Blank’s Slate – Office of the Chancellor – UW–Madison Tue, 15 Sep 2020 21:31:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Update on COVID-19 response Tue, 15 Sep 2020 10:27:32 +0000 Read More]]> To our students, faculty and staff, I want to start by recognizing how frustrating the beginning of this semester has been. This was not how we envisioned the start of the academic year.

In particular, I want to acknowledge that the numbers of positive COVID-19 tests that we’re seeing on campus have been higher and increased more quickly than we had anticipated at this point in the semester– and gone up faster than among most of our peer schools.

I understand that people on and off campus are worried and upset about these cases– I am as well. As I said when we recently announced our two-week switch to online instruction, we must bring our daily case totals down and we are taking aggressive action to do that.

The health of our community remains our largest concern. We said from the start that we would follow the data and take action if COVID-19 posed a threat to our community.

With the rise in infections, we have taken the following significant additional actions over the last week including:
• Working with Public Health Madison & Dane County, which quarantined two dozen fraternity and sorority chapters
• Directing all undergraduate students to limit in-person interactions and curtailed access to spaces where close congregation is most frequent
• Ordering a two-week shift to virtual learning
• Imposing strong restrictions on the students in Witte and Sellery, where cases have gone up much faster than in other dorms, in addition to improving food service and support for students
• Amassing resources to quickly test specific populations at highest risk

We are almost certainly going to see significant case numbers continue over the coming week. We are testing everybody who is a live-in student at the fraternities and sororities, and everybody in Witte and Sellery. That means we’re identifying people who test positive and moving them into isolation.

I know not everyone agrees but I believe the decision to open campus this fall remains the right one, for several reasons. In-person instruction is a better way for most students to learn. Our safety protocols for classrooms have worked; to date we have no evidence of any transmission from classroom settings.

Further, regardless of how we delivered instruction, most of our students had plans to be in Madison this fall. Our reasoning is that it is better for students to have some structure in their schedule with some in-person classes, lots of visible messaging about health protocols, and access to in-person testing.

Our choice to start with a hybrid semester of in-person and on-line learning is the same choice made by almost all our peer schools. And the health protocols we have put in place on campus seem to be effective, suggesting that we can conduct teaching and research safely. We have no evidence of transmission that has occurred in an on-campus classroom or work setting, and very few employees have been ill.

From early on, we emphasized the need for extensive testing that would allow us to monitor the virus and act quickly. All along, we have been guided by advice from medical experts and public health professionals here on the UW campus and by extensive data

We instituted a robust testing plan and by September 14 will have performed nearly 30,000 since mid-August. We’ve been transparent with the data, providing daily updates to the public. We’ve consulted leading experts, including Nasia Safdar, medical director for infection control at UW Health, and Jon Temte, associate dean of the School of Medicine and Public Health, and our staff is in daily communication with local public health officials.

In the next week, we expect to further expand our testing capacity, by processing our first samples at the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Lab on campus, as well as launching a rapid, LAMP-based surveillance testing partnership with UW researchers Dave O’Connor and Tom Friedrich. These LAMP based tests deliver results in around 30 minutes and can be deployed to areas of concern to quickly identify and isolate those individuals who may be infectious.

We’re also planning to add more contact tracers to the significant staff we have already. We want to do contact tracing for any students or staff who go to the Alliant Center for their tests, to reduce the burden on county public health staff.

We’ll continue to watch the data and be guided by advice from medical and public health professionals and make decisions in consultation with UW System and Board of Regents leadership.

In addition, we’ve watched closely the experiences of other universities across the country and have done our best to gather information that might inform our approach. Specifically, we were aware that off campus conduct would be an issue and deployed staff into student neighborhoods to look for parties and encourage compliance. By our count, this includes multiple staff from Student Affairs and UWPD logging many hours in recent weeks.

Remember that many UW students live off campus and even those who live in residence halls spend a good portion of their time off campus, where our university protocols and rules are harder to enforce. It’s tremendously difficult to change behaviors, and a small percentage of the population can have a big impact because infection transmission multiplies quickly. That makes a strong partnership with our city and county all the more important.

There have been and will continue to be serious consequences for those who have violated our standards. The Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards is investigating over 300 students for conduct violations related to COVID and reviewing 12 students for emergency suspension. We are taking these violations very seriously and holding students accountable, including removing them from housing and the institution. It is the responsibility of all of our students and employees to act in the best public health interest of our campus and local community.

This week and next will be critical. We will be looking at the data each day and sharing it with you through our dashboard. I very much hope that by the end of next week, we’ll see a downturn in positive cases.

I want to close with a statement to our students. Thank you to everyone who has been following our health protocols. I know that this is the majority of you. For those students who have not, I hope that you are learning something from the explosion in infections that we’ve seen. Even if you yourself are largely unaffected by this virus, you can infect others who are at greater risk.

Badgers care about their community. All of us want to finish this semester with more face-to-face instruction, and a trajectory toward more “normal” operations on campus. That requires attention to health protocols not just on campus but off campus as well. Let’s bend the curve and keep it low.

UW in a Semester of COVID Wed, 26 Aug 2020 16:45:00 +0000 Read More]]>
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  • We’re on the cusp of what is sure to be one of the most unusual fall semesters in our university’s history.

    If you’re a student, I want to take a moment to welcome you back. If you’re an employee, I’d like to thank you for your hard work this summer to help us reach this point. It’s taken extraordinary efforts from all employees – faculty, instructors, staff, and graduate students – to help prepare for our fall semester.

