State of the University address

As prepared for delivery to the UW-Madison Faculty Senate

Good afternoon. It’s always good to see all of you at the beginning of a new academic year. I hope you had a good summer and that the fall semester is starting well in your departments.

I want to welcome the new senators, and extend my thanks to a number of people here.

First, thank you to Anja Wanner for stepping into the role of UC chair, and to Terry Warfield and Steve Ventura, who are new members on the UC, succeeding Tom Broman and Amy Wendt, the outgoing chair.

Next, thank you to Secretary of the Faculty Steve Smith, who has done a terrific job working on some really challenging issues this year.

And finally, thanks to all of you for your willingness to be leaders on this campus and to serve on the Faculty Senate.

I also want to note three new recent hires:

  • Anne Massey joined us in August from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University Bloomington, as the new Dean of the Business School, replacing Francois Ortalo-Magne.
  • David Darling joins us as Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities, Planning and Management, replacing Bill Elvey. Dave has been in charge of the facilities at Sandia National Labs in New Mexico.
  • Amy Gilman is the new Director of the Chazen Art Museum, replacing Russell Panczenko. Amy comes from the Toledo Museum of Art.

A New Academic Year

Let me start with a reminder of some of things we’ve accomplished here at UW in recent months:

  • We just welcomed an outstanding new group of faculty. We successfully recruited 105 faculty this year, and I know many of the people in this room worked very hard on those recruitments.
  • We closed 92 retention cases over the past year, compared to 144 in the previous year. We successfully retained 74% of these top faculty members – equal to our 10-year average.
  • We’re about to launch the fourth round of the UW2020 research funding initiative. There are now 49 projects underway, funded with $16.5 million and involving more than 300 faculty and staff from every one of our schools and colleges.
  • We have raised $2.2 billion for faculty, research, education and student access in our All Ways Forward campaign. We’ve had a record number of alumni and friends participating, and we’re well on our way to our $3.2 billion goal.
  • Our retention and graduation rates are at long-time highs – and we’re among the top public universities in these statistics.
  • We were just named #5 in the nation in federal dollars spent on graduate student fellowships, traineeships, and training grants. This is an important sign of our excellence in graduate education, even as we work to bring our graduate student compensation up to market rates.
  • WARF has helped us to substantially increase our graduate-student support, which in turn helps us to compete for federal dollars.
  • And finally, after a 15-year hiatus, we are re-starting our cluster program this fall. You might have seen the call for proposals that recently went out – another will go out in the spring.
  • Clusters build on an important UW-Madison strength: trans-disciplinary work on complex problems
  • Hope to launch 3-5 new clusters each year for the next 5 years
  • Estimate hiring 50 new faculty
  • None of this would have happened without all of you – thank you for your engagement, ideas, and support. UW has long been one of the top public universities in the country and it’s our job to keep that reputation.

Four Strategic Priorities

Both in our fundraising campaign and across the university, I’m focused on four strategic priorities:

  1. Enhance the educational experience
    • This means modernizing class facilities for active learning; strengthening our investment in student services, and enhancing out-of-classroom learning.
  2. Improve access for all students. My goal:  Every qualified student who we admit can afford to come here.
    • This means expanding support for low and middle-income students, with an emphasis on first-generation and historically disadvantaged groups. Right now, we lose top students because we don’t offer the same scholarships they receive elsewhere.
    • We are making progress on this front. Through the All Ways Forward campaign, we have raised money to fund approximately 1000 new scholarships for undergrad and graduate students.
    • We’re also putting more of our own institutional dollars into need-based fellowships. Ten years ago, we provided $13 million in need-based grants and scholarships with UW funds (that is, outside of state and federal need-based assistance).  Last year, we provided $58 million.
    • We’re trying to target our money effectively. Last month, we launched a new program called Badger Promise that guarantees free tuition for first-generation college students transferring from a two-year UW school or a Wisconsin technical college under our transfer agreements.
    • Every first-generation transfer student who meets the requirements is eligible for two semesters of free tuition, and those who qualify for the Pell grant will receive four semesters of free tuition.
    • This substantially reduces the cost of a UW-Madison degree for some of this state’s most deserving and neediest students.
  3. Maintain and grow faculty excellence.
    • This means hiring well, retaining our faculty, paying competitive salaries, and making sure we have the research and teaching environment in which faculty want to work.
    • New Cluster Hiring program is part of this effort.
    • For a number of years, we’ve made critical compensation dollars available to increase pay to selected staff and faculty based on merit or equity. For the first time last year, we also offered funds for one-time bonuses for employees who had done exception work on a specific project.
    • This year, we’re expanding these funds by 30%, making $3.5m available for faculty salary increases, $4.0m available for staff increases, and doubling the fund for bonuses to $4 million, for a total of $11.5m in compensation dollars this year.
  4. Expand and improve our research portfolio.
    • This means keeping up with the emerging trends, making sure our research facilities serve faculty well, supporting interdisciplinary work; providing the research support dollars needed to launch new projects or provide bridge funding; ensuring competitive support for our TAs and RAs; and re-starting our cluster program.

