MADISON, Wis. – University of Wisconsin System President Jay Rothman today provided Regents with an update on the system’s new strategic plan that is currently under development.

He reported that in consultation with the chancellors, a new major strategic objective focusing on the creation and dissemination of new knowledge – which ties closely to the university’s core research mission – has been added to the proposed plan since a draft plan was originally presented to Regents in September.

Rothman said the goal is to focus on UW System being a global leader in research, scholarship, and creative activity, as well as knowledge dissemination that benefits society.

“Research is critical to the mission of all 13 universities in the system,” said Rothman, adding that bolstering the UW System’s two R1 universities (UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee) is a key priority while at the same time also enhancing research enterprise at the comprehensive universities.

He reiterated that Wisconsin faces several key challenges that the UW System can help address:

  • Reduce significantly the socioeconomic disparities among Wisconsin residents;
  • Model civic engagement and civil discourse, which are increasingly under siege;
  • Enhance communities throughout the state and create the industries of tomorrow; and
  • Drive economic prosperity and help win the competition for talent.

Measures of success and relevant metrics for the proposed strategies remain a work-in-process. To grow the talent pipeline, for example, the plan proposes to increase the number of overall UW graduates with progress markers that may include the following: increasing participation rates of Wisconsin high school graduates; increasing the number of transfer students from outside the System; improving overall graduation rates; and recruiting more students who have college credit but not a degree and then supporting them through graduation.

Rothman said increasing both enrollment in UW universities and the number of graduates from UW universities is not just a UW System problem, but also a Wisconsin problem.

“If we as a state do not solve that (need for talent) issue, those jobs that people are looking to fill will be moved out of Wisconsin. The war for talent is real,” Rothman said. “But producing more graduates is only part of the equation. Our universities also produce new knowledge and have much broader societal impacts. The search for truth is the core of who we are.”

Rothman said the intent is to work with individual universities to connect the goals of the UW System plan to the goals set forth in each university’s strategic plan. He added that he expects different universities will contribute to the plan’s various objectives at different levels, “but I believe there is substantial overlap” between system and university-level goals. “The plan is what we’re doing as a collective whole,” he said.

Rothman expects to have a plan ready for final Board consideration and approval at the December meeting.

Regent Bob Atwell noted that the state and national economic climates are rapidly changing and it’s important the university figure out “how to make the case for smart and fair investment in this environment.”

Regent Scott Beightol said the plan “is pretty bold” and asked the Board to “lean in on this and not be shy.”

Addressing Campus Antisemitism

Mark Rotenberg, Vice President of University Initiatives & Legal Affairs for Hillel International, and Greg Steinberger, CEO and President of UW Hillel, co-led a full-Board presentation on “Addressing Campus Antisemitism: Awareness, Allyship, and Action.”

Rotenberg said more needs to be done to address what he called “worrisome trends” in the rising number of antisemitic incidents on college campuses nationwide. He told Regents that according to a major national survey conducted in Summer 2021 for Hillel International and the Anti-Defamation League, while 67% of respondents agreed their campus was welcoming and supportive of Jewish students, 43% either witnessed or personally experienced campus antisemitism in the last year.

“Sentiments that may have been hidden previously have been normalized. Now it’s a constant and regular thing,” Steinberger added. “A week doesn’t go by that we don’t hear about something.”

“Hillel’s role is no longer what it was in the 1920s,” Rotenberg said. “We’re not trying to be separate and apart. The mission of Hillel is to be part of the university’s commitment to fairness for all minoritized communities. When equality and justice are not provided for one group, it will not be provided for another group.”

Hillel International is the largest Jewish student organization in the world, with more than 550 colleges and universities among its members. UW Hillel at UW-Madison was founded in 1924, as the second such foundation in the country.

According to Hillel International, UW-Madison has the sixth largest Jewish student population among public universities, with about 4,200 Jewish undergraduates at the campus, representing more than 10 percent of the total student population.

