Blog – Office of the Chancellor Thu, 13 Apr 2017 13:19:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Establishing outcome metrics in the next budget Thu, 13 Apr 2017 13:00:57 +0000 Continue reading ]]> As most readers will know, under the budget proposal by Gov. Scott Walker, new funding for the UW System is tied to performance metrics that would rank UW campuses and distribute the funding based on how well each school does in comparison to the other system schools. Tying funding to performance metrics has been tried by a number of states in the past and has been much discussed in higher education.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring career opportunities Mon, 30 Jan 2017 21:46:28 +0000 Continue reading ]]>  If you haven’t been in Ingraham Hall lately, I encourage you to stop by and visit the expanded Career Exploration Center in its new space across from the Badger Market on the first floor.

This renovated space is where thousands of undergraduates from across the campus will find resources and expert guidance to finally answer that question they’ve been hearing since kindergarten: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Our incoming freshmen come to us with top grades, top ACT scores, and a mind-boggling list of extra-curricular activities. Some of them know just what they want to do and how to get there. But many arrive with multiple ideas about possible careers, and a wide array of subjects they’re interested in studying.

One of our most important jobs is to help them evaluate those ideas – to find the intersection that brings together what they love to do and what they’re good at doing. And then help them translate that into career possibilities, and map out a way for them to get there.

The Career Exploration Center supports undergraduate students from across the campus by connecting them with services and resources that help them make decisions about their majors and career paths. Students can access programming and career assessment tools through the center and schedule career counseling sessions with a professional career advisor.

Chancellor Blank addresses a crowd.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank speaks Monday during a grand opening ceremony at the Career Exploration Center (CEC) inside Ingraham Hall. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

Offering good services that help connect students to a career is a priority for us at UW-Madison, as well as a priority for the Board of Regents and state leaders. This is why we continue to upgrade our career planning services to get students thinking about careers sooner than they have in the past.

Two years ago the College of Letters & Science began offering a new course for sophomores called Career Development: Taking Initiative designed to give students tools to apply what they learn to future career and life decisions. Nearly 1,000 students have enrolled since the course launch, with outstanding participation among first-generation and targeted minority students.

University Housing’s residential learning community, Career Kickstart, is in its second year. Built around career immersion, it filled immediately and is again at capacity this year. We have expanded internship programs, and we are bringing in more businesses to connect with students at enhanced campus career fairs. Letters & Science has doubled the number of job and internship postings and campus interviews, and employers snapped up every spot at its latest career fairs.

We are also developing more ways to connect our alumni with our undergraduates, letting them provide advice and mentoring to students interested in their career paths.

Our career programs are getting noticed nationally. The L&S Career Initiative has become a national model – we’ve had inquiries from the universities of Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio State, New Hampshire, Rutgers, and even the University of Iceland. And just this month, Money Magazine named UW-Madison’s career services among the top five in public schools in the nation.

We know that students who sift through options and develop a sense of their career interests early stand a better chance of graduating on time, which in turn limits their student loan debt. These students are also more likely to pursue internships and field experiences that let them sample a career and be sure it’s the right fit for them.

Many of our alums have followed careers that brought them into very different areas than their specific major or their first job. Given how rapidly the world of work is changing, many of our students will work future jobs that are not even available today. That’s why we don’t train students for specific jobs in the way that many technical colleges do. We want to prepare UW-Madison graduates for lifelong careers, not for a single job.

But that doesn’t mean early career planning isn’t helpful.   By their sophomore year, students should be thinking about their specific skills and interests and planning how to put together a series of courses and outside classroom experiences that will best position them to job-hunt upon graduation. The Career Exploration Center makes that a little easier.

A visit to UW-Platteville: UW campuses working together for the Wisconsin economy Mon, 23 Jan 2017 16:09:47 +0000 Continue reading ]]> One of my priorities as chancellor has been to strengthen UW–Madison ties with other campuses around our state. I have traveled to numerous campuses over the last few months talking to area business leaders and alumni about the need to reinvest in the UW with the next state budget and the economic impact our campuses bring to the Wisconsin economy.