This is not a cheap nor an easy agenda.  Money is important, but we have to spend that money wisely, both centrally and across the Schools and colleges.  That’s why leadership with good judgment and good experience matters.

The state budget is important to us, and I’ll talk about it in a few minutes.  But not as a source of new revenue.

Entrepreneurial Strategies to Tap New Revenues

We are developing a number of entrepreneurial strategies to bring in new dollars to invest.

They include:

  • Expanding summer semester, which helps reduce time-to-degree, decreases course bottlenecks, uses our buildings more efficiently, and brings in revenues that go back to the schools/colleges.
  • Growing our master’s degrees and certificate programs for professionals.  These programs expand our outreach to older students who want to learn new skills.
  • Bringing tuition for out-of-state and professional students up to market levels.
  • Exploring the student mix & numbers – I’ll talk more about this one in a minute
  • Building alumni support, and
  • Growing research funds with programs like UW2020 and cluster hires; building a support group for large interdisciplinary grants; and working to renovate lab space faster and improve IRB functioning.

All of these strategies are on us to execute.  We need to be entrepreneurial if we are going to increase the revenue available to maintain and grow excellence at this university.  And we are already seeing the effects of these efforts…we’re using this new investment money to launch the cluster hire program, to invest in Badger Promise, and to fund the critical compensation funds.

Let me come back to strategy 4:  Exploring student mix and numbers.  Our commitment to Wisconsin students is stronger than ever:

  • Admit rate of 71% for Wisconsin residents.
  • Guarantee 3600 WI students in each freshman class. This year we have over 3700 WI freshmen.
  • Badger Promise designed to increase access to transfers.
  • Expanding a special high-touch program aimed at persuading top performing students in WI to attend Madison. It’s focused on what’s called ‘high-touch’ recruiting – personal contacts through a variety of channels, including faculty.

Couldn’t make a stronger commitment to this state.

With this strong commitment, we now have another opportunity with our out-of-state students. Applications from these students have increased more than 70% over the last decade. We can benefit from this asset with some increases in class size. 

  • Quality of the out-of-state applicants means that we can pursue this strategy without lowering our standards.
  • This year, we rejected 1,300 high-caliber out-of-state students (note: this does not include international students) whose academic quality was comparable to that of the admitted students (both resident and non-).
  • We are exploring expanding the freshman class by 250 students next fall and will consider additional future increases. We will be talking more about this in the coming months, but I want to assure you that any plan will be developed with your input and will include money to maintain quality through increased hiring for instruction and student services.

Some increase in class size is our best opportunity to generate revenues that can help us work on compensation, on educational programming, on access, and on better support for research.

We’ve talked about this with the deans and department chairs and we are working to make sure we know what hiring and other work we need to do in advance.

Our final two strategies to bring in new revenue are:

State Budget

Over the last year, we have stood up one of the biggest budget advocacy campaigns this university has ever seen – including our first-ever paid media campaign (funded by WFAA) – to build support for this budget from the ground up.

We made sure state leaders understood why investing in the UW System is essential for our students and the state’s economy.

These efforts paid off.  After cuts in five of the last six budgets, this budget has no cuts.  There is actually a small increase in funding for the UW System.

The budget also includes a strong pay increase in the second year…two 2% increases, one coming on July 1, 2018 and the other on Jan 1, 2019.

Furthermore, the capital budget restores maintenance funding, and includes funds for a critical utilities repair project on Bascom Hill and the Lot 62 parking ramp, which is necessary for the future expansion of the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Now, as always, there are some things in this budget that I’m not happy about.

