Spring 2022 Academic Leadership Breakfast

Keeping UW–Madison a World-Class University:

Major Accomplishments and Four Key Challenges

Spring Academic Leadership Breakfast

Union South, Varsity Hall

Wed Feb. 16, 2022

8:00 a.m

Chancellor Blank’s slides

Slide 1:  Title slide

Welcome.  It’s good to see you all.

We are now a few weeks into the new semester and I want to thank you for all you’ve done to welcome the students back and keep your departments and units running well as we enter this fifth semester of pandemic operations.

We’re seeing COVID-19 cases declining in the community as well as on campus.  PHMDC announced on Monday that the masking order in place in Dane County will expire on March 1; we will have an announcement before the end of February on our masking order.

We aren’t back to normal just yet, and I continue to be grateful for the work all of you (and all of our faculty and staff) have done to make it possible for us to hold in-person classes … conduct research … and do outreach work in the community.

Slide 2:  Welcoming new leaders

Following tradition, I want to welcome a couple of new leaders who have joined us since we last met in August:

Cindy Torstveit, Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities Planning and Management

  • Appointed to this role in December
  • Previously served as Director of Capital Planning and interim director of the Physical Plant
  • Also served for 13 years as Administrator of the WI Division of Facilities Management within DOA.

Patrick Sheehan, Interim Associate Vice Chancellor for Human Resources

  • Came to UW more than a decade ago from Oregon, where he completed law school – drawn here by a job posting to work in human resources for University Staff.
  • More recently he has helped to lead the Administrative Transformation Project.
  • Replaces Mark Walters who retired at the end of fall semester

Slide 3:  Good News from the Last Decade

As I noted, COVID cases on campus and in the community are declining, and we are transitioning into a new phase where we figure out how to perform our essential missions utilizing a combination of risk-reduction strategies like masking and testing, along with support and flexibility for our faculty and staff.

I know that there will be questions and comments about COVID-related issues, but I’d like to ask you to hold them until the next session when the Provost is going to talk about our COVID strategies.  In this talk, I want to take a step back and talk about some long term trends – both some of the things that we’ve accomplished over the last decade, as well as some challenges this university is facing that I hope you will all have in mind as you work with whoever the next Chancellor will be.

Let me start with the good news.  Working together, we’ve had a number of significant accomplishments.

Slide 4:  What we’ve accomplished – higher quality

The quality of our students has risen:

  • Average test scores are up, although since we’ve gone test optional in the last two years, this measure is no longer as useful.
  • So instead, let’s look at the number of National Merit finalists enrolled at UW-Madison. We’ve more than doubled that number in our freshman class since 2013.
    • Total – 2013:   2021:  132
    • WI resident – 2013: 56. 2021: 87

We’re serving students better with expanded advising, expanded mental health services (as Lori Reesor will discuss), news health/wellness facilities, and new majors that reflect students’ (and employers’) needs and interests.  For example, in recent years we’ve started:

  • Undergraduate degrees in Data Science and Global Health
  • Master’s degrees in Business Analytics and Financial Economics (L&S)

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 5:  What we’ve accomplished – more applications

Despite declines in the number of Wisconsin high school graduates, our applications among Wisconsin students have NOT declined.  And we’ve seen huge increases in out-of-state applicants.

  • My first fall here, we were very happy to receive 30,000 freshman applications; last week we got word that this year, we’ve received more than 60,000. We’ve had a 12% increase over last year alone.

These numbers are primarily driven by big increases in out-of-state applicants, who are important to our future because they add diversity to this campus and pay tuition at a rate that supports our programs and subsidizes our in-state students.

The applicant numbers we’re seeing – and the strength of those applicants – says a lot about the reputation we’ve built as a place for top-quality education.  Thanks to Derek Kindle and his team who are doing an extraordinary job (and currently reading 60,000 applications…)

Slide 6:  What we’ve accomplished – greater diversity

As we’ve grown in size and strength, we’ve also become more diverse.

