Blog – Office of the Chancellor Tue, 13 Jun 2017 09:19:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The cost of keeping the research engine humming Tue, 13 Jun 2017 09:19:43 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Among the many unpleasant surprises in the recently proposed federal budget framework is a cap of 10 percent on facilities and administrative costs for awards from the National Institutes of Health. The cap represents a dramatic reduction in the recovery of “indirect costs” universities incur to support research and to maintain safe and productive research environments for their faculty, staff and student investigators.

“Indirect costs” are perhaps an inappropriate name, as it implies to some people that these are not “real” costs. So-called “direct costs” pay for things like lab supplies and equipment, salaries and stipends for researchers and graduate students, and travel costs incurred conducting or sharing the research. Indirect costs cover facility and administrative costs which includes all the other costs of doing research. This includes services like utilities, internet, telecommunications, data storage and hazardous waste disposal. Indirects also pay for personnel outside the lab who provide necessary support to research projects, including security, financial, administrative, technical, maintenance and custodial services. They also help maintain and update lab facilities and equipment needed to conduct research.  Finally, these costs cover expenses incurred in maintaining compliance with federal, state and local regulatory oversight. Things like institutional review boards for human subjects, campus animal care, and biological safety are all paid for through indirect cost recovery.

This differentiation between direct and indirect costs was created decades ago when the federal government decided it was far more efficient to negotiate a fixed rate for facility and administrative costs with each university rather than to monitor these multiple complex costs in every grant.  Our indirect cost rate is negotiated every three or four years with the federal government.

Currently, UW-Madison’s indirect cost rate is 53 percent. In fiscal 2016, UW-Madison researchers brought in about $325.5 million from NIH, meaning that a cap at 10 percent for NIH awards only would result in a reduction of as much as $53 million per year for our campus. (We receive about $500 million in federal research dollars but the federal government does not pay indirect costs on all types of research expenses. A cap extended to all federal agencies would result in an estimated loss of about $110 million annually in indirect cost recovery.) According to the data we submitted in our last renegotiation, UW-Madison’s actual facility and administrative costs on research are more than 60 percent. That means the university already contributes about $7 from its own funds for every $100 we receive in direct costs for research.

If the federal government reduced its support, covering only a small share of the facilities and administrative costs that we bear, we would have to make some tough decisions about our research priorities. We would not have the resources to cover these costs for all of the research projects we currently conduct with federal support. As our faculty know, UW-Madison’s strong reputation for innovation in research is due to its broad research strength across many areas. Like many other public universities, we could not continue to conduct the same breadth and quality of research with lower cost recovery rates.

One of the biggest and most ironic reasons indirect costs are so high is the increasing regulatory burden imposed on research by the federal government. As any recipient of federal research dollars knows, there have been increases in the time reporting requirements, in the conflict of interest area, and in the financial reporting that we have to do. Particularly as these regulatory requirements increase, raising the administrative costs of doing federally-supported research, it is odd to propose cutting back on administrative cost payments.

I am well aware that not all faculty appreciate or understand indirect costs, and would rather receive fewer dollars in indirect costs and more dollars in direct costs. But the indirect dollars cover real costs of their research that have to be paid.  I also know that there is regular dissension about the ways in which indirect costs are distributed here on campus. I’ve now worked at four different universities, each with different models of distributing indirect costs. In every university, faculty grumbled about the distribution. We can have a discussion about UW’s indirect cost distribution formula – that’s a valid conversation to have. But there should be no disagreement about the need for the federal government to pay the full cost of the research for which it solicits proposals.

The proposed indirect cost cap represents an additional and far from insignificant cut to the nation’s research capacity. If implemented, it would reduce both the volume and kinds of research UW-Madison and many other universities would be able to conduct, further eroding the nation’s global scientific and economic competitiveness.


The federal budget proposal and its potential impact on UW-Madison Tue, 06 Jun 2017 11:19:40 +0000 Continue reading ]]> President Donald Trump’s first budget request to Congress has understandably caused some concern on our campus and across the higher education landscape. The $4.1 trillion proposal lays out an aggressive plan to reduce discretionary non-defense spending as a way to offset large proposed defense spending increases. The cuts are broad and deep, but a significant chunk of the savings proposed would come out of student aid and research spending.

