Blank’s Slate – Office of the Chancellor – UW–Madison Mon, 05 Apr 2021 22:20:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Thanks to a Great Coach and a Great Leader Tue, 06 Apr 2021 13:30:15 +0000 Read More]]> As the world knows at this point, Barry Alvarez has announced that he will retire in June, stepping down from the Athletic Director position he has filled so spectacularly for the last 17 years.

To say he’s has been a transformative figure in Wisconsin athletics history is a vast understatement. He created a powerhouse football team and then went on as AD to lead Badger teams through some of their best decades ever.  He is a legend here in the state.

The story of his hiring by Donna Shalala and Pat Richter and his subsequent football success has been told many times and is widely known. What has always intrigued me more is how he made the move in 2004 from the playing field to the conference room…from being a top-ranked and talented coach to leading the entire program and navigating the increasingly complex world of college athletics.

During Barry’s 18-year tenure as athletic director, the Badgers have won 16 national and 73 Big Ten team titles; another 25  student-athletes have won individual national titles. While this on-the-field success is important, that’s not the most important metric of how athletic directors are evaluated.  For the ADs, there’s a more complex set of criteria:

  • Most important, are student-athletes thriving, healthy and successful, both in the classroom as well as on the field?
  • Are the coaches, who are hired by the AD, mentoring, training, and encouraging student-athlete success on all dimensions?
  • Is the program managing its budgets and expenses, while also successfully fundraising?
  • Are fans excited about the direction of the program?
  • Do all coaches and sports feel supported, from the revenue-generating ones through the Olympic sports?
  • Does the program have facilities that allow it to competitively recruit for top talent?
  • Does the program live UW’s values around diversity, inclusion and equity?
  • Above all, does the program generate pride, on campus and off, because it “does things the right way?”

If you ask these questions about Wisconsin athletics, most people will answer a resounding ‘yes’ in almost all categories. That success is Barry’s legacy.

We all reveled in the Rose Bowls, Final Fours and hockey titles, but we also loved to see swimming champions, volleyball and softball success and cross-country stars. While being a shrewd steward of finances, Barry has overseen the creation of facilities like LaBahn Arena, Porter Boathouse, the Bennett Student Athlete Performance Center, renovations to the Field House and plans for new updates to Camp Randall and the Kohl Center. He championed the Big Ten Network that helped give greater visibility and increased revenue for the entire conference.

At the same time, he has maintained a high level of integrity in the program, in the classroom, and in the community. More than 3,500 Academic All-Big Ten honors have been earned by Wisconsin student-athletes, along with tens of thousands of hours of community service through the Badgers Give Back program.

Back to the question: How did he do it?

First, we know that he had a mentor and model from his own college coach, Nebraska’s legendary Bob Devaney, who himself transitioned from football coach to athletic director.  Second, he became AD as the program was headed in the right direction; the renaissance of Wisconsin Athletics started under his predecessor, Pat Richter.

But Barry furthered the culture of success through his own leadership skills. His book is titled “Don’t Flinch,” and it’s an accurate way to describe his philosophy. Those of us who have worked with Barry in Big Ten and NCAA circles have seen him lead with confidence and conviction…even when his positions weren’t in the majority. I’ve seen how others listen to him and the respect he has from other coaches and athletic directors.

I am in complete agreement with his mantra, namely, to hire extremely capable and qualified people and then “get out of the way.” He has shown a remarkable ability to attract and develop talented coaches who have deep connections to our university, city and state.

Barry has always believed in the state of Wisconsin. When he was coaching, his goal was to recruit the state’s best football talent to UW — and he demonstrated that this talent would take the program to new heights. But his belief in the state goes beyond the field. Barry built long-lasting friendships with coaches, leaders, and supporters across the state. Barry generously gives his time to businesses, families, and communities. He loves the state, has pride in the state, and has made it his home.

Lastly and most importantly, Barry had fun and he made it fun for all of us. He brought his family and friends along for the ride. He celebrated after a big bowl game. He traded jokes with fans at local restaurants. He always embraced the joy in the sports we play and encouraged all of us to do the same. I know that watching his grandsons, Joe and Jake, play football for the Badgers were among his happiest moments.

Thank you, Barry, for all your hard work, your devotion to UW-Madison, and the standard of excellence you have set for our athletic program. Your work here has positively impacted the lives of countless student athletes who have come through our doors. Your leadership has lifted athletic programs, but in doing that you have also lifted our university and our state. You will be missed, bur your legacy will live on whenever Badgers take the field.

Creating the New Normal: Returning to Campus Thu, 25 Mar 2021 11:00:08 +0000 Read More]]> As I walk around campus and my neighborhood, I see hopeful signs that winter is finally ending. Snow piles are almost gone, lake ice has melted, and crocuses have sprouted in neighbors’ lawns.

Similarly, while the COVID-19 pandemic is not over, there are hopeful signs that a new beginning is finally in sight.