A provision changing the qualifications for chancellors of UW institutions was also added to the budget.  The change prohibits UW System schools from adopting any policies or rules that would require the Board of Regents to consider only individuals who are eligible for tenure when filling chancellor or vice chancellor positions.

UWM Chancellor Mark Mone and I wrote a letter to the governor setting out the ways in which this could weaken UW schools and encouraging him to veto this provision.  We were unsuccessful in that request.

As you know, the Board of Regents has also proposed changes that I find deeply problematic, greatly reducing the voice of the campus in the selection of Chancellors. We’ll talk about that later in the meeting.

There are also provisions around performance funding that are problematic…they compare the System schools with each other rather than with our peers. This may be to our benefit…but it’s not a helpful way to measure our accomplishments or the performance of other System schools.

We will continue our outreach efforts across the state in the year ahead to share the stories of the incredible work happening on this campus. If you have ideas for industry partners or alumni-owned businesses we might consider visiting, I encourage you to bring those to Charlie Hoslet, Vice Chancellor for University Relations.

Federal Budget

The federal budget remains a top priority for us. As many of you know, the federal government provides 30% of the university’s funding.

Earlier this year, the president proposed large cuts to federal agencies important to the university, and to the federal financial aid programs many of our low-income students rely on.

Along with universities across the country, we have been working with our congressional delegation to explain the devastating impact of these cuts on research and education, and on programs that help this nation stay productive and competitive.

I am pleased to tell you that there are hopeful signs that Congress may be unwilling to implement these drastic cuts.

Despite the best efforts of Senators Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson, and Rep. Mark Pocan, to reauthorize the federal Perkins loan program, it expired on September 30, and while they and others in our delegation are continuing to do all they can to once again bring this program back to life, the opposition may be too much to overcome this year.

After the president released his budget proposal, Congress passed a temporary budget bill that not force major cuts – in fact, it increased funding to NIH by $2 billion. Congress is now operating under a continuing resolution until December 8, and both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have rejected most of the research cuts proposed by the president. I expect the final FY18 spending bill to include another substantial increase for the NIH.

One area we know many of you are watching with us is the Trump administration’s proposed cap on indirect costs for NIH awards. This would cost our campus over $50 million, which is why we were happy to see that the House Appropriations bill that funds NIH for FY18 did not include the cap.

Of course nothing is final until both houses agree on funding levels and the president signs them, so our federal relations team will continue to monitor the Federal budget closely.


In addition to working on the revenue side, we have to constantly be looking for ways to run this institution better. Among other things, that means paying attention to sustainability. I know you are interested in this issue as well and you have an agenda item about it later today.

This is a deeply important part of our organizational identity that traces back to John Muir, who began organizing the national park system here at UW, and Aldo Leopold, who developed a whole new academic field around the radical idea that wildlife habitats could be scientifically managed.

A couple of our Nelson Institute faculty published a paper recently about the ways in which this campus is a “living laboratory.” They were talking about education and research, but this is also true of our campus conservation and preservation efforts.

We’ve distributed via e-mail a handout that describes some of what we’re doing, but let me share just a bit more. We work on sustainability in three important ways on this campus:

  • Through education:
    • We’ve seen significant growth in student enrollment in programs related to the environment and sustainability – and these topics are being integrated into classes across the campus.
    • We now have 172 courses cross-listed with Environmental Studies, and we know that many other classes incorporate this learning.
    • The Nelson Institute’s faculty affiliates come from 55 different departments – including some that might seem unexpected, like Dance and Comparative Literature.
  • Through research:
    • We have more than 250 current projects funded with approximately $360 million in federal and private grants that involve sustainability, including:
    • The Johnson Controls Research Partnership at the Wisconsin Energy Institute, which focuses on building car batteries that will last longer, improve fuel efficiency, and reduce CO2 emissions.
    • Our largest Federal grant comes to the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, which is a national center for bioenergy research. It’s working to develop sustainable agricultural crops for biofuels.
  • Through our stewardship of our own campus and buildings:
    • Guided by the Campus Master Plan, we’re working to reduce our carbon footprint. I know we have more progress to make, but we are moving forward, as detailed in the handout you received.
    • We’ve invested $63 million in energy conservation projects over the last decade, reducing our energy footprint by 27% per square foot.
    • A number of campus buildings have renewable energy systems such as solar hot water, and others – such as Union South – are designed to maximize daylight to reduce electricity use.
    • We are retrofitting our older buildings with more-efficient HVAC systems, better insulation and lighting, and occupancy sensors to conserve energy. This is 10-phase project, and we’ve just completed phase 2.
    • Unfortunately, this sort of work costs money, and the much-reduced budget for buildings and maintenance over the past four years has made it difficult for us to move forward as fast as we’d like.