  • The budget proposal funds the Department of Education at $59 billion, which is $9 billion less than FY 2017 levels, or a 13 percent cut in funding. While investment in Pell Grants would remain at current levels, President Trump’s proposal would drain $3.9 billion from the Pell surplus, speeding the time when Congress will be faced with increasing the funding appropriated each year or cutting the size of the maximum grant.
  • Beginning in July 2018, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is eliminated.  This forgives the remaining balance on student loans for borrowers who work full-time in public service and who make on-time payments for 10 years. Ending this program would impact students who pursue careers in teaching, non-profit and social service agencies, and with the military and local, state, federal and tribal agencies.
  • The president’s plan also allows the Perkins Loan program to expire on Sept. 30, eliminating a source of low-interest campus-based loans for high-need students.  This program helped 3,265 students attend UW-Madison last year.  The proposed budget also cuts the Federal Work-Study program by nearly half, to $500 million, from $990 million. Cuts to work-study student aid would affect about 2,000 student workers at UW-Madison.  Because our housing office employs a large number of work-study students, ending this subsidy to low-income student wages would also potentially lead to higher student fees and housing costs.
  • Under the president’s plan, the National Institutes of Health would be funded at $26.9 billion, a $7.2 billion decrease from the current budget. This 21 percent cut would result in almost 2,000 fewer grants. A reduction for NIH would severely impact lifesaving research on our campus and will slow the development of new treatments for cancer, Alzheimer’s and other diseases. These cuts will also impact our graduate training programs that educate the next generation of science leaders.
  • The proposal also caps NIH indirect-cost reimbursements at 10 percent. This could result in a loss to campus of more than $50 million per year. Indirect cost reimbursement covers administrative and facilities costs that part of the cost of research. By drastically reducing indirect cost reimbursements, over time, the facilities and support for research that we can afford will decline, reducing the capacity and quality of such research. I’ll have a blog post soon that dives more deeply into indirect costs.
  • The National Science Foundation is budgeted at $6.7 billion, a decrease of $819 million, or 11 percent. While $6.7 billion will fund approximately 8,000 new research grants, that only amounts to 19 percent of the research grant proposals NSF receives. A reduction for NSF would impact groundbreaking work in the areas of advanced manufacturing and material sciences research.
  • The administration’s FY 2018 budget proposal requests $17.9 billion for USDA, a $4.7 billion, or 21 percent, reduction from FY 2017. The proposal would provide $1.3 billion for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a reduction of $110.1 million, or 8 percent. A reduction for USDA would limit our ability to generate innovations in agriculture that translate directly to gains in farm productivity.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is budgeted at $4.8 billion, a reduction of $987 million, or 16 percent. The Trump budget sets funding for NOAA’s Oceanic and Atmospheric Research at $350 million, a $139 million, or 26.8 percent, decrease. A reduction to the NOAA could harm our efforts to enhance weather forecasting capability and preserve coastal areas.
  • The proposed $919 million reduction for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science would threaten innovative research happening at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center and high-energy physics.
  • The budget proposal would eliminate the National Endowment of the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. The elimination of NEA and NEH would have ripple effects across campus, hurting programs to study the Constitution, preserve film history and even to assist veterans through innovative programs like the Warrior Book Club. The arts and humanities are also vital to the education of our students and support of our faculty.

I understand why these proposals are alarming, but the president’s budget request is just that – his request. Though the document signals to Congress the administration’s spending and tax policy priorities, it is Congress that makes the final budget decisions.

Unsurprisingly, congressional Democrats rejected the plan. But perhaps more telling was the less-than-enthusiastic response the plan received from Republicans. This suggests that we will likely see major changes before a final budget is adopted.

Next the House and Senate Budget Committees will draft their budget resolutions. These resolutions set the spending targets for each chamber’s appropriations committees. I don’t want to get too far in the weeds on the process, but suffice it to say that the federal budget process is a marathon, not a sprint.  Given disagreements about the president’s budget proposals, it is likely to take longer for all parties to reach an agreement on spending levels.  That means Congress will need to pass a continuing resolution to operate under last year’s budget by the end of September or face a government shutdown.