This week, I toured our vaccination clinic, which has fully vaccinated nearly 5,000 employees and students, while thousands of others have received vaccinations off campus. Our Safer Badgers testing program has been working as intended and we recently had our lowest 7-day positivity rate, 0.1 percent. We’re planning to gather in Camp Randall on May 8 to send off our graduates, even if physically distanced and without family and friends in the stadium.

We still have weeks to go before the end of the semester and our success with low infection rates must continue. The scars of this past year – where many have experienced the loss of family and friends, isolation and depression – will linger for a long time.  But it’s time to plan for life after the pandemic and the beginning of the fall semester.

“What will the fall look like?” is the question I hear most frequently, coming from students, faculty, staff, parents and our newly-admitted students. I want to share our plans with you. I’ll also recognize that there are a number of things we can’t and don’t know at this stage.

I feel confident that next semester will look more like Fall 2019 than Fall 2020, with offices occupied and throngs of students changing classes in the middle of the day.  But it will be different than before – it’s a new normal, not our old normal.

Faculty have learned a lot about the use of new teaching technologies, and the ways in which we teach and collaborate on research endeavors will change.  Many of us will travel less and do more meetings online. Some groups of employees may continue working partially, or fully, remotely. Concerns about public health will be top of mind and we’ll see more people wearing masks in public spaces even when the threat of COVID-19 wanes.

We are a community that thrives on the connections between people who converse, learn, and discover together, in person. It is the connections and interactions that make UW–Madison a great university and that bring students here for a high-quality residential learning experience.

Students make friends with people from entirely different backgrounds; students interact with top faculty in the classroom; faculty talk after a seminar and launch a new research project; and all of us create a campus culture through concerts, sporting events, Terrace evenings, visiting speakers, student organizations and a constant flow of visitors from around the world who come here to speak and to learn.

We’ve done the best we possibly can under the circumstances of the past year and technology has been a remarkable bridge in many respects. But face-to-face interactions are critical to building a campus community that advances our missions of scholarship, teaching and service.

We want to return to what makes UW–Madison special, and that means safely returning to our classrooms and labs for in-person learning and research.

Currently, nearly all of the courses that were offered in-person in the fall of 2019, will return to in-person instruction in fall 2021. There will be a smaller number of hybrid and online classes, similar to what we’ve offered in the past, and even more that integrate technology more directly into an in-person learning experience. Our students should plan to be in Madison in the fall. Our dining facilities, academic and research resources will all be open and our residence halls will be fully occupied.

We are preparing contingencies for international students who may face challenges obtaining visas to return to the United States. For now, international students should register for a full schedule of classes for fall 2021 and continue monitoring the information being shared by International Student Services.

Beyond classes, there are many experiences that we all treasure and will experience again soon: a summer evening at the Terrace with friends; a study group meeting at College Library or in a residence hall lounge; watching a concert at the Hamel Music Performance Center; volunteering in the community; attending a student org meeting and a fall Saturday at Camp Randall. We will once again run into a friend or classmate on campus and spontaneously grab coffee or a Babcock ice cream cone.

How do we get there? I hope that all students and staff will choose to get vaccinated this spring and summer.  We will make vaccinations available as widely as we possibly can through University Health Services, although the dosages we’ve been receiving here on campus have been very limited so far.

Many students may not be able to get a vaccination appointment until the summer, when vaccination sites on campus and elsewhere should be open to everybody with large numbers of doses.  We will also offer vaccinations to anybody who arrives on campus this fall and wishes to be vaccinated. Vaccines are the surest way to protect yourself and others, and we strongly urge everybody who is eligible to take advantage of the growing availability in the coming weeks and months.

At some level, I expect that the safety protocols of the past year will remain with us. There will be those who want to remain masked; there may be some situations where group gathering sizes are limited. We will have testing available next fall, although it will not be required of anybody who has been fully vaccinated. Specific health guidance for the fall will depend upon the ongoing decline in COVID cases and the best public health recommendations.

My hope is that almost all of our employees who are able will choose to be vaccinated by late spring or early summer. Although some of our employees have continued to be on campus during the pandemic, we expect most campus employees to return to work on campus during the first part of August; however, some units may want to re-establish a greater onsite presence earlier if needed. We will direct all supervisors to continue providing flexibility in working arrangements where possible through at least August 1, based on ongoing disruptions in schools, childcare and summer activities.

We know that this last year has demonstrated that some jobs can be done well from a remote location and I suspect some staff members will want to continue to work remotely at least part of the time.  We’re preparing a set of principles and policy guidance that will inform the implementation of equitable remote work practices in a post-COVID environment. Details in all of the areas that I describe above will be shared as soon as we know more.

One thing that we’ve learned during this year is that our sense of community is stronger than the pandemic. Just as we made multiple changes on campus to adjust to the challenges of the past year, we will do the work needed to facilitate our return.

Of course, things may look slightly different than they did before the pandemic – that’s the new normal. With your help, we can fully return to campus this fall and reestablish the large, interactive, sometimes noisy and always exciting community that is UW–Madison.

