Luncheon with the Chancellor – 2020

BOV Luncheon

Thurs. 10/29/20


Slide 1:  Title slide

  1. Introduction 

Chancellor full screen

Thanks Charlie, and welcome to all of you.  I know you don’t necessarily miss travelling to Madison … but we sure miss having you here.

Thanks for your work/advice to your departments and campus units over past 6 months – it’s been critical in this challenging moment.   We appreciate your time and your support.


Slide 2:  Welcoming Key Leaders

Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education Steve Ackerman (named VC in March).  One of our most prominent meteorological researchers and one of the ‘weather guys’ who writes a column regularly for the Madison paper.


Deputy Vice Chancellor for Diversity & Inclusion (interim) Cheryl Gittens – Replaces Patrick Sims, who left over the summer for University of North Carolina School of the Arts.  Cheryl brings experience in community organizations as well as higher ed.


Slide 3:  Welcoming Key Leaders

Daniel Tokaji, dean of law school (replaces Margaret Raymond who stepped back into her faculty role after 9 years as dean).  Moved from Ohio State.

Eric Wilcots, dean of College of Letters & Science (replaces Karl Scholz).  Long-time faculty member and a world-class astronomer.

Karl Martin, dean of the Division of Extension.  Karl has deep experience at Extension, and outstanding relationships in communities around the state.


Slide 4:  4 Top Headlines

#1 – A record-setting class of faculty – largest, most diverse ever

  • 171 hired – half are people of color. STEM-strong – 7 hires in comp sci, 6 in math … but also Humanities-strong – 6 hires in English, 2 Art, 8 History)


#2 – Hit enrollment targets

  • 7,300 new freshmen, 1,000 transfers. Freshman class includes record share (13.5%) of students from targeted minority groups.


#3 – New numbers show even more progress on academic outcomes

  • Six-year graduation rate highest ever (88.5%). In top 10 among U.S. publics.
  • Graduation gap between white students and targeted minority students cut nearly in half over the last 10 years (now a 7-point difference).
  • New record for average time-to-degree (we’ve knocked another 2 weeks off last year’s number) 3.92 years – 4 weeks less than 4 years.
  • The Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU) just recognized us as one of 4 universities in the country that have done the most to improve our graduation numbers.
  • And 57% of undergraduates graduated with no student loan debt in 2020.


Slide 5:  #4 – [photos of Nick & Meat Sci]

  • Nicholas Recreation Center (opened late Sept, with restricted usage)
  • Meat Science & Animal Biologics Discovery Building (grand opening next week – Nov. 6)
  • Will be a national center for research and innovation for meat production – and a place where industry partners can come for help solving problems and developing new products.
  • We want Wisconsin to have artisanal meat products produced at the level of our specialty cheeses.


Chancellor full screen

So there are lots of good things happening.  I’d hoped to add the start of Big 10 football to that list, and I know many of you are wondering about our program.   The season opener was a spectacular game, if you didn’t see it last Friday night.

Unfortunately, because of a COVID outbreak among our team and coaches, we won’t be playing Nebraska.  It’s deeply disappointing, but we are doing the right thing.

We have worked closely with the Big Ten to implement extensive health protocols, including daily testing for all players and staff, and we’re committed to following those protocols.  Unfortunately, with this disease, there are no guarantees.  We’re working though our current outbreak in consultation with the Big Ten and our own doctors and we want to be sure Coach Chryst and the players come back strong and healthy.

We continue to plan for seasons for men’s and women’s basketball and hockey, which have been (or will soon be) announced, and volleyball will start after the new year.  We look forward to seeing them resume with similar testing and health protocols.


  1. Education

Chancellor full screen

For fall semester we changed all aspects of how we operate:

  • Thousands of courses re-designed
  • Nearly every student service that used to be in person is now online
  • Modified the air-handling systems in our buildings
  • Created kits for each student with Bucky masks, sanitizer and info on how to stay safe
  • Set up our own bottling operation for disinfectant – buying by the barrel, refilling plastic bottles to reduce waste

Health protocols created with top public health experts:

  • Testing for dorm residents and campus testing centers for anybody who wants a test. Also doing surveillance testing.  We do all contact tracing for our campus community.
  • Rules for masking, distancing reinforced with 16,000 signs all over campus
    • Isolation/quarantine spaces set up with online medical checks
    • Social media campaign: Campus life depends on YOU!


Put to the test sooner than we expected and it worked:

  • Data allowed us to respond quickly: Told students to limit movement; moved classes online; and quarantined two dorms and a number of fraternities/sororities


Slide 6:  Dashboard showing daily positive test graph

As the data show, our cases came down and have stayed down.  We are testing more frequently and have made several other changes.  For more than 5 weeks, our average positivity rate has been around 1% … below the county and far below the state.  Right now, this campus is one of the safest places to be in the state.

Student behavior changed as well during this time, in part because we made it clear that this was serious.