In the meantime, our federal relations staff has been working to ensure that the importance of these funds to our institution, and to the greater state and national economy, is fully apparent to our congressional delegation. When administration officials come to the Hill to testify, we are arming our representatives with questions to ask. We have encouraged our congressional delegation to sign Dear Colleague letters in support of programs that are important to UW and our students.  Almost every program has a champion in Congress, so we will look for ways to work with them.

In addition to coordinating with national higher ed associations and science coalitions, we also work hand-in-hand with other Big Ten universities. In the past few months we have also coordinated Capitol Hill meetings for campus faculty; more such visits are planned.

In April I was in D.C. to testify at a congressional hearing about regulatory reform, I also led a Big Ten delegation meeting with Speaker Paul Ryan. During that meeting he made clear he understands the importance of federally funded research.

An excellent summary of the complete budget proposal and its potential impact on campus can be found here. You can also receive periodic updates by clicking on the subscribe tab at the bottom of the to the Federal Relations home page.

If you have further questions about how the federal budget will affect your department, or if you have information you think would be helpful to our federal relations team, please contact Assistant Vice Chancellor for Government Affairs and Strategic Partnerships Ben Miller here on campus, or contract our Federal Relations office in D.C. and speak to Director Mike Lenn or Assistant Director Cate Johnson.

Down the Great River Road of the Mississippi Tue, 30 May 2017 20:34:58 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Committed readers of this blog will recall that last Memorial Day weekend my husband and I spent a day driving from La Crosse to Prairie du Chien along the Mississippi River. That was such a fun drive, we decided to do the rest of the Great River Road in Wisconsin this Memorial Day.

We set off on Friday afternoon in an amazing amount of traffic on I-90/I-94 and drove to River Falls for the evening, a small city home to UW-River Falls. A good pizza parlor and a nearby Dairy Queen provided dinner.

The next morning we drove to Prescott, where the St. Croix River (the Wisconsin/Minnesota boundary to the north) merges into the Mississippi as it flows out of Minnesota. From Prescott south, the Mississippi is the Wisconsin boundary. It’s the beginning of the Great River Road (see the selfie Hanns and I took to prove this fact.) By the way, Prescott is named for its founder, Philander Prescott — a great first name and one that has sadly diminished in use in our modern society.

It was a beautiful morning and we rolled alongside the Mississippi, which becomes wider and less channelized as it flows south. The river was full and even spilling over in places. At Hager City we crossed the bridge to Red Wing, Minnesota, just so we could stop in the Red Wing Shoe store. The very dusty and industrial store that I remember from my last visit to Red Wing, probably almost 50 years ago while on a trip from the Twin Cities with my parents, has been replaced by a large new building with its own Shoe Museum, worth a visit.

Back on the Wisconsin side, we next stopped at Stockholm, a small village with a number of lovely galleries. It’s also home to a pie shop that was definitely worth the stop. As my husband said, “Let’s just eat dessert first, and have lunch later.”

Fortified, we next headed inland about seven miles to visit the wayside park located on the land owned by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family. She wrote about their life in a log cabin there in “Little House in the Big Woods.” A replica cabin is part of the park. Despite a complete lack of any signs to point you there, this is was one of the busiest places we visited all day. I insisted on this stop, as a loyal and long-time Laura Ingalls Wilder fan. It’s hard to look around the open fields and farmland and imagine a deep woods, with bears and panthers, only 150 years ago.

Lunch was in Pepin, sitting at a restaurant where we could watch the Mississippi. Then on southward again.   We crossed several very extensive marshy areas, all named “sloughs” (as in Buffalo Slough and Beef Slough). Hanns and I are still debating the appropriate pronunciation of that word — if you have a definitive answer, let me know.

Next stop was just outside Trempealeau at Perrot State Park, where we climbed Brady’s Bluff, which gave us a vast panorama both up and down the Mississippi. We watched the hawks circle, watched the water flow, and watched the trains go up and down either side of the river.

Sadly, at that point we were near La Crosse, our end point, and the sunny day had turned into rain. So we headed back home on I-90 as the sun set. It was another lovely trip through some of Wisconsin’s most scenic areas.

End of Semester Notes Wed, 17 May 2017 18:10:47 +0000 Continue reading ]]> As we reach the end of another semester, I want to look back for a moment and acknowledge a few of the many great individual and collective student achievements over the past academic year.

