a radio. Someone said a plane had rammed into one of the World Trade Towers. My first thought was “What a terrible accident.” Of course, it was quickly apparent this was no accident.

I was the dean of the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan at the time. We had lots of students from the East Coast. We spent several hours that day calling all our students to check in and make sure their families were accounted for.

My daughter was in kindergarten and I didn’t want the non-stop images and terrible news turned on at home for her to see. My husband was stuck in Chicago. Since everything was cancelled, I spent the late afternoon and evening playing with her in the backyard, desperately wondering what was unfolding.

That whole day (and the days to follow) has a bad-dream quality to it in my memory. The news got steadily worse, as the death toll mounted with the towers falling, a plane crashing into the Pentagon, and another plane crashing in Pennsylvania. Almost everyone had some connection to someone who had died. Even in Midwestern Michigan, people were fearful of a terrorist attack for months afterwards.

Twenty years later, this may feel like ancient history. Yet, it has shaped us and shaped our nation in many ways. We’ve all become used to levels of security that would have been unacceptable before 9/11. We became used to a seemingly endless series of military engagements in the Middle East. And we no longer feel the invulnerability of a large continental nation that cannot be easily invaded – we’ve learned that we are vulnerable and that’s produced a level of uncertainty and fear that shapes some of our current partisan and divisive politics. Just as Pearl Harbor shattered our nation’s sense of protection from wars abroad, so 9/11 shattered our sense of a nation that can separate itself from chaos beyond its borders.

What is the role of UW in all of this? We have to teach this history, draw lessons from it, and make sure that we don’t forget those lessons. Through our research, we have to help develop the knowledge and the technologies that guard against terrorist attacks, while also understanding how to regulate this so that we retain an appropriate degree of personal liberty. And – perhaps most importantly – we have to model how to engage in civil conversations across different world-views, both domestically and internationally, finding alternatives to violence.

The tragedy and deaths of 9/11 are still with us in many ways. On this 20th anniversary, we must stop to remember, to grieve, and to learn how to move forward.

Connected to Communities: Celebrating Two Years Since Extension and Public Media Joined UW-Madison Mon, 28 Jun 2021 21:00:11 +0000 Read More]]> UW-Madison’s commitment to community outreach is an important part of our campus culture. The Wisconsin Idea holds that our campus responsibilities extend to the boundaries of the state and beyond. That philosophy undergirds work done by every faculty and staff member, but it’s especially relevant to people who work in our statewide outreach programs.

It’s been two years since Extension, Public Radio, and Public Television were formally reincorporated into the UW-Madison campus. I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on how our closer engagement with these historic networks are helping us address emerging challenges.


Extension at UW-Madison traces its roots to the beginning of the previous century. In 1912, E.L. Luther became the first Extension agent in Wisconsin, traveling Oneida County by motorcycle, disseminating research- based information about farm management, crops, and livestock.

This was two years before the U.S. Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act, creating the national Cooperative Extension network.

At about the same time, UW electrical engineers were experimenting with wireless transmitters. In 1916, station 9XM transmitted the first state weather forecast by Morse Code. Three years later, the station carried the first documented clear transmission of human speech. And when the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra performed at the UW Armory (the Red Gym) in 1921, it was the first such performance to be carried live via radio.

In 1922, station 9XM was relicensed as WHA — the call letters it still uses today. With the advent of television, WHA-TV Madison went on the air in 1954 as only the seventh educational television station in the United States.

When the UW System was created, these units were split out into a separate institution, the University of Wisconsin-Extension. But history has a way of repeating itself, and we welcomed all three back into campus on July 1, 2019. That transition has created tighter connections, allowing us to work together to inform research and work with local communities to solve problems across Wisconsin.

That transition is also personally significant to me, as both of my parents worked as Extension agents. It’s gratifying to see how our public university is made more accessible and more relevant to people across the state through our county extension offices, public television networks, and public radio networks.


Extension’s community partnerships are integral to its work with families, business owners, community organizations, and youth – and those partnerships have benefitted from Extension returning home to UW–Madison.