This month brought me to UW-Platteville in southwest Wisconsin. During our meeting with local leaders, UW-Platteville Chancellor Dennis Shields called UW-Madison our state’s biggest economic asset and he stressed how valuable it is to UW-Platteville to have a top-level research university in Wisconsin and part of the UW System.

How does it help his campus to have UW-Madison nearby? By partnering with us, UW-Platteville and other UW System campuses can benefit from our reputation as a world-class research facility to secure federal research grants. Working with other campuses benefits UW-Madison as well because campus collaborations demonstrate a larger potential impact for the federal research money by giving more researchers access to needed equipment.  And by working together, we can expand our outreach to the citizens of the state. For instance, our researchers collaborate at the Lancaster Agricultural Research Station, which serves farmers and other rural landowners in the southwest part of the state.

One recent example of our successful research partnership with UW-Platteville was just announced last fall and it brings big potential for creating the tiny products our economy has come to rely on. This partnership helps bring electron beam lithography to our campus. That’s a fancy way of saying we are getting a big machine that will help researchers create the tiny things we use in high-tech products, such as the chips that run our computers and medical devices. Having this machine at UW-Madison makes it possible for researchers all over the state to create new products.

UW-Madison was able to secure the grant funding for this new work based on our research reputation and because we were able to show a statewide impact by partnering with UW-Platteville, UW-Milwaukee and UW-Stevens Point on the grant. Getting the grant was the first step of a multi-campus collaboration that will further research in biology, engineering and medicine while providing our students with training for the jobs of the future.

Many thanks to Chancellor Shields for hosting us at UW-Platteville and thanks to all the alums of both campuses who came together to talk about how this next budget cycle can reinvest in UW.

Keeping our promises on diversity and inclusion Sat, 14 Jan 2017 20:39:49 +0000 Continue reading ]]> When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke on our campus in 1965, he made the following observation: “We find ourselves standing on the threshold of the most creative period in the development of race relations in the history of our nation.”

Dr. King was referring to the end of legal segregation. He spoke those words not long after James Meredith was denied admission to the University of Mississippi because of the color of his skin. Federal troops were sent in to uphold Mr. Meredith’s right to receive an education.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we can take pride in the growing diversity of our nation’s population and in the strides – legal, economic, and social – that we’ve made in this country. But we also acknowledge that there is still much work to do.

As I hope you know, people across campus have been working hard to make this community a more inclusive environment. Here’s some of what we’ve accomplished during the fall:

  • About 1,000 new students took part this fall in Our Wisconsin, a new community-building program that aims to equip students with the skills to live and work effectively as part of a diverse campus. Planning is under way to enhance and expand it for the 2017-18 academic year.
  • In November, more than 8,500 students ­– 20 percent of our student body ­– completed our first-ever campus climate survey, a project called for in our Diversity Framework. Results are being analyzed this semester and by summer we’ll be discussing any following actions that these survey results might identify.
  • House Fellows are receiving more in-depth training on communication, counseling, leadership and cross-cultural awareness. This began in August and will continue this spring and through 2017-18.
  • University Health Services now offers expanded services thanks to two new staff members focusing on campus outreach, particularly to under-served student groups, and another who specializes in the needs of students of color.
  • We appointed a Community Advisory Committee, composed of representatives from multiple local community groups. This committee has met twice this fall and is a source of advice for us on diversity issues, as well as a means to communicate campus issues and concerns back to key Madison-area groups.