At UW-Madison, we have 43,000 students from across Wisconsin and around the world, pursuing degrees in more than 200 fields. In this academic year, we have conferred more than 10,500 degrees, both undergraduate and graduate. (By the way, we are among the top five schools in the nation for the number of Ph.D.s we graduate — among the most sought-after workers in our economy.)

And we’ve had an outstanding year in education. The 2016-17 freshman class was our largest and most diverse ever, and we’ve just had a record-breaking number of applications for next fall’s class, with more than 35,000 students applying for about 6,400 slots.

Our retention rate is excellent: 95.4 percent of freshmen return for sophomore year, which means they have a good experience on campus and get the support they need to succeed here.

Graduation rates are also at an all-time high. Our average time-to-degree has now fallen to just over four years, which means students leave school with less debt. In fact, more than half our students graduate without any student loan debt.

Among our student-athletes, our football, men’s soccer, men’s tennis, women’s golf and women’s hockey teams all earned NCAA awards for posting Academic Progress Report scores in the top 10 percent of all Division I teams in their sports. That’s remarkable.

But the statistics aren’t as impressive as the personal stories I experienced at commencement celebrations this past weekend.

I encountered student after student who had wonderful stories to share about their time at UW-Madison and what they hope to achieve in the future. I want to share two that I found especially meaningful.

Deshawn McKinney of Milwaukee came to UW-Madison with support from our PEOPLE program, a pre-college pipeline program that identifies talented young people from communities that have historically been underrepresented on this campus. He not only excelled academically, he seized many opportunities to get involved in campus life. He joined the First Wave Hip Hop and Urban Arts Learning Community; he worked to promote equity and diversity on campus; and this year he served as president of the Wisconsin Union Directorate. He received two prestigious national awards ­— the Truman and Marshall scholarships ­— and was a finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship. Now he’s headed to Britain, where he’ll pursue a master’s degree in social policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

James McGowan made it to UW-Madison despite thinking as a young man that he’d never be able to get here. He’s from Portage and spent about 20 years as a blue-collar worker in manufacturing and construction before deciding at age 42 to go to college. Through persistence and hard work, he achieved his dream and received a bachelor’s degree with a major in personal finance. Now he hopes to launch a career helping other students finance their education.

Not only have James and Deshawn achieved some meaningful personal accomplishments, it’s also clear that they are dedicated to the Wisconsin Idea. Reaching out to serve others is a proud tradition at UW-Madison. This past year, more than 5,600 students volunteered in our community through programs supported by the Morgridge Center for Public Service. Our fraternity and sorority members raised money for cancer charities and also worked on programs aimed at preventing sexual assault in the community, and our student-athletes frequently participate in the “Badgers Give Back” program. While at UW, our students gain valuable knowledge and leadership skills that will remain with them for a lifetime. After graduation, they make meaningful contributions to their communities around the state and around the world.

Our commencement speaker, Steven Levitan, gave a great address — both funny and smart. (View it here.) But I really appreciated the student speech, given by Senior Class Vice President Martin Barron Weiss. Martin talked about the real difficulties he faced when his dad became unexpectedly ill and died during Martin’s time at UW. At first he thought he had to deal with this alone, but when his friends learned what was happening he realized how much support this community could provide to him. Martin learned that we can always deal better with challenges as well as opportunities when among a community with friends.

Congratulations to all of this year’s graduates — and to all on campus who have taught or supported them.

As our graduates enter the next stages of their lives, whether that’s pursuing an advanced degree or beginning a new career, I hope they will find that their time at UW was well spent, even when it brought challenges. As I said to them at commencement, they have been part of UW during their time here and I hope that UW is a part of them after they leave.

2017 Commencement address Sat, 13 May 2017 17:55:22 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Good afternoon.  Welcome to Camp Randall Stadium and to the 164th spring commencement of the University of Wisconsin at Madison!

Today, close to 7,000 bachelor’s and master’s degree candidates will become alumni of one of the world’s greatest universities.

This year’s graduating class is one of the largest in our history and congratulations to each and every one of you!

Camp Randall Stadium is marking a major milestone of its own this year—its 100th birthday.  And just for the record, our first game here in 1917 was a shutout—when we trounced the University of Minnesota.

If the iconic setting and the outstanding graduates aren’t enough, we also have a remarkably talented and successful keynote speaker—UW alum Steven Levitan, who is also here.  Steven, thank you for coming.