The School of Education and Extension are working with science and social studies teachers in rural communities to better engage Latinx English-Learner students in examining local, controversial, and socially relevant topics. Another Extension partnership is helping Carbone Cancer Center scientists strengthen community involvement. Yet another, funded by the Mellon Foundation, is bringing together faculty, students, community leaders, and Tribal partners to encourage more diverse groups to pursue careers in science and math fields.

We want to encourage even more interaction between our on-campus faculty and staff and our Extension staff.  As a result, we will soon announce a new grant opportunity for campus researchers and Extension employees who work together to identify projects that address the concerns to local communities. The Wisconsin Ideas Collaboration Grant program – a partnership between Extension, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education, and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation – will award a total of $600,000 in grants across a wide range of academic disciplines.


Public Television reaches directly into our living rooms and local school classrooms. PBS Wisconsin and the Center for Healthy Minds teamed up to create The Kindness Curriculum — a free 24-lesson guide designed to help pre-K and kindergarten students recognize their emotions, self-regulate their responses, and care for themselves and others. Developed and researched by university scientists and disseminated by PBS Wisconsin, the Emmy award-winning Kindness Curriculum has been shown to have a positive impact on academic performance, peer relationships, and teacher-perceived social competence.

Meet the Lab is a collection of educational resources for middle school science classrooms. It is a collaboration between PBS Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, and the Morgridge Institute for Research. This collection introduces students to relevant real-world issues, cutting edge research, and the human element—the people working together to research, innovate, and solve problems using science. The curriculum creates opportunities for learners to get an up-close look at people who work in science, technology, engineering, arts and math, hopefully deepening students’ interest in these fields.


When COVID struck, Wisconsinites had questions and trustworthy answers were hard to come by. WPR’s engagement project, WHYsconsin, fielded more than 3,000 questions and reported 59 stories on topics like where to get tested, eviction rules, and changes to schools. Every person who reached out received answers to their questions. The project won the national “Best Use of Community Listening in a Crisis” award from Hearken in 2020.

In addition to the fast-changing Covid crisis, WPR provided in-depth coverage of the fight for racial justice, a contentious national election, and other critical issues. As the fall general election approached, WPR offered analysis of the issues, candidate interviews and up-to-date information on voting guidelines, and coverage of more than 30 debates.

WPR’s partnership with Story Corps’ Military Voices Initiative helped more than three dozen Wisconsin veterans and family members connect and preserve their stories online; some of which have been featured on “Wisconsin Life” this year.

Thanks to an investment UW-Madison made in new digital broadcast technologies prior to the pandemic, WPR engineers were able to reconfigure their network so that hosts and reporters could safely broadcast from home. While people remained physically isolated, they could connect with others through WPR’s trusted news service, engaging conversation, the solace of music and free virtual events – including several in partnership with Badger Talks LIVE.

Wisconsin Public Media has moved beyond on-the-air broadcasting – its use of technology to deliver on the Wisconsin Idea has extended to include digital platforms and continues to evolve to meet the needs of a 21st century audience.


I’m consistently impressed by the tremendous talent we have in the faculty and staff who share their knowledge with individuals, communities, and businesses statewide. I’m also aware of the relationships our employees – particularly in Extension and public media — have established with communities and how that connection is important to the university.

From 4-H educators and nutrition experts to agriculture agents and economic development specialists, Extension has a unique foothold in every corner of the state. These university educators are trusted neighbors.

Likewise, our public broadcasting colleagues deliver educational programming, entertainment, cultural enrichment, and news programming that people have come to rely on. Whether it’s Big Bird talking about life on Sesame Street or an interview with a state legislator, people have learned to trust public broadcasting

Perhaps that’s the most impressive outcome of all — a world-class university that stays connected to ordinary people through bonds strengthened by trust. That relationship improves the quality of life for Wisconsin residents and makes us a better university.

Thanks and looking ahead Wed, 19 May 2021 20:23:39 +0000 Read More]]> The following message from Chancellor Blank was sent to UW–Madison faculty, university and academic staff on May 19.

To our employees,

Nearly two weeks ago, I had the chance to look out at our assembled graduating class at Camp Randall Stadium on a picture-perfect Saturday afternoon.

