LA CROSSE, Wis. – The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents formally confirmed the appointment of two new Chancellors at its meeting Friday in La Crosse.

In a unanimous vote, Regents approved Rebecca M. Blank, Acting U.S. Secretary of Commerce, as the next Chancellor of UW-Madison.  Blank is expected to step into her new leadership role in July.

Regents also unanimously approved the appointment of James C. Schmidt as the next Chancellor of UW-Eau Claire. Schmidt currently serves as Vice President for University Advancement at Winona State University and Executive Director of the WSU Foundation Board of Trustees. Dr. Schmidt also will start his new role in July.

Flexible Option development making good progress, Board hears
Ray Cross, Chancellor of UW Colleges and UW-Extension, and Aaron Brower, Interim Provost at UW-Extension, reported to the Board that significant progress has occurred since the UW System’s new Flexible Option was announced in June 2012.
The goal is to have the first cohort of UW Flex Options begin in late fall, Cross said, and development of that cohort is well underway, including the academic components, academic and student support, the business model, and a communications plan.

The UW Flexible Option is a portfolio of degrees, certificates, and courses drawn from the UW System’s existing program array that will be offered in a self-paced, competency-based format. Based on best-practice educational principles and learning science, the new programs will focus on learning outcomes assessment.

The Higher Learning Commission will rule on accrediting direct assessment for the Flex Option in July, Brower said, which impacts financial aid and marketing the program.

“There are serious challenges to doing this,” Cross said. “A degree is not merely stacking competencies. It’s like putting up bricks without mortar. How do you tie things together so it’s a meaningful experience?” Cross noted that it’s difficult to try new things and take risks in higher education.  “We need your patience and encouragement and your criticism,” he told Regents.

Regent Tracy Hribar called the Flex Option update “very exciting.”  She said she feels very strongly that adult learners in Wisconsin need a safe and affordable place where they get the education they need to keep themselves and their families competitive. She expressed particular concern for maintaining affordability.

UW System President Kevin P. Reilly said the Flexible Option calls for new paradigms in how people think about tuition models.

“We will make mistakes along the way with this program…and we will be criticized for having made those mistakes,” Reilly said. He told Board members that their support will be vital to the program’s success.

UW System President’s Report

UW System’s growing involvement in massive open online courses (MOOCs) is “a way to promulgate our high-quality brand on the world stage and learn about pedagogy along the way,” President Reilly told Regents, following up on a UW-La Crosse  presentation Thursday on its new remedial math MOOC.

Reilly noted that UW-Madison will be launching four new MOOCs in the next two years, with advance enrollments for those courses already topping 22,000 students. UW-Milwaukee is also developing MOOCs related to its water technology interests, he added.

Addressing the question of why all the attention being paid to MOOCs, Reilly suggested that their appeal may include the sheer massiveness of the enterprise and its ability to reach to so many people, as well as the leveling effect of opening educational access to the world’s most prestigious universities to virtually anyone with computer access. He also noted the role of FOMO – or the fear of missing out – in driving involvement.

Reilly reiterated that taken in tandem with UW’s Flexible Option – awarding credit for competencies – “there is lots of potential here for us here.”

Regent Chuck Pruitt noted that a central challenge of MOOCs is how to successfully engage first-generation and lower-income students, who tend to be less likely to engage and complete MOOC models, instead requiring the kind of academic and student support more typically offered in traditional university settings.

Developing compelling course models is key to that success, Reilly said. Pointing to the success of computer video games in engaging players, he added, “If we can use what we’ve learned about that into the packaging, I think we have a chance of making a dent into those populations.”

Acknowledging that MOOCs appeal most to students with the necessary Internet access and available time, UW-La Crosse math professor Bob Hoar – closely involved with UW-L’s hugely popular math MOOC – raised the possibility that MOOCs’ appeal might actually free up traditional university resources to help students who need more hands-on help. “It’s going to be part of the toolkit that makes other tools more effective,” he said.

UW-Oshkosh Chancellor Rick Wells pointed out that higher education’s focus should be not just on students’ mastering outcomes, but in demonstrating their ability to use what they know.

UW System News: As part of his regular report on news from around the UW System, Reilly referred Regents to UW System’s co-sponsorship of the just-released  “WisconsinBiz” magazine. The publication, which is part of the state’s economic development marketing plan, includes an eight-page color spread highlighting UW System’s Knowledge Powers Wisconsincampaign, as well as articles focusing on UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee.


In other business, the Regents:

  • Approved a Resolution of Appreciation for UW-La Crosse’s hosting of April 2013 Board of Regents meeting;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request for a Bachelor of Science in Pharmaceutical Sciences;
  • Approved UW-Stout’s request for a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science;
  • Approved UW-Stout’s request for a Master of Science in Construction Management;
  • Approved the Requests to Trustees of the William F. Vilas Trust Estate for support of scholarships, fellowships, professorships, and special programs in arts and humanities, social sciences, and music.
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request for authority to increase the budget of the Memorial Union Renovation-Phase I project to allow for the construction of a theater lounge at the north end of the current theater;
  • Approved UW-Stout’s request for authority to reimburse the city of Menomonie, Wis., for assessable improvements;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request for authority to reimburse the city of Madison for assessable street and utility improvements along West Johnson Street;
  • Approved UW System request for release of $3.3M Building Trust Funds to prepare preliminary plans, cost estimates, and design reports for two projects expected to be enumerated as part of the 2013-15 Capital Budget: the UW-La Crosse Science Labs Building project and the UW-Stevens Point Chemistry-Biology Building;
  • Approved UW System’s request for five All Agency Maintenance and Repair projects on five campuses totaling about $5M;
  • Approved a five-year contract with IMG College Seating, LLC, for the provision of stadium seats/seatbacks at UW-Madison Athletic events;
  • Approved an extension to the UW-Oshkosh Dining Services Contractual Agreement with Sodexo Management, Inc.; and
  • Formally accepted seven bequests with a total value of $696,000.



The UW System Board of Regents will hold its next meeting June 6 and 7, 2013, at UW-Milwaukee

Related: Read April 4 (day 1) news summary