Peace Corps at 60 Mon, 22 Mar 2021 15:34:17 +0000 Read More]]> In a difficult year, it’s always helpful to share the good things that are happening.

One example is UW-Madison’s ranking as the #1 producer of Peace Corps volunteers in 2020, for the fourth year in a row. Of course, 2020 was no ordinary year; the 79 Badgers placed in 40 nations were evacuated last March, but a number of them will return as national borders re-open.

Equally impressive is our #2 ranking among U.S. universities (UC-Berkeley has a slight edge on us) in all-time Peace Corps participation. Nearly 3,400 Badgers have served.

On March 1, the Peace Corps’ 60th anniversary, we convened a virtual meeting of nearly 700 people from all over Wisconsin, the U.S., and the world – along with all 11 living former national Peace Corps directors – to mark this anniversary and celebrate UW-Madison’s strong connection to this uniquely American institution.

That connection traces back to the earliest days of the Peace Corps when Joseph Kauffman, one of the Corps’ chief architects in the Kennedy Administration, left Washington to become our Dean of Students (the first of his many leadership roles on this campus). He also was on the faculty in our School of Education.

Dean Kauffman believed strongly that a liberal arts education should include international experiences. These connections have remained through the years. Forty years later, alum Aaron Williams served as Peace Corps director under President Obama and is now part of our International Division’s External Advisory Board. Aaron has inspired hundreds of Badgers to serve in the Peace Corps.

Kauffman started a tradition that has brought UW-Madison knowledge and innovations to the world and has helped to build our campus into a truly global community  UW-Madison is now #4 among all U.S. universities – public and private – for participation in semester abroad. We are a destination for students from more than 120 nations around the world.

COVID-19 has had a profound impact on our international engagement. Bringing these programs back quickly must be a top priority – not only because our research and education demand it, but also because our mission of public service (what we call the Wisconsin Idea) is even more urgent today than it was in the moment when John F. Kennedy spoke these words in a speech announcing the creation of the Peace Corps:

“The university is not maintained by its alumni, or by the state, merely to help its graduates have an economic advantage in the life struggle,” he said. “There is a greater purpose.”

Here at UW, we have long recognized that greater purpose. It will continue to guide us as we design our post-pandemic future.

Send us your stories:

One thing we don’t know is how many current faculty and staff are returned Peace Corps volunteers, and how that experience has shaped their lives.  We hope to find out this year. If you have a Peace Corps story to tell, please consider sharing it at:

For those of you inspired to explore global service through the Peace Corps, I encourage you to reach out to our campus recruiter.

Take time to #TakeCareUW Thu, 11 Mar 2021 20:47:28 +0000 Read More]]> At our semi-annual Leadership Summit in February, I asked our deans, directors, and department chairs to work in small groups to answer several questions related to how we move forward from the past year to re-engage successfully as a campus community.

The groups came up with many different ideas, but one consistent theme was a concern for mental health. One group observed that we need to find ways to replenish people and relationships. Another noted that we need to recognize trauma, tragedy, and loss. Another spoke of exhaustion after a year with no vacations and, for many, no opportunity to see distant family members.

The demand for mental health services continues to grow on campus, both among students and staff. We’ve seen people struggling with issues of depression and isolation.

Faculty and staff have had to balance a whole new set of responsibilities related to teaching and research with added duties at home – while also worrying about health and safety for themselves, their families, and their students.

Undergraduates have had to navigate challenging academic work. In some cases it’s been harder to comfortably interact with a professor or it’s been harder to create study groups. This year has been particularly difficult for our newest students, whose senior year of high school was also disrupted and for whom this year’s more limited social settings have left them feeling more isolated than they expected.

Graduate students have had to navigate starting research (or keeping it going) while, in many cases, teaching students who have needed additional help and support.

Over this year, we have surveyed our faculty, staff, and students at all levels to better understand their experiences, and we’ve shared the results widely to help our schools, colleges, and individual units and departments create programs that are responsive to our community’s needs.

One such response from Student Affairs is the university’s first Mental Health & Wellbeing Summit, March 11-12. This student idea became reality with keynote speaker Joy Harden Bradford, Ph.D., host of the popular mental health podcast, Therapy for Black Girls. The event is organized by our dedicated staff and students at University Health Services, University Recreation and Wellbeing, and the Center for Healthy Minds. It addresses topics like making a mental health plan, sleep, procrastination, and imposter phenomenon, interspersed with live activities including yoga and meditation.

The summit kicks off a grassroots “week of care,” March 15-19, to encourage self-care and community well-being among UW students, faculty, and staff — both inside and outside the classroom or office. We’re calling this campaign #TakeCareUW.

I invite each of you to explore the activities and resources. You might discover something new or you might have an insight you can share with our campus during this week. Most importantly, please take time to focus on your health and well-being. Take time to pause. Reflect. Celebrate your resilience. I look forward to joining you.