Hillel tracked 244 antisemitic incidents nationwide in 2020-21, an all-time high. Rotenberg also pointed to a 459% increase in antisemitic incidents in Wisconsin between 2015 and 2021, including COVID-19 pandemic conspiracies or comparisons; social media activity; harassment, threats, and assaults; and antisemitic references to Israel and/or Zionism.

He noted that a major challenge is almost half of students say they don’t know how to report an incident. “This is our responsibility,” Rotenberg said. “We need to own the responsibility for helping students who experience antisemitic or other bias know how to report it – and universities need to understand what to do about it.”

To address the issue, UW-Madison and UW System are participating in Hillel International’s Campus Climate Initiative (CCI), a national program including more than 40 campuses. CCI takes on antisemitism on campus through assessment tools that measure climate; training and education for campus administrators and Hillel professionals; and action planning with campus leaders and administrators using cohort university best practices.

Recognizing the need to accommodate religious differences, UW System recently made amendments to its Administrative Policy 165, “The Academic Calendar,” to address how institutions should consult with available religious calendars to minimize academic calendar conflicts with religious holidays.

Regent Ashok Rai noted that “learning needs to go beyond campus walls.”

Serving Students Who Served

Wisconsin provides some of the most robust educational benefits to military veterans and their families wishing to attend college during or after their service. This includes the Wisconsin GI Bill, which provides support in addition to what is available through the federal GI Bill. UW System universities also invest significant effort and resources into supporting these students.

Recognizing that significant hurdles remain for student veterans, a panel of university staff as well as student veterans discussed both the benefits and challenges facing student veterans in the UW System.

Joe Rasmussen, UW-Madison’s Director of University Veteran Services, told Regents that student veterans tend to show up on campus at a time of major life transition, when they’re also building a new sense of self and identity. “They need to re-find their study skills and habits,” he said, while also juggling often tight finances and navigating bureaucratic red tape. Universities are now providing services that previously might have been provided by VFW and others, he said.

Aaron Kloss, the veteran benefit coordinator at UW Oshkosh’s Veterans Resource Center, added that an additional challenge is veteran populations and needs on campus are constantly changing. “Ten years ago, there was a very healthy, robust combat veteran population on campus,” he said. “Now our population is about 50% dependents and spouses using GI benefits.” Programming that works for veterans and service members may not work for spouses and kids, he said.

Daniel McKearn, UW Oshkosh Student Association President and a U.S. Marine Corps sergeant, emphasized to Regents how important it is to help veterans, whose previous life experience is likely very different from other students, find a sense of community on campus. “When you’re quickly making the transition from (military) structure and all this discipline to seeing students who don’t have their shirts tucked in and wearing flipflops – that’s not what I’m used to,” he said. The Veterans Resource Center became a place where he could find people who understand, McKearn added. “I felt normal again.”

Regent Jennifer Staton, a UW-Parkside student and a U.S. Army veteran who served from 2007-2014, applauded the collaboration between veterans’ service centers, both inside and outside the UW System. That network proved highly beneficial in facilitating her transfer from Gateway Technical College to UW-Parkside. She also noted the value of having “subject experts” at campus veterans’ centers to explain and coordinate GI benefits.

Regent Kyle Weatherly suggested that given the interest in growing enrollments at UW universities, the UW System should consider finding better ways to connect with veterans. Rasmussen noted that a significant barrier are the actual residency requirements that are tied to accessing GI tuition benefits. Regent Scott Beightol wondered if there might be a legislative fix.

UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone, whose university has more than 1,000 student veterans enrolled, said three factors are key to making campuses veteran-friendly: a focus on onboarding and continued support; developing a campus culture that is supportive of veterans; and helping veterans connect with the employment pipeline.

