Blank’s Slate – Office of the Chancellor – UW–Madison Mon, 28 Jun 2021 18:29:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Connected to Communities: Celebrating Two Years Since Extension and Public Media Joined UW-Madison Mon, 28 Jun 2021 21:00:11 +0000 Read More]]> UW-Madison’s commitment to community outreach is an important part of our campus culture. The Wisconsin Idea holds that our campus responsibilities extend to the boundaries of the state and beyond. That philosophy undergirds work done by every faculty and staff member, but it’s especially relevant to people who work in our statewide outreach programs.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

To our employees,

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

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

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

Read the full message.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can be seated.

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

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

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

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

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

How to think like a beginner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Congratulations … and On Wisconsin!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please be seated.

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

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

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

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

• The sudden switch to virtual learning last spring.

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

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

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

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

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

But nobody got here alone.

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

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

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

Please join me in thanking all of them.

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

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

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

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

• If you worked as a Badger Wellness Ambassador.

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

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

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

Thank you all!

You may be seated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Congratulations and thank you for seeing it through.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Congratulations, Class of 2021 and On, Wisconsin!

Reflections for Earth Day 2021 Wed, 21 Apr 2021 21:20:26 +0000 Read More]]> Climate change is an existential threat to our state, our country, and the global community. As weather changes, storms become more intense, and the resilience and health of our ecosystem deteriorates, we are all affected. In addition, we know that climate change has a disproportionate impact on people of color and impoverished communities, piling suffering on those who can least bear it and worsening inequities across the globe. In the face of these issues, we must all decide how we will act to avert further damage.

At UW-Madison we are working to meet this challenge, finding ways in which we can improve our environmental impacts, create resilience in our community to these changes, and use our university to support education and research that will help address these problems across the globe. We have made this work a priority, despite strained budgets and the ongoing public health crisis, because we know that taking action cannot wait.

As we mark another Earth Day, it’s a good to time assess what we are doing. I am proud that Wisconsin’s political leaders were centrally involved in creating Earth Day 50 years ago. It’s a tradition of activism that we need to uphold.

Here are a few of the ways we’ve been leading on environmental issues:

More broadly, we are building a coalition of partners through the UW–Madison Resilience Commitment. Through this effort, our Office of Sustainability is strategizing with campus and community partners to address climate change and build resilience across seven dimensions: Social Equity & Governance; Health & Wellness; Ecosystem Services; Economy; Infrastructure; Curriculum; and Research.

As a world-class research institution, it’s particularly important that we support education and research on these issues. On the educational front, the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies has seen a 70% increase in credit hours since 2012, and its programs served over 1,000 students during the Spring 2020 semester alone. The new Sustainability Course Attribute was motivated by student interest and a student call for easy identification of coursework that relates to sustainability. Since it was created in 2020, 338 courses have received the provisional course attribute for sustainability.

On the research front, our researchers do a remarkable amount of work related to the environment and sustainability. This past year, they generated $459 million in funding, or approximately 1/3 of our total research dollars, for projects that directly or indirectly addressed environmental issues. This work cuts across many different areas, from global health to veterinary medicine to the humanities.

Leading the university on these issues is the Nelson Institute, which offers classes, coordinates research, and helps UW-Madison address institutional issues. More than 190 faculty are affiliated with the Nelson institute and its programs. Also providing leadership is the Office of Sustainability, which serves as the key facilitator and institutional hub for creating a culture of sustainability at UW–Madison as well as improving campus operations and resource stewardship.

UW–Madison will continue to leverage our expertise, compassion, and determination to develop and implement climate-change solutions. I invite you to read more about the work we are doing across our campus community in the year-one Resilience Commitment impact report.

We are always looking for faculty, staff and students to be involved with these efforts. You can get involved as we move into the next two stages of our resilience commitment: assessing campus and community vulnerabilities, and creating a Climate Action and Adaptation Plan.

Thank you to everybody on this campus who is involved in these issues in so many different ways. We must be in this for the long-term, seeking news ways to leverage our knowledge, our resources, and our institutional actions to address and remediate the changes we are seeing in our environment.

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.