Students, all of whom had green Badger Badges, sat together, shared photos and hugs and were able to cap off their UW–Madison careers with Varsity and fireworks. Seeing their collective joy at being able to celebrate together and in person was high among the happiest moments in the past 18 months.

This graduation was special for all who attended and it was only possible because of the exceptional work everyone has done over the year. Each of you played a role in helping the university carry forward its essential mission amid a global pandemic.

Read the full message.

Spring 2021 Commencement Ceremony Remarks for Doctoral, MFA and Professional Degree Candidates Thu, 13 May 2021 19:39:50 +0000 Read More]]> Remarks as prepared for delivery: 4 p.m., Saturday, May 8, 2021

UW-Madison Spring Commencement Ceremony for Doctoral, MFA and Professional Degree Candidates
Camp Randall Stadium

Good afternoon. Welcome to Camp Randall Stadium and the 2021 graduate school commencement of the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

After one of the strangest years any of us has ever experienced, many of you are here – together and in-person – to celebrate. And it feels great!

Thank you, DaSean Stokes and Sarah Brailey, for that beautiful performance.

Thank you, Provost Karl Scholz, for the kind introduction.

And thank you to John Gottman, who receives an honorary degree today. Dr. Gottman could not be here in person, but you will hear from him shortly and I think you will be inspired – as I have been – by his unique ability to see a problem in a way nobody’s ever considered before. He is world-renowned for his research on marriage. The mathematicians in the crowd will appreciate that he’s particularly well-known as one of the first people to utilize differential equations to model and describe interactions between couples.

I also want to take a moment to recognize the departure of Barry Alvarez, our Athletic Director, who is retiring after 31 years here at UW. Under his leadership, our Badger teams have won multiple national championships … our student athletes have been recognized for top academic achievement … and our football program has been singled out as the most admired in the country, not just because we win but because of our students’ academic success and community engagement!

Thank you, Barry, for giving us so many reasons to cheer over the last three decades.

To the graduates here in person and members of this class joining us on the livestream:

Today we mark the years of sustained effort you have invested to work at the highest levels in your field … and the sacrifices you have made along the way.

Just months ago, few of us imagined that we would be able to be together today. You have made this moment possible with your careful attention to health protocols that keep yourself, and others, healthy.

I know it hasn’t been an easy year, but you’ve handled it with grace and even a sense of humor – one of our students recently observed that he can no longer walk past Union South – where he went twice a week to test – without drooling.

I want to say a special word to the estimated 40,000 parents, spouses, partners, children, siblings and friends who are with us today on the livestream:

This is your celebration too. I want to thank you for the years of support and sacrifice that have brought your graduate to this day.

To those graduates who have lost friends, colleagues, and family members – to the pandemic or for other causes – we remember all of them as well.

This has been an extraordinary year. We have seen a convergence of crises:
• The pandemic
• Economic uncertainty
• Political polarization
• And a new level of urgency to take meaningful action against racism and injustice, and to put an end to violence against Black and brown people, people of Asian descent, and all others who have been targets of hate crimes in this country.

These things have affected all of you – but some of you have faced particular challenges. You deserve special recognition today. Please stand as you are able and remain standing:
• If you taught undergraduate classes in-person this year.
• If you had to figure out how to teach remotely this year.
• If you do clinical work, or research related to COVID-19, or have helped with testing and vaccination clinics.
• If you are a first-responder or a front-line worker.
• If you had a child learning at home rather than in school or preschool.

For all that you have accomplished under especially stressful circumstances, please give yourselves, and one another, a round of applause.

You can be seated.

I know that many of you also have faced financial hardship. And all of you have experienced the diminution of two things that are at the heart of who we are and what we do here at UW-Madison:

1. Interdisciplinary collaboration with partners across the campus and around the world, and

2. Public outreach to share knowledge beyond the borders of the campus (what we call the Wisconsin Idea).

These are things that depend on connections between people. And this university has always been a place that fosters those connections. They’re built on a thousand small moments – the conversation in the hallway that gives you a new way of thinking about something … Friday afternoons with your lab partners on the Terrace … or coffee with a friend.