  • Quarantines were tough — 2,300 students were in quarantine or isolation – volunteer faculty/staff called nearly every one of them

Students made the best of it (Grocery Bingo with various snack foods as prizes; talent show – read original poetry, danced, played the tuba).


Slide 7:  Student with personalized sneakers

One freshman used the time to apply for a start-up grant (which he received) to buy supplies for a company he’s building that sells personalized sneakers (if you want a pair, his company is called Kicks of Chicago).

Chancellor full screen

On campus, all of our health protocols have been effective. No evidence of transmission from students to employees in classrooms or labs.

Dr. Robert Redfield, CDC director, visited campus last week – highlighted our response to the outbreak as a model for others to follow.


Slide 8:  Spring Semester will be Different

Plans for spring:

  • Hybrid model that recognizes the importance of face-to-face learning, especially for freshmen. Surveying undergrad & grad students this week and next to better understand student experience & improve from fall
  • Starting a week later; cancelled spring break
  • Substantially increased testing. Aiming for the gold standard:  test all students who come to campus – both those living on and off campus twice/week; testing all employees on campus at least weekly.
  • We’re now processing over 6,000 COVID tests per week and will ramp up to many times that number by the time school opens in January.


Chancellor full screen

The good thing about a challenge of this magnitude is it brings out our best.

  • For instance, music faculty initially panicked a bit when we announced last March that campus would be closing … they wondered how on earth they’d teach piano to the many students who don’t have pianos in their dorm rooms or apartments. The faculty reached out to alumni and the community, and within 24 hours they had portable keyboards for every piano student who needed one.

Everyone on this campus is doing things they might have once considered impossible.  In the midst of all of the difficulties we’re facing, those stories are a good reminder about the level of dedication to teaching that makes this university is so special.


  • Research

We know a lot more about COVID now than we did last March when we shut down most of our labs – we know how to keep people safe, and we have no plans to close our research spaces even if we have to transition back to fully remote learning.

Now have 430 COVID-related grants/proposals

Leaders in COVID research/clinical trials – developing a vaccine and treatments.  For example:


  • National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project is using plasma from COVID-19 survivors to treat those who are ill. We (UW & UW Health) are one of 40 institutions taking part.  In these early stages, our researchers have found that giving plasma in the first 2 days of a hospital stay shortens the stay and keeps about 95% of patients out of the ICU.


  • The limiting factor is the supply of convalescent plasma – the students have organized a campus blood drive this week with the Red Cross and they’ve got a social media campaign going to encourage people who have recovered from COVID to donate.


Of course, we are still running a vibrant research enterprise outside of COVID.  For example, our largest federal grant is for the development of biofuels and we have dozens of scientists working to figure out how to efficiently turn things Wisconsin produces a lot of (like poplar trees, switchgrass, and cow manure) into fuel.


  1. Diversity/Equity

While dealing with the challenge of COVID, our country is also facing a different challenge.  This summer we’ve seen millions of people come together across the country and here in Madison to demand an end to racist policies and violence against people of color.  We have long been working on these issues, but the intensity of demands has increased.


We are viewing our institution with a sharper critical eye, particularly on  issues that affect the experience of students of color.

  • Recruitment of diverse students and faculty has to be a top priority
  • One student told us she felt like “a fly in the milk” in her math class. Many others have told us “If you want to make me comfortable here, hire more people who look like me.”
  • Recruitment strategy for students (which has led to highest share of underrepresented minorities ever in our freshman class):
  1. Increase scholarships. Over the last 10 years, our institutional scholarships have more than doubled – but still not meeting the need.  New $10M fundraising campaign to strengthen our ability to recruit low-income students, who are often more diverse students – thanks to those who have donated.
  2. Place more admissions/recruitment staff “on the ground” in more places – including Milwaukee, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis.
  3. Make UW a more welcoming place by creating gathering spaces (both online and in person) where students from groups that are underrepresented on this campus can be together. For instance, we now have 5 cultural centers for students to find others of their racial or ethnic background.
  • Recruitment strategy for faculty (which led to the largest cohort of faculty-of-color this fall):

Targets of Opportunity Program (TOP) that helps departments go after people from groups that are not well represented in their fields. In the past 2 years, 32 new faculty though TOP – ¾ are people of color from underrepresented groups.

Slide 9:  TOP Faculty

Let me introduce 2 of the new TOP faculty who joined us in August:

  • Corey Jackson is teaching in the iSchool. He is an expert on how humans interact with computing systems, for example in citizen science projects.  Jackson comes to us from UC-Berkeley.
  • Chontel Syfox is a Hebrew Bible scholar in our Dept of Classical & Ancient Near Eastern Studies. Syfox earned her PhD at Notre Dame.  In addition to teaching courses in classics and Biblical literature, she will teach ancient Greek language.

Chancellor full screen

Scholarships and student recruiting are things that we must work on centrally.  But we can’t do it all centrally.  We’ve asked our schools, colleges, and units to develop their own diversity plans and it’s exciting to see what they’re working on … and great to see more willingness to engage in difficult conversations about who we are, and who we want to be, as a university.

