Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association

March 25, 2021

Good morning.  I am delighted to join you today.

I want to begin by saying thank you to the WFAA staff for your work on behalf of UW-Madison over this past year.  I know that many of you are also caring for young children – it’s never easy to be a working parent but this year it’s been extra hard.  Thank you.

I also want to congratulate you for making a very quick and successful transition to virtual gatherings:

  • The UW Now livestream has brought our research and scholarship to thousands of people we might otherwise never connect with.


  • And events like the Bascom Hill Society dinner and Lunch with the Chancellor have expanded our reach in a really meaningful way. It’s been fun to see the excitement from alumni joining from around the country and around the world.


But at the same time, meeting with people in-person is a critical component of donor and alumni relations.  Which makes it all the more remarkable that over this past year we’ve not only exceeded our All Ways Forward campaign goal of $3.2b, but now have reason to hope that we could reach $4b by the end of 2021 when we close the campaign.

These new funds have already transformed our university:

  • We’re competing on a whole new level for top scholars – we welcomed a record 171 new faculty last fall.


  • For the past two years, we have generated new revenues and grown faster than our peer public institutions around the country. The gift dollars you’re raising have a multiplier effect that’s helping to drive that growth.


  • And with new dollars for scholarships, we are able to guarantee – for the first time in our history – that every Wisconsin student who can qualify for admission and whose family makes less than the state’s median income will receive funding to cover all tuition and fees for 4 years.  Bucky’s Tuition Promise has been so successful that UW System is now looking to establish a similar program on other UW campuses.


To achieve this kind of success in any year would be outstanding – but to do it in the middle of a pandemic and an economic crisis is truly remarkable.  Thank you.

Before I bring you up-to-date on a few of our key priorities this spring and fall, let me share some good news.

Good News from Campus

It’s been a hard year, but we’ve seen progress in some important areas.


  • Six-year graduation rate highest ever (88.5%). Among top 10 U.S. public universities.  I want us to reach 90%.  That will take more scholarships and expanded support for students – particularly those who want to pursue majors in STEM but who may not have the preparation they need to be successful.


  • We’ve cut the graduation gap between white students and students from targeted minority groups in half over the last 15 years.


  • We’ve reduced the time it takes students to finish their degree, which is important because it reduces student debt. 57% of our seniors graduated with zero student loan debt last year.


  • We’ve received a record number of applications for the freshman class – they’re up 17% overall, with double-digit increases both in- and out-of-state. Now we have to get the most highly qualified applicants to choose Wisconsin.


  • And a couple of exciting developments this month:


  • First, we announced that we would hold two in-person commencement ceremonies at Camp Randall in May. In order to keep everyone six feet apart, we’re restricting the events to only the students – no family or friends.  But we are delighted to be able to celebrate with our graduates.


  • Second, the marching band has been cleared to return to practice.

This is just the beginning of a return to the vibrant campus life we all have missed this year.

Looking Forward:  COVID

We have reached this point for two reasons:  Our COVID testing protocols and the vaccine.

Testing:  We greatly expanded our testing requirements this semester, and linked the tests to a new app on everyone’s phone with a Badger Badge that has to be green (to signal a recent, negative test) for entry into our most-used buildings.

In this semester, positivity rates have been mostly below 1%.

We expect some ongoing testing throughout the summer and next fall, hopefully at much lower levels.  We are set up to conduct frequent, rapid tests at a very high volume to ensure community-wide surveillance for as long as necessary.

Vaccines:  Best thing happening right now is the delivery of vaccines


  • We are following state/federal guidelines to determine eligibility. The number of vaccines we can administer each week depends on the doses we receive from the state.


  • We have now vaccinated more than 6,000 faculty, staff, and students.


  • On Monday, the next phase of eligibility begins – it includes people with a wide range of pre-existing conditions.


My first goal:  Vaccinate all employees who are willing by the end of this semester.  But this will depend upon vaccine availability.

My next goal:  Vaccinate all students who are willing and who have not yet been vaccinated, on the day they arrive here in the fall.  If we can accomplish this, we expect a largely normal semester.


Looking Forward – Education and Access

Despite the challenges of remote learning, we have continued to provide an outstanding education – but top students come here because we offer an outstanding residential college experience.  I can’t wait to re-establish that experience in the fall.


At the same time, we want to expand access for students who cannot be here in person.  We launched our first online undergraduate degree (in personal finance) one year ago.  This year, we’ll launch four more.


