All Ways Grateful
Nicholas Recreation Center
Fri Oct 29, 2021
Thank you, Mike. Good evening and welcome. It’s wonderful to be here with all of you on this historic Homecoming Weekend as we mark the end of the greatest fundraising campaign this university has ever seen!
It is a real privilege to share the stage with the people who have brought us to this moment, our campaign co chairs:
- John & Tashia Morgridge (and a big thanks to John for hosting our special edition of Jeopardy)
- Mike & Mary Sue Shannon
- Ted & Mary Kellner
- George & Pam Hamel
- Phill & Liz Gross
- John & Anne Oros
Thank you all.
I also want to thank:
- Our Provost, Karl Scholz, who has just helped to lead us through an extraordinarily challenging year-and-a-half; and
- Our student speakers, Charlie, Alex, and Micol – the students, as always, are the best reminder about why this place matters so much.
The stories we’ve been listening to take me back to that October night in 2015 – I know many of you remember it well. We gathered in the Kohl Center to announce our intention to raise $3.2 billion, on a campus whose most successful campaign to date had raised about half that much.
We had debated whether this was the right goal – the traditional model suggested a lower number, and it seemed like it might be safer to aim for a mark we knew we could hit. But there were a couple of things that pushed us to get a little bolder:
First, the response to the quiet phase of the campaign had been extraordinary, thanks to many of you. A major gift from the Nicholases was inspiring a new level of giving for student scholarships … and the Morgridge Match had already doubled our named chairs and professorships.
And second, both Mike and I and others believed that we were in the process of changing the culture of fundraising on campus, with changes at the Foundation along with much greater involvement by the deans and department chairs. We believed we could do a better job and that our alumni would respond. So we decided to take a risk.
It was my job that night to announce the big number. I remember the room went silent for just a beat after I said it, and then there was applause. And I thought: with our outstanding campaign committee … the deans and directors fully on board … Mike Knetter’s talented team … and a really strong start – it would take a major crisis to derail this campaign.
Well, as it turned out, we didn’t have one major crisis – we had two.
Fundraising at a critical moment
Budget cuts: First, we dealt with the fallout from deep state budget cuts in 2015 that blew a big hole in our budget and put a target on our backs. Our competitors went after many of our top faculty in 2015 and 2016. We had to work hard to retain some great people – we lost a few but most of them stayed here.
We worried about what this might mean for the fundraising campaign. But our alumni and friends stood by us.
You helped us match those outside offers and keep many of the people we were in danger of losing. But we still had a big problem: When we began this campaign, our faculty were paid, on average, 14% less than their peers at other public universities. Among our 12 peer public universities, we were #12.
We knew we had to do something – and with your help, we were able to start bringing our wages closer to the market.
Earlier this year, the new ranking came out. And I am happy to tell you that, after two decades at the bottom of the list, our faculty salaries have moved from #12 to #5.
This is long overdue, and we couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you!
What does this mean for the future?
It means that we can compete on a whole new level for talented faculty who bring in talented students and millions of dollars in federal and private grants. This is what’s going to drive research, development, and innovation in this state for years to come.
COVID: But of course, the next crisis was just around the corner … COVID hit in the crucial final year of the campaign. The scale of the university’s losses was immense. Every week, we saw our revenue shrink and our pandemic-related costs grow.
Again, we worried about what this might mean for the fundraising campaign. And again, our alumni and friends not only stood by us but increased their giving.
Your help was a critical component of our recovery … and I am happy to tell you that, despite millions of dollars in losses, we are going into this new academic year with no overhanging budget problems from the pandemic!
You’ve just heard from the faculty and students about the impact of your gifts. As individuals, you have helped to chart a new course for the students who receive your scholarship, or the one academic program you’ve funded, or one research project you support. But together, you have rewritten the future of this university. So let me put this campaign into a broader context.
The big picture – scholarships
What does it mean that we have more than 4,600 new scholarships for students at all levels?
- It means that, for the first time in our history, we can guarantee four years of zero tuition and fees for low-income students from Wisconsin. That’s the program called Bucky’s Tuition Promise.
- It means that we can compete for top students from all over the country – that’s particularly important for attracting students of color, many of whom come to UW from outside the state.
- And it means that more of our students are graduating without student debt: Last year, 57% graduated with no student loan debt. Nationally, fewer than one-third of students do.
- These scholarships are working hand-in-hand with our new recruitment strategies to help us target great students, bring them in, and give them an outstanding experience here.
- That’s why our freshmen retention rate is more than 95% – well above the Big Ten average.
- And it’s why the number of National Merit finalists in our freshman class has increased every year for the past five years.
All of this means we’re deepening and broadening the talent pool here in Wisconsin and coming closer to honoring the promise we’ve made to generations of families in this state that if their child can qualify for admission, our doors will be open to them.
The big picture – endowed chairs/professorships
And what does it mean that we have more than 300 new endowed faculty chairs?
- You heard the faculty describe how the funds give them flexibility and some space to think and plan for new projects – this is how these endowments allow us to attract and keep outstanding people.
- The faculty we bring in with named chairs and professorships are gifted scientists and scholars, and great teachers.
- They create laboratories and research teams that are mini-businesses within the university that employ people … purchase goods and services … drive discovery and innovation in this state … and change lives.
