MADISON, Wis. – University of Wisconsin System President Tommy G. Thompson told the Board of Regents Thursday he is calling for the benefits of a UW education to be made more available to people in prison.

“This could have a profound impact on people’s lives,” Thompson said. “People who are now in prison could know they have the opportunity for a meaningful second chance and, for many, this could provide a welcome glimmer of real hope, opportunity, and optimism.”

The Prison Education Initiative is one of 10 key priorities identified by the UW System in its biennial budget request for 2021-23.

Partnering with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, Wisconsin Technical College System, subject matter experts from UW-Madison, and UW Extended Campus, the initiative will develop and deliver a pilot program to offer a bachelor’s degree program at three UW campuses to adults in nearby prisons focused on fields that meet student interests and employer needs.

Thompson pointed out that nearly 70% of prisoners in Wisconsin have a high school degree or equivalent, and 1 in 4 have some post-secondary education. He said if these prisoners are provided with an opportunity to get more education and build their workforce possibilities, it should improve individuals’ lives, reduce recidivism, reduce racial disparities in incarceration, strengthen Wisconsin’s economy, and ultimately save taxpayer dollars.

Anny Morrobel-Sosa, Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs, called it “a big audacious goal” with significant potential to benefit both individuals and society. She said two-thirds of prisoners have less than five years to serve, which means they will be returning to society. The initiative is an opportunity to make that return more successful.

“The greatest deterrent to re-incarceration is a good job, and the key to a good job is a good education,” said Stephen Hurley, a Madison defense attorney, adjunct professor at the UW-Madison Law School, and a member of the Prison Education Initiative team. He further noted the critical role of teaching or enhancing the social skills of people who are incarcerated to empower their reentry into society.

Regents expressed their strong enthusiasm for the initiative.

“This is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do,” said Regent Héctor Colón. “An initiative like this will give people hope that they can be productive members of society.”

“This is fantastic, this is a necessity,” said Regent José Delgado. “We’ve got to get people out of (prison) in a way they can take care of themselves.”

Regent Amy Blumenfeld Bogost commended President Thompson’s vision and said the initiative is an exciting opportunity that would likely garner bipartisan support as part of broader criminal justice reform efforts.

“This is such a creative implementation of the Wisconsin Idea,” said Regent Vice President Michael M. Grebe.

Update on UW System’s COVID-19 Response

President Thompson updated Regents on UW System’s COVID-19 response as well as planning for the spring semester.

Thompson said UW System’s 22 “surge testing” sites have now administered more than 100,000 Abbot BinaxNOW rapid-results tests over the past six weeks to campus communities as well as members of the general public. This is on top of the more than 310,000 additional tests administered to date on campuses, including both antigen and PCR tests.

“As we look ahead and plan for the next semester, we will continue our aggressive testing protocols, which are proving successful in keeping our campuses open and safe,” Thompson said.

He noted that while the state of Wisconsin is generally registering high positivity rates for COVID-19, on-campus UW students are presenting a positivity rate of about 3 percent, well below that of the broader community. “It’s a good measurement that our testing protocols and culture of responsibility are working,” Thompson said.

Thompson also updated Regents on UW System’s recently announced Nursing Student Initiative. Through the end of January, UW nursing students and others meeting minimum requirements in healthcare programs will have the opportunity to earn valuable clinical experience and a $500 tuition credit if they complete 50 hours of service in either hospitals or other healthcare settings.

It is also expected that UW nursing students could play a significant role in administering vaccinations when the COVID vaccine becomes available.

Thompson said the UW System is working closely with Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation, state legislators, and the Evers administration to ensure they all understand the significant costs associated with ongoing efforts to manage the pandemic challenges. Thompson said he is also engaged with the incoming Biden Administration transition team.

“I am pleased to report they are impressed with our testing protocols and believe they will be supportive of investing in our continued efforts this spring,” he said.

Electronic Application Fee Reduced

The Board approved the reduction of the electronic application (EApp) fee at 10 of 13 UW System universities to $0 for new undergraduate admissions for a two-year period. Exceptions are UW-Eau Claire, UW-La Crosse, and UW-Madison, whose applications fees will remain $25, $25, and $60, respectively.

In response to Regent questions, it was noted that students applying to UW-Eau Claire and UW-La Crosse can request waiver of their application fees.

In addition to providing some financial relief for prospective students and their families, an initial review of application data suggests these undergraduate fee waiver campaigns have had a significant impact in driving more students to apply to UW universities and to submit more applications overall, which aligns with UW System’s commitment to college access.

Board Approves Pay Plan Request

Regents unanimously approved a UW System and UW-Madison biennial pay plan that includes a request for a 2% increase for fiscal year 2021-22 and a 2.5% increase for fiscal year 2022-23 for UW employees covered by the plan – faculty, academic staff, university staff, and limited appointees.

