MADISON, Wis. – University of Wisconsin System President Tommy Thompson told the Board of Regents today that the UW System has played a key role in helping to reduce the number of daily COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin by making rapid testing more broadly available to the public.

Thompson told Regents that with the support of the federal government, the UW has administered more than 220,000 free public tests to date at 22 surge testing sites on its campuses and identified about 18,000 potential positive carriers of the virus who were then advised to quarantine, effectively taking them out of circulation.

He also noted that UW System recently learned it will be receiving an additional 160,000 tests – 140,000 rapid-tests and 20,000 PCR tests – from the federal government, which will allow the UW System to continue free rapid-results testing for the public in the spring.

“Even as the promise of vaccines raises our hopes that the end of this pandemic is on the horizon, this is no time to be complacent about the need for continued testing,” Thompson said.

He said that UW universities will be implementing even more frequent testing on its campuses this spring.

“The statewide positive rate still isn’t as low as we all would like, but it’s far better than it would be if not for the University of Wisconsin living up to its public service mission for the people of this great state,” Thompson said. “When the state is facing a problem, UW System wants to be part of the solution.”

Thompson said that nearly 1,000 UW students signed up for the $500 tuition credit for assisting with direct patient health care between December and February. He added that the tuition credit has now been extended for qualified students to help administer vaccinations when they become available.

“We’ve asked much of our students, faculty, and staff as we implemented testing protocols. And they have responded tremendously,” Thompson said.

Thompson also singled out former UW System President Ray Cross for his vital consulting work on researching COVID-19 testing protocols. He noted that Cross has remained on the operations team as a volunteer after his contract expired.

“Moving UW Forward in a Time of Crisis”

In the host campus presentation, UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank shared with Regents how her university is meeting the unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everyone on this campus is doing things they might have once considered impossible,” she said. “We’ve learned how to work differently and, in some cases, better.”

When initially faced with the virus last March, the university swiftly pivoted to online classes and work-from-home, redesigning 8,000 classes to virtual formats in a matter of days. Instructors have learned to use, and will continue to use, educational technologies in ways that improve learning, Blank said. And the pandemic has highlighted the value of scientific research in moments of crisis.

“Our faculty and researchers – in partnership with scientists around the world – have helped us understand how to protect ourselves and treat this disease, and also helped create the knowledge necessary to develop vaccines in record times,” Blank said.

UW-Madison is continuing with a hybrid model of instruction this spring, she reported, but with an aggressive new testing regimen that requires undergraduates who are in Madison to test for COVID twice a week. Employees and graduate students must test a minimum of every eight days if they are coming to campus. UW-Madison expects to process 70,000 tests a week at 12 sites on campus, seven days a week. An app called Safer Badgers was developed to streamline testing and help control access to campus facilities.

Blank also addressed the cost of the pandemic, telling the Board that revenue losses and expenditures cause by the health crisis have resulted in a $320 million net loss. Multiple steps have been taken to manage the situation, including a hiring and salary freeze, employee furloughs, pay cuts for senior leaders, and restrictions on spending and travel.

“We are doing what we can, but we need state assistance to get through this crisis,” Blank said, adding her thanks to the Board for its strong budget request.

Blank also reported that UW-Madison has been working on a number of fronts to address diversity and inclusion on campus, noting the protests across the country and in Madison last summer brought a new level of urgency. New admissions initiatives are aimed at expanding enrollment of students of color at the university, and the Targets of Opportunity Program (TOP) helps departments recruit new faculty from groups that are not well represented in their fields.

“Even in the midst of our financial crisis, we have to keep pushing,” Blank said.

Blank said campus goals for the next six months include vaccinating faculty and staff by the beginning of the summer, vaccinating all incoming and returning students in the fall who have not yet been vaccinated, and returning to normal operations by the fall semester.

“As I think about the things this year has taught us, one of the most important is the value of our people, and the talent pipeline we have built that is going to ensure that we are ready not only to meet today’s challenges, but tomorrow’s as well,” Blank said.