We’ve got this. #TakeCareUW

A New Initiative to Raise Funds for Diversity Efforts Wed, 03 Mar 2021 14:09:32 +0000 Read More]]> I’ve written in this space before about the ongoing importance of recruiting and retaining students, faculty and staff of color. The past year has brought into sharp focus that society is confronting two crises: the health crisis of COVID, and the multi-faceted crisis of racism and inequity.

Today I’m pleased to share with you a new cross-campus initiative that represents our commitment to expand access, representation and inclusion at UW-Madison.

Last fall, I committed to raising $10 million in private funds to support our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives. I’m pleased to tell you that as of today we have raised more than $20 million. With this success, we’ve been planning for an even larger and more comprehensive effort.

In partnership with the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association (WFAA), we are building on our fundraising momentum by publicly announcing the Raimey-Noland Campaign. The fund is named for Mabel Raimey and William Noland, the first known African American graduates of UW-Madison. William graduated in 1875; Mabel in 1918.

This effort will support scholarships, faculty and programming aimed at five broad fundraising priorities:

  • Increase the diversity of the student body;
  • Increase faculty and staff diversity;
  • Enhance academic success and career readiness for students who may arrive with less preparation in some areas;
  • Support an inclusive, welcoming campus community for individuals from every background;
  • Invest in research addressing injustices and advancing equity.

These initiatives represent a collective institutional commitment to our students, faculty, staff and alumni of color. A campus-wide workgroup developed the concept for the Raimey-Noland Campaign and helped identify the fundraising priorities to address the most promising diversity, equity and inclusion programs.  We want all schools and colleges as well as Athletics to be part of this effort, helping us raise money for the efforts most important to each unit.

In most cases, we will look to raise money for endowment.  This means funding that is invested, with support for programs and scholarship paid out of the returns.  The advantage of endowments is that they fund these efforts far into future, rather than disappearing once the money is spent.

The Raimey-Noland Campaign will build on the progress we’ve seen over the past several years to expand need-based aid and improve the recruitment and retention of students of color and other underrepresented groups. There is evidence that these efforts are paying off:

  • Over the last decade, the presence of underrepresented undergraduate students of color on campus has grown from 9.9 percent in 2011 to 11.7 percent of the student body in 2020.  All students of color have increased from 14.4 percent to 19.8 percent.
  • During the same period, the presence of faculty of color from underrepresented groups has increased from 6.9 to 9.4 percent, while all faculty of color have increased from 17.9 percent to 24.6 percent of the university’s faculty.
  • Even in a difficult financial year, we are continuing to fund the Target of Opportunity Program (TOP) that helps departments recruit outstanding colleagues who enhance diversity in their respective fields. We started TOP at a time when we’d seen essentially no growth in Black and Native American faculty in 10 years and moderate growth in our LatinX faculty. In the past 2 years, we have hired 32 new faculty through TOP.  About 75 percent are people of color from underrepresented groups – most of the rest are women in sciences.
  • The retention rate (freshmen returning for a second year) for underrepresented domestic students of color is 95.9 percent. This is the highest it has ever been and above the retention rate for UW–Madison students as a whole (95.2 percent). The 2020 freshman class includes 989 underrepresented domestic students of color who identify as African American, Hispanic/Latinx, American Indian, or Southeast Asian-American. This number is up 19.8 percent, from 825 the prior year, and represents 13.5 percent of the freshman class.

I’d like to thank all the members of the campus workgroup that helped develop the Raimey-Noland Campaign, and particularly Lou Holland Jr., a member of the WFAA Board of Directors, and interim chief diversity officer Cheryl Gittens for their leadership. I also want to express my appreciation to UW alumni Elzie and Deborah Higginbottom and Phill Gross, who have both made lead gifts to the campaign effort.

There is still much work to do, but I am excited by the momentum we are creating.



Making a college degree more attainable Thu, 11 Feb 2021 17:47:48 +0000 Read More]]> The following post was jointly written by Chancellor Blank and Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Karl Scholz. 

UW-Madison has been a residential university since its founding. Most undergraduate students move to Madison or live nearby in order to attend classes (at least when there’s no pandemic.) While we offer a number of online professional masters’ programs designed for students who can’t pursue a residential experience, until recently we have not offered online undergraduate degrees. This is now changing.

Many people start college at a younger age but do not finish. At some point in their career, they realize that they need that college degree in order to pursue the job that they want next. But older students often have families and jobs. They cannot move here and are not able to attend school full-time. In Wisconsin, more than 600,000 people have earned some college credit but no degree. This number expands eight-fold to 5.2 million residents when including neighboring states (Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana and Iowa).

To meet the needs of potential students who want to complete their degree but cannot be a traditional residential student, we launched UW–Madison Online. UW–Madison Online removes barriers, bringing a sought-after UW–Madison bachelor’s degree to those working professionals and others who can’t make it to campus due to family, work or other obligations.