COVID has taken so much from so many. But it has also taught us something really valuable, which it’s easy to lose sight of in graduate school:

How to think like a beginner.

The great cellist YoYo Ma credits his remarkable ability to connect with audiences to his beginner’s mind, which he describes as:

Being receptive to what’s around you and being present without judgment.

When we lost the ability to see one another face-to-face, to take note of all of those non-verbal cues that say: I understand you or I’m confused, we all had to start over learning how to communicate in different ways. To listen better, pace ourselves differently, and ask more questions.

Those of you who teach have experienced this daily … as have those of you whose research depends on building and maintaining relationships with communities across Wisconsin and around the world.

Sarah Alexander is a great example. Sarah graduates today with a Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Sarah worked with partners in Ethiopia to develop novel approaches for predicting seasonal rainfall and communicating with farmers and communities about uncertain climate conditions to help them build more resilient systems.

Her work is also going to be important right here in Wisconsin – but it will only be helpful if the information she has is communicated effectively to those who can use it.

Without the ability to travel to Ethiopia for in-person workshops, Sarah and her partners worked with people in the community who brought farmers together outdoors and held a megaphone up to a cellphone. It wasn’t ideal, but with this set-up, the research team was able to share critically important information.

No matter your field, COVID has forced you to do some things you probably haven’t done before, using new technologies and reaching out to people in different ways.

I suspect this has sharpened your communications skills. And you will need those skills as you go into a world that doesn’t always believe in science – but that urgently needs the solutions only science can provide.

COVID has taught us to view other facets of our lives through a beginner’s lens as well. And it turns out that examining everything you do, and figuring out a different way to do it, teaches you a few things that are really worth knowing, like:
• What is essential and what isn’t
• How to be flexible with yourself and others
• And what energizes you or makes you feel depleted.

So many of you have stories about the things you’ve decided to stop doing, or the things you’ve discovered, or re-discovered this past year:

• Some of you are playing more guitar or learning a new instrument.

• Some of you are learning to meditate or taking an online yoga class

• And some of you are just carving out time to take long walks.

These activities aren’t simply pleasant distractions – they are essential to your well-being and help re-energize you for your work.

When Albert Einstein came upon a problem that stumped him, he’d step away and play his violin. Isaac Newton and Carl Sagan would pick up their pens and write. Beatrix Potter created Peter Rabbit as an outlet for the frustrations she encountered as a woman in science.

I hope you will continue to try activities that give you a chance to be a beginner again.

And I hope you will stay connected to your fellow graduate students, your colleagues for life. They will always laugh and cry with you, and be there to celebrate victories large and small, no matter how many years go by.

After today, with your graduate degree, you will be part of the very powerful community of the most highly educated people in the world. That gives you the responsibility to use your education wisely – to make the world around you a better place.

And you are also part of the Badger family of alumni – more than 450,000 strong.

Thank you for being part of this community. Best wishes as you set off on the next stage of your journey. Wherever you go, be sure to come back and visit us every so often here in Madison and tell us how you’re doing.

Congratulations … and On Wisconsin!

Spring 2021 Bachelor’s Degree Commencement Remarks Thu, 13 May 2021 19:35:06 +0000 Read More]]> Remarks as prepared for delivery: Noon, Saturday, May 8, 2021

UW-Madison Spring Bachelor’s Degree Commencement Ceremony
Camp Randall Stadium

Good afternoon. I am Chancellor Rebecca Blank. After one of the strangest years any of us has ever experienced, it feels great to be able to say:

Welcome to Camp Randall Stadium and the 168th spring commencement of the University of Wisconsin at Madison!

Today we confer degrees on nearly 5,500 undergraduates. Many of you are here in person, and many others are joining on the livestream. Today we celebrate all of you as you become alumni of one of the greatest universities in the world – but there is one group that I want to call out for special recognition:

If you are the first generation in your family to earn a college degree, please stand as you are able.

I know your families and friends are proud today. Congratulations on this tremendous accomplishment!

Please be seated.

