MADISON, Wis. – The Universities of Wisconsin (UWs) hosted a forum at today’s Board of Regents meeting to discuss and help better understand the concepts of freedom of expression and civil dialogue. The forum included members of the UW community and Regents as well as five state legislators.

Freedom of expression is “a concept that is deeply woven into the fabric of academia,” said UWs President Jay Rothman, who pointed out that one of the four pillars of the UWs’ five-year strategic plan is to “champion the democratic principles of free expression, academic freedom, and civil discourse.”

Against the backdrop of increased focus on freedom of expression on college campuses nationwide, Rothman said, “I continue to believe that universities can and must be marketplaces of ideas, where civil dialogue is encouraged, and differing ideas can be exchanged and vigorously debated – so long as that occurs in a civil fashion.”

“Freedom of expression by necessity requires us to be exposed to speech with which we may disagree or even find reprehensible,” he said. “The solution to that challenge is more speech – and not a reversion to limiting what is said and by whom.” But, he added, that does not mean that freedom of expression is a free license to say whatever one wants without reaction or consequence.

“We are all accountable for what we write and what we say,” Rothman said. “And let me be very clear: there is no place on our campuses for bigotry – whether that is antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism, or the like.”

Jeff Buhrandt, Vice President for University Relations, provided Regents with an overview of what the UWs are doing at the campus level to meet the goals of the strategic plan, noting that “we are championing that our public universities must be catalysts for debate and discussion.”

Eric Giordano, executive director of the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service (WIPPS), and Tim Shiell, recently appointed director of the Wisconsin Institute for Citizenship and Civil Dialogue (WICCD), provided Regents with an overview of WICCD, which was created late last year. WICCD will help coordinate the UWs’ numerous academic centers that focus on the Constitution and public affairs as a way of elevating, enhancing, and promoting their existing excellent programming and research.

Two chancellors shared perspectives of how universities can foster environments the promote greater understanding of free speech and its responsibilities.

UW-Superior Chancellor Renée Wachter said the lesson to be learned is not what to think but how to think. “Students need to understand the complexity of the world and how to constructively live within it,” she said, adding that rules are not the bridge or the way out of cancel culture, but rather civil dialogue is the bridge.

UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin said free speech is vital to the mission of the university. “We have to embrace free speech and belonging as core values. One cannot be sacrificed to the other,” she said, noting that the two often live in tension. “Learning to engage across difference is a skill. It’s not something you simply have or don’t have, or something you believe in or don’t believe in. We need to do what we can do to promote that skill.”

Legislators engaged with Regents in wide-ranging discussions that touched on determining what exactly is free speech and what is hate speech and what defines harm. It included talk about the consequences for violations and how the university can foster civil dialogue.

Rep. Bob Wittke (Assembly District 62, R-Racine) said he appreciated events on campus that include legislators from both sides of the aisle. “It’s good for people to see we can sit in the same room and talk about things where we have differences,” he said.

Rep. Jodi Emerson (Assembly District 91, D-Eau Claire) said it’s important to show grace to students, many of whom are being exposed to different ideas, people, or religions they’ve never heard of before. “It can be an uncomfortable time,” she said. “But being uncomfortable isn’t a bad thing. It’s about how to balance the uncomfortableness and the harm factor without going off the deep end.”

Regent Ashok Rai said he greatly appreciated the opportunity to have in-depth dialogue with legislators. “As much as we ask our students to talk more, we also need to talk more,” he said. “I look forward to hopefully more of this.”

Regent President’s Report

In her regular report to the Board, Regent President Karen Walsh provided an update on the ongoing search for Chancellor Joe Gow’s successor at UW-La Crosse. She said the national search officially opened last month and the deadline to submit nominations and applications for full consideration is Jan. 2. She added that listening sessions were recently held on the UWL campus to provide an opportunity for students, faculty, staff, and community members to share what qualities they’d like to see in a new chancellor.