In 2020, we started with a pilot Bachelor of Science (BS) in Personal Finance through the School of Human Ecology (SoHE). Applications opened this month for another online SoHE program in Consumer Behavior and Marketplace Studies, resulting in a BS in Retailing & Consumer Behavior. We also just announced three online degrees from the Wisconsin School of Business: Bachelor of Business Administration degrees in Human Resources, in Management and in Marketing.

All these and future UW–Madison Online degrees are rigorous, meeting the standards of our world-class institution. Highly motivated students take courses from top instructors, all online. We’re leveraging lessons learned through the pandemic as well as our decades of online teaching and learning in the Professionals Degrees & Certificates program – to create premium quality instruction and student experience in the digital realm.

We’re proud to be partnering with the business community in designing and engaging students in these online degrees. For example, through companies like American Family Insurance, we’re offering tuition scholarships for working professionals to enroll in our BS in Personal Finance. These industry partnerships ensure we’re meeting the needs of employers across the state and fully equipping our graduates to launch or advance their careers.

We anticipate adding additional UW–Madison Online degrees in the next few years, covering different academic areas. The result will be a select number of online degrees that offer great educational opportunities to adult students returning to school.

Ultimately, this effort extends the invitation to be a Badger across the state and beyond our borders to nontraditional students. In today’s virtual world, it’s time to do this. You don’t have to be here with us on campus to acquire a University of Wisconsin–Madison degree, take it into the world and benefit your family and community.

Please visit to explore what UW–Madison Online has to offer.

OnLINE, Wisconsin!

Moving UW-Madison Forward in a Time of Crisis Thu, 04 Feb 2021 21:16:00 +0000 Read More]]> As part of her annual address to the Board of Regents, Chancellor Blank addressed the many challenges faced by the university due to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis and the ways staff, faculty and students are rising to meet those challenges. She also talked about the financial impact of the pandemic and the need to continue pushing equity and diversity initiatives, despite the difficult budget environment, along with her hopes to return to more normal operations later in 2021. Watch the full video below.

What Does a Chancellor Do Anyway? Mon, 25 Jan 2021 21:46:12 +0000 Read More]]> In conversations with alumni, students, community members and others, I am frequently asked what a typical day for a Chancellor looks like. I’m never quite sure how much they really want to know. For those both inside and outside the university, figuring out how decisions are made – and the role of the Chancellor – isn’t easy. I thought I would try to answer that question in this blog so you could see why I am honored to serve in this role for UW-Madison.

We are a $3+ billion public organization with 45,000 students and 24,000 faculty and staff. That means our campus community is about the size of the city of Janesville. To fulfill our mission of education, service and outreach, our academic units range from the medical school to the dance program; we operate utility plants; serve food and provide housing to thousands of people every day; operate farms; and provide health care to students. The list of the university’s activities is long and diverse. We also have large numbers of stakeholders (students, employees, alumni, elected officials, local citizens, research funders, employers who hire our students, etc.) with whom we need to regularly communicate. In short, we are a highly complex place and decision-making power is necessarily dispersed throughout the organization.

In a moment I will describe the activities that fill my days, but let me start with my most important role: In the long-run, the most important thing I do is to develop and communicate a vision and strategy to preserve and enhance UW-Madison’s extraordinary excellence in teaching and learning, scholarship, and service to the state, nation and the world. Everything I do is directed toward making sure we serve our students and our many other stakeholders as effectively as possible.

This strategic work is definitely the most fun part of the job, but also the one that is hardest to hold onto. Every day is filled with immediate demands on my time, and it’s easy to let daily activity drive out long-term thinking.

My most important responsibility is to have a long-term plan for UW-Madison and to articulate that both inside and outside the university. Among the things I regularly talk about:

o Increasing graduation rates and reducing time to graduation of students
o Increasing access for lower-income students
o Expanding outside-the-classroom learning opportunities for students
o Increasing diversity among faculty, staff and students and creating a campus climate that is welcoming and supportive of all
o Expanding our research portfolio, including better connections with industry and better support for start-up ventures
o Raising the visibility and support for UW-Madison, while promoting the extraordinary things that UW-Madison does for the community, the state and the world
o Creating a stable financial situation, making sure we have resources to invest in new ideas and changing needs.

I try to regularly step back and think “what are we doing well? What aren’t we doing that we should be doing? What can we do better?” And it’s my job to push leaders from across campus to keep asking those questions as well…and then to take action as we develop answers.

On a day-to-day basis, however, my time is spent on four key roles:
1. A large share of my time is spent representing the university to those who are not part of our immediate campus community. In my role as Chancellor, I am the public face of the University. Here are some of the things I spend time on:

• I stay in touch with key political leaders in the state. I talk regularly with the Governor, with top state legislative leaders, with members of our Federal delegation, and with city and county leaders. This is particularly true in years when the state budget will be passed and I am advocating for priorities important to UW-Madison.

• I represent UW-Madison within the UW System. I am in regular contact with members of the Board of Regents and attend all Board of Regent meetings. I meet regularly with the President of the UW System and attend meetings the System Administration holds with all UW System chancellors.