    I recognize that, to some degree, we’re all anxious about the ongoing pandemic and exhausted by the change and uncertainty we’re experiencing. For our university, COVID-19 disrupted our spring semester, our research, teaching and outreach work, and our chance for graduates to celebrate together. It has led to furloughs and a hiring freeze. Despite efforts to shield our lower earning employees from the worst outcomes, this has had an economic ripple effect through families and the wider community. We know that it has deeply and disproportionately impacted our communities of color.

    Amid all these effects, I have been repeatedly asked over the past weeks why we would choose to move ahead this fall with our plans for a hybrid model of instruction using both virtual and in-person modalities. I have heard the feedback from employees and acknowledge the anxiety and uncertainty some are feeling about the start of the semester on September 2. I want to take this opportunity to directly address many of the core questions I’m hearing and provide the latest information we have.

    Q. Why reopen at this point?

    With the support and cooperation of everyone in our community, we continue to believe that we have a plan in place that allows us to safely reopen for partial in-person instruction until the Thanksgiving break. This decision is not a financial one, but a chance to allow for some in-person learning, as well as at least some of the interactions between students (as well as with faculty and staff) that make a UW education so valuable. Having students on campus and providing in-person instruction, where feasible, provides a better set of educational opportunities for students lacking suitable technology or spaces to effectively study at home.

    Our plan was crafted with the participation and input from senior leaders in Schools and Colleges, shared governance leaders and many faculty and staff who participated in different task forces. We continue to hold live events to answer questions and respond to feedback.

    At this stage, roughly 45 percent of classes will have some in-person component to them. If students want a course schedule with classes designed to be entirely remote, almost all have had the opportunity to select these courses.

    In understanding our decision, it is important to recognize that a substantial percentage of students have been living in Madison and/or will be here in the fall whether or not we offer any in-person instruction. Given this, we believe that both they and the community are better off when they have some structure to their days (beyond sitting at home in front of a computer), when testing is broadly available, and when they receive daily reminders of health protocols.

    As noted, we have emphasized to all students that they can stay away from Madison and take remote classes if they have health issues or if this is their preference. The fact that our students are returning to Madison in large numbers indicates their desire to be on and near campus.

    We’ve heard from faculty and staff who have concerns about working on campus because of health or related issues. We’ve made it very clear to supervisors and department chairs that they should make accommodations whenever possible and appropriate so these employees can protect themselves and their families.

    Q. Why do we believe this will be successful when others are changing their plans?

    No plan is risk free in the current environment. There have been and will continue to be COVID-19 cases in Dane County among students, as well as among our broader campus community.

    Many students have been in Madison over the summer, and these students are reflected among the Dane County COVID case and test positivity numbers. Today we’ve launched a campus dashboard reporting COVID-19 test results. Students who we have tested on campus have had a positivity rate of approximately 1.6% in recent weeks, the same as the current seven day average for Dane County overall.

    As students move in this week, we expect to perform about 8,000 tests; going forward we expect to run at least 6,000 tests per week. Let me be blunt about the inevitable effect: This increased testing will identify more positive cases in Dane County, especially initially when students return to campus. This will be particularly noticeable when we do mandatory testing of the approximately 6,500 students arriving at residence halls this week.  But this also means that we are identifying and isolating positive cases before they have a chance to spread.

    We are prepared for up and down movements in positivity rates from week to week as our semester progresses, as we’ve seen in local and statewide tracking of other test positivity rates.

    One component of our testing program is particularly important – surveillance testing of cohorts of both students and staff, and through campus wastewater sampling. This will give us an early indication if underlying infection rates start to increase and will allow us to make targeted interventions to control spread.

    We’re encouraged by our experiences this summer when, as part of our Research Reboot initiative, we have had a number of people already working on campus in labs. The positivity rate among those employees who’ve been tested has been very low (less than 1 percent).

    We have followed all medical and public health guidelines with the protocols we’ve put in place across campus, including mandatory face coverings and physical distancing, enhanced cleaning and disinfecting protocols, and changes to physical spaces.

    Finally, I would note that testing options are evolving rapidly. By the middle to late fall, I expect we will be able to scale up our testing substantially, with more and lower-cost tests. The more that we can test our community, the better control we have over infections.

    Q. How will we avoid outbreaks?

    We have a process to promptly move students who test positive from residence halls into isolation. We will also move any fellow residents that were in close contact with them into quarantine.

    Campus has worked throughout the summer to repurpose its own spaces and contract with additional facilities to ensure we have sufficient space to safely accommodate positive cases and close contacts. We can accommodate approximately 1,000 people – about 15 percent of our expected residence hall population – in our isolation and quarantine rooms. Students may also return home if they wish.

    We will also notify and do contact tracing for students testing positive who live off campus; we have so far added 35 new contact tracers at University Health Services and will be hiring more. We’ve been educating off-campus students and their families about the need to have a plan for how they will isolate or quarantine, if needed. We are also working with fraternities and sororities to help those living in chapter houses arrange for their own quarantine and isolation spaces.

    It is important to emphasize that the university is doing the testing and contact tracing required for campus to operate this fall. We will not be putting an added burden on Dane County public health staff and facilities. As our testing and contact tracing come online, we will be substantially expanding Dane County’s overall capacity to trace infections.

    Q. What about off-campus parties?

    It’s natural for students to want to congregate on campus and off here in Madison. We are aware of the role of off-campus parties and large gatherings in spreading the virus at other universities.

    These events are prohibited by public health order in Dane County and should students violate this order, they will be held accountable through university disciplinary action (including suspension for repeat violations) and/or municipal sanctions such as substantial fines. We are providing steady messaging to all of our students about the importance of following the health and safety guidelines and have university staff visiting off-campus students on the weekends to emphasize the importance of face coverings and physical distancing.

