Showcase 2022

Showcase 2022

Union South, Marquee Theater

Tues., March 8, 2022

11:15 a.m.

Chancellor Blank’s slides

Slide 1:  Showcase 2022

Good morning and thank you Jenny for that kind introduction.  It’s wonderful to see you all here.  I want to begin with a special thanks to:

  • The Office of Strategic Consulting for organizing this wonderful event
  • The presenters who have taken the time to share their knowledge and expertise in the breakout sessions
  • The participants who have exhibited their outstanding work in the poster sessions
  • And all of you attending today, either in person or virtually – thank you.

I am told we had more than 60 projects and initiatives showcased in the exhibit hall this morning.  They are wonderful examples of the commitment of our faculty, staff, and students to looking at everything we do and asking:  How can we do this better?

We’ll recognize five projects later today with Administrative Improvement Awards.  I’m looking forward to returning for those, and I hope to see many of you there.

Slide 2:  Good news from the last decade

One of my goals when I arrived here at UW nearly nine years ago was to leave this university stronger than when I came – and I believe that, together, we have achieved that.

So I want to take a step back and talk about some long-term trends – both some of the things we’ve accomplished and some of the challenges we’re facing that I hope you will all have in mind as you welcome a new Chancellor.

And I also want to put your work into a broader historical context to illustrate how UW–Madison became a laboratory for administrative innovation.

Let me start with the good news.  Working together, we’ve had a number of significant accomplishments.  It is striking how many of these can be traced directly to administrative improvements.

Slide 3:  What we’ve accomplished – better educational outcomes

First, our educational outcomes are improving.

  • We have record-high graduation rates (we are among the top 10 public universities in graduation rates)
  • Record-low time-to-degree, which is driving student debt down.
  • More than half of our undergraduates now graduate without taking out student loans. Nationally, only about one-third do.

These advances are all traceable to administrative improvements – from expanded advising and mental health services … to our initiative to help faculty re-design curriculum to help students learn better … to growing the summer semester to help students graduate on time.

Great teaching, a strong campus culture and a constantly evolving modern curriculum is what attracts great students – and I am happy to tell you we have again set a new record for applicants to our freshman class.

Slide 4:  What we’ve accomplished – increased applications, higher quality, more diversity

We’ve had record-setting freshman applications again this year — 60,000 for about 8,500 spots.

We’ve also had a steady increase in the number of National Merit Finalists in the freshman class.

And our current freshman class is the most diverse in our history.  15% of the students are from groups that have been historically underrepresented on this campus.

All of these are a result of improvements in admissions and recruitment as well as our efforts to make UW more inclusive and welcoming.

I know a number of you have worked on initiatives related to these goals and I want to thank you.

Slide 5:  What we’ve accomplished:  A more sustainable campus

We’ve also made significant progress toward making our campus greener and more sustainable.

  • For example, we’ve had a 45% reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions since 2007, and a 25% reduction in our water use since 2013.
  • And last summer, we made the largest investment in our history in green energy with the opening of the O’Brien Solar Fields.

These improvements and many more are the result of our efforts to transform sustainability work on this campus from a series of individual projects to a coordinated, cross-campus effort through our Office of Sustainability.

Slide 6:  What we’ve accomplished:  major administrative improvements

And of course we’ve undertaken much broader initiatives that many of you are involved in, to enable us to make long-overdue improvements to our operations.  These include:

  • The Title and Total Compensation project, which has given us, for the first time, uniform titles for staff and a compensation structure that’s benchmarked to the marketplace. We’ve struggled with this for many years. This is key to making sure that we’re able to attract and retain good people.
  • Our cybersecurity program. Like every major research university, we are a target for cyberattacks that could seriously disrupt our operations.  I am happy to tell you we have significantly improved our online security, but this requires constant vigilance.
  • Better cybersecurity is part of the Administrative Transformation Program, which is modernizing how we do business with better technology and with a deeper understanding of how our different units do their work and where the barriers are.

The work all of you are doing on these and many more initiatives is built on a tradition of exploration and experimentation to find better ways of doing things.

And as is true today, many of the people who managed change under really challenging circumstances over the past century did their work with little fanfare.

But it’s worth knowing something about the legacy you carry forward.  So I want to share with you three stories of people whose administrative innovations have shaped this campus.

Slide 7: Mark Ingraham

The first is Prof. Mark Ingraham, for whom Ingraham Hall is named.  Prof. Ingraham came to UW as a math professor in 1927 and immediately went to work setting up a Campus Computing Center — the first of its kind in the country.

It was one room with a slide rule, an adding machine, and a part-time student worker.  But it represented a radical change on this campus in an era when departments that wanted to install a telephone had to go to the Regents for approval.

They did just nine projects for faculty in that first year, but demand grew quickly and Prof. Ingraham and his team traveled the country seeking out new technologies to bring to UW.

