MADISON, Wis. – University of Wisconsin System President Tommy Thompson called the System’s recently concluded Vax Up! “70 for 70” campaign a resounding success, with 11 of 12 participating universities reaching the 70% threshold for student vaccinations.

Vaccinated students at those 11 universities are eligible for one of 70 $7,000 scholarships to be awarded by the System. The drawings for scholarships will take place in the coming weeks.

UW-Madison, which ran its own vaccination incentive program, has a vaccination rate of 94%. UW-Platteville, which remained shy of the 70% threshold at the campaign’s conclusion, still has double the vaccination rate of the surrounding county for its demographic group.

“I have never favored a UW System vaccination mandate for students or employees. As our high vaccination rates and low prevalence rates across the System clearly show, our approach to encourage and provide the vaccine has worked incredibly well,” said Thompson at Thursday’s Board of Regents meeting.

“I continue to be extraordinarily proud of the initiative shown by so many of our students – as well as our faculty and staff – to stick out their arms to show their care and respect not only for their own health and safety but also for those around them,” Thompson added.

“The UW System has really proved to be a state leader in fighting this pandemic, from our aggressive testing protocols to our campus and public vaccination clinics and now for this ‘70 for 70’ campaign. I am very proud,” Thompson said.

Responding to President Joe Biden’s executive order requiring vaccinations for federal employees, which extends to the university’s federal contractors and all employees working in proximity to those researchers, Thompson said the details on who and how employees will be affected remains fluid.

“I will not put the hundreds of millions of federal dollars connected to research that is so integral to the mission of our universities at risk,” Thompson said. “The federal funding potentially at stake in large part is directly tied to research positions. The loss of those funds would mean the loss of many jobs. We cannot jeopardize our researchers and their valuable work.”

Thompson added that, in consultation with Chancellors, UW System is discussing the appropriate path to comply with President Biden’s order.

“As federal guidance becomes more clear, we expect to develop our policy to enable our universities to protect the viability of those contracts – and the employees who work under and around them,” he said.

Regents Discuss Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Following up on the 2017 Report of the UW System Task Force on Campus Climate, a panel of four Chancellors shared some of the unique challenges they face in recruiting, retaining, and graduating underrepresented minority (URM) students, as well as their successful efforts in these areas.

The Chancellors agreed on the need for students – as well as faculty and staff – to see people in the halls and classrooms who look like them and have shared experiences.

UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone said it’s a matter of building the culture on UW campuses to be one of broad inclusion and engagement. He said in addition to providing training and mentoring opportunities, UWM has intentionally created focused centers and activities to support students of different backgrounds, including racial/ethnic groups, LGBTQ, veterans, women, and more. “It’s very important to have a place to feel safe, and have academic, emotional, and other support,” he said.

Efforts to recruit diverse students – as well as faculty and staff – are not enough, Chancellors emphasized. Focusing real attention on retention is also critical.

“Students feel we do an incredible job in recruiting but once they get on campus, that excitement, that connectedness wanes,” said UW-Stevens Point Chancellor Thomas Gibson. He said his university’s strategic plan will challenge everyone to be engaged in these EDI efforts and to be held accountable. “Each dean, each college, each school will have a responsibility for ensuring retention, especially for the most marginalized students.”

UW-Green Bay Chancellor Michael Alexander noted that it’s vital for universities to consider how to help diverse faculty members feel connected to their communities, as well as the campus. “The biggest reason they leave is they don’t feel comfortable in the place they’re living,” he said.

Alexander also stressed the importance of reaching out to potential students early to get them thinking about college. He said UWGB’s Future Phoenix program brings 5th graders to campus, and then brings them back in 8th grade. “We want them considering university as part of their future,” he said.

UW-Parkside Chancellor Debbie Ford leads the System’s most diverse campus percentagewise, with 37% of its student population from underrepresented minorities last year (up from 25% a decade ago) and a workforce that is 22% from diverse populations. That is good news, she said, but there’s still work to be done. “We need to reflect more closely the diversity of the region we serve,” she said.

Ford stressed the importance of paying attention to data. “We need to understand at the root where our challenges and opportunities are, and outcomes are where we need to keep our focus,” she said.

Alexander said it’s important to consider EDI issues as a System – but the solutions might not be System solutions. “There’s not one thing that’s going to fit all of us,” he said. “The diversity of regions we serve are very different. So we have to think about it both at the System and the university level.”

