Class of 1971 Reunion
Fri. Oct. 15, 2021
Good evening and thank you, Sarah, for that kind introduction.
Welcome, new members of the Half Century Club! It’s wonderful to be able to welcome you in person back to Madison.
This is a distinguished group – we have musicians and artists … teachers and professors … journalists … nurses and doctors and engineers.
A number of you have served in the armed forces … and others have run companies large and small, and served in public office.
The one common thread is your deep commitment to using your education and your talents to make something in the world a little better.
Class Gift & Recognitions
For many of you, that has included giving back to the university. The members of this class have given more than $122 million dollars to UW over the last 50 years – thank you!
Let me thank you for your class gift, which will support diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus in a couple of different ways:
- The Mercile J. Lee Scholars Program helps us attract highly talented students from historically underrepresented groups to UW–Madison with full-tuition scholarships.
- And the Ho-Chunk Nation Recognition Fund will sponsor a sculpture near the new Bakke Recreation & Wellbeing Center, which will replace the Natatorium. The sculpture will honor the Ho-Chunk people and their 12,000-year history as occupants of the land our campus sits on.
Finally, a big thanks to our co-hosts, Pete Christianson and Barbara Schneider, along with the entire Reunion Planning Committee. Gifts like this one – and reunions like this one – take a lot of hard work to put together.
I want to single out one member of the Class of 1970 for special recognition – a man some of you know well, though he graduated a year ahead of you, the extraordinary Tony-Award-winning Andre De Shields, who spoke at our in-person commencement in May.
After a year with few in-person events, we were very excited to bring commencement back to Camp Randall – and Andre made it really special. This was our only big in-person event of the entire academic year.
We had a special graduation celebration in the middle of September. The Class of 2020 missed out on having an in-person ceremony, but we brought them back last month for a big party in Camp Randall. They got to wear caps and gowns, sing “Varsity,” and celebrate with their classmates.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
I know that your class is deeply committed to supporting diversity, so let me tell you about a few of the things we’re working on.
One of our top priorities is to recruit more diverse students and faculty, and I’m happy to tell you that we’re competing more effectively for both:
- The number of students in the current freshman class from underrepresented groups is the highest in our history. Better scholarships and better recruitment strategies have made a big difference.
- And in the past 3 years, we’ve hired many new faculty from groups that are underrepresented on our campus– most of them are people of color. But we can’t just bring people in – we have to make UW a place where they want to stay. We’re working on this in a number of ways that you will be hearing more about.
- For example, we have a Public History Project to help us build a shared understanding of our history, so we can have a conversation about what we want this university to be, and how we get there.
- We are finding that wherever there is a story of discrimination and exclusion in our history, there is also a story of resistance. Many of you have been part of that resistance. You were here for (and maybe participated in) the Black Student Strike that led to some major changes on this campus.
There are many more projects in the works to improve the student experience here at UW, and you’ll be hearing about a new campaign we’re really excited about that’s going to help us fund some of them.
It’s called the Raimey-Noland campaign, named for the first two black students to graduate from this university — Mabel Raimey (1918) and William Smith Noland (1875).
Our goal was to raise $10m … it is now at $40m and growing. It will support scholarships … fund new faculty chairs to help us compete more effectively for top faculty of color … and help support some of the programs we’re building.
This past COVID year has been a difficult one at UW.
We sent nearly everyone home in March 2020, converted 8,000 classes to an online format in less than 2 weeks and shut down much of our research.
And that turned out to be the easy part.
Bringing the students back last fall meant setting up an entirely new public health system, and lots of people told us it would never work. I’m happy to say we proved them wrong – and even happier to say that this fall looks very different, thanks to the vaccine.
93% of our students, 95% of all employees and 99% of our faculty are fully vaccinated, and the numbers are continuing to grow. This is as good as (and in some cases better than) the Big 10 schools that have mandated vaccinations.
Students are excited to be back on campus attending classes in person, participating in activities, and connecting with old and new friends. So many of them wanted to live on campus this year that we had to convert double rooms to triples, lounge spaces to quads, and turn a conference hotel into a residence hall just to fit them all in.
And they specifically wanted to live together – this was the first year we’ve ever seen students reject single rooms in favor of roommates.
At this point in the semester, I’m confident that our high vaccination rate, along with a mask requirement in campus buildings and mandatory weekly testing for anyone who is not vaccinated, will keep the positivity rate low – it’s been around 1% – and allow the students to have a much more typical college experience this year.
We also brought our research back. To bring one of the top 10 research institutions in the country through a pandemic has required lots of change in how we work – and it’s had some unexpected benefits.