  • Our current freshman class includes more students of color overall, and more students of color from historically underrepresented groups than any freshman class in our history.
    • 25% of our freshman are students of color, and 15% of our freshmen are students of color from historically under-represented groups – this is up substantially from just a few years ago.
  • We’ve also maintained a strong number of first-gen students
  • We’ve expanded faculty hiring
    • 31 new faculty of color have joined us over the last year
    • 243 have joined us over the last five years
      • This happened in part because of a focused central effort through our TOP Program to provide funding for departments to recruit new faculty from groups not well-represented within their discipline.
  • And I’m happy to say that most schools and colleges have diversity plans, as do a growing number of departments. This issue has to be top of mind across the university – thank you to those among you who are playing an active role in this important work.
  • And we’re successfully growing the Raimey-Noland Campaign, designed to raise funding for scholarships, research, and programming related to diversity.
    • When I told you about it one year ago, I said the goal was $10M and that we were delighted to have raised $12M. Today we have raised nearly $70M and we have 82 students with new scholarships that came through the Raimey-Noland Campaign.
  • It’s important to recognize that bringing in more diverse students, faculty, and staff isn’t enough. The institution itself has to be a place where people who have been historically underrepresented on this campus can see themselves.  We’ve focused multiple efforts on this work – LaVar Charleston will talk about our strategies in just a few minutes, and you can read the latest updates in the Campus Climate Report that you’ve received today.

Slide 7:  What we’ve accomplished – greater access

Expanded access for all students, but especially WI students

  • Quadrupled institutional scholarship dollars in the last 14 years
    • 2007 = $25M; 2021 = nearly $100M
      • These new dollars allowed us to implement Bucky’s Tuition Promise and Badger Promise.
      • This year we have 3,500 students enrolled in these two programs.
  • Expanded professional masters’ programs, both in-person, hybrid, and online. Students in these programs now comprise about ¼ of our graduate school enrollment.  Thanks to Dean Jeff Russell and his team at Continuing Studies.
  • Now launching undergrad online opportunities. We have five online undergraduate degree programs that we are working to market and grow.
  • These serve a population of students we have not served in the past – returning adults who may already have some college credits and are now ready to finish their degree.

The competition for top students among U.S. universities is fierce, particularly in the Midwest and northeast where the number of high school students is declining.  Very few schools have been able to do what we’ve done, with substantial increases in applicants that we’ve been able to turn into classes with higher quality and greater diversity.

Your leadership has helped to make all of these things possible – thank you.

And you have also helped to grow our research enterprise.

Slide 8:  Keeping research strong/research expenditures graph

You can see the growth in our research since 2016.  Last year our faculty and staff brought in $1.5B in new awards and spent $1.4B.

We can trace some of the acceleration in the past two years to two things:

  • First, the extraordinary array of projects we’ve developed related to COVID.
    • As of last week, we’d been awarded 92 major research grants totaling nearly $100M for COVID-related work, with many more still pending.
  • Second is the increased number of proposals we’re submitting across all areas. The restrictions on travel and field work in this pandemic have allowed our faculty to focus more time and energy on grant applications.  Last fiscal year, we submitted over 100 more proposals than in the previous year.  Even better, we grew our total awards by $200M, an increase of over 15%.

This growth is particularly good news because it comes after a period when we saw our research expenditures shrinking.  When I arrived, research expenditures were declining.  We’ve worked hard to turn that around, and I want to thank Steve Ackerman for his leadership.

But this is an area of fierce competition and we can’t let up on our ongoing efforts to grow research dollars:  Though we’ve increased research expenditures by close to 18% over the past five years – which is a very strong growth rate –during that same period, research expenditures among the top five schools grew by 22%.

Slide 9:  Keeping research strong

If we’re going to continue to grow our research enterprise, we need to do several things – and Steve Ackerman will expand on these.

  • First, we need to be strategic about targeting research areas that we know federal agencies are funding.
  • Second, we need to build more industry research partnerships. UW-Madison has not always been the easiest place to work with as a research partner.  We’ve worked hard in recent years to change that, and at the heart of our work is the collaboration between our schools and colleges and the Office of Business Engagement, which we created five years ago.

Of course, none of these efforts will bear fruit without top-quality faculty and modern facilities.  We also need to expand the faculty and we’ve been doing that in a couple of key ways.