Board President’s Report

Regent President Karen Walsh provided board members with an update on two ongoing chancellor searches. First, the UW-Whitewater Chancellor Search & Screen Committee, chaired by Regent Vice President Amy Bogost, recently interviewed semifinalists and forwarded its recommendations to the Special Regent Committee. That committee will meet later this month to confirm the candidates who will be invited to visit the campus as finalists in early December. The Special Regent Committee expects to interview finalists in January.

The UW-Platteville Chancellor Search & Screen Committee, chaired by Regent Cris Peterson, had its first meeting last month and has since held a series of listening sessions at all three of UW-Platteville’s campuses. The Search & Screen Committee has reviewed the position prospectus, which was then approved by the Special Regent Committee. The search will officially open on Nov. 11 and the deadline for assured consideration of applications is Jan. 17.

“Selecting new leaders for our universities is one of the most important responsibilities we have as a Board,” Walsh said. “I’m proud of how we have fulfilled those duties over the past several years.”

She noted that in recent months, three chancellors were officially inaugurated: UW-Stevens Point Chancellor Tom Gibson, UW-Stout Chancellor Katherine Frank, and UW-River Falls Chancellor Maria Gallo. Several of these inaugurations had been delayed due to the COVID pandemic.

In recognition of Veterans Day on Nov. 11, Walsh thanked all those who wear, have worn, or will wear the uniform in service of the country. “We have deep respect and gratitude for those who serve, both on and off the battlefield, those who steadfastly stand on guard to ensure our freedom, our security, and our cherished way of life,” Walsh said.

System President’s Report

In his regular report to the Board, President Rothman told Regents that the UW System’s campaign to encourage students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is off to an impressive start. In its first month, the system’s FAFSA website had collected more than 9,000 clicks. In addition to social media sites such as Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and TikTok, the campaign is now expanding to include streaming radio and podcast ads on Spotify and Pandora, with additional plans for a radio spot to launch in mid-December.

The campaign addresses Wisconsin’s relative low rate of FAFSA completion, generally a first step in getting financial aid for college. Only 50% of Wisconsin high school students from the Class of 2021 completed the form. “Our ability within the system to enroll and graduate more people is a critical element to support our state economy,” Rothman said.

Rothman also reminded Regents of two awards ceremonies taking place later on Thursday: the 2022 Outstanding Women of Color in Education Award and the 2022 P.B. Poorman Award for Outstanding Achievement on Behalf of LGBTQ+ People. “When we talk about the UW System and its universities being focused on providing a university experience that is welcoming and supportive for all, this is part of what we mean,” he said.

Rothman also recognized several significant recent accomplishments in the UW System family that align with system priorities. Helping to meet the demand for talent by employers in the state, he told Regents the Wisconsin Forestry Center at UW-Stevens Point will receive a state Workforce Innovation Grant of up to $8 million to help address a need for more skilled workers in the forestry industry.

With enhancing the student experience and supporting student success among the system’s top priorities, Rothman noted that UW-Superior recently was awarded a $2 million Department of Education Title III Strengthening Institutions grant specifically to support this kind of work. UW-Superior will use the funds to provide professional development for faculty and staff as well as to fully implement the Navigate software platform.

On a related note, Rothman told Regents that UW-Stout was recently chosen by the State Council on Affirmative Action as its winner of the 2022 Ann Lydecker Educational Diversity Award for its Stoutward Bound Program. The program is a learning and living community for Stout’s first-year ethnic minority students and is designed to provide them with a “jump start” to college.

Rothman also offered congratulations to UW-River Falls Chancellor Maria Gallo who has been named the 2022 recipient of Region IV-East President’s Award, presented by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA). The honor goes to a college or university president or chancellor who has advanced the quality of student life on campus by supporting Student Affairs staff and initiatives. Gallo will now be forwarded as a candidate for NASPA’s national President’s Award.