Turning to the Regents Business Partnership Awards, Walsh told Regents that UW-Stevens Point and Sentry were presented with awards last week to recognize the productive and mutually beneficial relationship the university and business have shared for more than 60 years.

Sentry has committed record-setting gifts to support UW-Stevens Point in starting a data analytics program and most recently the Sentry School of Business & Economics. Over the years, Sentry and its foundation have also funded scholarships for hundreds of students.

Walsh also noted that she and President Rothman were recently part of the ribbon-cutting for the much-needed expansion on the Madison campus of the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, which is consistently ranked in the top 10 in the country. “The previous facility was built to accommodate about 12,000 patient visits per year,” Walsh said. “Today, the School of Veterinary Medicine sees more than double that number of patients, and projections suggest demand could triple before long.”

She also noted the new facility will help attract and retain the best faculty and staff. That will “give students an even greater opportunity to be in the next generation of leaders in veterinary medicine,” she said.

Walsh gave a shout-out to Team USA men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball teams – which include current and former UW-Whitewater student athletes – for qualifying for next summer’s Paralympic Games in Paris. She also congratulated the UW Oshkosh women’s volleyball team for making it to the Elite Eight at the recent NCAA tournament.

Finally, Walsh offered early congratulations to about 10,000 students from around the Universities of Wisconsin expected to receive their degrees later this month.

Universities President’s Report

In a brief legislative update, Rothman said the UWs continue to be engaged in discussions with legislators to resolve a number of differences on critical issues, including support for a UW pay plan and the proposed engineering building at UW-Madison. “We are hopeful we will reach a successful conclusion to those discussions,” he said.

Rothman also reported to Regents that advocacy efforts on behalf of the UWs continued with two more stops of the OpportUWnity Tour last month, with visits to UW-Platteville and UW-Stevens Point. “I was heartened by the response we received at each visit, and I am excited about the partnerships we are building throughout the state,” he said.

Updating Regents on work related to the Strategic Plan, Rothman pointed to presentations on student retention efforts in the Education Committee and the upcoming EAB Navigate student success management system on Friday, as well as the Freedom of Expression discussion before the full Board. “If you want to know where we’re focusing our attention, look at the strategic plan,” he said.

“Higher education often gets a bad rap for being stodgy and unwilling or unable to change,” Rothman said. “I don’t believe that’s the Universities of Wisconsin. As should be clear from the priorities and strategies we’re implementing, we have a well thought out plan to ensure our universities are in a position to be sustainable, viable, and successful for the future … a plan that will ensure we continue to serve students now and in the years ahead while at the same time serving the most pressing interests of the state.”

“We have faced considerable hurdles this past year … but I’m proud to say we’ve shown strength and resiliency in the face of challenges as well as a commitment to our mission that won’t be denied,” Rothman said.

Business and Finance Committee

The Business and Finance Committee reviewed the draft UW Annual Financial Report for 2023 prepared by the Office of Finance. The report notes that UW System’s Total Net Position as of June 30 stood at $6.4 billion, a decrease of $56.3 million from the prior year. The main factors contributing to this change include transfers to the Intermediate Term Cash Management Fund, an increase in the total value of capital assets, and a decrease in the value of pension plan investments managed by the Department of Employee Trust Funds.

While operating revenues increased nearly 7%, expenses increased by 16.5%. Although nearly half of the increase in expenses relates to non-cash adjustments in retirement benefit programs, this imbalance underscores the importance of the budget management practices undertaken by the campuses in alignment with the Strategic Plan.