    But we believe students want to be in Madison to learn in person and that they will rise to this opportunity. They will be required to participate in campus COVID-19 training and agree to the Badger Pledge, which indicates a commitment to following public health guidelines.

    UW fraternities and sororities have prohibited any social gatherings and events that include alcohol and have pledged that all events will follow county public health guidelines. Again, violations of these guidelines will be sanctioned by both UW-Madison and the City of Madison. At present, Dane County has ordered all bars closed to indoor patrons, including the bars around UW.

    Should you observe a public health concern about an individual student or student groups, you may report these to us centrally through a Public Health COVID-19 Concern Form. We are taking all violations seriously and will be holding students accountable.

    Q. How does Smart Restart pay attention to equity issues?

    Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve attempted to shield our lower wage employees from the financial effects of the pandemic. We have provided paid COVID leave; the furloughs we imposed fell more heavily on higher wage employees; senior leadership has taken even greater salary reductions; and in those areas where almost all work disappeared we arranged a work-share program that allowed employees to work part-time and collect unemployment benefits to cover the lost hours.

    When we turned to virtual learning last March, we made strong efforts to identify and meet the needs of our students for whom this was most problematic. We provided laptops for those who needed them and will do so again this fall. We have made it clear that we will provide financial assistance to those who need this as well – in the past five months we have distributed over $9.8 million in response to student aid requests.

    This fall, I am particularly concerned about our students with food or housing insecurities. These are students who may benefit the most from being on campus, with dedicated space and time to focus on their course work. We know some of these students have felt unable to be at UW-Madison in person because of family obligations.  And we also know that when students drop out for a semester, they are at increased risk of dropping out permanently.

    In response to these concerns, Student Affairs, DDEEA, and the Office of Financial Aid have been reaching out to lower-income students. They are trying to help students assess their needs and are making every effort to contact students who have yet to enroll for courses in the fall. For those who can’t come to campus, we have increased online and virtual advising. For those coming to campus, we have increased onboarding programs for incoming and continuing students.

    I also want to particularly thank the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, which provided a grant to the Center for Educational Opportunity this spring to provide financial support to students with increased financial problems due to the pandemic and the shifts in academic instruction and campus operations.

    Q. What happens if it doesn’t work?

    If our testing and monitoring data indicate a rising level of infection that creates a public health threat, we will take steps to close all or parts of campus, returning to virtual work and instruction as needed. This will need to be done in consultation with UW System Administration, which is monitoring the situation at all campuses in the UW System.

    There is no single criterion that will push us to make a decision about reversing or scaling down our plans. We are monitoring several quantitative and qualitative factors – these include the percentage of people testing positive and capacity in our on-campus isolation and quarantine spaces, as well as broader community measures such as the county’s percentage of people testing positive and the capacity of our health care system. We will also continue to receive advice from infectious disease experts here on campus as they help us monitor what is happening. We have developed a number of contingency plans that allow us to adjust our operations to a fast-moving situation.

    Different universities have made different choices. Most other Big Ten universities are opening this fall. We have been guided throughout our planning process by data, scientific research, and advice from experts. The health protocols we have in place should mitigate the chances of infection transmission on campus. But it is incumbent on our entire community – students and employees – to behave responsibly off campus as well as on campus.

    Nothing is certain about this fall. All of us acknowledge that we may have to move to fully virtual instruction before Thanksgiving. But this disease is not going to quickly go away, and we need to figure out how to live with it until there are more robust medical interventions such as a vaccine.

    It’s been a strange and long six months. I appreciate all the ways in which our campus community has supported each other and kept the important work of the university moving forward. I ask for your continued support and cooperation as we navigate this situation together.

    Blank, Alvarez statement on Big Ten decision Tue, 11 Aug 2020 19:18:33 +0000 Read More]]> The following statement was jointly released by Chancellor Rebecca Blank and Athletic Director Barry Alvarez following the Big Ten’s decision to postpone its fall season.

    As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every aspect of our lives, both personally and professionally. For many students and staff, it has brought anxiety and stress and we are all looking forward to a time when things begin to look and feel more “normal.”

    For many months, we had hoped that the return of fall collegiate sports might be an opportunity to restore some sense of normalcy and provide brighter moments for our university, our city and our state. Even so, today’s decision by the Big Ten to postpone the fall 2020 sports season is the correct one.

    It was made with the input of medical professionals and with the best interests of student-athletes, fans and staff at its core. Athletic Department staff have worked incredibly hard to create as safe an environment as possible for our teams to practice and prepare for the season, but there is simply too much unknown risk for us to proceed with the confidence we need to launch our sports seasons. At the end of the day, the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches and staff is our top priority. Nothing is more important.

    Sports are simply different from other campus activities. There is no way to preserve physical distancing during competition, and masking can make competition very difficult. There are also a variety of unknowns about the interaction of COVID-19 with extreme physical exertion. As a result, playing the fall season would pose risks that we think are not acceptable for our student-athletes and our athletic staff.

    This is a difficult moment for all of us — student-athletes, coaches, staff, students, fans and local communities — whose lives are intertwined with Badger Athletics in a variety of ways.

    We are all going to miss the excitement of Saturdays at Camp Randall, cheering the volleyball team in the Field House as it was headed toward another run for a National Championship, the excellence of our cross country runners and the memorable experiences that come with men’s and women’s soccer.

    We are particularly heartbroken for the student-athletes and coaches who put so much time and effort into preparing for competition.

    We also recognize that this decision will have a major financial impact on not only our Athletic Department, but the many businesses and members of our community who rely on Badger events to support their livelihoods. These financial issues within Athletics are compounded by the deep financial challenges facing all of campus at this moment.

