“State of the University” speech

As prepared for delivery to the Faculty Senate, Oct. 5, 2015.

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 and productive summer and that the fall semester is well-launched in your departments.

Before I begin, I want to note the wonderful news today that Dr. William Campbell, who received his doctorate here in 1957, has won the Nobel Prize in medicine for his work on drugs to fight tropical diseases like malaria.

This is the 22nd time the Nobel Prize has been awarded to a UW-Madison faculty member or alum, and a proud moment for us.

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

First, thank you to Beth Meyerand for stepping into the role of UC chair, and to Anja Wanner and Ruth Litovsky, who are new members on the UC, succeeding Jo Ellen Fair and Grant Petty.

Next, thank you to Secretary of the Faculty Steve Smith, who has done a terrific job in the midst of some challenges. His deep understanding of this campus and what it takes to support world-class faculty in the current environment are of enormous value.

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

I had an opportunity in late August to welcome about 80 new faculty to campus and it reminded me all over again about the great people who work here, and who continue to seek positions at this world-class institution.

We have also welcomed some really talented people to the leadership team – some brand new to UW, others in new roles.

  • We now have a permanent Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education, Marsha Mailick, effective last March.
  • We have an interim Vice Chancellor for University Relations, Charlie Hoslet, filling in for Vince Sweeney, who retired this summer.  The search for a permanent replacement has just started.
  • We have a new Dean of the Graduate School, Bill Karpus, who comes to us from Northwestern University. Bill will report to and work closely with Marsha.  We were very fortunate over the last year to have Associate Dean Wendy Crone serve in an interim capacity.
  • We have a new Dean of the School of Education, Diana Hess. Diana is a longtime member of the faculty though she has spent the last few years as VP of the Spencer Foundation in Chicago. She succeeds Julie Underwood, who is returning to the faculty after 10 years as Dean.
  • And I want to recognize Dean of Nursing Katharyn May, who just announced that she is stepping down to return to the faculty after 15 years in that job. We’ll be launching that search as well this fall.

Outstanding faculty and staff are our most important assets. I know that this is a challenging time for leaders here at UW. To lead an institution through a period of change is not easy, but change also brings opportunities. I know together we can find ways to create a stronger and more resilient University that can grow and thrive into the next century and beyond.

I want to talk this afternoon about how we do that. But first let me give you an update on a few key issues. 


You all know that the state budget brought deep cuts to our finances – we were handed an $86 million deficit, effective July 1. It’s unfortunately not news any more when states cut funding for higher education … that’s been happening for 25 years.

To fill this deficit, we have cut or redirected about $34 million. These cuts are being felt across the university.

We have also received permission from the Regents to raise out-of-state and professional school tuition over the next two years, which brings in about another $17 million this year and $15 million next year.

Unfortunately, if you’re doing the math, this leaves us with an ongoing deficit. I am also asking the Regents for permission to increase the number of non-resident undergraduates, while making a commitment to admit Wisconsin students at the same rate as we have for many years.

As some of you know, the number of high school graduates in this state has fallen by 2,000 in the past decade and is expected to decline further. That means that we can grow at least a little by expanding the number of out-of-state students while maintaining our strong commitment to Wisconsin freshman admissions.

In a state with declining numbers of young workers, we are an institution that can attract talented young people into the state. Top high school students from WI who stay here for college are far more likely to take jobs here. And about 15% of those who come here from out-of-state to study, stay here to work. I am committed to both working to attract the best WI students to Madison, to keep them in the state, and to working to attract some great out-of-state students and partnering with businesses in the state to keep more of them here as well.


Let me turn to the topic of tenure, about which we had a major debate this past summer.   As you know, we were unique in having tenure defined in state statute; at other universities, it’s embedded in the policies adopted by the Trustees or Regents.

When the legislature removed from state law the language that governs tenure, the Regents responded by adopting policies identical to the statutory provisions into Regent policy. This puts us on a par with our peer schools, which have tenure provisions in governing-board policy.