The Wisconsin Experience

Class of 2017, you have earned a degree from one of the top 25 universities in the world.

That wouldn’t have been possible without the love and support of the family and friends who are around us at Camp Randall.   Graduates, please join me in giving everyone in the bleachers a round of applause.

Before we talk about what’s next, let me invite you to just enjoy these last few moments together with your classmates, to remember:

  • Remember how unexpectedly delicious orange-custard-chocolate-chip ice cream is … especially when eaten on the Union Terrace.
  • Remember some seriously big Battles for Bascom.
  • Remember the Bowl games … the Women’s Frozen Four … back-to-back trips to the Final Four … and many more great Badger moments.
  • Remember marching side-by-side for justice … for equality … for women… or for science.
  • And remember some of the difficult moments. Moments that I hope have brought us together as a community to think about who we are, and how we want to live.

I also want to say a word in memory of a bright and talented member of the UW family, Wenxin Huai—better known as Wendy.  Wendy’s death by an alleged drunken driver less than a month ago, just weeks before she was to graduate, makes this a bittersweet moment—especially for the classmates, friends, and teachers who knew her best.

There are others in your class who also did not make it to graduation, and we remember them all.

Today is about celebrating your accomplishments.   The Class of 2017 is a remarkable group, with talented, diverse students like…

  • Catherine Finedore, who’s combining a degree in Biomedical Engineering with her interest in fashion design to create high-tech clothing for people with injuries and disabilities.
  • Deshawn McKinney, who won two of this nation’s most prestigious scholarships and is now off to the London School of Economics with a Marshall Scholarship to pursue a master’s degree.
  • And Helena Record and Jackie Laistch, who never imagined when they came here that part of their UW experience would involve bringing Wisconsin dairy cows to a village in eastern Africa. That experience convinced them both to pursue graduate work in public health.

Defining success

All of you are graduating at a time when this nation and world face enormous challenges.   I hope that you will be successful in bringing what you’ve learned here to meet those challenges.

How you do that will be up to you, but the first step is to figure out what “being successful” means.

Let me tell you how one of our alums answered that question.

How many of you own a “Sconnie” t-shirt?  I’m not going to ask how many of you are wearing one under their gown?

For those of you from out of town:  A “Sconnie” is anyone who loves Wisconsin … with extra points if you eat brats, cheer for the Badgers, know what a bubbler is, or own a mailbox shaped like a tractor.

The “Sconnie Nation” t-shirt was born in one of our freshman dorms – the invention of a student named Troy Vosseler.   Sconnie was a runaway success … but Troy wasn’t satisfied.   He realized that being successful meant more than just running his own start-up company.  It also meant sharing what he’s learned with others.  So he formed a business incubator called gener8tor to help entrepreneurs launch new businesses.

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 – as Troy does – that is bigger than yourself.

Two rules for success

But knowing what success means, and becoming successful are two different things.  Kind of like the difference between wanting to be a doctor … and actually finishing medical school.

I can’t tell you exactly how to be successful, but I can give you a couple of rules for success.

First, ask the right questions

All of you have made some important choices so far in your life.  You chose to come to UW.  You decided what program of study you wanted to pursue.

You’ll face more choices at every step along the way, in your job, in your future schooling, and in your personal life.  When those choices are in front of you, here’s what you want to ask:

What do I love to do?  What am I good at?  Which of these choices will help me to come closer to the person I want to be?

These are the questions that will lead you in the right direction and help you set your next goal.

Now I know there are a few of you who have already asked these questions.  Some of you quickly decided after arriving at UW to combine what you loved to do … and you were good at … by sampling the menu on every food cart on library mall.

That’s good.

Now try asking these questions when you think about a slightly … larger … goal.  Find the place where your skills and your passion come together, and you’ll find where you can be successful.

Rule #2. Taking risks

None of us succeeds by playing it safe all the time.  I hope that we have taught you to push your boundaries – even when that scares you a little bit.

Trying new things will teach you a lot about yourself – even (and maybe especially) when you don’t succeed.

  • Abraham Lincoln lost 8 elections.
  • Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.
  • And before he co-founded Microsoft, Bill Gates started another company called ‘Traf-o-Data” – a major flop.

The key to success is not avoiding risksit’s embracing them, and learning from the result.