    Today’s decision affects fall sports only, and we are still hopeful that we can find a path forward so that their seasons can be played in spring 2021. There are many obstacles to overcome for this to happen, but we will begin planning in case that is possible. At this point, no decisions have been made regarding winter sports.

    Despite this postponement, we will continue to provide support and care for our student-athletes. That is central to our Athletic Department mission, and includes continuing their scholarships, academic advising and support, health insurance, and meals. This also includes the safe and successful opening of the fall semester on our campus, so that all students have an opportunity to move forward in their education.

    We recognize how disappointing this news is to our Badger community. We appreciate the continued support and understanding of all those associated with Badger Athletics and the fans who cheer them on and look forward to the day we can safely resume competition in college athletics.

    Chancellor Blank: Summer update on Smart Restart plans Tue, 28 Jul 2020 11:00:53 +0000 Read More]]>
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  • To our UW employees,

    I hope you’ve managed to find ways to enjoy the nice weather and to take a break from your usual activities during this most unusual and difficult summer. It’s been more than a month since we launched our Smart Restart initiative, with plans to bring our students back to campus for hybrid instruction, beginning on Sept. 2.

    During that time, neither the pandemic nor our institution have stood still. Today, I wanted to update you on our preparations and some recent developments that shape our planning.

    We are committed to our mission as a world-class education and research institution. As a premier residential university, we believe deeply in the value of face-to-face instruction. This is particularly true for students who do not have access to first-rate technology, reliable internet, or a residential environment conducive to effective learning. For these reasons, we feel it is critical to return instructional activities back to campus where we can do so safely. Similarly, there is important research work that can only be done on campus.

    We are doing everything we can to reduce health risks for students, staff and faculty. Our plans are informed by the latest science and public health information. They include a robust testing regime, contact tracing, symptom monitoring, enhanced cleaning protocols, mandatory wearing of face coverings in university buildings and public spaces where physical distancing isn’t possible, and physical distancing in all classrooms. These steps, along with our plans for a mixture of face-to-face and remote instruction, makes us optimistic about our ability to reopen some on-campus activities this fall.

    We are carefully monitoring the recent rise of COVID-19 cases within Dane County and the state of Wisconsin. We’ve started to see some improvement of those numbers within Dane County in recent weeks and are keeping in close contact with local officials on these trends. We are not changing our reopening plans at this time.

    Employees who are currently and successfully working remotely, and who do not need to be on campus to fulfill their responsibilities this fall, are expected to continue working remotely. Employees who will return to campus for work should be receiving instructions from their supervisor in early August. If you are unclear about the fall plans for you and your unit, I urge you to contact your supervisor.

    For jobs that require an in-person presence, units are being instructed to modify on-site work schedules to reduce the number of employees in a given place at one time. This is particularly important for areas with a high number of shared space environments.

    I know many of you have school-aged children at home, and we’ve also watched as several Dane County K-12 districts, including the Madison Metropolitan School District, have announced plans to begin the year with online learning, at least through October.

    We know how difficult this is for our families because it means that many of you will be juggling your children’s learning activities and childcare needs alongside your work schedule. For those who may be experiencing this situation I’d encourage you to talk with your supervisor. Wherever possible, we will try to offer flexibility in work schedules.

    While we track off-campus developments, we are continuing to take major steps forward on campus with our Smart Restart preparations. In recent weeks, we have reopened several services, such as the Terrace, materials pickup from the Libraries and the Chazen Museum of Art, and continue to work on many others in advance of the fall semester.

    In recent days, we’ve also released additional information on our support of international students, testing plans, instructor safety, employee safety, student course selection and overall reopening plans. As I have noted before, teams organized by campus leaders are working with hundreds of staff members around campus.

    I’m sorry to say that we have more bad budget news from the state. Governor Evers has called for $250 million in cost savings across state government in the current fiscal year, which runs from July 2020 to June 2021. That means that state agencies will have to reduce their spending by this amount over the year. While the exact cut to the UW System is still unclear, it certainly means that this campus will face a large additional reduction in state funds over the year. I appreciate the work that Interim System President Tommy Thompson is doing to minimize these losses across the System. UW System schools are central drivers of the economy and are already facing large revenue losses because of the pandemic.

    While I want to make clear that fiscal considerations are not the primary force in our decision to offer a hybrid model of classes this fall, it is true that our budget next year is also greatly affected by the return of students. At this point, we expect a strong returning class, but nothing is certain until school actually starts this fall. I will be in touch with greater details about our financial situation after the fall semester starts, and what the implications are for budget cuts here on campus. We will know more about the reduction of state funds by that point as well.

    We continue to do our best to communicate these developments by meeting with governance leadership, hosting live webchats aimed at different audiences, answering your questions by email and posting the most recent information on the Smart Restart website. In addition to the website, we have plans to launch an educational campaign around our expectations for following health and safety protocols during the fall semester.

    I recognize the frustration, anxiety and stress the pandemic continues to create on a daily basis on so many different levels of our lives. I am hopeful, however, when I hear about the efforts of our health workers and our researchers who are helping us to understand and beat this disease. I also appreciate the many campus efforts to reach out and help our community and state at this time, whether it’s the engineers who are designing personal protective equipment to slow and halt the spread of the virus, or the social sciences and humanities experts who are helping people to cope with it. Working together, we will make it through these difficult times.

    I will keep you updated with the latest developments in the weeks to come. In the meantime, please continue to wear face coverings, keep your distance and wash your hands! I hope to see you soon and to join many of you in returning to work on campus in the next month.

