UW-Madison Day at the State Capitol

April 14, 2021

Thank you Mike for that kind introduction – and a special thanks to the legislators who are serving on today’s panel.

I also want to thank the friends and alumni who are with us today.

If you’re comfortable doing so, please type your location into the chat so we can see where you’re joining us from.

Though I wish we could be together in person, virtual meetings are a lot easier to get to.  I am told that this is the largest group we’ve ever had for this event, and it’s wonderful to see so many new people along with those of you who have been attending regularly since we began this program 9 years ago.


Points of Pride

Before I talk about the budget, let me start in the right place – with some of the great things that are happening on our campus, which demonstrate why UW-Madison is one of the top public universities in the country.

Campus has been a different place with COVID.  We’ve really missed the personal interactions that are part of university life, and all of the things that make UW-Madison so special – from Badger games to an afternoon on the Terrace.

But at the same time, we have a lot to be proud of:


  • We are one of the top 10 public universities in the country in our graduation rates.


  • We’ve also decreased the time it takes to get a degree – the average undergraduate now earns their degree in less than 4 years. Which also reduces student debt — 57% of our undergraduates graduated last year with no student-loan debt.


  • Thanks to the generous support of our alumni, we are able to guarantee – for the first time in our history – that every WI student who can qualify for admission and whose family makes less than the state’s median income will receive funding to cover tuition and fees for 4 years. One in 5 WI freshmen is now covered by the program we call Bucky’s Tuition Promise.


  • And we continue to be a hot school for new students. In February, we received 54,000 applications for about 7,500 spots in the freshman class – a new record.


  • I know that many of you take every opportunity to talk about the wonderful things that happen on this campus and I want to thank you for inspiring talented students to come to us.


We also continue to be a research powerhouse – one of the nation’s top 10.

  • UW researchers have made headlines and brought home prestigious awards over the past year for their work in many different fields – but of course a main focus has been COVID. Our researchers are:


    • Developing better treatments for people who are hospitalized
    • Working to understand new strains of the virus
    • Designing systems for equitable vaccine distribution
    • And studying the effect of COVID on communities of color


  • We invest about $1.3b a year in cutting-edge science that’s saving lives and improving the world. Those aren’t state tax dollars; they’re federal dollars and private grants we bring into Wisconsin every year.


  • Most of those dollars stay here in Wisconsin. We just released a new study that shows our economic impact in this state is $30b a year.  $30 billion – that’s about 10% of the state’s GDP ($306B)


There are also welcome signs that we are getting back to normal:

  • The Marching Band has started practicing again – albeit with special precautions.


  • And we are very excited to hold an in-person commencement at Camp Randall next month. It will be for graduates only – parents and friends will watch online – but it’s great to be able to send this year’s seniors off with a big celebration

And of course no highlights reel would be complete without a mention of Badger athletics.  Despite all of the disruptions of COVID, our teams gave us a lot to cheer about – including back-to-back national championships for Badger Women’s Hockey.   I hope you got to see the final – that’s one game we’ll be talking about for years to come.

And I know you all heard that Barry Alvarez announced his retirement last week.  Replacing him will be a big job, and an important one.

It feels great to be able to plan for a much more normal fall semester.

The Governor has put forth a very strong budget for the UW System. It’s a near-certainty that the legislature will reduce many of his spending proposals.  But I’m cautiously optimistic we won’t be looking at budget cuts.  WI is in a better financial position than many states, so we hope to end up with some increase – the question is how much.

3 key messages

We want legislators to know 3 things:


  1. An investment in UW is an investment in the entire state.


  1. There are provisions we’re asking for that don’t cost the state anything, and will help us to manage our finances more efficiently.


  1. The two facilities we’re asking the state to help us build will replace seriously deteriorated campus buildings and would help us expand the state’s talent pool and deepen our work with WI industry.


I’ll go through these one by one.


Key Message #1 – An Investment in UW is an Investment in WI

The Governor’s budget proposal recommends $190m in new state funding for the UW System – of which UW-Madison would get a portion.