Wherever your path leads next, I hope that you will define your success by the difference you make in the world.

I hope you will find work that you love, and have the opportunity to work with people you can learn from, and who in turn can learn from you.

I can’t wait to hear what each of you does next.  But wherever you go, be sure to come back and visit us every so often here in Madison.  You will always be part of UW and I hope that UW will always be part of you.

Thank you for making this university a better place while you were here.

Congratulations to all of you. And On Wisconsin!

Urging renewal of research partnership Fri, 28 Apr 2017 14:24:51 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I’m just back from the AAU meetings, which include the 60 big research universities in the U.S., both public and private. At that meeting we unanimously adopted the following statement on the importance of research to this country.

American science has put a man on the moon, ended polio, sequenced the human genome, connected the world through the internet and then placed it in the palm of your hand, and allowed us to diagnose countless medical conditions with the aid of an MRI. The partnership that has enabled this now faces an existential threat. At the same time our nation’s greatest economic competitors are rapidly gaining ground. We must reaffirm our commitment to the extraordinary partnership the federal government has built with American universities that has fostered unprecedented scientific achievement and economic growth in the United States since WWII. This partnership has generated untold job growth, greatly improved our national health, and reinforced our national security.

The federal government forged a unique partnership with American universities to perform innovative research to advance our economy, improve public health, strengthen national security, and at the same time train our nation’s next generation of scientists and engineers. In return, the federal government provides universities with peer-reviewed and competitively awarded grants to support the people, tools, and infrastructure necessary to conduct the highest quality of research for the American people.

There are now proposals in Washington to slash the federal research budgets that have propelled America to be the global leader in innovation. This would cripple our ability to do our part in generating economic growth and providing more jobs for Americans. If these cuts are enacted, the partnership that has been reinforced through both Republican and Democratic administrations over the past 70 years could literally collapse. Our nation’s research agencies cannot survive deep budget cuts and sustain the promise of America’s leadership in scientific, technological, and economic advancement.

We call on every American who cares about the welfare, security, and prosperity of our nation to join us in urging our nation’s leaders to renew and strengthen this partnership. Our economy depends on our ability to create the technologies, cures, and jobs of the future.

Establishing outcome metrics in the next budget Thu, 13 Apr 2017 13:00:57 +0000 Continue reading ]]> As most readers will know, under the budget proposal by Gov. Scott Walker, new funding for the UW System is tied to performance metrics that would rank UW campuses and distribute the funding based on how well each school does in comparison to the other system schools. Tying funding to performance metrics has been tried by a number of states in the past and has been much discussed in higher education.

Let me start by being clear about language. I much prefer the term “outcome-based metrics” rather than “performance-based metrics” because that makes it clear that funding is tied to results. For instance, the number of teaching hours or the number of students admitted to a particular program (metrics that are sometimes proposed) are inputs, not outputs, and do not belong in an outcome metric.

A recent analysis done by UW-Madison Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis Nicholas Hillman shows that UW-Madison does very well under the funding proposal laid out in the budget, but I strongly believe that it would be better for the state as a whole if our campuses were not pitted against each other for funding.

Each campus in the UW System has its own mission and serves a different student population.  Other UW System schools complement UW-Madison’s undergraduate offerings much more than they compete against them and this diversity benefits our state workforce. By comparing us to each other, the new funding formula could mean only a few schools would receive most of the new funding.

I have no problems with accountability requirements. Indeed, the entire UW System already reports on a series of accountability measures that can be found here. But the devil is in the details when you start trying to figure out how to tie the distribution of dollars to these metrics.  To do this right – without unforeseen and negative consequences – requires some real thought and some knowledge of the UW System schools and how they operate. That’s why we are asking that the Board of Regents be given the authority to define and operationalize a set of metrics and a process by which they might be used to distribute funding.

As state legislators consider this proposal, it’s important to note that outcome-based funding experiments did not work as intended in several other states that put them in place. For example, in order to meet its outcome metrics, Indiana’s university system became far more selective in admissions. This made the campuses less diverse and didn’t increase the number of degrees awarded. Neither Tennessee’s graduation nor retention rate increased under this type of funding formula, and Pennsylvania didn’t see an increase in degrees after using outcome-based funding for over a decade. In the end, these states were forced to make significant changes to their performance metric systems.