• I represent UW-Madison around the state. In more normal years, I typically travel to other cities in Wisconsin to meet with alumni, talk with local political leaders, meet with members of the business community, and meet with the media.

• I represent UW-Madison in national settings. I am regularly in conversations with other university leaders, attend professional association meetings, and speak at national meetings. As I’ve become more senior in this job, I’ve been asked to serve in national leadership roles. For instance, I currently serve on the Board of Governors of the NCAA, representing the Big 10, and I am the incoming president of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities.

• As Chancellor, I’m also often the person who talks with the press about new programs or contentious issues that arise. When something important has to get said publicly, I’m often the one who says it.

• UW has a number of closely-affiliated organizations that are organizationally independent but whose work supports the university. I serve on the Boards of the UW Hospital and Clinics Authority, the University Research Park, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), and I attend board meetings of the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association (WFAA).

This public outward-facing role requires a great deal of time, preparation and (typically) travel. It’s where I spend much of my time and it’s why my schedule is often full.

2. I spend a great deal of time connecting with alumni, including fundraising. Our alumni mentor students, serve on advisory boards, and return to campus to attend both cultural and athletic events. They are also an increasingly important source of financial support, through their generosity.

• I attend lots of alumni events. In a normal year, there are major UW alumni events in cities across the country (and sometimes around the world.)

• While deans and departments are responsible for connecting with their alumni, there are some alumni who are major donors and whose donations span multiple parts of the university. I will often travel to visit these alumni in their homes or offices and meet with them when they come to Madison. These are typically generative and generous people, highly successful in their careers, and it is a joy to work with them.

3. I am part of campus conversations and celebrations. As Chancellor, it’s important that I am present around campus.

• I attend major celebrations, from the opening of new buildings to athletic events. I speak at awards ceremonies, graduations, and Convocation.

• It’s my job to communicate both the vision of where the university is going as well as how we are dealing with challenges. I write a blog, I talk with governance groups, and whenever possible I say ‘yes’ to invitations to meet and talk with faculty or staff at departmental meetings or other events. Similarly, I regularly meet with various student organizations.

4. My main involvement in the daily operational aspects of the university is through facilitating and overseeing the work of my Executive Team as they run their units as efficiently and effectively as possible.

If you think about the range of departments, curriculum, research, and operational activities that are part of UW-Madison, it quickly becomes clear that no one person can possibly be the final decision-maker for all of these activities. As a result, I rely on my Executive Team to guide the daily work of the university through our highly decentralized structure, with many decisions made at a local level, inside departments or administrative units.

• As Chancellor, I am directly in charge of very few (if any) operational activities. All of those are overseen by Vice Chancellors:
o Karl Scholz, Provost, in charge of all academic/education matters;
o Steve Ackerman, VC for Research and Graduate Education, in charge of all research and graduate student issues;
o Laurent Heller, VC for Finance and Administration, in charge of operations including budget, buildings, and HR;
o Lori Reesor, VC for Student Affairs, in charge of student life issues;
o Charles Hoslet, VC for University Relations, in charge of all external communications and strategic partnerships;
o Ray Taffora, VC for Legal Affairs, in charge of compliance and legal issues.

The Executive Team is rounded out with three additional individuals:
o Cheryl Gittens, Interim Deputy Vice Chancellor and Chief Diversity Officer
o Matt Mayrl, my Chief of Staff and Chief Strategy Officer
o Mike Knetter (ex officio), the President of WFAA

I also work closely with Dr. Robert Golden, Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences and Dean of the School of Medicine and Public Health, and Barry Alvarez, our Director of Athletics who oversees our very successful athletic programs.

In almost all cases, these individuals handle any issue that arises, while keeping the trains running on time for ongoing activities. I meet at least once a week with the Executive Team, and I meet individually with each of these persons as well. My job is not to micromanage their decisions, but to mentor them, figure out where I can assist them in getting things done, and talk about substantive new issues that arise.

Only if significant new issues emerge, for which there is not a set policy or which raise major controversial or substantive questions, will I get involved in decision-making. But I never make decisions without consulting with the relevant Executive Team members. I want them to come to me with recommendations and options, and then we typically make decisions collaboratively.

And I should note that I meet very regularly with the University Committee and semi-regularly with other staff and student governance groups. They are part of the consultation and decision-making process.

All of this keeps my schedule full from early to late, often seven days a week. Of course, there are also a wide range of things a Chancellor does not control at UW-Madison.

For instance, I have no involvement in educational decisions over what is taught in the curriculum and how it is taught. Almost all education decisions are decided within departments, often with substantial responsibility invested in individual faculty. I have no involvement in tenure decisions, which are primarily decided by departments and Divisional Committees. And, importantly, I have no involvement in admissions decisions about who is admitted or what financial aid they will receive. While I am involved in setting strategic priorities for admissions and financial aid, I do not touch individual admissions. Students who are admitted here are admitted on the merits of their application, not through the influence of any senior administrator.