In other business, the Business and Finance Committee:

  • Approved five agreements for international recruitment agent aggregator services. UWs Eau Claire, Green Bay, Platteville, and Superior will work with Shorelight LLC, while UW-Stout will engage Kings Education in efforts to increase international student enrollment. These agreements follow the Board’s approval in November of similar arrangements with two other universities that are utilizing this approach that was conceived as part of a multi-campus Internationalization Plan;
  • Approved a recommendation related to the University Insurance Association, a separate corporation established in the 1930s to provide life insurance benefits. The proposal transfers ownership of the UIA plan to the Board of Regents, as advised by General Counsel based on a 1994 Wisconsin Attorney General opinion. In addition, it authorizes the termination of the UIA plan at the end of CY 2024, dependent on establishing a special enrollment period for active employees, and a conversion period for retirees. Active employees will have the option to enroll in other plans, including State Group Life Insurance, which offers employer contributions and is considered the highest-value program for UW employees;
  • Heard the Annual Report on Faculty Turnover, which provides a summary of faculty departures attributed to retirement, resignation, and non-renewed contracts. The 330 faculty who left the UW in FY23 represent 6.1% of all faculty, a slight increase from the 5.4% mark in FY22. Of those departures, 57% retired and 41% resigned;
  • Approved the Investment Policy Statement for the Intermediate Term Cash Management Fund, which was established to increase revenue-generating opportunities for cash balances through intermediate term investments. The statement outlines the investment objectives, asset allocations, and the roles and duties of those responsible for management of the Fund in accordance with Regent Policy Document 31-18, which was approved by the Board in November;
  • Heard a presentation by the Office of Trust Funds on the Q3 report of that same Intermediate Term Fund. As of September 30, Fund assets totaled $645 million. For the quarter, the ITF decreased in value 0.9%, slightly lagging its benchmark by 0.1%;
  • Received the Q3 report on the Trust Funds assets managed by the State of Wisconsin Investment Board. As of September 30, those assets totaled $560 million. For the quarter, the Long Term Fund decreased in value 2.56%, slightly out-performing its benchmark, while the Income Cash Fund gained 1.33% for the period.

Education Committee

The Education Committee hosted a discussion panel that focused at a high-level on student retention and key student success programs that support academic progression and persistence from admission through graduation.

Ben Passmore, associate vice president for policy analysis and research, shared recent retention data as a foundation for the discussion. Provosts, student affairs officers, and students from three UW universities then provided examples of student success programs as told through student stories. These programs have a positive impact for students and reflect High Impact Practices identified by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AAC&U).

As part of the discussion, several UW universities also shared their perspectives and experience. UW-Stevens Point described its LEAD bridge program, UW-Milwaukee highlighted the undergraduate research UR@UWM Program, and UW-Parkside shared the Work Based Learning program.

In other business, the Education Committee:

 Approved UW-Green Bay’s request for an Education Doctorate in Applied Leadership. The program will prepare students to lead complex organizations and cultivate change in emerging organizations, incorporating effective and ethical practices. Graduates will be prepared to pursue leadership positions in PK-12, higher education, nonprofits, health organizations, government agencies, and private companies;

  • Approved UW-La Crosse’s request for a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science. Addressing existing and future environmental issues is a fundamental outcome of this program that builds on established relationships within the private and public sectors providing potential internship opportunities for students. Curricular and program updates within the Department of Geography and Environmental Science over the past two years drove the development of this new degree program, as did the continued growth in environmental science degrees nationwide;
  • Approved UW-Milwaukee’s request for a Bachelor of Arts in General Letters. This major responds to the needs of two student audiences: 1) traditional students who have amassed nearly 120 credits but have faced a significant obstacle in completing a major; and 2) returning adult students who have earned some college credit but who have not yet completed a first undergraduate degree. The degree will consist of coursework with international content, a significant number of upper-division credits so students develop expertise, a culminating portfolio experience, and the option to complete minors, certificates, and/or microcredentials within the degree;
  • Approved UW-Parkside’s request for a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology. This program is an elevation of an existing concentration in Geography, requiring no new resources. The major provides a full anthropology degree, covering all the subfields of anthropology: biological anthropology, archaeology, linguistic anthropology, and cultural anthropology, all with a focus on applied anthropology and career readiness;
  • Heard an overview of the Wisconsin Partnership Program (WPP) Fiscal Year 2023 Annual Report. The WPP, a grantmaking program within the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH), is committed to improving health and advancing health equity in Wisconsin through investments in community partnerships, education, and research. In FY 2023, the WPP awarded 20 new grants totaling $10.6 million, in total supporting 112 active projects and initiatives. These grants support innovative approaches to improve health and advance health equity across a wide range of health issues, communities, populations, and geographic areas;
  • Approved the WPP 2024-2029 Five-Year Plan. The WPP will continue to prioritize its ability to address critical and emerging health needs. Being nimble and responsive is vital to supporting grantees across the domains of research, education, and community, especially in the face of urgent health challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. This Plan prioritizes the ability to be similarly responsive to future emerging health needs. The WPP continues to respond to grantees’ needs and requests for additional training and capacity-building support;
  • Approved the appointment of Anjon Audhya, PhD, as one of four UW SMPH representatives on the SMPH Oversight and Advisory Committee of the Wisconsin Partnership Program. The term for Dr. Audhya is effective immediately through October 31, 2026. Audhya, who chairs WPP’s Partnership Education and Research Committee, has experience and expertise across a broad portfolio that includes building partnerships focused on research and development, entrepreneurship and startup technologies, biomedical workforce and state laboratories.