Meanwhile, a number of initiatives are moving forward over the coming spring and summer.  Here are some efforts you’ll be hearing more about in the near future:

  • A ceremony in February will mark the opening of the Black Cultural Center in the Red Gym. Students, staff and faculty are guiding renovations to the space and planning programming and activities. Stay tuned for more details.
  • Learning Communities for Institutional Change and Excellence will expand this year, enabling a partnership with Undergraduate Advising to build our capacity for culturally responsive advising.
  • We are developing expanded training for TAs to help them deal more effectively with diverse classrooms. We will be rolling this out in our TA training sessions this coming summer.
  • A review of ethnic studies courses is under way to ensure our current curriculum fits the mission of the Ethnic Studies requirement. A report and recommendations will go to the University Academic Planning Council by summer.
  • The College of Letters and Sciences has redeveloped and expanded a course, Introduction to Comparative U.S. Ethnic and American Indian Studies, as a collaboration among the four ethnic/indigenous studies units. Funding from the Provost’s Office during the fall supported the redevelopment and expanded enrollment, to 144 students this spring. Through this collaboration, the course seeks to convey the full texture of the experience of people of color and Native people in the U.S. and to give students a sense of how race and ethnicity are at the center of the American experience.
  • The School of Education is developing training to help faculty better engage in classroom discussions of diversity and inclusion.
  • I have asked all units across campus to engage in some form of discussion and training on issues of inclusion and diversity. I plan to ask deans and other campus leaders to report back on what their units have done over the year and what these conversations did (or didn’t) accomplish.  I then hope to challenge campus leaders to think about next steps for their units in the following year.

These actions build on steps we’ve taken over the past several years that have improved recruitment and retention of students of color and expanded need-based aid.  Among the outcomes that have improved:

  • Over the last decade, we’ve gone from 11 percent students of color to 15 percent.
  • We’ve gone from 15 percent faculty of color to nearly 20 percent.
  • Our retention rate (freshmen returning for sophomore year) is now above 95 percent among both historically underrepresented students and all other students – we’ve closed the retention gap that used to exist.
  • Graduation rates among all of our students have been increasing, but they are increasing faster among historically underrepresented students, which means we’ve made substantial progress on the graduation gap as well. Last spring we were cited as a university that has made some of the best progress in reducing graduation gaps.

As I have said in multiple settings, becoming a more welcoming and inclusive campus requires long-term engagement in a process of self-evaluation and change.  This is not something that happens easily or quickly in some cases.  Like many others, we have experienced setbacks. But I have appreciated the depth of commitment throughout the institution.

Thanks to all of you who are working to make this a better campus for students, staff, and faculty.  Let’s keep at it!

On Academic Freedom and Free Speech Sun, 08 Jan 2017 14:00:15 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The recent public debate over a course offered this coming semester, African Cultural Studies 405, “The Problem of Whiteness,” is not particularly unusual. Every university that I have been at has experienced occasional controversy about a professor or a course that presents material others find offensive.

Universities are unique places, characterized by their acceptance of people who push the boundaries of perceived truth. Universities frequently employ faculty members whose opinions are considered “out there” — people who embrace alternative ideas and identities that surprise (and occasionally shock or anger) others.

This includes the researchers who proposed that ulcers were caused by bacteria rather than stress and who were widely derided and dismissed…until research proved them right. It includes those who write about (and sometimes live) alternative forms of gender identity. It includes those who argued for plate tectonics, the big bang theory, the value of a minimum wage, or the idea that race is a socially-constructed concept. All of these were or are hotly controversial topics in their field and even among the general public.

I’ve always thought that universities’ greatest value to society is that they are places where any idea is thinkable and debatable…even ideas that shock and insult. A university’s commitment to academic freedom and free speech is a commitment that allows all ideas to be presented and discussed. Ideas should be dismissed only after research and debate proves them inadequate, rather than being dismissed out of hand without debate because they challenge perceived wisdom or offend current beliefs.

That is what the famous UW Board of Regents’ statement was all about, when they proclaimed their support of “continual sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.” This was an unambiguous statement about the need for all voices to be heard at a university, in response to an effort to fire a faculty member, economist Richard Ely, accused of advocating socialism.