- They also bring well over $1b into Wisconsin every year in research dollars … and create spin-off businesses with high-tech jobs that bring more talent into the state.
- These endowed funds also mean that UW–Madison – the place that produced the people who created the national park system and the National Weather Service … discovered vitamin D … and isolated human embryonic stem cells for the first time – will continue to be a center of excellence.
- And a place where the next great discoveries happen – in artificial intelligence … biofuels … the microbiome … and in communications … nursing … and education.
- This university will be a place whose long and proud tradition of interdisciplinary work drives the creation of entirely new fields of study, like Comparative Medicine, which brings physicians and veterinarians together to take what they’ve learned from treating cancer in animals and apply it to find new ways to treat cancer in humans.
Our culture of collaboration and our ability to attract and retain talented people are critically important – but they are only two of the three ingredients you need to be a top university.
The third ingredient is modern facilities that give our faculty the tools they need to solve really complex problems.
The big picture – facilities
Modern facilities are critical to recruiting and retaining top talent. Before we began the Chemistry Building project, we’d take students through on tours, and almost invariably one or more of them would say: “We have better labs at my high school.”
And I can tell you that our History Department faculty are very much looking forward to the day when they will no longer have to start every faculty recruitment visit by cautioning people to watch where they step in the Humanities building.
All Ways Forward has ushered in a long-overdue building boom on this campus. Underway or recently completed are:
- A renovated and expanded Chemistry Building.
- An expansion of the School of Veterinary Medicine.
- A new Meat Science and Animal Biologics Building.
- The Center for Dairy Research and the Babcock Dairy Plant.
- And the new health and wellness facility we’re in tonight – I know many of you remember working out at the SERF (which served us well for about 40 years). We opened the Nick in the pandemic and it still had 600,000 visits in its first year. This year it’s even busier.
And just announced this fall – three facilities for which we have generous lead gifts, but still need to raise funds:
- The first is the new Computer, Data, and Information Sciences John and Tashia Morgridge have made an extraordinary commitment – $125 million, of which $50 million is a matching gift that we hope will inspire many of you to join us in bringing this new building to life.
- Computer science is now the largest major on this campus, and this facility will serve not only our computer science majors, but students in every major – because we’re in a world where a level of computer literacy is expected of our graduates.
- The second project we announced just two weeks ago – a new academic building for the College of Letters and Science to be known as Irving and Dorothy Levy Hall. Jeff and Marv Levy and their family foundation gave a generous gift and asked that the building be named in memory of their parents.
- How many of you took classes in the Humanities building when you were here?
- It hasn’t gotten any better with age. We are really excited about this new building – it’s going to give us a number of much-needed high-tech classrooms and allow a big group of departments to move out of Humanities.
- And finally, we announced in September a new wellness facility for the west side of campus – the Bakke Recreation & Wellbeing Center. This is $113 million project that we’ve launched with a generous gift from Jim and Sue Bakke. It replaces the Natatorium and it’ll give us (among other things) an ice rink, space for cooking classes, and a lot more room for our Adaptive Fitness Programs.
Every one of these projects is extremely complex. I want to thank all of the many people on and off campus, along with our leadership donors, who are moving these buildings forward.
The fundraising campaign is ending on December 31st. But the fundraising is not. We still need to raise millions of dollars for each of these projects and for initiatives like:
- Our first ever Wisconsin Medicine campaign, which is in the planning stage, and
- The Raimey-Noland campaign which was launched earlier this year to support efforts to make UW more diverse and inclusive.
I’d like to thank Phill and Liz Gross and Elzie and Deborah Higginbottom for their leadership gifts supporting these programs.
Private support is more important than ever to the future of UW and I hope that all of you will stay engaged and consider taking part in these efforts.
When we started on this journey together, many of our peers and competitors had been investing in higher education … growing their faculty … creating new programs … and building state-of-the-art facilities … while we were figuring out how to manage another round of budget cuts.
I told you then that we had reached a critical moment – to remain a top university, UW–Madison needed to start investing at a higher rate.
At the end of this campaign, we are in a much different place:
- Our applications have risen every year and this year we welcomed the largest freshman class in our history.
- Our federal research grants grew by 15% last year alone.
- And when we asked our alumni and friends to make a $3.2 billion investment in this place, 250,000 of them got together – inspired by so many of you – and raised not $3.2 billion but $4 billion.
As Karl Scholz said, it is wonderful but perhaps no big surprise that Washington Monthly recently named us one of the best in the country.
You’ve heard it already this evening, but I’ll say it again:
We wouldn’t be in this place without every one of you.
We’ve talked about the impact of your gifts on our students and faculty, and on research and education. But the most powerful impact of all is the hardest to measure.
The campaign has burnished our reputation, which adds value to every UW degree each of you holds … and every one we confer … and allows us to compete at a whole new level for top faculty, staff and students.
We are deeply grateful not only for your financial support but for your strong commitment to seeing the University of Wisconsin-Madison remain a top-tier university.
Happy homecoming, thank you for being here, and On, Wisconsin!
Now I’d like to ask the campaign co-chairs to return to the stage.
Will the deans and directors please stand?
Now, it’s time to celebrate the next 173 years. We’re going to do that in the reception area – so … if you want to be a Badger, come along with me!