I also want to take a moment to recognize the departure of Barry Alvarez, our Athletic Director, who is retiring after 31 years here at UW. Under his leadership, our Badger teams have won multiple national championships … our student athletes have been recognized for top academic achievement … and our football program has been singled out as the most admired in the country, not just because we win but because of our students’ academic success and community engagement!

Thank you, Barry, for giving us so many reasons to cheer over the last three decades.

Just a few months ago, we still weren’t sure whether we’d be jumping around in Camp Randall Stadium today.

Every graduate who has sat where you sit has faced many challenges to reach this moment – but few of them have faced the extraordinary challenges you have:

• The sudden switch to virtual learning last spring.

• The anxiety about your health and the health of your loved ones.

• The difficult choices about whether study in person or remotely this year … and whether to live in Madison or at home.

• And those twice-a-week tests I know you won’t miss.

o Believe me, I never thought I’d find myself sending out instructions on how to drool!

o But you’ve handled it with grace and even a sense of humor. One of our students said her new motto is “Always be pooling.”

But nobody got here alone.

There were days when things didn’t go quite the way you wanted:

• When that internship you’d hoped for fell through
• When that exam didn’t go so well
• When the relationship you thought was forever turned out … not to be.
• Some of you lost friends and family members over these years – to the pandemic or for other causes.

When you needed help and said I’m not sure I can do this, there were friends, family, professors, and advisors who told you, I believe in you, and I will help.
For all of the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings and friends who are with us today on the livestream: This is your celebration too. Thank you for the support and sacrifices that you have made to help bring your graduate to this day.

Please join me in thanking all of them.

Your time here at UW has been capped by an extraordinary year, with a convergence of crises:
• The pandemic
• Economic uncertainty
• Political polarization
• And a new level of urgency to take meaningful action against racism and injustice, and to put an end to violence against Black and brown people, people of Asian descent, and all others who have been targets of hate crimes in this country.

These things have affected all of you – and you’ve responded in the proud tradition of this great university, by standing up … speaking out … and looking for ways to make things better.

Some of you answered the call to be on front lines of the pandemic – you deserve special recognition. Please stand as you are able and remain standing:

• If you helped with COVID testing or vaccination (where are the School of Nursing graduates?) or in other health care setting.

• If you worked as a Badger Wellness Ambassador.

• If you helped to raise awareness of mental health concerns and how to seek help.

• If you worked in Housing, Dining, in the Unions … or in any other campus job that helped us keep the campus safe and open.

• If you are a member of the Wisconsin National Guard or a branch of the armed services that was called to duty in the pandemic.

Thank you all!

You may be seated.

Many more of you have done a thousand small things to lift one another up:

• When classmates had no way to travel home for Thanksgiving, you were there with meal kits from the Open Seat Food Pantry.

• When student employees couldn’t gather for each other’s birthdays, you were there to deliver cupcakes and flowers to each person’s doorstep.

• And in those moments when a friend just needed to talk, you were there for them, too.

You’ve also done some pretty big things. When the pandemic threatened to put on hold the longtime dream of honoring UW’s historically Black fraternities and sororities with a special place on campus, members of this class said: We will make this happen.

• And two weeks ago, we dedicated the space for the new Divine Nine Garden Plaza.

Congratulations and thank you for seeing it through.

You are graduating into a world that looks very different than the one you planned for. Just as wars and terrorist attacks shaped your grandparents’ and parents’ generation, this pandemic will shape yours.

This year has helped to reveal qualities in each of you that are essential to building a happy and productive life in this new world. Reslience. Persistence. Flexibility. Awareness of your own needs, and the needs of others. And kindness.

Despite the challenges of this year, you’ve nurtured friendships, found ways to have fun, and are here in Camp Randall celebrating your graduation

My wish for you, in the words of the late, great author Maya Angelou, is that you will:

Continue to be who you are, and to astonish a mean world
with your acts of kindness.

Best wishes to all of you on wherever life takes you next. But be sure to come back and visit us – we want to know how you’re doing.

To all of you here in person and on the livestream – from Beijing, China … to San Francisco … to Wausau, Wisconsin, and every point in between – thank you for being part of our big Badger family and thanks for all you’ve given to the campus community during your time here.

Congratulations, Class of 2021 and On, Wisconsin!