Now, anyone who is around a university knows that we often fall short of these ideals. Certain opinions in any field of inquiry are dismissed or even laughed at. Sometimes that dismissal is based upon serious inquiry and debate and sometimes it’s just based on current fads and prejudices.

But what we’ve learned over the centuries of arguing about different scientific theories and different social beliefs is that we can all be surprised about where the truth is ultimately found. Those who are dismissed and laughed at today may be taken very seriously at some point in the future. At universities, if we really want to pursue ideas wherever they take us, we can’t censor discussion by only talking about those ideas that others find acceptable.

That brings us to the African Cultural Studies course that is the subject of the current controversy. By itself, the content of this course actually isn’t very controversial. Its approach and its readings are similar to many courses offered at other universities on the social construction of race, studying how the majority culture in many societies has utilized racial concepts to constrain and marginalize minority cultures.

Universities have a long tradition of giving faculty freedom in the classroom to teach about a topic. And, I might note, universities also typically give students a lot of freedom about which classes they can choose to attend. If a faculty member is unable to attract students into his or her course, then we will typically cancel it and assign the professor to a different course. If we receive significant student complaints about a professor’s lack of teaching skills, we will try to provide assistance to that professor to improve. If a faculty member bullies or personally attacks individual students in the course of teaching, we will discipline that professor. But if a faculty member makes arguments in the classroom that some find objectionable or even believe to be wrong, we do not interfere. In fact, as chancellor, I will strongly defend the right of any faculty member to present highly controversial opinions. Faculty who teach well about controversial subjects are often much in demand.

Departments determine their curriculum and faculty are typically assigned a certain number of classes needed by the department to fulfill their curricular requirements. These courses go through a vetting process by a university-level curriculum approval committee. But many faculty occasionally teach special topics courses that reflect their particular research interests, and those may change from year to year. Departments have the right to approve a special topics course on a one-time basis, without a broader curricular review, which is how African Cultural Studies 405 is being offered.

The reaction to the course title, The Problem of Whiteness, has been particularly loud. In part, this title uses language in a way that is familiar to academics but not to others. In academic use, “The problem of…” is language that signals “this is a topic worthy of conversation and debate”, not “this is something that creates problems.” A recent report by the National Academy of Sciences on effective communication by scientists suggested that researchers need to not only avoid jargon, but also understand that people interpret information based on their social norms, which can lead to misunderstanding of the original intent. Indeed, the National Science Foundation has issued guidelines for how project summaries should be written so that the value of the project is clearly understood by national legislators and their staff. I encourage all of our faculty to think about the outside as well as the inside audiences as they put together courses, write articles, and speak publicly. The more that we can use language that all of our audiences understand, the better we will be in communicating the value of the university to the state.

The current controversy over this specific course was amplified because the professor also has a strong social media presence and it didn’t take long for critics to uncover Twitter postings that appear to express enjoyment at hearing about the shooting of police officers. This moves the debate about academic freedom and free speech beyond the freedom to teach in the classroom.

If an employee in a private company posted twitter statements entirely unrelated to her employment that the employer and customers found objectionable, could that employee be fired? That’s certainly possible. But again, universities – especially public universities – are unique. Twitter postings are public statements. They are like posting a message on a public bulletin board.   Universities provide their faculty a guarantee of academic freedom in the classroom, but like any person, faculty members also enjoy freedom of speech from public sanction in the public domain. In fact, the famous “sifting and winnowing” case occurred because Professor Ely was giving public speeches that some thought advocated socialism. It was the 1890s version of Twitter postings.

I have looked at these Twitter postings and I do not accept nor condone the opinions that they seem to express. But my distaste is trumped by my responsibility as chancellor to defend the principles of both academic freedom in the classroom and free speech outside the classroom. It is not acceptable to fire faculty because they publicly say things that others find objectionable, because that’s a very slippery slope. What about those who don’t like faculty who talk about global warming? Or those who don’t want faculty to discuss gay culture? Or those who don’t want faculty to present their research analyzing the cause of a specific disease because it utilized fetal tissue? If faculty have the freedom to present their opinions, then there can’t be arbitrary limits set on which opinions can be presented and which cannot.