Ben Passmore, UW System’s Associate Vice President for Policy Analysis and Research, provided an overview of enrollment data, specifically accounting for racial/ethnic populations. He told Regents that data does not support the notion that UW enrollment declines are due to the actual number of high school graduates in Wisconsin declining. Instead, he said, the percentage of these high school graduates coming to UW has declined.

Passmore said while the drop in white students coming to UW accounts for the largest part of the decline, persistent low participation by underrepresented minorities is an ongoing concern. Key access points have faltered significantly in the last five to six years, he said, notably the former UW Colleges (now two-year branch campuses) and transfers from the Wisconsin Technical College System.

Passmore added achievement gaps between white students and URM students on several metrics, including six-year graduation rates and retention, have persisted but narrowed.

Warren Anderson, UW System’s Chief Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Officer, presented high-level findings on campus climate, drawing from UW System’s 2020-2021 Diverse Learning Environments Survey, which reported on students’ overall satisfaction and sense of belonging, campus diversity, and views on campus/classroom discrimination or bias.

Following up on enrollment data, Anderson said it’s important to remember that when students of color leave the university, “it’s not because of academics. It’s because of the culture on campus, the lack of faces that look like them. We need to make sure our campuses are ready for the students we want here.”

Anderson cautioned that results of the survey reflect very uneven participation – strongly leaning to white and female respondents – and marginalized populations are not well represented overall in the findings. Further, the survey was done last spring while the pandemic heavily impacted campus life.

Regent Vice President Karen Walsh expressed concerned about the usefulness of the data. “The pool of folks we need to hear from are not the ones that did the survey,” she said.

Anderson acknowledged that direct conversations with directors of university multicultural centers would likely be more revealing and productive, but “the data is useful as a baseline.”

“We need enhanced focus on EDI at all levels,” Anderson said. “It needs to be embedded in everything we do. It can’t wait. These challenges aren’t going to lessen, they’re only going to deepen.”

Regent President’s Report

In his report to the Board, Regent President Ed Manydeeds thanked UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank for her extraordinary leadership over the past eight years. Blank recently announced that she will be leaving UW-Madison as the end of the academic year to become president of Northwestern University.

“She has worked tirelessly to advance the research, public service, and educational missions of UW-Madison, to expand access and increase affordability for Wisconsin students, and enhance the student experience and educational outcomes for students,” Manydeeds said.

He said work is ongoing to develop a timeline for initiating the search process to identify Blank’s successor.

Manydeeds also offered an update on the search for the next UW System president. After a statewide series of public listening session led by Regent Vice President and search committee chair Karen Walsh, candidate materials now are being evaluated and semi-finalist interviews will be scheduled for late November.

A Special Regent Committee for the UW System Presidential Search will then assess the search committee’s recommended candidates. Manydeeds announced the membership of that special committee: Regents Scott Beightol, Héctor Colón, Tracey Klein, Cris Peterson, and Karen Walsh, with Manydeeds serving as chair.

“If all goes as planned, I hope this committee will have a candidate to recommend to this Board in February,” Manydeeds said.

Manydeeds also told the Board that he has temporarily suspended the work of the Special Regent Committee on Governance issues, due to other pressing, time-sensitive matters taking priority. He expects to reconvene the committee in early 2022.

UW System President’s Report

President Thompson said the official Day 10 enrollment numbers for the fall 2021 semester are now out, and enrollment in the UW System totaled 162,980 students – a drop of 1.1 percent compared to 2020.

He noted this compares favorably to national trends, with the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reporting a 2.3 percent drop nationwide in the same timeframe.

New freshman enrollment at the UW System provides encouraging news, Thompson added, with freshman enrollment increasing 3.9 percent versus a 3.1 percent drop nationwide.

“The challenge is whether students whose college plans were sidetracked by the pandemic will return – and how we convince them to do that,” Thompson said. “The challenge we’re up against is a marketplace that currently has bountiful job openings and also offers very competitive pay.”

Thompson said UW is committed to providing access to all those interested in a college education, and noted admission rates this fall are in the 90-plus percent range at 10 of 13 UW universities.

“I’d also like to make clear that the UW System is committed to not just accepting students into our universities but also to support them through their college experience to successfully graduate with a degree,” he said.

Thompson also told Regents that starting this month, 22,000 of the UW System’s 29,000 non-faculty employees will have updated job titles, as part of the systemwide Title and Total Compensation (TTC) program.

Thompson said updating job titles and pay ranges is a good business practice that is long overdue in the UW System. This is the first such update in at least 30 years.