We have some great leadership on these issues, including the Office of Sustainability led by Professor Cathy Middlecamp, interim director of sustainability research and education, and a staff member on our facilities staff.  (We’re in the process of hiring a new person in this job.)

Paul Robbins has also been an important leader, and told me just yesterday that he was starting a process to collect the information needed for our campus to receive a Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) score, which will give us a way to measure progress and compare ourselves to peer institutions.

This is just a snapshot of things we’re working on and I welcome further conversations.

Let me close by addressing one other issue that is critical to building a strong future:  improving our campus climate.

Campus Climate

This campus is very much engaged in the national conversation around racial injustice and the ways in which this country does or doesn’t welcome those of other ethnicities and nationalities.

We saw what happened in Charlottesville and in other communities in this country, and so far we’ve been lucky to avoid being targeted by hate groups.

Here at UW, it’s been well-documented that a group calling itself the Ku Klux Klan existed on this campus in the 1920s.  I’ve created an ad hoc study group to advise on how we can best acknowledge and respond to this history.   Professor Steve Kantrowitz, a history professor and expert in white supremacist movements, and Dr. Floyd Rose, a longtime community leader, are co-chairing this committee.

It’s not easy to have conversations about racism on a disproportionately white campus, in a disproportionately white community and state.  But these are conversations we have to have if we are going to compete effectively for the best and brightest students and faculty of color.

Last year, I asked all units to engage in some way in training that focused on inclusivity and diversity.  I am renewing that call this year, asking units to expand and follow-through on what they did last year.  And I’m asking all the deans to work on a strategic plan for promoting diversity within their unit.  Some units already have this in place…the School of Education did excellent work on this last year…while others are just beginning.

We are also preparing to release – next month – the results of the Campus Climate Survey conducted last fall, along with recommendations from a cross-campus task force.

The survey is likely to demonstrate in greater detail what we already know:  Our African-American and LGBTQ students (among others) have a markedly different experience here than majority students.

Addressing these campus climate issues will require all of us.  This is not a top-down process.

You will hear more about the many things we’re doing.   I am particularly excited about two projects that are new this year:

  • The expanded ‘Our Wisconsin’ program that’s challenging our freshmen to think about the lenses through which they view the world and to talk about how they live and work with people who may have very different experiences and perceptions. We piloted this program last fall; this fall we’ve rolled it out to all of our freshmen.
  • And the new Diversity Liaison Program to engage interested faculty and staff in developing and leading workshops for their peers. It comes with a stipend to ensure that you have a release from teaching or administrative duties to dedicate time to the workshops.   Vice Provost Patrick Sims is heading up the application process.  If you have interest and experience in this arena, I encourage you to apply.
  • We are also again funding our Faculty Diversity Initiative that provides central funding support for faculty hires that are targets of opportunity. When we asked students of color what we could do to make this a more welcoming campus, the most common answer was “hire more diverse faculty and staff.”


I know many of you are concerned about our DACA students, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.  We have joined the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU) in opposing President Trump’s decision to repeal DACA.

There are a number of resources both on and off campus for students and others that are interested in or might be dealing with these issues.  That information can be found on the Multicultural Center’s website.


We have come through a period of challenges in recent years, but we are now positioned to make some much-needed investments that will keep this university one of the best in the world.  Yes, there are still ongoing problems we need to address – problems of underfunding, problems of campus action or inaction, and problems in competing effectively in the highly competitive world of higher education.

But as we move into a new academic year, I want to encourage you to see all the good things that happen here every day… things that the media don’t often cover.  Students who walk into a class and discover a lifetime passion.  Faculty whose research project transforms what we know about a critical topic.  Work that we do across the state to help people thrive.

We are privileged to be in a position to impact the world in so many positive ways.

I want to thank you for the strong commitment you’ve made to this place. I am honored to work with you, and I’ll be happy to take your questions.