Defending academic freedom and free speech can be uncomfortable. I hear about it when alumni or legislators or citizens are unhappy about what’s happening here on campus. There are days when I really wish that everybody at UW would stop doing anything that might create controversy. But once that happens, then we are no longer a university, engaged in the intellectual debate and ferment that leads to new ways of thinking and new innovations. Academic freedom and free speech are among the most important foundations on which universities are built.

Winter Commencement 2016 remarks Tue, 20 Dec 2016 14:38:28 +0000 Continue reading ]]>  

As prepared for delivery

Kohl Center, Sun. Dec. 18, 2016

Good morning, and welcome to the winter 2016 commencement of the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Let’s start with a round of applause for our new graduates.

I would also like to extend a special welcome to family and friends. Please join me in thanking them for everything they have done to make today possible.

I also want to say a special welcome and thank you to astronaut Jim Lovell.  Jim is an American hero who saved lives and set new standards for space travel in his extraordinary final trip to the moon.  His story was captured in the movie Apollo 13.   He may be the first honorary degree recipient ever to also be selected – in a completely separate process, by the senior class officers – to serve as commencement speaker.

He is definitely the only one to have been played by Tom Hanks in a movie.

Jim – thank you for being here.

Today we’ll confer just over 2,000 degrees upon our undergraduate, graduate and professional school students.

And tomorrow, each of you will set off on your own path.  A path to careers … graduate studies … travel … or something else entirely.  Some of you don’t know yet – and that’s OK.

Our December graduates tend to be particularly well-prepared for whatever lies ahead. Many of you took a little extra time to reach this milestone because of an internship, study abroad, or other experience that enriched your education and will open new opportunities as you move forward.

You have worked hard and accomplished much … and some of you have overcome enormous odds to reach this day.

Cesar Gutierrez is a great example. He graduates today with a degree in zoology.

Cesar is the son of immigrants. He grew up in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in New York – a place that doesn’t send many kids to college.  He came to us as part of the Posse Program.

Like many of you, Cesar had moments when he wondered whether this was the right place for him. He doubted himself. He had some negative experiences here at UW. But he reached out for support, and he found it … and he is now on his way to veterinary school.

And then there’s Drew Hasley who has earned his Ph.D. in genetics. Drew plans to focus on improving biology education to create more opportunities for students with disabilities … but he is already making history.

Today, Drew becomes the first legally blind person ever to receive a UW genetics doctorate.

As we celebrate all of your achievements, I suspect many things are going through your mind:

  • What will my colleagues on the new job be like?
  • When am I going to hear back about that interview? And
  • What do I do with that couch if I’m moving to California?

The answers are: Hopefully terrific … I don’t know … and sell it on Craigslist.

We are always focused on hundreds of little (and not-so-little) things. The who-what-where-when-and-how demand answers, but they also distract us from bigger, more important questions.

Like “why make these choices?”

Think back a moment. Do you remember when you first decided you wanted to major in journalism, or return to school for a graduate degree in engineering, or go to law school? When you knew for certain you wanted to work on environmental issues or be a nurse or become a professor?

Why did you make that decision?

You may have a number of answers. But I am guessing there is one that most of you share:

You want to make a difference.

But you’re probably not sure exactly how to do that. Maybe you’re thinking if you work hard enough, there will be a defining moment when you have that big idea or when everything falls into place and you know you’re on the right track. A moment of discovery or insight that changes everything.

But the truth is, change usually doesn’t happen in lightning moments. It’s much more incremental.

Let me tell you a brief story.

In 2010, the British professional cycling team – Team Sky – was looking for a miracle. They wanted to become the first British team in history to win the Tour de France.