Doing its part to help bolster economic opportunity in the state, Rothman recognized UW Oshkosh’s biogas program which recently announced it has partnered with Agra Energy of Irvine, Calif., to break ground on Wisconsin’s first commercial facility to turn dairy farm waste into renewable biofuel. The $20 million facility will use pioneering technology to convert biogas waste into an estimated 750,000 gallons of renewable diesel and jet fuel annually.

Finally, Rothman saluted Dr. Monica Kim, a UW-Madison historian, for being awarded a 2022 MacArthur Fellowship. This prestigious award – also known as a “genius grant” – recognizes recipients for their exceptional creativity, future promise, and potential for the fellowship to advance their work. The grant provides $800,000 stipends to recipients to use at their discretion.

Rothman told Regents Kim’s work “examines the experiences of ordinary people caught in the machinery of war and how these narratives can sometimes add complexity and new layers of perspective to the official, top-down versions of the conflict.” Kim’s area of study has been the “wars of intervention” undertaken by the U.S. during the Cold War, with a particular focus on the Korean War. Both of Kim’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from Korea because of that war.

Program Revenue Balances Report approved

Regents approved the UW System Program Revenue Balances Report for fiscal year 2022 following a presentation by Vice President Sean Nelson in the Business & Finance Committee. While these overall figures were publicly released earlier this summer, this full report provides a more comprehensive level of detail.

As was announced at that time, total unrestricted program revenue balances increased by $125.6 million primarily as a result of two factors: the allocation of additional federal funding for COVID relief, and the fact that many operating expenses remain below pre-pandemic levels. This report offers details on the program revenue balances by category for each institution.

The overall balance represents a reduction of $8.0 million since the inception of balance reporting in FY 2013 or, in inflation-adjusted dollars, a 21.2% reduction since that time. These balances are expected to continue to decline – as they generally had each year through FY 2020 – due to the one-time nature of the federal COVID relief funds.

Nearly 86% of the unrestricted balance meets the Legislative Audit Bureau’s definition of obligated or designated for a specific project or purpose.

In other business, the Regents:

  • Extended condolences to family, friends, and colleagues of Carl Gulbrandsen, who passed away last month. Gulbrandsen, a staunch advocate for stem cell research, led the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation at a time when its endowment and research support significantly expanded, helping grow UW-Madison’s international research clout;
  • Recognized the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) designating UW-Madison as an Innovation and Economic Prosperity University based on its significant, sustainable, and campus-wide commitment to economic engagement;
  • Approved a UW-Madison agreement with Transact Campus for its suite of hardware and software for the point-of-sale systems that support campus dining and retail operations. While the parties are nearing the end of a current 10-year contract, this agreement results from a competitive RFP process conducted earlier this year and includes some modernizing features. The total cost of the new agreement over its 10-year term is $3.2 million. In a separate action under the same agenda item, Regents approved the addition of this project to the UW System Report on Strategic Plans for Major IT Projects, which had been approved by the Board in February;
  • Approved a UW-Milwaukee agreement with Verizon Wireless, allowing additional equipment to be added to its existing setup at the Kenilworth Building, and increasing the license fee paid to UWM by $2,600 with annual 3% increases; and
  • Approved a proposal affecting several Regent Policy Documents (RPD) as part of the ongoing effort to review and update policies. This action rescinds RPDs 6-3 and 6-6, and combines the remaining relevant portions of those policies into RPD 20-21, titled “University Personnel Systems.” Further, the approved proposal modifies RPD 6-5, and renumbers both that policy and RPD 6-4 to place all policies related to personnel in Section 20. The most substantive impact is the elimination of the current requirement that the Board review non-senior executive staff whose pay exceeds 75% of the salary of the System President prior to authorizing recruitment, promotion, or pay adjustments. To maintain accountability and transparency, the approved proposal provides that approvals of salaries above that threshold will be delegated to the President or respective Chancellor and shall be reported to the System President on a quarterly basis and to the Board on an annual basis.

The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents will next meet on December 8-9, 2022, in Madison.