    Chancellor Rebecca Blank

    Provost Scholz: Value of UW-Madison education grows during pandemic Fri, 24 Jul 2020 15:12:27 +0000 Read More]]> Provost John Karl Scholz authored this guest post about the cost of tuition and the value of a University of Wisconsin-Madison degree.

    The Covid-19 pandemic has challenged higher education institutions worldwide to be innovative in how they deliver learning. I am proud of the way UW-Madison staff and faculty, as well as students, adapted to meet this challenge. We continue to offer a world-class education, with courses taught by some of the finest faculty and instructional staff in the world. That hasn’t changed.

    With a shift from face-to-face instruction to greater use of remote delivery, however, there have been many questions about value. Some wonder if, since some classes won’t be offered in-person this fall, the cost of attendance for students should be reduced.

    The costs for UW-Madison to deliver world-class instruction have increased during this pandemic, and the prices of any good or service depends critically on costs. To meet the challenge of enhancing the quality of instruction, we have invested aggressively to improve course design and remote learning experiences. We are also investing heavily to lessen risk on campus, developing a rigorous approach to COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, and putting more resources toward campus health services and student support.

    UW-Madison operates in a highly competitive market. For reasons similar to those mentioned above, our peers are not discounting tuition. In these uncertain, difficult times, the economic value of an outstanding college degree will only increase.

    We hear from many sentiments along the following lines: “the experience is different,” or “this is not what we thought we were paying for.” We recognize that the world has changed with the pandemic. We are listening carefully to experts on health, doing all we can to minimize health risks to our students, staff, and faculty, while at the same time, providing a world-class education. The campus experience will indeed be different, but then almost every aspect of society is different in the pandemic. All colleges and universities are navigating the same challenges. We have pride in the Badger approach to these challenges. Badgers dig in.

    I know that many are struggling with the choice of attending this fall or delaying enrollment in hopes of a treatment or vaccine on the horizon. Except in exceptional circumstances, we do not recommend delaying college. Far too many students who drop out or delay never complete their degree. I do know that the opportunity cost of delaying college attendance is considerable. The value of a college degree likely increases in difficult times. Moreover, one delays entry into the post-college workforce (which is typically characterized by higher earnings than those who do not attend), if one delays their studies.

    The returns on a college degree are higher now than at any time in decades, and these benefits will be even more apparent as we move through and recover from the pandemic. College graduates earn far more than non-college graduates. The average American who graduates from college can expect to earn $500,000 more in lifetime income, net of college costs (including opportunity costs), compared to those graduating with a high school diploma.

    University training gives you skills that this global economy values more and more each day. It’s not by chance that unemployment among college graduates is far lower than among other groups.

    We remain sensitive to students and families who have experienced sharp reductions in income or lost employment altogether. We have heard from many of these families and have assisted them in re-evaluating student financial aid offerings to offset costs. We hope that students and families in these situations will continue to reach out to the Office of Student Financial Aid regarding a special circumstances appeal. These appeals enable us to re-evaluate eligibility for federal, state and institutional aid programs, including grants, based on new information not previously submitted via the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This spring, UW-Madison provided millions of dollars of emergency support to students. We will continue to offer emergency support throughout the fall term, including assistance to help students meet other basic needs. Students interested in these resources may visit

    In the end, the assessment of whether anything is worth its price is a personal decision. We are proud of our UW-Madison education. We know that a degree from UW-Madison is respected globally, and the number of students seeking admission continues to set records each year. We believe deeply that UW-Madison remains one of the best values in higher education. We are doing all that we can to keep it that way.

    Addressing racial inequities on campus Wed, 08 Jul 2020 20:40:16 +0000 Read More]]> I first heard the term White privilege in 1975, when I was part of a student group at the University of Minnesota engaged in a weekend retreat sponsored by the University YMCA.  One of the ‘games’ we played that weekend involved negotiating with others over chips of different colors.  I ended up the winner, with more gold chips at the end than anyone else.  Of course, I wasn’t surprised.  I felt I was tougher than the other students, more determined to succeed, and negotiated harder.  But then we debriefed the game and it turned out that three of us had been given a very different set of starting chips than anyone else.  I hadn’t been a better, tougher negotiator, I just had an unequal head start.

    I’ve never forgotten that game.  For many years, I taught classes on income inequality and the role of inherited wealth in shaping economic and social outcomes.  In class discussions of discrimination, I frequently drew on my own experiences as a woman in a highly male-oriented field of study.  I know what microaggressions can feel like and how tired you can get of being dismissed and ignored.

    Almost all of us have experiences where we feel bullied, excluded or ignored.  But for most of us who are White, these are not constant experiences that permeate all aspects of our lives.   I have never feared for my life when I see police approaching; I am not trailed in stores or treated with suspicion by TSA or other security personnel.

    The past seven weeks have seen an outpouring of millions of voices demanding justice and equity for Americans who are Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC). Our university has been one focus of those demands.  It is incumbent upon all of us to re-examine our commitments to racial justice and marshal the energy and resources to do more and better.

    As someone who has benefitted from White privilege, my first action must be to listen with humility and empathy – to faculty and staff, to students, and to others who love UW and also recognize its shortcomings. Although the Black Lives Matter movement was the catalyst, these conversations touched on many issues and identities – Asian and Asian-American, Latinx, LGBTQ+, Native American and people with disabilities.