Even once a set of outcome measures is agreed upon, the biggest challenge is to decide how to operationalize those measures. This has to be done with some nuance. Here are the principles I’d recommend:

  • Compare each school with its defined peers on these measures.
    1. If the school is above its peers, the distribution formula should reward maintaining that positive differential.
    2. If the school is below its peers, the distribution formula should reward progress toward the peers’ average outcome.
  • Because of the substantial differences among schools within the UW System, do not establish a single set of metrics that each school should meet, but allow schools to choose among a set of possible metrics. This is what the technical colleges in the state currently do.

Let me give some examples here at UW-Madison. What if one metric were retention rates for our students between their freshman and sophomore years? Right now we have a retention rate of almost 96 percent, well above our peers’ average retention rate. We should be rewarded for maintaining this exceptional rate. Indeed, if we were told we had to improve this metric, we simply couldn’t do it.

Alternatively, what if one metric were research dollars expended on campus? It is possible that in the next few years there will be major cuts in research funding at the federal level. In this circumstance, we should be judged on how well we do relative to our peers. If our research funding falls less than research funding among our peers, we should be rewarded for that … even though the metric is declining. It means we’re doing better than others at retaining research dollars in a tough environment.

These are two examples of the nuances that one needs to bring to outcome-based measurement. Simple rules (“if the metric goes up, you’re doing well, and if it goes down, you’re doing poorly”) do not work.

We should also be particularly careful about writing outcome measures into state statute. If we need to make adjustments to respond to the changing workforce and research needs of our state, it would be quicker for our legislators to work with the Board of Regents to make changes than to pass a new law through the state Legislature.

A good example of how this could be a problem happened just last week. After a Canadian company announced it will no longer buy Wisconsin milk after May 1, numerous state legislators sent UW System President Ray Cross a letter asking him to direct UW System researchers to explore alternative uses for milk. UW System campuses can respond quickly to requests like this right now. However, if this response diverted resources away from activities that enhanced the outcome measures on which campus funding was based, campuses may be reluctant to shift any resources toward the new research out of fear they will lose state funding.

The good news is UW-Madison has many researchers working on dairy issues and they are also creating new milk-based products. Just this week we announced a new ice cream with ingredients designed to help athletes recover after a workout. The Florida Gators may have Gatorade, but athletes will probably enjoy Badger Babcock ice cream after a tough workout even more. You can see the video here:

I’m confident UW schools and the Board of Regents can work with state leaders to identify ways we can ensure education dollars are being spent effectively for students, taxpayers and individual institutions. I look forward to working with legislative leaders on this issue as it moves forward.



After successful pilot, Our Wisconsin will launch more fully in the fall Wed, 01 Mar 2017 20:29:21 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Our Wisconsin is a program for incoming students that started last fall as an effort to build understanding and community on campus in the areas of culture, identity, diversity and inclusion. I am happy to tell you that the pilot sessions we ran this past fall were successful, based on the evaluation results we received. We’re moving forward with changes that will allow the program to reach even more incoming Badgers.

The Division of Student Life created Our Wisconsin as a two-part, in-person inclusion workshop for new students. The workshops, led by teams of student, staff, and faculty facilitators, featured structured dialogue, activities, and reflection. About 1,000 undergraduate students – from throughout Sellery, Cole, Leopold, and Sullivan residence halls – participated in the fall workshops.

A survey compared the participants to non-participants living in the residence halls. The results indicate that 80 percent of participants reported that more students on campus would benefit from participating in the workshop, and that 75 percent of participants found the workshops to be somewhat to extremely informative. Compared to those who did not participate in the program, participants showed greater interest and openness to conversations and interactions with diverse groups.

We want to expand on that success. This summer, the Our Wisconsin curriculum will be introduced at Student Orientation, Advising, and Registration (SOAR), which means that 99 percent of incoming students will be introduced to Our Wisconsin key concepts before classes begin. An Our Wisconsin workshop will be held in residence halls within the first couple weeks of the semester, with all freshmen encouraged to participate.

As we introduce new students to Our Wisconsin, we are introducing them to their new home at UW and in the dorms and to the expectations we have for our community. As I have said many times in this space, a top priority of mine is that we have a campus where all students feel welcomed, valued, and supported.