“It is one of this Board’s top priorities – and one of our primary responsibilities – to ensure that UW System’s talented faculty and staff receive compensation that enables our campuses to recruit and retain the best and brightest,” said Board President Andrew S. Petersen. “It is also incumbent upon this Board to ensure that the UW System upholds its commitment to its mission and maintains its long-standing tradition of excellence and world-class reputation.”

Petersen said the market reality is that the gap between UW employees’ compensation and that of their peers has widened in recent years. “UW System institutions must compete nationally – even internationally – for the best talent, particularly among faculty. Our proposed pay plan should put us in a stronger position to compete,” Petersen said.

System President Thompson said he “couldn’t be more pleased or proud to champion this request.”

“No one likes to spend money but you need to spend money for talent, and that’s what we’re doing here,” said Regent Scott Beightol.

Board President’s Report

In his regular report to the Board, Regent President Petersen provided an update on the chancellor search at UW-River Falls. He noted that he and President Thompson recently finalized a Search and Screen Committee to help identify potential candidates to succeed Chancellor Dean Van Galen, who resigned last summer.

That committee, chaired by Regent Scott Beightol, held a series of virtual listening sessions earlier this week to receive input from students, faculty, staff, and community members on their priorities for UW-River Falls’ next chancellor. The search is scheduled to officially launch in mid-January.

Petersen also congratulated the expected nearly 10,000 students across the System who will receive their degrees at UW System commencements this month.

“These graduates are the workers, the leaders, and the innovators who will define Wisconsin’s economy and culture moving forward, and the education they received at one of our institutions will give them the tools to do so,” Petersen said. “On behalf of the entire board, I congratulate our graduates and wish them great success.”

In other business, the Board of Regents:

  • Approved UW-Madison’s request for proposed adjustments to tuition for certain graduate and professional degree programs for the next two years. The proposed increases represent inflationary adjustments and/or modifications to maintain price competitiveness relative to peer institutions, with the funding increases used largely to support quality and access initiatives;
  • Heard the UW System Draft 2020 Annual Financial Report, which includes a Statement of Net Position; a Statement of Revenues, Expenses and Changes in Net Position; and a Statement of Cash Flows. Because the financial audit is not yet complete, the report does not include an audit opinion from the Legislative Audit Bureau;
  • Approved the collective bargaining agreement negotiated between UW System and the Building and Construction Trades Council (BTC) of South-Central Wisconsin. The parties negotiated for a 1.81% increase in base wages, effective January 3, 2021, with the contract ending on June 30, 2021;
  • Approved the collective bargaining agreement negotiated between UW-Madison and the Building and Construction Trades Council (BTC) of South-Central Wisconsin, under terms consistent with the contract between BTC and UW System;
  • Approved an amendment to the UW System Report on Strategic Plans for Major Information Technology Projects (2020-2021) that was authorized at the February 2020 Board meeting to initiate three additional projects that will utilize funds already available within the UW System;
  • Approved an amendment to UW-Madison’s existing agreement with Learfield Communications to market sponsorship rights for various university events. The agreement would remove the minimum revenue guarantees for FY20 and FY21 and make other modifications necessitated by the impacts of pandemic-related restrictions;
  • Approved a master clinical trial agreement between UW-Madison and Arcus Biosciences, Inc., a California-based corporation founded in 2015 with the goal of developing highly-combinable, best-in-class cancer therapies. The agreement is for the conduct of various clinical trials by the Carbone Cancer Center at UW-Madison over a five-year period;
  • Approved a UW-Madison contractual agreement with IMG College Seating, LLC, for the rental of stadium seats to fans attending University of Wisconsin football games played at Camp Randall Stadium. The contract will be effective through March 31, 2026 with two one-year renewals. Under the agreement, IMG will pay a percentage of gross sales generated from stadium seat rentals, estimated to provide between $800,000-$900,000 in annual revenue to Athletics;
  • Approved a standard research agreement between UW-Madison and Opsis Therapeutics, LLC, a Madison-based company focused on bringing human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived therapies to the clinic with the goal of treating blinding disorders of the retina such as retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration;
  • Approved a master research services agreement between UW-Madison and pharmaceutical products company Pfizer, Inc. This five-year agreement is for the provision of statistical data analysis of clinical trial data performed by the School of Medicine and Public Health’s Department of Biostatistics and Medical Informatics;
  • Approved a revision to RPD 21-6, “Program Revenue Calculation Methodology and Fund Balances Policy,” which describes a methodology for the calculation of PR balances. This proposal incorporates a recommendation from Legislative Audit Bureau Report 20-7 to modify UW System’s reporting of auxiliary operations program revenue balances to “categorize only those program revenue balances resulting from positive department-level balances and report, but not categorize negative department-level balances;”
  • Approved a revision to RPD 22-4, “Fundraising Principles and Guidelines,” which establishes four principles to guide institutional procedures related to fundraising activities. This proposal retains the principles and guidelines in the policy but reorganizes the policy and simplifies language to enhance clarity, removes an obsolete provision, and reformats the policy to meet the standards for a Regent Policy Document;
  • Approved a revision to RPD 27-1, “University of Wisconsin Policy on Collegiate Licensing,” which establishes guidelines for collegiate licensing programs within the UW System. This proposal retains the provisions of the policy but amends the policy to meet the standards for a Regent Policy Document and renames the policy, “Collegiate Licensing;”
  • Received the Trust Funds Quarterly Investment Report for the period ending September 30, 2020. As of that date, UW System Trust Funds assets totaled $631.5 million, comprised of $482.43 million in the Long Term (endowment) Fund and $149.04 million in the Income Cash Fund. The Fund’s public equity investments increased +7.69% during the quarter, while the bond investments returned +0.81% and the inflation sensitive investments gained +2.96%. The private markets portfolio returned +3.66%. For the quarter, the Long Term Fund increased in value +5.01% (before fees), while the UW Fund Custom Benchmark increased +4.90%. The Income Cash Fund gained +0.03% for the period;
  • Received the 2020 Report on Faculty Turnover in the UW System, which includes a summary of tenured and non-tenured (probationary) faculty departures attributed to retirement, resignation, and non-renewed contracts for the most previous fiscal year;
  • Received the 2020 Report on Faculty and Staff Base Salary Adjustments and Additional Compensation Payments, which includes high-level summary comparisons for the last five fiscal years;
  • Heard a report on segregated fee reductions approved for Fall 2020. In July 2020, the Board of Regents approved Resolution 11468 delegating authority to the UW System President to approve decreases in segregated fees for academic year 2020-2021 resulting from programmatic changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Heard a report from Sean Nelson, Vice President for Finance, who told Regents the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic across the System include a $257 million net loss, as of Oct. 1, 2020;
  • Approved the reappointments of four committee members to the UW School of Medicine and Public Health Oversight and Advisory Committee of the Wisconsin Partnership Program for four-year terms that expire on October 31, 2024;
  • Approved UW-Milwaukee’s Bachelor of Science in Data Science, to be jointly offered by the College of Letters and Science and the College of Engineering and Applied Science;
  • Approved UW Oshkosh’s Master of Science in Professional Science;
  • Approve the new Liberal Arts Transfer Program for the Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts through a partnership between Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College and UW-Superior;
  • Approved the new Liberal Arts Transfer Program for the Associate of Science in Liberal Arts through a partnership between WITC and UW-Superior;
  • Heard a report from Anny Morrobel-Sosa, Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs, on the UW System plan to advance continued success for transfer students in Wisconsin. She addressed a plan for reverse transfer for the UW System universities. Reverse transfer is the process of retroactively granting associate degrees to students after they have transferred from a two-year to a four-year institution. The goal is to encourage students to persist and ultimately graduate with baccalaureate degrees.
  • Approved the amendment of RPD 4-16, “Criteria for Approval of Wisconsin Technical College System Collegiate Transfer Programs,” to update the policy and meet the standards for a Regent Policy Document and to rename the policy, “Criteria for Approval of Wisconsin Technical College System Liberal Arts and Pre-Professional Transfer Programs;”