    These conversations reinforced the need for more work inside our campus community.  These are not issues that we have ignored in recent years.  Our fall Diversity Forums have grown every year with attendance from across campus; this year Robin DiAngelo, author of “White Fragility,” will deliver the keynote address.   We have successfully recruited 30 new faculty through the Target of Opportunity Program (TOP), which provides incentives for departments to hire persons from groups under-represented in their discipline and department.  This has included people of color as well as women in male-dominated science fields.   We’ve developed programs for incoming students in identity and implicit bias, aimed at both undergrads and graduate students.  If you want to know more about what we have been doing over the past five years to increase diversity and inclusion at UW, I encourage you to read this report.

    But this is not enough.  Our Black students, faculty and staff have consistently shared the discomfort they experience negotiating spaces on campus that are defined by White culture, and about the regular stream of microaggressions they experience – comments and behaviors that show misunderstanding (at best) and hostility and disrespect (at worst).

    Today I’m sharing with you a number of additional commitments we are making in our efforts to ensure that our university welcomes and fosters the success of all members of our community.  A number of these commitments require financial support and we are in extremely difficult financial circumstances right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Doing some of the things listed below will require cutting other programs.  But it is important that we find these funds.

    Enrollment and Recruitment.  We must continue efforts to increase the diversity of campus by expanding enrollment and employment among underrepresented groups. We will do so by:

    • Developing a fundraising initiative with the goal of raising at least $10 million in new private gifts, working in partnership with the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association. We will use these funds to recruit a more diverse group of students, faculty and staff, and to build a campus culture that welcomes and retains all groups, particularly people of color.
    • Continuing to invest in the TOP program, which has a proven record of success in attracting highly talented faculty who greatly enhance the quality and diversity of an academic department. Departments in 10 schools and colleges have utilized this program in the past two years. We need to keep this momentum going and expect to recruit additional faculty of color.
    • Ensuring that all schools/colleges require search committees to complete training on implicit bias and recruiting for excellence and diversity.  Many faculty searches already use the “Searching for Excellence & Diversity” workshops from the Women in Science & Engineering Leadership Institute (WISELI); others have developed localized expertise. The goal is to ensure that search committee members are better able to recognize how stereotypes prevalent in our society can influence our evaluations of and behavior toward others, even without our awareness or intent. Research has shown the effectiveness of the WISELI workshops.

    Campus History.  Understanding our past is important to changing our future.

    • Two years ago, I committed $1 million to a public history project, designed to explore the experiences of more marginalized groups on campus, focusing on particular events or time periods. A central part of this project involves confronting and discussing the history of racism and other forms of exclusion/marginalization on campus.  A year ago, we hired a project director.  While the closure of the University Archives due to the pandemic has slowed the work, it is proceeding and information is being made publicly available.  I will periodically use my social media accounts to highlight the uncomfortable truths of the university’s past, and work with this project to make sure that its results are publicly available, both through physical as well as virtual displays.

    Education, Training and Student Support.  We are an educational institution and it is important to engage our campus community, particularly our White community members, in learning experiences that build self-reflection about how we are all shaped by racial inequities and systemic racism in our society.  This self-reflection should, if it is to have an impact, lead to changes in behavior and structure.  To help us in these efforts we will:

    • Make mandatory the Our Wisconsin training program for all new entering undergraduate students starting this fall. Similar to trainings that are already required on alcohol safety and sexual violence prevention, it is critical that we provide students with an understanding about culture, identity, and difference, as well as the skills and commitment to create a community that is inclusive of all people.
    • Create a new Office of Inclusive Education within Student Affairs. This new office, which will work closely with the Center for Leadership and Involvement and other campus partners, will develop programming to increase our capacity to educate students around issues related to race, marginalization, identity and inclusion. Incoming leaders in student organizations will be one target group for this training.  Creation of the new office comes out of conversations with diverse student leaders including the Student Inclusion Coalition, Wisconsin Black Student Union, and others who have shared their experiences and helped us develop strategies to improve the campus climate for BIPOC.
    • Strengthen training opportunities for all graduate students, graduate programs and the research and service centers overseen by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education.  These professional development experiences will build on the work of the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Funding in the Graduate School to address the specific challenges and needs of graduate students who function as both employees and students.
    • Implement an Exceptional Service Support Award. Underrepresented faculty spend a great deal of time and energy supporting students outside the classroom. For instance, right now our Black faculty are disproportionately called upon by Black students who turn to them for mentoring, advice, and support as they deal with recent traumatic events.  This puts an added burden on these faculty, reducing the time they have available to advance their own research and careers.  Following a successful pilot program this past year, department chairs or mentors may nominate faculty to receive an Exceptional Service Award, which provides release time from teaching for those who have provided exceptional service.

    Research.  One of our fundamental missions is to advance research on key issues.  We have a long tradition at UW of supporting faculty and researchers who work on social inequities.   To name only a few, we have prominent historians, education specialists, sociologists, public health researchers, social work and public policy scholars who have national reputations in studying racial inequities.  To further support this work:

    • The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education will provide $1 million in research funding in the next academic year to support faculty and PIs whose research helps us understand race in America, including the public health impacts of racism, systems which perpetuate racial inequality and the physical and social impacts of racism. Particular preference will be given to scholars who have new projects that require seed funding to make a project more competitive for outside funding; creative projects that involve interdisciplinary teams; and projects with the potential to generate real-world implications for combatting racism and its adverse effects.
    • We will recognize excellence in the full range of scholarly activities.  This past spring each Divisional Committee added new language to tenure guidelines that recognizes the importance of community engaged scholarship and scholarly activities in support of diversity, equity, and inclusion as noteworthy endeavors to be considered as part of tenure and promotion.  These additions will help us remain a great university and underscore just how significant it is when our faculty establish meaningful engagement with these areas as part of their contribution to the campus community.

