MADISON – The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents on Friday unanimously approved three capital projects at UW-Milwaukee as part of a broader initiative to support the institution’s research activities and to reinforce its impact as an economic driver in the state.

The approved projects include:

  • The Kenwood Integrated Research Complex (Phase one);
  • The purchase and redevelopment of Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital; and
  • Replacement of the Neeskay Research Vessel.

Regent President Chuck Pruitt told the Board that UW-Milwaukee’s Research Growth Initiative is a central pillar to the UW System’s efforts to boost educational output and stimulate job creation, as advocated in its Growth Agenda for Wisconsin. “These capital investments will ensure that we have the facilities needed to enhance the university’s impact as an economic driver for Milwaukee and all of Wisconsin,” Pruitt said.

In his presentation before the board, UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Carlos Santiago told Regents that the projects represent the future not only of the university, but of the city, region and state.

“We’re moving the pendulum to a more balanced perspective for a research university. We have not taken money from the fine arts or from the humanities to do this. We are providing opportunities with new dollars for the faculty, and new faculty in particular, to avail themselves of the opportunities that Milwaukee provides. That is really what this is all about,” Santiago said.

In moving towards its goal of becoming a premier urban research doctoral university, UW-Milwaukee has made some significant strides, Santiago said. He cited the creation of nine new doctoral programs since 2004; the approval of new schools for public health and freshwater sciences; and a 150% growth in research expenditures since 2000.

Santiago emphasized that UW-Milwaukee has done this while remaining faithful to its mission of expanding access, and without taking away from the university’s existing strengths.

To use a flexible pool of funds provided by Governor Doyle and the State Legislature in the 2009-11 Biennial Budget, the Regents were required to approve a detailed expenditure plan for the UW-Milwaukee Initiative, identifying specific projects and sources of funding. The Board had previously approved UW-Milwaukee’s plans to build a new facility for the School of Freshwater Sciences Research at its meeting in December.

Senior Vice President Tom Anderes told the Board that, with the approval of the three projects on Friday, $176 million of the UW-Milwaukee Initiative’s $240 million in funding, including all of the taxpayer-supported borrowing, will have been committed. That leaves $64 million of approved funding capacity for future projects, including $25.6 million in program revenue supported borrowing and $38.4 million in gifts/grants.

Addressing any concerns that UW-Milwaukee going after research dollars would take away from others in the state, Regent David Walsh pointed to the support for the Milwaukee initiative offered by Biddy Martin and John Wiley, the current and former Chancellors of UW-Madison.

“There’s clearly room (for more competition),” Walsh said. “The key is it’s good for Wisconsin, and it’s especially good for southeast Wisconsin to generate whatever research we can in that part of the state.”

Several Regents commended Santiago for the compelling presentation. “The way it was presented was extremely powerful and I hope it’s heard,” said Regent Judith Crain.

The Board also briefly discussed two additional projects as part of the Milwaukee initiative: construction of a new engineering research facility in Wauwatosa, and construction of a facility for the new UW-Milwaukee School of Public Health in downtown Milwaukee. Both projects will be requested in the future through private lease/purchase agreements, but no action was taken by the Board at this time.

The UW-Milwaukee expenditure plan – including the Freshwater Sciences project and the three projects approved Friday – will proceed now to the State Building Commission for approval. After action by the building commission, the plan will be drafted as a legislative bill that must then pass by both houses of the Legislature in the spring session.

Update on H1N1 flu virus response

Dr. Sarah Van Orman, Executive Director of University Health Services at UW-Madison, provided the Board with an update on how UW System institutions have responded to the H1N1 pandemic.

As Regent President Pruitt noted, “Due to the unique nature of our business – educating about 178,000 students on 26 campuses, including 39,000 who live in UW residence halls – the virus was a major challenge for the University.”

Van Orman reported that the response strategy included controlling the spread of the disease through non-pharmacologic means – such as hygiene, isolation, quarantine, and social distancing – until the vaccine became available.  Efforts were also made to manage the impact of high absenteeism and a surge in demand for health care services.  Once the vaccine did become available, campuses were proactive in offering vaccinations, she said.

While the current severity of the flu is low, Van Orman said that another peak is “possible, likely, or predictable” at the start of spring semester when students return to campuses.  She added, however, “This is turning out to be a relatively mild disease.”

Van Orman told Regents that the H1N1 experience reiterated the importance of collaborating with local health departments and health care organizations and the need for coordinated campus-wide responses and communications.

Update on UW-Eau Claire student union planning

Associate Vice President David Miller updated the Regents on revised plans for a new student union at UW-Eau Claire.  He noted that revised plans call for the building location to be shifted in order to preserve the site of the Historic Council Oak Tree on campus, addressing concerns expressed by campus and community members.

Miller said the project will come before the Board in April for authority to construct.

The Regents also went into closed session.


The UW System Board of Regents will hold its next meeting
February 4-5, 2010, in Madison.