Of course, the work of a Chancellor at any public research university is highly constrained by policy and regulations. Faculty Policies and Procedures lays out faculty responsibilities; Board of Regent policies set requirements that must be followed, as does state statute. And the federal government has its own set of rules. For instance, the university has little control over our health care benefits or retirement program, which are determined by the state.

Occasionally, of course, UW hits a crisis and then things move fast. That happened last spring when a global pandemic suddenly confronted us with a set of questions, many of which no one in this university had previously thought about before. We had to make hard decisions…and make them very quickly. Between the middle of March and the middle of June, we had to figure out how to operate the university in a whole new way….and then had to get that done by the first of September.

My job is fascinating, fun, challenging, sometimes frustrating and always intellectually engaging. I’d like to believe my role is important, but I know that when things get done at the University I’m not the one who should receive the credit. That’s due to the staff and faculty and student employees who do the work on campus.

I am honored to be the Chancellor of UW-Madison and proud of everything that you – the members of this campus community — accomplish every day.

Teaching and Learning at UW-Madison:  Building connections with our students Thu, 07 Jan 2021 23:55:03 +0000 Read More]]> The following post was jointly written by Chancellor Blank and Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Karl Scholz. 

Welcome to 2021. Both of us are happy to see the end of 2020. The holiday break gave us time to reflect on the unusual year that has just passed. We are extraordinarily grateful for the outstanding work of our staff and faculty instructors during this unusual time, keeping the educational mission of UW strong. We are both impressed by the work required to make an instant pivot to online instruction in March, as well as the instruction done in the Summer and the Fall.

Through one channel or another, we have heard of many outstanding examples of teaching and learning this past fall. Of course, as is true every semester we’ve also received reports of not-so-good experiences by students.  With the pressures of the pandemic, these perhaps were a bit more common this fall. We owe it to our students to continue to find ways to be even better educators in the semester and year ahead.

Spring and Summer 2021

Starting in mid-January Safer Badgers, our extensive new testing program, will further enhance our ability to monitor and control the presence of COVID-19 on campus. While there are many reasons to expand testing, one reason is to further minimize risk for students and instructors in our many in-person classes. We would like to give a special thank you to the instructors teaching those in-person, on-campus classes this spring. Students have consistently mentioned their desire for in-person engagement. As is appropriate, faculty and staff teaching or otherwise working in group settings on campus will be prioritized for campus delivery of COVID vaccinations this spring.

Of course, a substantial number of classes will continue to be delivered remotely during the spring and summer.  Through our recent student survey, feedback from student groups and fall term course evaluations, we have learned a great deal about what went well in fall (a great deal did!) and about where we can continue to improve.

Relationships with instructors and classroom peers motivate and make learning more engaging and meaningful.  Students have consistently reminded us of this, which has two implications as we launch the spring term:

  • We need to ensure that student-instructor interaction is strong in all modalities, with particular attention to this in remote instruction classes. In too many remote classes student-to-instructor connections have been minimal or non-existent. Students indicate they miss meeting with instructors, particularly in remote courses, and are struggling with the material.  We encourage all instructors to find ways to meet with or communicate with their students regularly outside class lectures, and to encourage students to take advantage of office hours even when virtual.
  • Students are looking for more opportunities to learn together in courses. The informal gatherings, such as before class, at the library or other campus places to study or work together on homework, have been disrupted with physical distancing. We need to build new opportunities for students to learn together. We encourage all instructors, but particularly remote instructors, to facilitate study groups and course discussion outside class, perhaps helping seed this activity more than what is needed for non-remote classes.

We have learned that remote instruction should not simply involve teaching the same course in the same way via a digital tool.   Remote instruction often requires restructuring a course and making changes in teaching style.  Put differently, a remote presentation with “voice-over PowerPoint” can be deadly boring and rarely leads to great teaching and learning.  We have also learned that remote instruction is more fragile than in-person instruction. It takes more planning, structure and course design to work well. Given that most of our courses this spring will still be remote, it is imperative that remote courses are designed in a way that works best for student learning.

If you have not previously engaged in professional development around remote or online instruction, now is the time to do so before the spring semester begins. Please take advantage of one or more of these campus professional development opportunities for remote instruction.

Looking Forward to Fall 2021

With a couple of vaccines now in use and others on the near horizon, we are planning for a resumption of primarily in-person classes for fall semester 2021.  While forecasting is always inexact, we expect that everyone who wishes to get a COVID-19 vaccine will have been able to do so by the beginning of the fall semester. Moreover, while any changes to course modality are clearly disruptive, it is easier to pivot from in-person to remote than it is from remote to in-person. Consequently, in planning for fall, remote instruction – in person classes delivered remotely —  will not be offered as a modality option for course scheduling as we seek to re-establish in-person instruction across campus. We will of course adapt, as we have done in the past, if things do not go as planned.