    Policing.  We want our campus police to be a national model for how campus police departments should train and perform.  The University of Wisconsin Police Department  recently shared how its practices and policies meet the guidelines laid out in Campaign Zero’s #8Can’tWait project.  In addition, over the course of the next academic year UWPD will implement its Racial Equity Initiative — a comprehensive action plan for identifying, adopting and continually assessing needed changes within the department in the short-and-long-term.  A core part of this plan will be to specifically ensure the department demonstrates its commitment to racial justice in policing in ways that are meaningful to members of our community, particularly those from marginalized groups.

    The efforts outlined above mark an important next step in our ongoing work to confront racism and advance equity and justice.  We have a moment of opportunity on campus right now.  I believe that more of our faculty, staff and students – particularly those who are NOT from marginalized communities – understand the need to engage in these efforts.  We need to take advantage of this opportunity.  This is not something that our underrepresented communities can or should be burdened with; it is on all of us to listen, read, reflect and work towards change.

    We are working on some further actions, including more extensive training and professional development opportunities for our faculty and staff to engage in conversations about these issues. We expect to announce these efforts in the coming months.

    Finally, I have to note that change can be slow.  This is particularly true when we are talking about deep change in the ways people see the world or in the ways that institutions operate.

    Change is made even more difficult by the fact that our community is constantly being recreated.  Each year about 10,000 of our students leave and another 10,000 new students arrive.  Hence there are always large numbers of new people arriving on campus and we must engage with them afresh.  All of this means our work will never be complete.  We have to marshal the will and the persistence to embed these efforts into the fabric of the institution.

    Thank you to everyone for the various ways in which you are engaged in creating a campus that is welcoming, diverse, inclusive, and anti-racist.  I pledge to increase our efforts to make the changes needed at our university.  I hope you will join me.

    Planning a Smart Restart for UW-Madison Wed, 17 Jun 2020 18:52:08 +0000 Read More]]> Chancellor Blank announced plans to welcome students back to the UW-Madison campus this fall. Classes will resume on campus as scheduled on Sept. 2, with COVID-19 testing and safety measures in place to protect the health of the campus community. Instruction will be offered through a mix of in-person and online courses, and residence halls will feature enhanced safety protocols for shared spaces and an overall reduction in density.

    Chancellor Blank’s full message to the campus community and more information on reopening can be found at the Smart Restart web page.

    A message to our community Sun, 31 May 2020 15:35:00 +0000 Read More]]> The events happening this week in the Twin Cities, across the nation and here in Madison demonstrate the anger that members of our community feel over years of unequal treatment.  This anger demands meaningful action, particularly for those of us who are in positions of privilege.

    I recognize that words condemning the tragic and inexcusable death of George Floyd are not enough. UWPD Chief Kristen Roman and her fellow Dane County chiefs are already engaged with the community to reduce trust gaps and improve safety through the Law Enforcement and Leaders of Color Collaboration. I appreciate the work that UWPD has done to ensure that its training and policies protect and serve our communities of color as effectively as they protect and serve other members of our community.

    Our work extends beyond law enforcement to every facet of our institution. Although most of us cannot physically be on campus because of the coronavirus, we continue to work on creating a more inclusive and diverse community through the efforts of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement; admissions and recruitment; faculty/staff recruitment and retention; Student Affairs; Human Resources, our schools and colleges as well as within individual departments and units.

    Each of us – particularly those of us who do not face the daily challenge of living amid inequity and injustice – must contribute to and lead the change that is needed. There are many ways to become more aware and involved. A list of resources is available on the DDEEA website.

    Our campus has a long and proud tradition of helping bring about lasting change through peaceful protest. Thousands of people gathered peacefully at the Capitol Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, a small number chose to engage in destructive acts that attacked already-struggling local businesses. I condemn this violence; it drowns out the message that needs to be heard and is likely to create backlash and more anger on all sides, rather than promote the changes that are needed.

    I urge anyone participating in protests to engage in peaceful activism that drives towards systemic change. Use the power and privilege of your education to speak up, reject hate, racism and violence and use respect to build our community. Please take care for your own safety and those around you in this time of COVID-19.

    Finally, I encourage those who are anxious or angry about recent national events to connect with the campus resources that are here to support you. These include the Multicultural Student Center, DDEEA, University Health Services and the Employee Assistance Office.

    To our Black and Brown students, staff and faculty, I want to say unambiguously: You belong here, you are important to this campus, your lives matter and I am committed to your safety.

    This is a time of unprecedented challenge but I remain steadfast in the belief that together, we can move forward toward a more just future.

    Planning for a safe return to campus Mon, 18 May 2020 15:27:54 +0000 Read More]]> This blog entry is being emailed to the entire campus community and will be translated into multiple languages.

    Shortly after this entry was posted, Public Health Madison & Dane County released Forward Dane, a new plan for community reopening. We appreciate our ongoing partnership with local and state health authorities, who are providing important data and guidance through initiatives like the Forward Dane plan. As Chancellor Blank says in her message below, UW–Madison is also undertaking a phased approach to reopening that is tailored to the needs and resources of our campus and employs strong measures to protect students, faculty, staff and the broader community. While the PHMDC order does not apply to the university because it is a unit of a state agency, we will continue to work closely with the city and county as our plans progress.

    We recently ended a very strange semester and celebrated the achievements of more than 8,500 students who received degrees as part of the Class of 2020.  No one could have anticipated the incredible change and challenges presented to us by the COVID-19 pandemic and I can’t tell you enough how impressed and proud I am of our campus’ response.

    As we’ve emerged from dealing with the immediate issues of this crisis, we are now looking forward. I want to tell you how we are preparing for a phased reopening over the course of the summer and what we are doing to make decisions about the fall semester.