He noted that excluding UW-Madison – which has its own personnel system – fewer than 400 employees systemwide were below the minimum in their associated pay ranges under the revised salary structure, while fewer than 100 were over the pay range maximums. The cost for updating the salaries of those below the minimum is approximately $1.36 million. No one will have their salary reduced.

Including UW-Madison, the systemwide cost of anticipated pay increases for about 1,200 employees below the salary range is $4.96 million out of an overall payroll of $2.4 billion, or less than two-tenths of one percent. UW-Madison has 442 employees above the pay range maximums.

Thompson also told Regents that Chief Compliance Officer Katie Ignatowski is leaving UW System. Ignatowski, who was the first person to serve in this role, has been with UW since 2019.

Among her many accomplishments, Ignatowski developed a Compliance Matrix Database that houses over 500 obligations from federal law, state law, and Board of Regents policy, and then identifies the employees at each university responsible for ensuring those obligations are met.

“The UW System gained national recognition for this database,” said Thompson, noting that it’s now the model that many other universities follow.

Thompson thanked Ignatowski for her work, saying it has made – and will make – the University of Wisconsin System even better.

Supplemental Appropriations Plan Approved

Regents approved the UW System plan for use of funds included in the 2021-23 biennial budget, which will now be submitted to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance and the Department of Administration.

The biennial operating budget sets aside General Purpose Revenue (GPR) for the following programs:

  • Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin, laying the foundation for a new era of inter-campus collaboration across all 13 UW System universities and private sector partnership;
  • Increasing the number of statewide UW-Extension Cooperative County Agriculture Agents to assist the agriculture community;
  • Expanding or launching programs at UW universities to support former foster youth, based on UW-Stout’s Fostering Success program;
  • UW-Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Students Collaboration with the Federal Department of Defense, providing consultations, workshops, or research based on needs identified by the U.S. Army; and
  • Expanding the partnership between UW-Milwaukee and The Water Council, a non-profit organization based in Milwaukee, to assist U.S. military personnel in their overall understanding of water related issues.

Freedom of Expression Compliance and Education

As required by Regent policy, the Board received the “2020-2021 Annual Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom Report,” a presentation of the UW System Office of General Counsel on legal issues pertaining to enforcement of the First amendment on UW campuses.

The report included highlights of a wide variety of activities implemented by UW System universities in support of academic freedom and freedom of expression, including lectures and conferences, communications from campus leadership, trainings and workshops, and university policies.

UW System universities reported no formal complaints of violations of expressive freedoms during the 2020-2021 academic year.

Changes to Leadership Search Processes Approved

Regents approved revisions to Regent Policy Document 6-4, “Selection Process for System President, Chancellors, Vice Chancellors, and UW System Senior Leadership Positions,” as presented by Regent Tracey Klein, chair of the Special Regent Committee on Governance Issues.

Changes included specifying a minimum number of Regents to serve on the Special Regent Committee for chancellor searches to provide greater flexibility to the Regent President in making appointments to search committees; specifying that members of the Special Regent Committee shall also serve as members of the Search and Screen Committee; and requiring the Regent President to provide advance written authorization to allow interim appointees to participate as a candidate for permanent positions.

In other business, the Regents:

  • Welcomed Erik Guenard, the new Vice Chancellor for Business, Finance, and Administrative Services at UW-Stout;
  • Approved a contractual clinical trial agreement between the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health and Pharmaceutical Research Associates, Inc., a Virginia-based pharmaceutical corporation acting as an independent contractor for Arvinas Androgen Receptor, Inc. The clinical trial, to be run by the UW Carbone Cancer Center, will study the safety and tolerability of Arvinas’ drug ARV-766 in patients with prostate cancer;
  • Approved a contractual clinical trial agreement between the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health and I-Mab Biopharma US Limited, the Maryland-based office of the global clinical-stage pharmaceutical company. The clinical trial, to be run by the UW Carbone Cancer Center, will explore the safety and effectiveness of I-Mab’s TJ033721 drug in patients with advanced metastatic solid tumors;
  • Approved an agreement between the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health and IQVIA RDS Inc. to conduct a clinical trial sponsored by Dragonfly Therapeutics, an American pharmaceutical company founded in 2015 to provide breakthrough cancer treatments for patients; and
  • Approved a contractual master research agreement between UW-Madison and Canoo Technologies, Inc., an American startup company that manufactures electric vehicles. This agreement creates a pathway for the parties to quickly collaborate on core research and directed research of interest.

The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents will next meet on December 9-10, 2021, in Madison.