Their work had a number of long-term impacts.  For example:

  • It established UW as the place to be for computer science education. We opened one of the first Computer Science PhD programs in the country, which brought in faculty, staff, and students committed to doing leading-edge work.
  • As you may know, Computer Science is now the #1 major on this campus, and we have a new School of Computer, Data and Information Sciences that is working on the next generation of advances in artificial intelligence among other things.
  • And that first Campus Computing Center was the forerunner of DoIT, which has been critically important to our operations during the pandemic and to nearly every major administrative improvement project we’ve undertaken in recent years.

But Mark Ingraham’s impact was much broader than technology.   He ultimately became dean of the College of Letters and Science, and he was a leader on the Campus Planning Commission, which gave UW — for the first time — a way to assess proposed facilities in the context of enrollment trends, faculty research interests, and student needs.

Before then, we built buildings based on what the governor and legislature were interested in funding — which may be why the university was completely unprepared when enrollment doubled following WWII, and we had to buy surplus Quonset huts from the military to house all of the students.

I am happy to say that we’re no longer housing students in Quonset huts, but our lack of control over facilities projects remains a serious problem that I’ll say more about in a couple of minutes.

Slide 8:  Abby Mayhew

First let me introduce another innovator you might not know about.  Abby Mayhew came from Minneapolis in 1895 and became UW’s first full-time physical education teacher for women.

She arrived here believing that UW already had a women’s athletic program — probably because we had announced that we had a women’s athletic program.

In fact, the only women’s team was the crew team.  And they hadn’t gotten past the idea stage for two reasons:

First, the women didn’t know how to swim, and had no pool to learn in.

And second, they had no boats.

Ms. Mayhew changed that by creating the Women’s Athletic Association, which raised money for facilities and equipment, and generated a buzz that made UW a magnet for talented students and dedicated staff who would build the program.

In an interview with the Daily Cardinal, she described herself as working for “A better era for women, when health and fun shall walk hand in hand.”

This effort took years.  She succeeded by inspiring students, staff, faculty, and alumni with her vision for what UW could be.  But even she might not have been able to imagine what our women Badgers have accomplished this year!

Slide 9:  Charles Holley

The third and final person I want to introduce is Charles Holley.  Mr. Holley was an undergraduate and Co-President of the Black Student Union in the late 1980s when there were a number of very troubling racist incidents here at UW.

He chaired a Steering Committee on Minority Affairs comprised of students, faculty, and administrators charged with developing recommendations to improve the campus climate.

The Holley Report, as it became known, was a forerunner of the Madison Plan, which was created in 1988 as UW’s first formalized, institutionalized diversity plan and one of the first anywhere in higher education.

The Madison Plan was flawed in a number of ways, but it was also groundbreaking.  Earlier plans here at UW and at many other universities were narrowly focused on numbers, but the Plan recognized that, to become more diverse, we would have to change our culture.

Among its most important legacies are the ethnic studies requirement … the Multicultural Student Center … and an approach to diversity and inclusion that recognizes the importance of involving the entire campus in these efforts.

These ideas grew from the Holley Report.  Charles Holley went on to earn a degree at UW Law School and practice law in Chicago but has remained connected to this campus — he’s shown here (second from left) at the Multicultural Student Center’s 10-year anniversary.

Slide 10: Robben Fleming/Edwin Young

As you know, not all ideas are destined for success.  Let me share one proposal from 50 years ago that never got off the ground.

In the mid 1960s, this campus had the same problem we have today:  Record enrollment.  Back then it was 29,000 students — today it’s 48,000.

We’ve accommodated this growth by expanding the faculty and instructional staff along with student services, but Chancellor Robben Fleming had other ideas.

He proposed building an entirely new campus — UW–Madison West — out on Mineral Point Road.  It would be focused on the arts and sciences, but not part of the College of Letters and Science.  And the students enrolled there would be discouraged from coming to the main campus unless they were athletes, because that would defeat the point of reducing congestion.

Those involved in promoting the idea envisioned that faculty might really enjoy rotating between the two campuses — further evidence that this plan was probably doomed.

There is little information about how, exactly, UW–Madison West met its end.  But we have a fairly good idea.

Chancellor Fleming assigned the dean of the College of Letters and Science — Edwin Young — to lead a major study of the plan, to which Dean Young responded by quickly accepting a position at the University of Maine.  The notation in the file reads simply:

“He was unable to complete his report as anticipated.”

Dean Young’s instinct to distance himself from this project served him well. He returned here as Chancellor and ultimately became President of the UW System.

Looking forward

As we look back at some of the people and programs that have shaped this university, we also need to look ahead at the key challenges UW–Madison is facing.

I met with the Regents last month and talked about a number of problems that need to be addressed — let me close by sharing four of these with you.

Slide 11:  Challenge #1:  Lagging growth in revenues

UW–Madison remains at serious risk of losing its competitive position.  Nine years ago we were in crisis — showing declining revenues when all of our peers were growing.

We turned that around and have done some significant catch-up thanks to an array of initiatives including, among other things, our expanded summer program, expanding undergraduate enrollment and a very successful fundraising campaign that raised more than $4B

But as you can see, with all of the revenue growth and innovations that have been implemented during my time here, we are still below our peers and haven’t caught up.