  • Approved rescission of RPD 4-13, “Academic Calendar Policy,” and adoption of language related to contractual period and organized services of faculty and staff;
  • Approved rescission of RPD-4-8, “Remedial Education Policy” and creation of a new policy titled “Developmental Education;”
  • Heard the 2020 Annual Report for the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health: The Wisconsin Partnership Program. In FY 2020, the Wisconsin Partnership Program awarded 48 new grants totaling $23.2 million. These awards include investments in a COVID-19 Response grant program to address the health challenges of the pandemic, and investments in research, education, and community partnerships, including grants to address the health inequities caused by social determinants, such as the impacts of racism on health;
  • Deferred an update from Executive Director Marissa Jablonski on the status of planning for the Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin to a future meeting due to shortage of time;
  • Heard a report from Chief Audit Executive Lori Stortz on audit plan progress to date and a summary of recently issued audits;
  • Approved proposed changes to the Office of Internal Audit Fiscal Year 2021 Audit Plan;
  • Heard an update from Director Prenicia Clifton on UW System’s Youth Protection and Compliance efforts;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request to construct the Bascom Hill/Lathrop Drive Utility Replacement, Phase II project. This phase of the project creates a new civil, electrical, and mechanical east/west central utility corridor to increase utility reliability, decrease operational costs, and rebuild the site utilities to be viable for the next 50 years;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request to construct the Veterinary Medicine Addition and Renovation Project. This project includes a new three-story building on the Lot 62 site to provide space for the small animal clinic and connect it to the existing clinic; construct new research animal biosafety laboratories; and include new offices, conference rooms, and shared collaboration/interaction spaces to support the teaching hospital;
  • Approved UW-Milwaukee’s request to construct the Chemistry Building/Central Utilities Extension project. This project constructs an academic and research chemistry and bio-chemistry facility, south of the outdated Chemistry Building that it is replacing, to provide instructional and research laboratories and their associated support spaces, offices, and shared collaboration/informal learning space;
  • Approved UW-Milwaukee’s request to construct the Student Union Renovation Project;
  • Approved UW-Platteville’s request to increase the Budget for the Boebel Hall Addition and Renovation–Phase II Project. This final phase of a two-phased project constructs and renovates Boebel Hall to support instructional laboratories, undergraduate research space, and general assignment classrooms to support the needs of the departments of biology, chemistry, and geography and geology coursework;
  • Approved UW System requests to construct two 2019-21 Classroom Renovation/Instructional Technology Improvement Program projects, including the UW-Whitewater Arts Sculpture Laboratory Renovation project and the UW-Milwaukee – Holton Hall G80 Active Learning Classroom Renovation project;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request to complete the design and construct the UW-managed Memorial Union Addition and Repairs project;
  • Approved UW System’s request to construct four All Agency Maintenance and Repair projects, including replacement of the original telescoping, motorized wood bleachers at UW-Parkside, the installation of new chilled water isolation valves sets at UW-Madison, reconstruction of Parking Lot 17 at UW-Whitewater and the replacement of the synthetic turf at UW-Whitewater’s Perkins Stadium;
  • Approved UW System’s request to construct two Minor Facilities Renewal projects, including renovation of space in the Engineering and Mathematical Sciences Building to create new flexible laboratory space for UW-Milwaukee’s School of Engineering and the replacement of three utility pits and utility lines located under State Highway 25/29 at UW-Stout;
  • Approved UW System’s request to modify the 2021-23 Capital Budget to add the UW-Stevens Point Albertson Hall Replacement Project Request in lieu of the UW-Stevens Point Albertson Hall Entry Addition and Renovation project;
  • Heard the Semi-Annual Status Report on leasing activity since June 2020 as well as a status update on UW-managed capital projects underway at System institutions;
  • Heard a report by Senior Associate Vice President Alex Roe on progress of the UW System’s 2021-23 Capital Budget and recent State Building Commission actions;
  • Heard a panel discussion moderated by WiSys President Arjun Sanga and including the chancellors from UW-Eau Claire, UW-Parkside, and UW-Platteville. The discussion highlighted notable WiSys program outcomes that have distinguished UW System faculty partnerships and student collaborations within and outside of the university setting;
  • Heard a discussion led by Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation Talent Initiatives Director Rebecca Deschane on opportunities during the pandemic for UW System students to virtually connect with Wisconsin businesses and industries through campus Career Services offices. The discussion included staff and student Career Services representatives from UW-Milwaukee, UW-River Falls, and UW-Superior;
  • Heard a presentation by REDI Chair Regent Bob Atwell previewing details of the Regent Scholar Grant competition which is offered annually to faculty to recognize and reward exceptional work with undergraduate students involved in collaborative research on campus and with industry partners focused on developing entrepreneurial ideas and innovative project outcomes;
  • Approved extending the delegation of authority to the UW System President to temporarily suspend the provisions of Regent Policy Documents (RPD) if the UW System President determines that any provisions of the RPD would prevent, hinder, or delay necessary actions to respond to the public health emergency or the abnormal economic disruption resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Approved changes to Regent Policy Document 2-2, “Statement of Expectations for Board Members,” which establishes expectations for those who serve on the UW System Board of Regents. The proposal retained the provisions of the original policy but amends the policy to meet the standards for an RPD;
  • Approve changes to the 2021 meeting schedule, including changing the locations of the 2021 meetings to virtual meetings, if necessary, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The changes also include authorization to cancel one day of previously scheduled two-day meetings if the Board’s business can be conducted in one day; and
  • Approved permanent rules to modify Chapters UWS 4, 7, 11, and 17 of the Wisconsin Administrative Code (“Procedures for Dismissal,” “Dismissal of Faculty in Special Cases,” “Dismissal of Academic Staff for Cause,” and “Nonacademic Student Misconduct”) to comply with the new federal regulations related to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 requiring that all educational institutions that receive federal funds eliminate sex discrimination in their education programs and activities.

The next meeting of the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents will be February 4-5, 2021, at UW-Madison.