We’re working on increasing diversity, providing spaces where students of color can meet, and looking at training and discussion projects among faculty and staff.   Many of these things respond to student demands.  But not all demands can or should be met.

  • Example: Support UWPD – a police force with a progressive tradition that’s been responsive to the needs of this university.  UWPD is rightfully reviewing their procedures and policies to improve.  On a campus of 65,000 people, we need law enforcement.
  1. Budget

We can do lunch with the Chancellor without lunch … but not without a budget talk.

Budget crisis is real – many revenue sources are down while COVID-related costs are climbing.


Slide 10:  Budget

The impacts of the pandemic are spread quite unevenly.

  • The biggest losses are in our auxiliary units (Athletics, conferences, unions, parking, housing, etc.)
  • But we’ve also lost state dollars. We have lost more than $50M in state funds that we either had to return or never received since last April.
  • Our tuition dollars are down a little, largely because we have a different mix of students. We have more in-state students than usual, with greater melt from out-of-state and international students.  That means we’ve lost tuition even if we hit our enrollment targets.
  • And we’re spending more…we estimate the cost of our testing and health protocols across campus, along with providing isolation/quarantine spaces and services will be around $50M.

Chancellor full screen

Overall scale of the losses means we will need both short-term fixes and long-term adjustments to get back to a stable budget.  Among the steps we took immediately:

  • Froze salaries and most hiring
  • Pulled back distributions for next year
  • Implemented furlough days for all employees


We also received over $20M in federal funding, which is helpful.  And we are using reserves to cover a substantial share of our losses this year.

But we will need to make further budget adjustments this year.  On Monday we announced that we will extend our progressive furlough program, which we designed to ensure that lower-paid employees have smaller reductions than higher-paid employees.  The impact ranges from 2.5% – 4.6% of salary reductions.  Combined with earlier furloughs, this means that our employees will have a year where their monthly income is reduced due to furloughs.

In recognition of the sacrifices we are asking of our employees, I and the Vice Chancellors are taking a 15% voluntary pay cut over this year, while the deans are taking a 10% pay cut.

But this still isn’t enough and there will be base budget cuts in all of the units.  We’re still working out their magnitude.  I hope that many units will cover much of this through the reduced hiring and cost savings they’ve already implemented.

The WI Alumni Association has put together an online petition to the Governor and leaders in the legislature asking for state support for our key budget priorities.  Whether or not you live in Wisconsin, I hope that you will read it and add your signature – you can do that online at 

  1. Access

Despite budget problems, commitment to access remains top priority.

Of all the programs started while I’ve been Chancellor, I’m most proud of Bucky’s Tuition Promise (BTP).

  • Provides four years of funding to cover all tuition and fees for 4 years for any Wisconsin student from a low-income family. In 3 years since we launched BTP, there have been nearly 2,800 participants.  Let me briefly introduce just two:

Slide 11:  BTP students

Moo Ko Wah, Milwaukee. Born in a refugee camp in Thailand. Came to US at age 6.  Parents both factory workers.  She was one of the top 10 graduates in her high school class, very involved in her community and a standout tennis player.


Emily Kollmann, from a farming community outside Fond du Lac.  Dad owns a small trucking company.  Outstanding student who excels in science and dreams of becoming a physician.  She was re-selling garage sale items on e-Bay to raise tuition money when she got the news about BTP.

Chancellor full screen

Moo Ko and Emily and 921 other students make up the largest-ever cohort of Bucky’s Tuition Promise students in the freshman class.  More than 1 in 5 of our freshmen qualifies for BTP.


  • Conclusion – campaign announcement

Alums/friends make the difference.  I told you that most parts of budget are worse than projected – the bright spot is philanthropy.

New gifts/pledges are up this year.  And I am delighted to announce that our All Ways Forward campaign total is more than $3.5B – passed $3.2B goal late last year.

  • This has allowed us to create 240 new named professorships/chairs, recruit/retain top faculty
  • Supports life-changing research & educational innovation, inc. new facilities
  • Helps keep UW affordable with 4,487 new scholarships for students at all levels

As you know, we were going to end the AWF campaign at the end of this year.

But this is not the right time to end a campaign.

Given the tremendous challenges the university now faces due to the pandemic, the UW Foundation board has just voted to extend the campaign for a full year.  It will run through Dec. 31, 2021 in order to focus on new and emerging priorities like:

  • Building our new School of Computer, Data and Information Science.
  • Investing more to support student and faculty diversity.
  • Expanding our already incredible health and medical research

I’m look forward to continuing our campaign efforts over the next 14 months … and I look forward to celebrating the incredible impact of your gifts next fall when hopefully we can all gather again in person.

I appreciate the support and time and interest that all of you give to this university.  We are facing challenges, but that’s exactly the time when institutions are most tested.  I am proud of the ways that our faculty, staff, students and alums have responded to the present moment.  And I am quite confident that UW will emerge even stronger out of this crisis.


Thank you.