Do not assume UW–Madison is in great financial shape.  The right comparison is not with other UW System schools, but with our peer schools.  In that comparison, we are still behind where we need to be, and have clearly lost competitive ground.

That’s why we have to remain entrepreneurial…we have to keep looking for new opportunities to generate investment revenue.  We have to keep insisting that higher education in Wisconsin needs to receive increased state dollars when the state budgets are growing.   And we have to make sure we get our fair share of those state dollars.

Slide 12:  Challenge #2:  limited investments in facilities

We are uniquely constrained in our ability to manage our capital assets — our buildings.  I showed you that we’ve fallen behind our peers in revenues.  We’ve fallen even further behind in capital spending.

This graph shows a five-year rolling average of investment in facilities.  The black line represents the total amount of need — whether for new projects or maintenance — as calculated based on commonly used metrics.

Among our Big 10 peers, we’re at the bottom, spending far less than we should to maintain our campus.  The A-through-G bars represent a group of other universities including some privates: Cornell, Duke, Johns Hopkins, MIT, University of Pennsylvania, University of Pittsburgh, and University of Washington.  They’re shown this way to keep them anonymous.

As you can see, the Big 10 is falling behind other schools, and we’re falling behind the Big 10.  We are spending less than one-quarter what we should be spending on our facilities.  This is no way to maintain the kind of campus students and faculty expect at a first-rate university.

What are the primary constraints?

Slide 13:  Challenge #2a:  no borrowing authority

First:  we have no borrowing authority.  Every time we do major building renovations or construction that is not entirely funded by gifts and grants, we need approval of the Governor, the Assembly, the Senate, the UW System and the State Building Commission.

No other state has a flagship (or a System) without borrowing authority, and it

puts the burden on us to find gift/grant funding in order to move projects forward in anything approaching a timely manner.  We’ve been able to do that for some critical needs, but we’re not going to get private gifts to fix the HVAC or otherwise renovate or replace our aging buildings.  We need bonding authority along with state and System support.

Slide 14:  Challenge #2b:  Lack of control over state-managed capital projects

The second constraint is our complete lack of control over the entire process of building buildings.

The state signs the contracts, and we have no input.  The result has been contracts with very limited damages clauses and very limited penalties for delays.

Once the contract is signed, we have no authority over the project.  The result has been ongoing cost overruns and delayed projects — you’ve all seen what happened with the Chemistry building (which I’m happy to say is now open).

No other flagship has zero control over what’s in the contract, or oversight over projects.

I have worked on trying to make changes to this process for my entire nine years, without success.  But I think more people understand the problem and are sympathetic to our needs.  The new Chancellor needs to make this a high priority issue with the Board of Regents, the Governor, and the State Legislature.

Slide 15:  Challenge #3:  Nine years of frozen in-state tuition

We’ve fallen out of step with the marketplace thanks to a nine-year tuition freeze along with declines in the state subsidy for students.

In my time here, we’ve put substantial resources into expanding affordability for lower-income Wisconsin students so that higher tuition will not negatively impact this group.  We can remain affordable without charging bargain-basement prices.

As long as some of our closest peer schools receive 50% more in tuition for every in-state student they admit, UW–Madison will struggle to compete with them and maintain the same level of quality.

The next chancellor will need to work with the Board of Regents and with political leadership to allow us to institute in-state tuition policies more in line with our peers in the upper Midwest.

Slide 16:  Challenge #4:  The divided and divisive political environment

The other major challenge is the growing politicization of higher education, and the growing willingness of some politicians to attack universities (particularly the flagship).

I should be clear that I see this on both sides of the aisle, although the criticisms are often quite different, and it’s not unique to Wisconsin; it is happening across the country.

The UW Foundation and Alumni Association conducted a poll of 930 Wisconsin residents in December.  Some of the questions were designed to gauge public support for the university.  Here’s what it showed:

  • About 70% of Democrats but just 45% of Republicans approve of the job we’re doing at UW–Madison.
  • And there was a similar divide on the question of whether a degree from this university is valuable and worth the cost: 65% of Democrats said yes, but only 41% of Republicans agreed with that statement.

I mention this not to criticize Republicans; indeed, several bills of great importance to the university have been authored by Republican legislators and are currently moving through the legislative process.

But for public institutions that depend on the trust and confidence of the people, this polarization is dangerous.  It can threaten the federal funding we rely on to do basic scientific research, and it empowers politicians seeking to score points with voters to use our universities — and especially flagship campuses — as political chips in the partisan wars.

No public institution can survive in the long run without public support, and I have asked the Regents to actively engage with political leadership when they criticize the university.  Sometimes the criticism is warranted, and we need to respond.  But sometimes it’s just political posturing.  We need credible and consistent voices of support for the value of a world-class research university to this state.   


Slide 17:  Thank you

I want to close as I began, by thanking you for your dedication and hard work to make a great public university even better.

The array of initiatives you have helped to lead is extraordinary and will help us continue to compete at the highest levels for the best and brightest students, faculty, and staff.

Even with masks, it’s great to see all of you. Thank you and I’ll be happy to take questions.