Unfortunately, as you know, the legislature also adopted language that allows faculty layoffs to occur for a wider variety of reasons than is standard. But, as I’ve emphasized many times, this does not MANDATE faculty be laid off when programs change, it simply gives the Regents the authority to decide when faculty layoffs may or may not occur.

The Regents have already indicated that they expect to approve a policy consistent with our peers, and consistent with the standards of the American Association of University Professors.

I want to thank the faculty committee that worked diligently from July to September under the leadership of Dorothy Farrar Edwards to draft the proposed policy on your agenda today. The proposal adheres to state statute, Regent policy and relevant campus HR policies, and follows AAUP guidelines to maintain strong protections for tenured faculty, assuring academic freedom and decision-making through a shared governance process.

I also want to thank the UC for moving quickly to accept and distribute the committee’s report and hold listening sessions.

Today we’ll have the first reading of these proposed changes to Faculty Policy and Procedures. We’ll vote on these changes at our November meeting. They will then go to the Regents for approval, before becoming formal policy.

The policy you’ll be discussing today applies only to UW-Madison. Because we have our own HR system, it is appropriate for us to adopt our own policy on this. Another committee, with representatives from across the UW System, is also writing a policy that will apply to other UW schools. I suspect that our final recommendations may be a model for the entire System.

Shared Governance

As you know, the legislature also made changes that weakened the authority of governance groups. But they left intact quite a bit of the governance statute.

If you compare even the changed language to governance language at many other schools, we still have extensive faculty, staff, and student governance involvement at UW.

I have written to all governance groups and indicated that I see no reason why our standard practices around governance should change as a result of the modifications made in the budget. I expect to continue to consult broadly, and expect the faculty to hold responsibilities for those decisions that faculty must have: over tenure, hiring and faculty disciplinary actions.

In other words, I expect that our system will continue to operate as it has in the past.

I think you all know that I feel strongly about this issue.  I have suggested that the shared governance chairs develop a statement that reaffirms this university’s commitment to shared governance and emphasizes that we will continue in the same proud tradition that has served us well for over a century.  I am happy to add my signature to such an effort.

The bigger issue

Our biggest problem in this coming year is not any of these individual issues by themselves, which we are handling. More damaging is the accumulation of these negative events – chronicled in every major national newspaper and particularly in higher education publications – about the cuts and changes at the University of Wisconsin.

Now, as you know, much of that publicity was inaccurate. Virtually every publication had a headline that read something like, “Tenure eliminated at Wisconsin.” That’s just not true … but it’s what our colleagues around the country have read. In the language of business, we’ve suffered some brand damage, and we need to work on brand recovery.

When our reputation is threatened, we become a target for outside offers … and all of this is likely to make recruitment a little harder this year.

The Provost, the Vice Chancellor for Research, and I have all stated our strong intention to work with deans and department chairs to respond to outside offers whenever feasible. I want to send a clear message that UW is NOT open for raiding. We’ve already made some progress in sending that message: In July, five of our top international relations faculty in the Political Science department were approached by one university, who proposed to move them as a group. We responded, and in early September we learned that all five will be remaining here.

I want you to carry that example and that message back to all of your departments.

Future Efforts

Which brings me to what I think is the key long-term question in front of us: How do we build a university that is stronger and more resilient, and which is financially stable even if faced with further budget cuts in the years ahead?

There are a lot of answers to that, but let me talk about two. 

Strengthening trust & confidence

The first is strengthening trust and confidence among our diverse constituencies. This will take the leadership of every person in this room.

We need you to correct misperceptions when they’re raised by colleagues outside (and inside) UW … and we also need you to share the good things happening here. The challenges we have faced are difficult … but we are, and will continue to be, one of the world’s great universities.

There is lots of good news … here are a few of the things I talk about frequently:

  • We were just named, for the second year in a row, one of the world’s top 25 universities. The others are in California (UC-Berkeley, UCLA, and UCSD) and Michigan. Michigan’s population is double Wisconsin’s, and California is six times as big.   We are, indeed, ‘the Madison Miracle.’
  • Our undergraduate applications are stronger than ever.
  • Our retention rate between freshman and sophomore year is now 95%. Our graduation rates are going up and our time to graduation is going down.
  • We continue to be a place of world-changing research, and are the only university ranked in the top five in total research expenditures every year since NSF started reporting that data in 1972.