While we deeply appreciate the budget that the Governor has put forth, we have heard that the legislature intends to start from scratch with its own budget.  Given this, it’s best to focus less on whose budget we’re supporting and more on a simple message that investing in the state’s flagship university is a great bipartisan choice for the state.


New state dollars are critical for 2 key reasons:

First, we are dealing with the worst budget disaster we’ve ever seen – we project a loss of $320m, a combination of lost revenues + COVID expenses.   That includes $50 m that the state took back from us during this past year as a budget lapse.

Fortunately, we went into 2020 in a strong financial position, so we’ve been able to divert dollars from the central campus to cover pandemic-related expenses, and we’ve received some federal relief funds.  But that hasn’t been enough to offset our losses.

We’ve mandated a year of monthly employee furlough days – that means our employees have all taken a pay cut of between 2 ½  and 4 ½ percent.  We’ve also passed budget cuts down to all units.

We need to recover from this year.  If we’re going to maintain our excellence, we need the state’s help.

Second, additional state investment will allow us to put additional dollars into education, particularly in areas where WI businesses have an urgent need.


  • We want to expand our offerings in high demand programs, from computer science and data analytics to business and engineering.   To do this, we have to grow faculty strength in these and other growing fields


  • We need to expand student services in tutoring, academic/career advising, mental health services.


  • And we want to expand our work with farmers and producers around the state through the Division of Extension and other outreach programs.


Key Message #2 – Help us to Improve Financial Management

We also want to advocate for two provisions that don’t cost the state anything, and would allow the university to manage our finances better:


  • The first would allow us to borrow money for short-term operational purposes, something every other flagship university in the country can do and which is critical in a crisis.


  • Example: Athletics has lost $50m.  A loan from the campus would allow them to maintain a full staff so they’re ready to go when in-person events return.


  • The second provision would allow us to better manage our cash balances. Right now state law basically requires that we hold cash under the mattress; we can’t invest it in ways that earn interest.   We are asking to be allowed to put some portion of our cash balances into safe, medium-term investments that earn a little return. This is  $10m-$20m a year to us.

The governor has included both of these provisions in his proposed budget and we want to ask the state legislature to be sure to include them in the final budget.

Key Message #3 – Investing in Two New Facilities Will Pay Dividends

The Governor’s capital budget is also very good for us.  It includes funding for two new academic buildings we’re trying to get built.  In both cases we are committed to raising about 1/3 – 1/2 (Engineering over the 2 phases will be ½) of the cost of these buildings through private philanthropy and asking the state to pay the remaining cost.


  • An Engineering building that would allow us to substantially increase enrollment and give us new space for hands-on teaching and research – including research projects with partners from WI industry.


  • And a new Letters & Science building that is part of series of projects to allow us to move out of our crumbling Humanities building.  As we’ve expanded our undergraduate class, we need more classrooms and modern classrooms that allow the use of modern technologies.  This building is necessary for us to provide strong classroom experiences to our students.

We’ll show you videos in a few minutes explaining more about both buildings.

I want to thank the students and alumni from Engineering and L&S who have been working with us to promote these projects.


To reiterate:  there are three key points we need to make to the legislature:


  • One: Investing in UW, as the Governor has proposed, will help the entire state.


  • Two: Approve the two financial provisions that will cost the state nothing.


  • Three: Provide funding for our two major facilities projects.


We’re just at the beginning of the budget process – the legislature will likely finish its work in June or July and then the budget goes back to the Governor.



These talking points are half the story.  The other half is up to you.


Because the best way to advocate for UW-Madison is not by telling our story, but by telling yours.


I hope you’ll share with your legislator or his/her staff not only our three-point message, but your own story about the impact of UW on your life, your family, and your community.


Crystal Potts will give you some tips on how to do this most effectively at the end of our session today.


Thank you for joining us, and for all that you do for our great public university.  Good luck in your meetings.  And On, Wisconsin!