Capital Planning and Budget Committee

The Capital Planning & Budget Committee approved UW-Madison’s request for authority to increase the amount of leased laboratory space located at Element Labs, 5510 Element Way, Madison, by approximately 13,648 square feet. In April 2021, UW-Madison was granted authority to enter into a lease renewal for the AIDS Viral Research Laboratory (AVRL) for almost 19,000 SF of BSL-2 and BSL-3 space at their current location, 555-585 Science Drive.

With the onset of the pandemic, viral respiratory research increased, which led to the increased need for laboratory systems that support BSL-3 research protocols. Unfortunately, it was determined the current location cannot achieve higher research protocols because of the age and construction of the facility.

Relocation of AVRL and the seven associated principal investigators to Element Labs will increase the existing lease to almost 65,000 SF. The new lab will increase respiratory viral research capabilities along with research funding estimated at $2.5 million to $4 million per year. Once the lab is relocated, the lease at 555-585 Science Drive with an annual expense of approximately $600,000, will be terminated.

In other business, the Capital Planning & Budget Committee:

  • Approved UW System’s request for authority to construct an instructional space and technology program project at an estimated total cost of $4,650,000 General Fund Supported Borrowing:
    • At UW-Parkside, the Health Science Laboratory renovation project creates a new laboratory suite and program home for the new Physician’s Assistant Master’s Degree program. The PA program is likely to attract more non-traditional students and working professionals who are seeking to advance their education and career opportunities. The accrediting body for the program has requirements for the types of space, teaching spaces, and office spaces the PA Master’s Degree program requires to receive accreditation;
  • Approved UW System’s request for authority to construct various all agency maintenance and repair projects at an estimated total cost of $14,173,000 ($4,000,000 General Fund Supported Borrowing; $4,360,100 Program Revenue Supported Borrowing; and $5,812,900 Cash):
    • UW-Eau Claire requests a project budget increase to the Chancellor’s Hall HVAC System Renovation by $604,200 for a revised budget of $1,878,200 to match recent re-bid results for the project scope previously approved. The budget increase is needed to complete the originally approved project scope and intent;
    • At UW-Stevens Point, the Multi-Residence Hall Roof Replacements project replaces roughly 28,000 SF of roofing systems on two student residence halls (Knutzen Hall and Thomas Hall) and completes all other associated ancillary work to maintain the building envelope integrity and prevent damage to the buildings and their contents. The roof sections are more than 32 years old, installed in 1991;
    • At UW-Stevens Point, the Trainer Natural Resources Chiller Plant Cooling Tower Replacement project installs approximately 540 LF of new underground chilled water supply and return piping as well as repairs to Cooling Tower No. 4 located on the roof of the Trainer Natural Resources Building. This cooling tower has exceeded the expected life and has had little to no major investments;
    • At UW-Milwaukee, 2 projects are being requested:
      • The Central Heating Plant Chiller Replacement project designs, specifies and procures a 3,000-ton electric-start chiller unit to replace Chiller No. 2 which is a 1966 vintage steam-turbine-driven centrifugal unit with an original capacity of 2,750-tons and well beyond its expected useful life. Multiple attempts have been made to troubleshoot and repair this unit without success and further analysis and consultation has determined that it is time to completely replace the unit to restore reliable operations.
      • The Service Drive/Parking Lot/Curb & Gutter Repairs project at UW-Milwaukee will rehabilitate sections of parking lots that are in poor condition on the UW-Milwaukee campus. The pavement is a tripping and biking hazard as well as a challenge for those who require ADA accommodation;