Over the past year, our faculty were busier than ever. They submitted 100 more grant proposals last year over the previous year. Our grant awards totaled more than $1.5 billion.
In addition to all of our usual research, the faculty jumped into COVID-related projects quickly. Our faculty are:
- Working to understand new strains of the virus,
- Designing systems for equitable vaccine distribution,
- And studying the effect of COVID on communities of color.
It won’t surprise you to hear that the pandemic created a financial crisis. The good news, though, is that I think we’ve come through in pretty good shape.
We’ve been able to avoid the major cuts to academic programs we’ve seen at other universities, and we’re going into the current year with no overhanging budget problems from the pandemic.
All Ways Forward
And I am delighted to tell you that later this month we will celebrate the end of the most successful fundraising campaign in our history – our goal was to raise $3.2 billion and we have just passed the $4 billion mark.
That’s a game-changer in terms of scholarships, faculty recruitment, and the margin of excellence in our programs that will burnish our reputation as a top school.
Points of Pride
We have a lot of things to be proud of this fall – I want to share just a few of them:
- Washington Monthly – which ranks universities based on their impact on the country through education, research, and public service – just named us one of the best in the country. The Top 5 list: Stanford, MIT, Duke, UW–Madison, Harvard.
- We are one of the top 10 public universities in the country in terms of high graduation rates. We’ve also decreased the time it takes to get a degree – you might be surprised to hear that the average undergraduate now earns their degree in less than 4 years. Which also reduces student debt – 57% of our undergraduates graduated last year with no student-loan debt.
- With new dollars for scholarships, we are able to guarantee – for the first time in our history – that every Wisconsin student who can qualify for admission and whose family makes less than the state’s median income will receive funding to cover all tuition and fees for four years. One in five Wisconsin freshmen is now covered by this program, which we call Bucky’s Tuition Promise.
- We’re also in the middle of a construction boom – and a couple of our current projects will replace facilities that haven’t been updated since you were on campus:
- We broke ground two weeks ago on the Bakke Recreation & Wellbeing Center, which will replace the Natatorium. It’s going to have a pool, an ice rink, eight basketball courts, and indoor track … lots of classes and programs … and our Adaptive Fitness Program. If you’re local, I encourage you to get a membership. We hope to have it open in 2023.
- We recently celebrated the grand opening of the Nicholas Recreation Center, which replaced the SERF.
- We’ve begun raising funds to construct a new building for our School of Computer, Data, and Information Sciences.
- And whether you love it or hate it, the Humanities building has reached the end of its useful life. We’re replacing it with a new Letters & Science academic building that will be the first new large general-assignment classroom building on campus since 1972.
- None of these projects would be possible without the generous support of our alumni, so I want to give a sincere thank-you to those who’ve donated.
- One of the factors driving the need for new buildings is increased enrollment. We are a hot school! We had record-breaking applications this fall, and just welcomed our largest freshman class ever.
- This wouldn’t happen without all of you talking about the wonderful things that happen on this campus and inspiring talented students to come here. Thank you.
The late 1960s at UW–Madison
More than most of our classes, you experienced this campus at a time of extraordinary change. The world you knew when you arrived was not the same world you graduated into.
- You were freshmen in the spring of 1968 when both Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were killed. I suspect many of you took part in the gathering of thousands of people on Bascom Hill.
- You witnessed – and maybe participated in – the protests that drew attention to the Vietnam War.
- You were here for the Dow protests and the Sterling Hall bombing, which I know affected a number of you deeply.
- And you also managed to have a lot of fun. Madison hosted some unforgettable concerts during your time here. Maybe you saw Diana Ross and the Supremes or Jefferson Airplane at the Fieldhouse, or ventured off-campus to see Jimi Hendrix at the Factory.
These experiences shaped all of you. I hope you’ve used everything you learned here to enrich your life and make a difference in the world – perhaps in ways you never thought of back in 1971.
I’m so happy to welcome you back to campus. I hope you’ll take some time to visit some of the new spaces we’ve created as well as the ones you remember so fondly.
- We have a beautiful new music performance center, the Hamel Music Center, on the corner of Lake and University where you used to pick up your transcripts at the Peterson Building.
- And if you haven’t visited the Chazen Museum of Art recently, you will be delighted by some of the pieces we’ve acquired and the exhibits our new director and her team are putting together.
Please keep in touch. As some of you may know, I’ve announced that I’m leaving UW this coming summer. This is a wonderful place and I have many great memories and have made many good friends while I was here. I hope I’ve left UW in better shape than when I arrived. But whoever follows me will need your advice and support.
Enjoy your time back in Madison and celebrate the past 50 years. Thank you, and On, Wisconsin!