May 31 is my last day in the office here at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. I confess to being a little melancholy realizing how many friends and colleagues will no longer be part of my life. I was overwhelmed by the number of people who took the time to stop by on campus or in town, or send an email, thanking me for my service to the university.
Thank you for all the kind words you shared with me. But more importantly, thank you for what you have done to help this university move forward.
Although there have been difficult days in this job, there have been many other good memories. No other job in the world would let me run an institution with its own marching band, sailing club, mascot (I will miss Bucky) and flavors of ice cream. In no other job can you address 50,000 people at Camp Randall on graduation day, when they’re all in high spirits and eager to hear what you have to say. And there’s no other place on a college campus in the country as fun as the terrace, attracting not only the campus community, but people from all over the region for great food, great music and stunning views.
I have been regularly asked what I think is my legacy here at UW. If you allow me a moment, allow me to list what I think are the most significant changes of the past nine years. But let me make it clear that this is not MY legacy, but OUR legacy. All of these things have taken the effort and commitment of staff and faculty across campus. I would especially like to thank my management team, deans and other unit heads. I had the privilege of working with a large group of leaders.
Here are some of the things we have accomplished:
• Most importantly, UW is on a much more stable financial footing than it was when I arrived, with investment resources that have allowed us to fund new initiatives and advance our mission on campus. . This did not happen by accident, but was the result of a multi-pronged effort to be entrepreneurial and generate our own investment income when it became clear that the state would not. We have expanded summer programs, increased class sizes, increased out-of-state tuition, increased research funds, and received many generous donations from alumni and friends. As a result, we’ve dramatically increased our faculty salaries, dramatically increased our graduate student stipends, dramatically increased our scholarships, invested in IT infrastructure, and done more for campus maintenance. (This coming year, now that we have benchmarks for all staff salaries, we will invest additional money in salary changes for staff based on compression, parity, equity and deserved.)
• The UW has constantly improved as an educational institution. We are now one of the top 10 public universities in our graduation rates. We have significantly reduced the gap between graduates for low-income and underrepresented groups. We’ve steadily increased the proportion of undergraduates leaving with ZERO debt – that’s just under 60% of the class. And our counseling and career guidance services have constantly improved. It’s no surprise that applications to UW-Madison have doubled in the nine years I’ve been here.
• The UW has expanded its research enterprise. When I arrived, research dollars were falling at a time when they were rising at other top universities – which, unsurprisingly, caused us to drop in the research rankings. We’ve stabilized that, with research spending up 17% over the last five years. Last year we got almost $1.5 billion in research grants. While there is always more to do, we have improved administrative support for those competing for outside funding. And our partner organization WARF has also increased its dollar support, allowing us to deepen our funding for new projects and new faculty start-up packages.
• After almost 30 years of declining or stagnating faculty numbers, we have increased faculty size. The Cluster Hire program has strengthened a number of areas of research excellence, while the TOP program has helped diversify our faculty. This increase has been made possible by greater investment in key areas of research and teaching and also reflects the increase in the number of undergraduate students.
• A key effort has been our All Ways Forward fundraising campaign for alumni and friends. This campaign has helped us deepen our scholarship pool, fund named faculty positions across the university to help attract and retain top faculty, and subsidize the cost of some key construction projects on campus. We aimed to raise $3.2 billion when we started in 2015. We ended the campaign with $4.2 billion. Thanks to the WFAA for being such great partners in this effort.
• We have expanded access to university. Most notably, Bucky’s Tuition Promise has ensured that all low-income Wisconsin students who qualify for admission can come here tuition-free. But we’ve also delved into scholarships and educational opportunities for many more. Our professional master’s programs have expanded, providing UW education for early- and mid-career students. And we are strengthening our online presence, both with online summer courses for our regular students and by launching a few online undergraduate programs for older workers who wish to complete their studies but who will not be students. in residence in Madison.
• Our service to the state is stronger than ever, reflecting our commitment to the Wisconsin Idea. In the early 1970s, the Extension program and public television and radio in Wisconsin were pulled from Madison (which pioneered these programs more than 100 years ago.) Five years ago, these programs were again been integrated into UW-Madison. It took some work to get them back on campus, but it was worth it. Our campus enriches these programs, and these programs help our campus better serve the entire state.
• Our campus has worked hard to be more diverse and inclusive of all members of the community. Our student body and faculty have become more diverse (and additional attention will be needed to increase staff diversity.) Schools and colleges are implementing diversity plans, working with departments and units to create employment channels, develop training and launch conversations. The School of Education provides training to help teachers teach more diverse classrooms. Conversations about living in a diverse community have become an integral part of our orientation for first-year students. Our Public History Project presents stories from UW’s past that have gone untold, focusing on the experiences of more marginalized groups. We still have work to do, but many people are committed to keeping us focused on these issues.
I could go on, but suffice it to say that a lot of good things have happened on campus over the past decade.
The new Chancellor will face many ongoing challenges, working closely with all of you. Most important will be to break the impasse in funding and approvals that prevents us from modernizing and updating our facilities as our needs change. We need stronger partnerships with UW System and policy makers to promote flexibilities, especially around facility projects, so issues are resolved quickly and cost-effectively.
UW-Madison must also negotiate more leeway regarding in-state tuition. We’ve had a decade (yes, it’s TEN YEARS) of a state tuition freeze. Unfortunately, our costs have not been frozen. It’s time our in-state tuition was set at a level similar to that of Minnesota, Illinois or Michigan – with plentiful financial aid for low- and middle-income students. This will help provide the revenue necessary to maintain high quality educational programs for all of our students.
And we will continue to have to persuade the Legislature, the Governor and the citizens of this state of the value of UW-Madison to the state’s economy and civic well-being. We need the state to invest in us as a way to invest in the future of the entire state. UW-Madison is the source of this state’s most skilled workers and entrepreneurs, and our research center is one of the main reasons businesses seek to locate or expand in Wisconsin.
I don’t want to end with complaints. I thought you might enjoy excerpts from some of my most memorable phone calls while at UW. These were usually calls that came in the evening or on the weekend, just when I was ready to relax and forget about work. Here is my recollection of four of them:
• “The SERF pool has a leak. We seem to have lost thousands of gallons of water. Unfortunately, we don’t know exactly where he went. We’re a little worried that a big sinkhole could open up on Dayton Street at any moment. But do not worry. We will find a solution.
• “There’s a new PCR test for COVID that doesn’t require a nasal swab. People just have to drool in a test tube. Everyone’s gonna love it!”
• “We have just learned that the pipes burst on the top floor of
Do not worry. The good news is that it was all handled by our excellent staff.
It is an honor every day that I have been chancellor of this university. Thank you for being such good partners and colleagues in this work.
Wisconsin is one of the great public universities. I know you will extend to the new Chancellor the same level of support and friendship that you extended to me. And I am confident that you will do whatever is necessary to grow and change in a way that maintains the excellence of this institution.
I have come to love this campus, as I know you love it. I can’t wait to see him continue to move forward.