    • At UW-Madison, the Microbial to Radio Hall 15kV Cable Replacement project provides the campus greater electrical reliability, service, and interconnectivity for the Walnut, Radio Hall, and Microbial Substations. By increasing the reliability of the electrical service, the university will be able to avoid potential power outages, thus maintaining the university’s ability to serve its students;
  • Approved UW System’s request for authority to construct various minor facilities renewal projects at an estimated total cost $21,705,500 ($20,498,500 General Fund Supported Borrowing and $1,207,000 Program Revenue Supported Borrowing):
    • At UW-Madison, the Memorial Library Fire Protection Retrofit & Renovation will replace the fire protection system in the Special Collections area and provide sprinkler system retrofits in the original Memorial Library building. Automatic sprinkler systems will continue to be retrofitted within the building on a floor-by-floor basis which will provide property protection and improve the overall safety within the building. At the completion of the project, the building will remain only partially served by a sprinkler system. A subsequent project will be necessary to complete the remaining sprinkler system retrofit on the lower floors, standpipe upgrades, and fire pump replacement;
    • The Central Chilled Water Plant Expansion at UW-Platteville replaces a district chilled water plant that serves the Art Building (24,759 GSF), Pioneer Student Center (92,000 GSF), Ullsvik Hall (132,800 GSF), and Williams Fieldhouse (232,090 GSF). Project work includes replacement of the chiller and associated cooling tower in the Pioneer Student Center. Associated piping, pumps, valves, controls, motors, and electrical will be replaced to serve the new equipment;
    • Also at UW-Platteville, the Williams Fieldhouse HVAC and Electrical Systems Replacement project renovates, in select areas, the heating and ventilation system, installs new air conditioning, and renovates the electrical distribution system. The HVAC system is original to the facility (1961), has become functionally obsolete, and the controls no longer work effectively. The gymnasium, wrestling room, and main locker rooms lack adequate heating and ventilation, which results in periods of high humidity and stale air. The academic offices, classrooms, and laboratories on the north side of the building require central air conditioning;
    • UW-Superior’s Sports & Activity Fields Redevelopment recently bid over budget. This request increases the project budget by $3,495,000 for a revised budget of $7,100,000 to match recent re-bid results for the project scope previously approved. The budget increase is needed to complete the originally approved project scope and intent. The proposed funding source for the requested increase is uncommitted funding that is already available in the 2021-23 Minor Facilities Renewal Group 1 enumeration;
  • Approved UW-Stevens Point’s request for authority to construct the Champions Hall Addition and Renovation project for an estimated total cost of $32,906,000 ($24,435,000 Residual Program Revenue Supported Borrowing and $8,471,000 Program Revenue-Cash). This project constructs a new 2-story, 53,000 SF Student Health and Wellness Center addition to Champions Hall. This reconfiguration protects valuable greenspace along the west for future development. The building design achieves campus and DFD goals for sustainability. To encourage student interaction and reflect the University’s Healthy Communities Initiative, a new fitness space for cardio, training and weights will be provided. The Center will also include space for Student Health Services, Counseling Services and Testing Services. Project work includes demolition of two buildings no longer needed and beyond their intended use, Delzell Hall and Park Student Services Center;
  • Approved UW-Stout’s request for authority to construct the Heritage Hall Addition and Renovation project for an estimated total cost of $138,887,000 Segregated Revenue. This project creates a new, unified home for the College of Arts and Human Sciences CAHS) within Heritage Hall by consolidating and co-locating spaces currently spread across several facilities. Upon the occupancy of Heritage Hall, this project will include abatement and demolition of the 1954 wing of the Vocational Rehabilitation Building.