We’ve been offering online graduate degrees for a number of years with great success, but to bring an undergraduate degree within reach for a whole new group of people is really exciting – and an important part of our mission.


Looking Forward – Diversity and Inclusion

We’ve also been working on a number of fronts to improve diversity and inclusion on campus. This has been an extraordinary and difficult year, but it’s also been a year that has brought new momentum to these efforts.


We’ve made major investments in programs to recruit students and faculty of color and make UW a place they want to stay, and we’re seeing results:


  • Last fall, we welcomed the largest number of students from underrepresented groups in our history.


  • And a program we started two years ago called TOP to help departments go after faculty they’d like to recruit from groups not well-represented in their academic field has really taken off.


  • We’ve already hired 32 new faculty through TOP – ¾ of whom are people of color from underrepresented groups, and most of the others are women in science and engineering.


  • The newest initiative is the Raimey-Noland Fund, named in honor of Mabel Raimey and William Noland, the first known black female and male graduates of UW. William graduated in 1875; Mabel in 1918.


  • The campaign will create scholarships and provide support for faculty and programs that increase diversity and equity, and make our campus more inclusive. I committed last fall to raising $10m in private funds – and before even announcing the Raimey-Noland Campaign publicly, we’ve already raised $20m.


  • A big thank you to all who are supporting this effort.



Fundraising is more important than ever, as the pandemic has created the biggest financial disaster in our history.  We project a total loss of nearly $320m.  That’s a combination of losses in revenue plus COVID-related expenses.


The biggest losses are in a few areas – for example:

  • Athletic revenues are down $50m;
  • Our dorm and cafeteria revenues are down about $50m;
  • And the state took $50m back this past spring and fall, requiring us to return budget money that had been allocated.


Assuming next fall is a more normal semester, much of our revenue will come back quickly, so this is primarily a short-term cash flow problem.  But it’s a big problem!


We are managing these losses with both short-term fixes and long-term adjustments:


  • We started the past year in a strong financial position, so we could divert dollars from new programs into pandemic-related funding.


  • We received some federal funds earmarked for pandemic-related expenses, and expect to receive more.


  • And we took immediate action to reduce expenses:


  • Froze salaries and most hiring
  • Pulled back any new budget distributions for next year
  • Implemented mandatory furloughs for all employees, cutting annual salaries by 2.5 to 4.6%, as well as a 15% voluntary pay cut over this year for senior leaders.
  • Implemented budget cuts on all units of around 5%.


State Budget

Governor Evers introduced his state budget proposal last month and it’s very positive for UW.  He is recommending:

  • $190m in new state funding for UW System.
  • And provisions we’ve lobbied hard for over many years that would allow the university to manage our finances more effectively:


  • One provision would allow us to borrow money, something every other flagship university in the country can do and critical in a crisis.


  • The other would allow us to take some of our cash balances out of accounts where they’re earning essentially zero and put them into safe, medium-term investment funds that earn a little more – this is an easy fix that would be worth $10m-$20m a year to us.


We now have to work with the legislature to retain as many of the Governor’s recommendations as possible, and the active involvement of our friends and alumni will be critical.


Capital Budget

Governor Evers also released his capital budget, which includes funding for two new academic buildings we’re trying to get built:


  • One on the Engineering campus that would allow us to substantially increase enrollment and give us new space for hands-on teaching and research.


  • And a new L&S academic building that is part of series of projects to allow us to move out of our crumbling Humanities building.


Each project will also require millions in private funding – we’ve committed to raising 1/3 of the cost of each building, asking the state to cover 2/3 .


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

This is a moment in which our friends and alums will be our most effective advocates.  The opportunities you create for them through events like Lobby Day (to be held virtually this year) and letter-writing campaigns make a real difference.



I told you earlier that the pandemic has created the biggest financial crisis we’ve ever seen.  But there have been bright spots – and philanthropy is one of them.


Many other schools have seen alumni giving decline significantly this year.  Not at UW-Madison, thanks to our generous donors and the dedicated work of WFAA.


Private support for the university has never been more important.  Gift dollars will be critical to our recovery and to our ability to move forward on key priorities such as:

  • Building our new School of Computer, Data and Information Science and supporting many other school/college priorities
  • Investing more to support student and faculty diversity, and
  • Expanding our already incredible health and medical research.

Thank you for all that you do, and I’ll be happy to take a few questions.