Our Wisconsin is not mandatory, but participation is an expectation. We expect participation at SOAR to be close to 100 percent, and very high participation in the workshop in the residence halls – similar to participation levels among targeted students during the pilot program last year. The rollout of Our Wisconsin is like two other highly successful campus orientation programs, AlcoholEdu and Tonight.

Our Wisconsin invites students to “lead the Badger Way” by fostering an environment of inclusion and respect. Thank you to all the students who participated this past fall and who responded to the survey. And thanks to all the students, faculty and staff who have helped shape the program. I look forward to even more students having an opportunity to reflect on their own identity and on the opportunities and challenges they face as they enter a much more heterogeneous community here at UW.

If you are interested in becoming a facilitator, please visit the Become a Badger Way facilitator page at the Our Wisconsin site.

The proposed budget for 2017-19 Wed, 22 Feb 2017 14:00:02 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Gov. Walker’s recent budget proposal is an acknowledgment that the UW System plays a major role in spurring the state economy, and we are very thankful for the commitment he has made to reinvesting in higher education in Wisconsin. His investment in the UW System includes restoring $50 million that was lapsed back to the state in the last biennial budget and $42.5 million in much-needed new funding. This is a welcome change from the cuts in state support in 10 out of the last 12 years (under both political parties), which created serious challenges for the entire UW System.

We continue to analyze the entire proposal and as we have delved into details of the policy items it contains, there are several areas about which we have concerns. Here are a few of the items we are closely tracking.

Compensation plan: There is a general wage increase proposed for all state employees, but it appears the governor has tied funding of the increase for UW System employees to savings generated from the state moving to a self-insurance model for health insurance. This is not the case for raises for other state employees, and with some legislators questioning whether to move forward with a self-insurance model it could mean the increase for UW employees is not funded. I, along with System leadership, will encourage legislators to treat all state employees consistently for wage increases.

Performance metrics: We agree that accountability measures for System schools are important to ensure we align with state goals, including affordability and educating highly skilled graduates who will strengthen the state workforce. Those measures should be laid out by the Board of Regents, not in state statute, to ensure they function effectively and can be easily updated to meet changing state needs. In fact, the UW System already tracks performance. The reports can be at the UW System Accountability Dashboard. If there are additional factors the state would like tracked, we would be happy to work with them and the Board of Regents to make any needed changes.

Faculty workload reporting: UW-Madison faculty provide service to Wisconsin in three critical areas — teaching, research, and outreach. Each of these services is important so any method of tracking faculty workload, as proposed in the budget, should include all three areas, not merely time spent in the classroom. We are an educational institution and teaching students will always be a priority. However, we are also a research institution and our efforts at innovation help fuel outreach to Wisconsin businesses and communities, provide important benefits and economic returns to the state, jobs for Wisconsin residents and job training for our students.

Allocable segregated fees: We share the governor’s goal of keeping college affordable, but the proposal to let students opt out of allocable segregated fees may have unintended consequences and reduce the availability of needed services and programs including our on-campus bus services, VETS (Veterans, Educators, and Traditional Students), the Rape Crisis Center, GUTS (Greater University Tutoring Service), and support for programming among our registered student organizations.

Academic Freedom Policy: The governor has recommended codifying in state statute a commitment to academic freedom and freedom of expression. The Board of Regents passed a similar resolution in 2015 that is now part of Regent policy. It will be important to have a conversation with the legislature on the impact of any differences between the proposed language and the existing policy.

Capital Budget: One area of substantial interest is the capital budget, which allocates dollars for facilities maintenance as well as support for renovation and building projects. The governor’s recommendations on the capital budget were just released and I’m pleased to see that there is substantial funding targeted to maintenance projects. This is especially important because in the last budget the state provided no funding for these projects, and we have been forced to use some educational funds to address critical maintenance issues. Unfortunately, the budget for renovation and construction projects is more limited and none of the requested UW-Madison projects are on the proposed list for funding.

These budget proposals will now be extensively reviewed by the Joint Finance Committee and a revised budget will be voted on by the Senate and the Assembly before going back to the governor for his signature, probably sometime in June. We will keep you updated on these and other issues as budget discussions progress. Visit for the latest news and information.

Video: Chancellor Blank’s presentation to the Board of Regents, Feb. 2, 2017 Tue, 07 Feb 2017 16:08:22 +0000