  • Approved UW-Eau Claire’s request for authority to construct the Science/Health Science Building Phases I and II and the Lower Campus Chiller and Cooling Tower Replacement projects for an estimated total cost of $342,405,200 ($96,035,000 GFSB, $226,757,000 SEG REV, $5,548,000 PRSB, $356,200 PR Cash and $13,709,000 Gifts). The Science/Health Science Building Phases I and II project constructs a new home for the Biology, Computer Science, Geography & Anthropology, and Geology programs and includes space for the Psychology and Watershed programs. The current primary science facility, Phillips Hall (192,250 GSF), will be razed and the site will be redeveloped partially to an expanded parking lot and the remainder restored back to green space. The Lower Campus Chiller and Cooling Tower Replacement Project replaces an existing 650-ton centrifugal chiller with a new nominal 1000-ton centrifugal chiller that serves the lower campus;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request for authority for the University Hospital to construct the – D2 Module Expansion project for an estimated total project cost of $139,637,000 UW Health Cash Reserves. The proposed project has been envisioned since 2005 and included in the 2015 UW-Madison Campus Master Plan. It is part of a long-term growth strategy to accommodate and modernize the University Hospital Clinical Science Center (CSC). This project will be delivered under the University of Wisconsin Hospital & Clinics Authority as granted in Wis. Stats. 233.04 and is subject to approval from the Board of Regents prior to being submitted to the Department of Administration for approval. In addition, capital projects delivered under the Hospital Authority are subject to BOR approval when the project value exceeds $636,321—a threshold amount identified in the 1997 lease agreement with UW-Madison, escalated to 2023 dollars;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request for authority to increase the budget of the Near East Play Fields Renovation project by $2,118,255 for estimated total project cost of $12,118,255 Gift/Grant Funds. This project was originally approved with a total budget of $10,000,000. A construction bid of $9,395,000 was received on November 29, 2023 that exceeded the originally approved construction budget. The updated project budget total is $12,118,255. In order to accept bids and begin construction, an increase of $2,118,255 in funding is required;
  • Heard a UW System status report on leasing activity from June 1, 2023 through November 30, 2023. Three leases for new space were executed in the last six months, all for UW-Madison. Twelve leases were either amended, renewed, or terminated. The largest lease termination was the Fresh Water Council lease with 15,107 square feet. The Fresh Water Council had occupied a building in the Third Ward of Milwaukee since June 2013. There were no lease actions that required Board approval in the last six months;
  • Heard a report by Senior Associate Vice President Alex Roe.

Audit Committee

UW-Green Bay presented the Audit Committee with its annual NCAA Division I report for 2021-22. UW-Green Bay sponsors 14 sports, providing approximately 220 student-athletes with the opportunity to participate in NCAA Division I athletics. The university is a member of the Horizon League, which includes 11 public and private institutions that participate in Division 1 athletics in the Midwest.

The report provided the Committee with an overview of UW-Green Bay’s athletic department budget, actual revenues, balances, debt balances and payments, and endowments. It also provided the calculated Academic Progress Rate (APR), Graduation Success Rate (GSR), and Grade Point Average (GPA) of its student-athletes.

In other business, the Audit Committee:

  • Heard a progress report on the Fiscal Year 2024 Audit Plan;
  • Heard summarized results of audits recently issued, including:
    • Information Technology Asset Management
    • Madison NCAA
    • Nepotism and Conflicts of Interest
  • Heard an update from the Office on Finance on management’s response to the General Ledger Clearing Accounts audit report issued by the Office of Internal Audit in February 2023.


The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents will next meet at 8:45 a.m. on Friday, December 8, 2023.