  • The Cluster Hire Program we began in 2018 has allowed us to hire groups of 3-4 faculty in key areas of emerging research interest. I know that a number of you have worked hard to put together new clusters – thank you.
  • And we’ve grown our faculty in general across many different academic areas as our student size has grown to 48,000 students. Our faculty size shrank in the late 1990s.  And though we are still about 100 faculty short of where we were 30 years ago (when there were 8,000 fewer students on this campus), I am happy to tell you that in the past few years, we’ve expanded our faculty by nearly 200 people.

I want to thank the provost, along with the deans and department chairs for all of your work to bring in some outstanding people.

Slide 10:  New facilities

We’re also building and renovating buildings all over campus to create facilities that are worthy of the nationally ranked departments that live there, and worthy of our standing as a premier research institution:

  • We’re expanding the Veterinary School – we broke ground in June.
  • We have a new Meat Sciences building that opened in November 2020.
  • The Babcock Dairy Plant and Center for Dairy Research are nearing completion.
  • We opened the new Hamel Music Center five months before the pandemic began, so it’s been wonderful to start to see it come to life over the past semester.
  • And after many setbacks and delays, I am delighted to say that the new nine-story addition to the Chemistry Building is now open!
  • I want to thank Chemistry Chair Clark Landis and Past Chair Bob McMahon; Rob Cramer and John Horn; building manager Jeff Nielsen; Dean Eric Wilcots, Provost Karl Scholz, and the many other people who spent countless hours to bring us to this day.

Slide 11:  Future facilities

And still to come:

  • We kicked off a major fundraising campaign in September for a new Computer, Data, and Information Sciences building. There are no state dollars in this one, and we still have a bit more fundraising to do before we break ground hopefully early next year.
  • A new academic building for the College of Letters and Science –to be known as Irving and Dorothy Levy Hall as a result of a gift from Jeff and Marvin Levy who asked that the building be named for their parents. This is a very long-awaited project – it will allow us to build a number of much-needed state-of-the-art classrooms and move a group of departments out of our crumbling Humanities building.
  • A new recreation and wellness facility for the west side of campus, to be known as the Bakke Center. Besides replacing a facility that was more than 50 years old, the new space will give us (among other things) an ice rink and a pool, an indoor track, as well as services designed to promote student well-being such as cooking classes.
  • And finally, we are working hard to get a much-needed new Engineering building. The College of Engineering is the second-largest school on campus, and they’re turning away too many highly qualified students for lack of space.  We’d hoped that the building would be included in the current state budget – it was not, so we’re pursuing a separate bill to get the state to fund half of the new facility with a promise that we will fundraise for the other half.

Slide 12:  Strategies for funding our public mission

People, programs, and facilities all require resources.  With frozen in-state tuition and declining state funds, we’ve needed to generate our own investment income.  In my time here, I’ve  worked with many of you on six core strategies.  These include:

  • First, growing research and development dollars – I’ve already talked about this.
  • Second, expanding the summer semester, which is helping to drive down time-to-degree (which in turn drives down student debt) as students take courses they need to graduate that they either can’t get into or don’t want to take during the regular school year (Intro to Organic Chemistry is our most popular summer course).
    • We’ve grown our summer program by more than 10% each year over the past five years. I want to thank Jeff Russell and all of his staff for their work on this.
  • Third, expanding fundraising.  Deans and department chairs have been very involved with fundraising during the six-year All Ways Forward campaign.   We aimed to raise $3.2B in the campaign.  We closed the campaign at the end of December with $4.2B raised.  Let me be clear:  This doesn’t mean we have $4.2B to spend.
    • Much of it is allocated into endowment – that means it pays out at 4.5% far into perpetuity. This will generate millions of dollars far into the future for (among other things) faculty support and research.
    • A substantial share is still pledged, often as part of a will, and hasn’t yet been collected.
    • And some is directly and immediately expendable
  • Fourth, we raised our out-of-state and professional tuition to market levels.
  • Fifth, we grew our professional masters’ degrees
  • And last, we’ve grown undergraduate enrollment, taking advantage of that deep growth in applications.