Rankings are impressive, but I have found that the most powerful stories of all aren’t about numbers. They’re about people.

When I meet alumni and parents and community leaders, I talk about our great teachers:

  • People like Professor Anja Wanner, who took a class on English syntax and turned it inside-out to engage students in whole new ways.
  • People like Faculty Associate Andrew Lokuta, who re-designed one of this campus’ largest and most challenging courses – Physiology 335 – to be more culturally inclusive, and substantially reduced the D-F-drop rate among students of color.

I also talk about people when I talk about our world-class research, and our commitment to the Wisconsin Idea.

  • People like Assistant Chemistry Professor Trisha Andrew, whose work to develop disposable solar cells from inexpensive materials will help nations around the world (not to mention the state of Wisconsin) to harness energy in new ways.
  • People like Math Professor Jordan Ellenberg, whose book How Not To Be Wrong has informed the world about the power of mathematics in the real world.
  • People like Entymology Professor Claudio Gratton and graduate student Jeremy Hemberger, whose work to improve the bumblebee population will translate to better crops.
  • People like political scientists Don Moynihan, Barry Burden, David Canon and Kenneth Mayer, whose paper on the unintended consequences of electoral reform just won a major national award … and may change the way national elections are run.
  • And people like Professor John Hawks and his team, whose discovery in a South African cave of bones from a previously unknown human ancestor captured the world’s attention last month.

There are thousands of stories like this all across campus. Fill in your own stories. We need you to tell them, in order to reassure:

  • Families who want to know that their students will get an outstanding education here;
  • Junior faculty who want to know that you – their senior colleagues – are committed to UW;
  • Scholars who need to know that the University of Wisconsin at Madison remains a place that presents extraordinary opportunities; and
  • State policymakers who need to understand the value this university brings to their constituents.

Building a stable financial base

The second strategic priority I want to talk about, and my biggest challenge as Chancellor, is stabilizing our finances so UW isn’t constantly facing budget crises of the sort we’ve been through this past year. That means we have to do everything we can to build revenues as creatively and effectively as possible, including:

  • Reaching market rate tuition for out-of-state students, and working with the Legislature on reasonable in-state tuition. Long-term tuition freezes – as we are currently experiencing – will hurt the quality of our education over time. Our costs are not frozen, and tuition has to reflect those changing costs. We’ll discount tuition for students who are eligible for scholarships.
  • Continuing to make the case for the importance of state support of higher education in Wisconsin, as we move toward future budget years. One of my high priorities this year is to continue building closer connections between state legislators and UW-Madison. I want to make sure even more legislators are invited to visit campus, and that we have alumni reach out to them in their districts. We’re in a campaign, and that campaign shouldn’t end now that the budget is finished this time around.
  • Continuing to find new ways to generate revenues. Many of our departments and programs have done creative things in this space, for instance: Expanding learning opportunities for mid-career professionals – and in particular expanding professional masters’ and capstone certificate programs.
  • One of our biggest opportunities to increase revenue is through more strategic use of the summer semester.
  • UW is last among seven peer institutions in the average number of summer credits taken by undergraduates, and our summer tuition revenues are way behind our peers. Berkeley enrolls 16,000 students in summer and generates $42 million in tuition revenue. We enroll 13,000 and generate $18.5 million
  • By offering courses that students need to graduate, we can reduce time-to-degree and limit debt … and also reach out to new audiences such as visiting international students.
  • To create the right incentives for summer semester changes, we will need a new budget model for summer term that returns some of the summer tuition revenue to schools and colleges, giving them an incentive to offer high-demand courses over the summer.
  • We will also need to make some minor changes to the academic calendar, which I know you will be considering today.
  • Jeff Russell, the Dean of Continuing Studies, deserves enormous thanks for leading this initiative. You’ll be hearing more about it in the year ahead.
  • And of course, in addition to working on the revenue front, we need to work on the expense side. Budget cutting isn’t something we should do only when forced to by the state legislature. Everybody here needs to be looking at opportunities to run more efficiently.
  • Finally, we have to continue to work on fundraising. As many of you know, we’ll be publicly launching a fundraising campaign on the Thursday of Homecoming Week. The Deans and many of their advisory committees will be involved, and all Department Chairs are aware of this event and planning for it.
  • The public launch comes at the end two-years of focused effort and preparation. The Deans worked hard to develop campaign-funding plans for their units. These roll up into four larger priorities: student support, faculty support, support to improve the educational experience at UW, both inside and outside the classroom, and support for research and innovation.
  • The quiet phase of the campaign has been remarkably successful.
  • Our alumni have made an extraordinary investment in this university over the last year. Let me close with news about three transformative gifts that have recently come through.
  • First: The new Grainger Institute for Engineering, for which the Grainger Foundation made a $25 million commitment. It will give us the ability to deepen our engineering research in areas related to high-tech manufacturing. Two weeks ago we announced an additional $22 million gift from the Grainger Foundation, all directed at enriching undergraduate education in the College of Engineering.
  • Next: the $100 million gift John and Tashia Morgridge pledged to match any donor who wanted to endow a professorship, a chair or a distinguished chair.
  • So many matches came forward so quickly that we worried we wouldn’t be able to accommodate them all. But the Morgridges generously offered to extend their match. In the end, their original $100 million became nearly $250 million.
  • Here’s what that means. Prior to the Morgridge gift, we had 142 fully funded chairs and professorships. We now will have 300 fully endowed faculty chair and professorship funds at schools and colleges all across this campus.
  • And the third gift I want to tell you about is one we announced over the summer: $50 million from Ab and Nancy Nicholas for student support.
  • The Nicholas gift will match the gifts of other donors to create endowed scholarship and fellowship funds. This will build permanent support for our undergraduates, student athletes, and graduate students.

I am happy to tell you the gift has already inspired nearly $10 million in additional gifts. 

  • These gifts are a sign of the level of support we have from our alumni, and the ways in which alumni support can enhance the things we can do on campus, leveraging our state dollars and tuition money.
  • Having said all of this, there are three important things to remember about gift dollars: First, these are not discretionary funds — they are tied to donor intent.   Second, these gifts I am discussing are not spendable; they are endowments.  They will be invested and managed by the Foundation, and will pay out 4.5% annually. Those payments will be what is available to support the programs these donors want to support. Third, many gifts are pledged now but not paid out until far into the future, such as bequest intentions. So announced gifts are not the same as available endowment funding.


In all of these efforts to build trust and confidence and to create a long-term sustainable financial plan for this campus, we need innovative leaders willing to try new approaches and to think differently.

We talk a lot about what to do, but sometimes we forget to talk about why it matters.

There are lots of reasons why it matters that we keep this university strong and thriving. One important reason is that we continue to provide access to a world-class education for a diverse group of students.

People like Alan Chen, a Chinese immigrant who grew up in Minocqua and became an outstanding student here. After his graduation last spring, Alan sent me an e-mail that described his Wisconsin experience as “Four years of pure magic.”

And people like Drew Birrenkott, an engineering graduate who is now a Rhodes scholar. Drew told us that the Wisconsin Idea, the commitment to improving lives outside of the classroom, made all the difference in his education. He said: “I don’t know of many places that would let a single undergraduate write a senior thesis on comparative health care systems, build an infant CardioRespiratory monitor and a cleanwater system, and conduct research on regenerative cardiovascular medicine, but in our pursuit of improving lives outside the university, UW not only does, but it thrives on it.”

Drew and Alan and the thousands of students like them who have brought their hopes and dreams to this campus for 167 years, students who have worked hard and achieved much, who have gone on to change the world – or at least one small part of it … they’re the reason why we’re here.

As long as we can continue to provide this type of experience to top students, attract superb teaching and research faculty, and generate ongoing alumni loyalty, UW will remain a world-class institution.

Thank you for your dedication to this university. I am honored to work with you. I’ll be happy to take your questions.