    We all want to be on campus and yearn to restart some of the in-person instruction and social interactions that make UW-Madison so wonderful; however, we are in an incredibly fluid situation with a great deal of uncertainty.  Wisconsin and other states are just beginning to experiment with reopening some businesses and over the next month we will learn whether that can be done without triggering a new wave of infections. We are all still learning more about how COVID-19 is spread, and the ways to mitigate that spread. We certainly know more now than we did in mid-March when we largely closed our physical campus and we will use that knowledge as we begin to reopen.

    I can also tell you that UW-Madison will be open this fall, offering a full suite of educational programming to ensure that our 45,000+ students are able to continue their education.  We will certainly make sure that our commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive environment is as strong as ever.  What I can’t tell you quite yet is the mix of in-person versus online instruction that we will be able to offer.

    Whatever the modality of instruction, we expect there will be thousands of students in Madison.  Most of our graduate students have their permanent addresses here.  And many undergraduates will choose to be in their apartments in Madison no matter how classes are delivered. The more that we can offer some face-to-face instruction in smaller discussion sections or seminar courses, the more that those students who are in Madison will benefit.

    But there will be some students who want to pursue their studies and who can’t be here. Some of these will be international students; some will be students with underlying health conditions that make it important that they stay in a more isolated environment.  On the other hand, there are also students who must be here in order to complete the requirements for their degree.  This includes students who have to do clinical, field or laboratory training.  We have a group looking at these courses and how we can offer them safely.

    All of this suggests that this next year we will likely be offering some hybrid mix of educational offerings.  Larger lectures will almost surely be offered remotely, but we hope to offer face-to-face section meetings for students who can attend.  We need to make a substantial share of the curriculum available remotely.  At the same time, we should try to give as many students a small class/discussion experience as possible, whether in-person or online, to foster the learning and connections that small groups are so well-suited to provide.

    In short, it won’t be a normal semester next fall.  And let’s be clear, we’re not just talking about the fall semester.  As we’re looking forward, we’re preparing for an entire academic year where concern over COVID-19 affects our educational programming.

    We can also anticipate other changes that affect student life.  We are looking at all the ways we can operate residence halls and dining facilities safely.  We are exploring how to offer student events in new ways, including virtually. Smaller classes would likely need to be held in larger rooms that allow greater physical distancing, which in turn may require scheduling changes. Other events, gatherings and activities may need to be modified or reduced in size to mitigate transmission risk.  And, we’ll all be asked to take steps as individuals to protect our community, such as staying home if we don’t feel well.

    Of course, it’s not just about students and classes.  We will need to change the way we do business.  We need to look at cleaning protocols, distances between desks in our offices, masking requirements, testing availability and many other issues.  We need to keep our employees safe.  For some faculty and staff who may face particular health risks, this may mean working from home for much of the next year, if that is possible.

    We are thinking through all of these issues, both as we plan for a carefully phased reopening of campus over the summer and as we think about students on campus this coming fall.  As the pandemic has continued, it’s become clear that this is an enormously complicated task. To prepare, we’ve pulled together people with different expertise to advise us and develop plans.

    Here are a few of the key ad hoc planning groups of faculty, staff, and students that are at work:

    • Instructional Continuity, which worked on the successful completion of spring semester and finals and is now supporting a fully online summer term.
    • Fall Semester Instruction, which is analyzing scenarios and planning for how we would operate in-person, remotely or in a hybrid model as changing circumstances require us to adapt.
    • Research Reboot Team, which is planning how to resume on-site research and scholarly activities on the Madison campus, at University-owned facilities, and at non-University field sites.
    • The COVID Testing Workgroup, which is identifying the best strategies for using testing to enhance the safety of the campus community.
    • Resumption of Campus Operations Workgroup, which is planning for a phased return of employees beginning early summer, and the protocols necessary as more employees return to campus.
    • Student Affairs, which is planning and coordinating with the advising community to virtually deliver SOAR, adapt student engagement programming to remote delivery and increase the availability of medical, counseling and wellness services by phone and online.

    This is only a partial list of some of our major campus planning efforts.

    Some of these plans, like our delivery of SOAR, will be ready soon. Others, like our fall semester instructional plans, cannot be completed until further into the summer when we can better gauge the state and national situation, which changes by the day.

    We have targeted a date no later than the end of July to make a final decision on how many in-person classes we can run, in consultation with UW System and state and local health officials. I want to acknowledge the frustration that this lack of certainty causes students and parents. We’re balancing everyone’s desire to plan for the fall with our need to provide a safe environment for our community. We’ll continue to provide updates with as much information as we are able throughout the summer months.

    While we face some big challenges, so does every other college and university around the world. I believe that we are better positioned than many because we came into this on a sound financial footing, and because of the innovative and hard-working faculty and staff and the dedicated students and alumni we have at UW-Madison.

    We will find a way through the many challenges presented by the COVID-19 crisis. We certainly will offer a full educational program for students next year.  We will emerge from this with some new skills and knowledge that may make us a stronger institution in the long run.

    And when this virus is defeated, we will all gather again on the Terrace to enjoy each other’s company and celebrate our shared community.

    Catching up with alumni on WAA video chat Thu, 23 Apr 2020 15:10:21 +0000 Read More]]> I was pleased for the opportunity Tuesday night to connect with hundreds of alumni on a livestream sponsored by the Wisconsin Alumni Association. The alums had great questions, and I enjoyed the conversation with UW Foundation President Mike Knetter. There’s also a great chat between Mike and UW Men’s Basketball Coach Greg Gard.

    Click the video below if you want to catch up.