We also have a newly launched strategy:  Real estate development, in partnership with the University Research Park.  This is not only a revenue generator but also a way to guide development of parcels that we own that could be put to better use to advance our mission.  Last week the Board of Regents approved two key steps:

  • First, the development of two parcels adjacent to University Research Park; and
  • Second, the development of a strategic process for a West Campus Innovation District. Input from all of you and from people across the campus will be essential to this process and you will have lots of opportunities to learn more and offer your thoughts and ideas this year.

The goal of these efforts and all the others is to grow our investment dollars, and thereby strengthen and expand what we can do in education, research, and outreach.

Let me tell you about some areas where these new dollars have had a big impact:

Slide 13:  Impacts

I’ve told you about the growth in scholarships, including our very successful Bucky’s Tuition Promise program.

Here are about five other areas where we’ve been able to make major improvements.

  • First, our investments in expanded advising and in educational programs like the summer semester have increased graduation rates and decreased time to degree.
    • Six-year graduation rate of 89% is the highest ever.
  • The graduation gap for undergraduates between all students and historically underrepresented students has been cut nearly in half in the last decade (now a 7-point difference).
  • And undergraduate time-to-degree of 3.9 years (40 days less than 4 calendar years) is the lowest ever.
  • This is driving the second improvement – reduced student debt.
    • The share of undergraduates graduating from UW-Madison without student loans has grown by 10 points in the past eight years to 57%.
    • At the national level, only about one third of students graduate with no debt.
    • Student default rate on federal loans is less than 1% compared to 9% nationally and 3% at other WI schools.
  • Third, we’ve been able to bring faculty salaries to a place where we’re again competitive for top people.
    • Nine years ago, our full professors were making nearly 13% less than professors at our designated peer institutions. We were 12th among our 12 official peer schools in faculty salaries. This was a huge threat to our ability to hire top faculty and a reason why we were constantly dealing with retention issues.
    • Today, our faculty salaries are #5 among our peer schools.
  • But competitive salaries for faculty alone aren’t enough – we need to compete for top graduate students in order to attract top faculty.
    • Eight years ago, we began a focused effort to improve our graduate student stipends.
    • Minimum stipend for TA has grown by 43% in that time, going from near bottom of major research universities around the country to above median.
    • And our Graduate School has a program to grow external fellowship support that’s showing great results. Last year we were one of the top 15 institutions in the country – public or private – in the number of NSF Graduate Research Fellowships awarded (32).
  • The fifth major impact of these new dollars is a series of major administrative improvements including:
    • The Title and Total Compensation project
    • The Administrative Transformation Program
    • And Cybersecurity, a critical area where we’ve made multiple long-overdue investments.

Rob Cramer will talk more about the Administrative Transformation Program.  Let me say a few words about one other area of improvement that I know many of you care deeply about – making our campus greener and more sustainable.

Over the past nine years, we’ve done critical work to become more energy efficient and decrease our use of resources – for example:

  • Since 2013 we’ve reduced our water use by 25%;
  • We’ve reclaimed the construction materials from buildings we demolish and we’re using them in our new construction;
  • We’ve substantially reduced our total greenhouse gas emissions;
  • And last summer, we made the largest investment in our history in green energy with the opening of the O’Brien Solar Fields.

The next big thing will be our first-ever Climate Action and Adaptation plan.

The foundation for all of these improvements (and many more) is the work we’ve done 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 14:  Commencement photo

And on a lighter note – this remains one of my proudest accomplishments: Bringing commencement back to Camp Randall!


Slide 15:  Challenges

But many challenges remain.  When I met with the Regents last week, I raised several key challenges with them, and proposed ways they could help address them.  Let me talk about four of these.

Slide 16:  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 but we are still below our peers. Maintaining the same rate of growth as our peers will be challenging, especially without any new investments from the state.  If we were to see future state budget cuts, we would be back in the world we were in when I arrived, dealing with falling revenues while our peers continue to grow.
  • So let me be clear – 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 good 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 general 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 17:  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.

Most of you know that we have a long list of building projects we need to undertake…places where we need to tear down existing buildings, areas where we need new and more modern buildings, and places where we need to renovate the buildings we have now.