We recognize that returning to campus after a long time away will be an adjustment for many. But being back together allows us to utilize the strength and richness of our world-class residential university – it allows students and faculty to interact more frequently, it makes it easier to get to know colleagues and students, it allows students to benefit from the rich set of activities and people across campus, and it allows researchers to come in contact with others who they might not otherwise meet and who become new collaborators.

Furthermore, all instructors on campus have had to reimagine their teaching over this past year. Many of you have tried new techniques and learned some new technologies.  That means that in-person classes will be different after the pandemic, with faculty and instructors employing a wider range of teaching methods, hopefully keeping those new approaches that allow them to encourage more active learning and student engagement. We will be initiating conversations this spring with instructors about what we can learn from the forced move to remote classes that will improve in-person classes when they resume.

Change in 2021 will come more slowly than many of us hope. The pandemic is far from over and vaccinations will take time.  But if we are proactive in identifying lessons from this experience, we can emerge stronger as a university as we exit the pandemic and find new ways to serve our students and further strengthen the outstanding teaching and learning at UW-Madison.

Coming to the end of 2020 (I won’t miss this year!) Wed, 09 Dec 2020 21:30:17 +0000 Read More]]> When we launched our current alumni fundraising campaign, we chose the theme of “All Ways Forward”—both catchy and emblematic of our state’s motto, Forward.

For the past nine months, figuring out how to move forward has been particularly challenging. At times, we’ve had real disagreement on campus about which direction would even lead us forward.

It’s been hard work redesigning campus activities, setting up testing and public health protocols that none of us even dreamed about a year ago, and figuring out how to move forward when none of our favorite and most celebratory events … Convocation, Commencement, concerts and plays, conferences and student gatherings, tailgates and games …could even take place.

Like many of you, I won’t be sad to see the end of 2020.

Many in our community have faced great personal challenges since March, homeschooling children, dealing with isolated elderly parents, or coping with too many months of staying home and communicating only by Zoom. It has been a particularly difficult year for our communities of color, given the energy required to cope with the events of this past year and the resulting protests for greater racial and social justice across American institutions. And all of us have been caught in the midst of a very divisive national political climate. We especially think about those who have been directly affected by COVID-19, dealing with illness or loss among family members.

Despite these difficulties, there is good news as well over this fall. Our university does continue to move forward on a number of fronts. For instance:

• This last spring we posted the highest graduation rates ever (88.5% 6-year graduation rate), and the shortest time to graduation (3.92 years, or 29 days short of four calendar years). This means our curriculum, our advising and our financial aid is allowing students to complete their studies sooner and with less debt.
• This fall we welcomed the most diverse freshmen class in our history and increased our faculty of color. We know there is ongoing work to do in this area.
• Right now, our applications, compared to this same time last year, are up. This may simply be because more high school seniors are applying sooner, given the absence of other senior year activities. But we clearly continue to be a much-sought-after school among students around the state, the country and the world.
• With increased scholarship dollars, our ability to help defray costs for low-income students continues to grow. This fall, we had 2,534 students in either Bucky’s Tuition Promise or Badger Promise. Both of these programs guarantee scholarships to cover the full cost of tuition and fees through four years of college.
• Despite the pandemic, almost all of our research facilities are open and an astounding amount of research, including a significant amount on COVID-19 itself (we currently have 67 new COVID-19 related grants totaling $45.8 million), is under way across campus.
• And we launched our first online undergraduate degree program (in personal finance, out of the School of Human Ecology), as a pilot for additional programs in the future.

I am grateful for the resilience and innovation of our faculty, graduate student employees and staff in delivering education under very difficult circumstances this fall. And I thank the students who adjusted to those changes in the learning and social environment. I am also grateful to our Badger families who helped their students get through this fall. Our recent undergraduate student survey indicates how much our students appreciated the in-person classes that were possible this fall, and I thank the instructors who were willing to teach in-person.

Above all, thanks to all of our essential staff who came to campus to maintain our residence halls, prepare food, keep our spaces clean and care for research animals.

I recognize that the challenges have not gone away. Illness remains a concern until a vaccine is more broadly available. Many of you will spend holidays without the usual family members in attendance. All of our employees will have additional furlough days this winter and spring. Mental health concerns are real. People are tired – we all feel it and want this to be over.

I can only offer my unending gratitude for all that our campus community is doing and tell all of you that this will come to an end. In the months ahead we will learn more about vaccine availability and do everything we can to provide vaccination to as many people as possible on campus. I am cautiously hopeful that much of campus will be able to engage in a more normal semester next fall.

We will soon be announcing details of the expanded testing plans we have for the campus in spring semester. We have learned much over the last several months, and we want to ensure that campus is even safer in Spring 2021.

I hope everyone is able to take time off during the holidays. Relax. Escape online meetings. Enjoy time with your immediate family. Find joy in little things.

I’ll see you all (virtually) back at work in 2021. May it be a better year. All ways forward!

Note: Hear more from Chancellor Blank in her interview with Wisconsin Public Radio’s The Morning Show.