They hired a new manager, who had an approach that seemed too simple to work. He said: We’re going to change everything … but only by 1%. And that’s going to add up to something big.

He and the team searched everywhere for places to improve. The weight of the tires … the design of the bike seats … the pillows they slept on …  what they ate and how they washed their hands. Nothing went unnoticed.

They’d hoped this strategy would position them to win the Tour in five years.

They were wrong.

It took just two. They won in 2012 and again in 2013.

With a series of the tiny, almost invisible adjustments, the team pulled off a major upset.

If you look deeply at any successful company, product or program, you will find that its success is typically built upon many small changes, each of which made it a little better. Improvements driven by people a lot like you. Smart, educated, committed to making a difference.

Now, a number of you are already experienced change-makers. You’ve found ways to make something easier or more efficient. You’ve started mentorship programs with just one or two students – programs that will take root and grow. Some of you have developed innovations that hold great promise.

These are things that happen every day at a major research institution dedicated to pushing the boundaries of knowledge.

But beyond the borders of the campus, you may find that change doesn’t come as easily. People like to do things the way they’ve always done them. Let’s face it: That’s a lot less work. Our history is full of stories of innovations dismissed – and innovators derided as quacks.

In 1910, the great minds at Scientific American predicted that, “it’s only a matter of time before any reasonable man realizes that [airplanes] are useless.”

To be a change-maker takes resilience, persistence and the ability to withstand disappointment. There are two other key ingredients, too.  

First curiousity.

Curiosity grows best in those idle moments that neuroscientists call Incubation Time.

But Incubation Time has become scarce, because … why sit around just thinking when you could be binge-watching Gilmore Girls or taking some discreet selfies (I see you out there … it’s actually more discreet without that Selfie Stick).

Last year, psychologists from Harvard had research subjects sit in an empty room for 15 minutes. They were given the option of doing nothing or jolting themselves with an electric shock.

40% chose the shock. I see nods of agreement.

We have come to a place where nearly anything is better than being alone with our thoughts.

So here’s my challenge to you. As you enter this new chapter of your life, give yourself a little time each day as a quiet observer. Analyze, as Team Sky did, every facet of something you want to improve.

The second ingredient is collaboration.

 You don’t do anything alone. You need friends and collaborators.

You are graduating from a university with a deep commitment to interdisciplinary collaboration. A commitment that grows directly from our dedication to solving problems in the real world – what we call the Wisconsin Idea.

But solving problems isn’t the only reason to collaborate. It turns out that having colleagues who are engaged, supportive and collaborative is one of the most important attribute of happy workplaces – more important than pay levels.

In fact, pay is #8 out of the top 10 factors affecting job satisfaction, according to a 2013 global survey.

So look for environments where you will be working with people who are committed to working with you. And don’t forget the collaborative and supportive friends, colleagues and mentors you’ve met here. The people who have laughed and cried with you … the ones who always seemed to know when you really needed a burrito bowl with all the toppings.

You aren’t leaving these people behind; many of them will be lifelong friends, who may come back into your life in ways you can’t predict.

You are now part of the family of 400,000 Badgers … people who are making a difference all around the world. They, too, will be your collaborators.  

You are graduating at a time when this nation and the world face enormous challenges. But crisis and uncertainty create opportunities for transformative change.

I hope that you will bring what you learned here at the University of Wisconsin to those challenges, wherever they lead you.

I hope you stay curious, and keep finding ways to collaborate with people who share your commitment to doing something just a little bit better.

And don’t be discouraged when you come upon a roadblock. Remember the words of Booker T. Washington, who said success is best measured “not so much by the position one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome.”

I, for one, can’t wait to see what you do next.

Thank you for all of your work here. Each of you has made this campus a better place.  Congratulations…and On, Wisconsin.

Happy Holidays Wed, 14 Dec 2016 15:22:50 +0000 Warm thoughts for the holidays and best wishes for a very happy new year from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.