Our buildings continue to age.   In 2019, an outside firm estimated we had a deferred maintenance backlog of $1.5B – and it’s grown larger since then.  This is a huge threat to the long-term quality of UW-Madison.

What are the primary constraints?

Slide 18:  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 System and the State Building Commission.  This complete lack of control over our capital assets creates serious difficulties, particularly at a $3.6B organization whose reputation in part rests upon its scientific and educational facilities.

  • No other state has a flagship (or a System) without borrowing authority.
  • This puts the burden on us to find gift/grant funding in order to move projects forward in anything approaching a timely manner – and we’ve been able to do that for some critical needs.
  • But there are many areas where we do not have major donors available. And we are 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 19:  Challenge #2b:  Lack of control over state-managed capital projects

Second constraint:  A complete lack of control over the entire process of building buildings.

  • The state signs the contracts and we have no input into those contracts. 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.  We are responsible for paying these cost overruns and we have to deal with the consequences of these delays.  But we have none of the authority that would allow us to reduce these problems.
  • No other flagship has zero control over what’s in the contract, or oversight over projects.
  • Example: Chemistry Building – central to our teaching/research missions.
    • Basic construction elements – the elevators and HVAC system – failed when the building was close to completion.
    • The result: 9,000 students and 450 course sections were moved to spaces not designed for teaching chemistry.
    • We’ve lost an estimated $3.2M in research, and this is not a final number.
    • The contract had limited damages clauses and limited compensation for delays. As a result, we are limited in our ability to hold anyone responsible for these problems.  We bear many of the costs.
  • Our inability to control decisions over capital renovation, repair or construction has led to dollars wasted due to:
    • Delayed projects
    • Cost overruns
    • Construction problems from subcontractors and contractors who know they will bear limited responsibility for any problems.
  • We are the ones who end up paying the bills and bearing the costs of delay. And we are the ones who have to work in these buildings.
  • This cannot continue. We MUST have greater control over these projects.  That’s management 101:  Align incentives so the people who have to pay for and live in the building are responsible for getting things built and built well, on time, and within budget.
  • 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 20:  Challenge #3:  Nine years of frozen in-state tuition

  • We’ve fallen out of step with the marketplace. Our in-state tuition is much further below our peers than is in-state tuition at other UW system schools relative to their
  • Furthermore, while this tuition freeze has been in place, state funding per student has continued to fall as well, so we have a double-whammy of a tuition freeze and declines in the state subsidy for students.
    • 10 years ago, we were receiving the equivalent of $14,000/student in state GPR dollars. (Note that money goes for many things, beyond our undergrad students – it supports a medical school, a veterinary school, and lots of agricultural facilities across the state.)  This year, we are at about $10,400/student.
  • Our student body is different than at other UW system schools – they are often looking at a very different set of comparison schools (which are far more expensive than UW-Madison) when deciding where to go to college.
  • Furthermore, UW-Madison has put substantial resources into expanding affordability for lower-income Wisconsin students so that higher tuition will not negatively impact this group.
  • We’re providing a high-value degree and for many of our students 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. Over time, we simply will not be able to provide the same educational or research experience these schools provide.
  • 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, while holding us accountable for providing the access for lower and middle-income families in Wisconsin who need financial aid.

Slide 21:  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 WI 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 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 22:  (landing slide – campus photo)

For a number of years, we were essentially standing still, if not moving backwards, in large part because of reduced budgets.  We’ve turned that around, thanks to the very good work of the people in this room, and our faculty and staff and alumni and friends.

We’ve made important investments, but our peers are also investing.

If we’re going to maintain our reputation and our quality, we need to continue to invest and grow in the right ways.  To do that, we need resources combined with a smart strategy for the future – that will be the job of the new Chancellor.

We also need governance that recognizes that the state’s flagship campus is different and needs to be able to compete nationally and internationally in ways that other System schools do not.  And we need recognition from our political leadership of the value of this university to the state of Wisconsin.

It has been my honor and privilege to work with each of you.  I want to thank you for all of your work – particularly over these past very challenging two years.

Even with masks, it’s great to see all of you, and I’m looking forward to a good semester.

Thank you and I’ll be happy to take questions