Regents honor late colleague

The Regents recognized the service of friend and colleague Regent José Delgado, who passed away unexpectedly on Jan. 24.

“Regent Delgado was a public servant who always advocated for Wisconsin students and the integrity of public higher education,” said Regent President Andrew Petersen. “José never forgot where he came from. He appreciated the opportunities he had experienced in coming to the United States, and he cared deeply about extending similar opportunity to others.”

Delgado immigrated to the United States from Cuba when he was 14 years old.

Regents Bob Atwell and Héctor Colón, both close friends of Delgado, presented the Board’s resolution of appreciation.

Atwell told Regents that Delgado was guided by his faith, and that “more than anything, José dedicated his life to others.”

Colón said as he was emerging as a young Latino leader, he always looked up to Delgado. He noted they first met seven years ago – where, despite being at a silent retreat, they ended up growing a deep friendship over long conversations.

“What really separated José was his charm, his personality. He was an individual who loved to talk, he loved to communicate with people,” President Thompson said. “He was always able to charm individuals to believe they could accomplish something even better. He was an inspiration and a true leader.”

System President’s Report

In his report to the Board, UW System President Thompson provided a brief update on legislative activities, noting that ongoing conversations with the Evers administration and legislative leaders regarding the UW System’s biennial budget request have been positively received to date.

On the federal side, Thompson said the UW has been closely tracking the executive orders issued by President Biden, many of which have a direct impact on UW universities and students. These orders have included efforts to preserve DACA; extend the pause of federal student loan payments and collections through Sept. 30, 2021; and provide additional guidance from the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services related to reopening and in-person instruction. The UW is also awaiting news on additional federal COVID relief.

Thompson also provided an update on the launch of a new precollege pipeline initiative to help guide high school students in preparing for, applying to, and enrolling in one of its 13 universities.

The initiative involves placing student coaches and recruiters in a select number of regional high schools. The initial investment of $1 million will be equally divided among five universities – UW Oshkosh, UW-Parkside, UW-Platteville, UW-Stout, and UW-Whitewater.The effort is intended to create a more robust pipeline to the UW System by engaging students earlier in the college-going process and providing additional hands-on support, including for students who may be the first in their families to pursue a university education.

“This is all about helping the people of this great state to take advantage of the incredible opportunities in front of them, which ultimately will benefit all of us,” Thompson said.

Board President’s Report

In his regular report to the Board, Regent President Drew Petersen offered an update on the chancellor search at UW-River Falls. He told Regents the Search and Screen committee, which is chaired by Regent Scott Beightol, is expected to meet in late March to select semi-finalist candidates.

Noting that February is Black History Month, Petersen reiterated the Board’s longstanding support for advancing greater diversity through the System. “A diverse campus community – and the many ways that can be defined – is integral to fulfilling our primary mission, which is to provide a high-quality education,” he said. “It is also vital – as events of the past year have shown – to help maintain a healthy society and strong communities.”

He added that goal is one of the reasons it was so important for the UW System to launch the new Wisconsin Regent Opportunity Scholarships program, which was announced last November. “Through these scholarships, we hope to attract more underrepresented and underserved undergraduate students to our UW universities.”

Petersen also informed the Board that due to the COVID pandemic, the UW System’s annual Research in the Rotunda event, typically held each spring, has been cancelled this year. The event is designed to highlight outstanding undergraduate student researchers and their faculty advisers from across the System and is considered one of the University’s most significant outreach events.

NCAA Division I Athletics Report

In presenting UW-Madison’s annual NCAA Division I Athletics Report, Athletic Director Barry Alvarez told Regents the athletics department has been through a rough year but hopes to get back to normal next fall. He added that UW-Madison’s student athletes, coaches, and staff have responded to the challenges “with courage, patience and persistence.”

Alvarez noted that the COVID pandemic has had enormous financial impact on the athletics department, with an expected net loss of $47 million.

“The welfare and experience of our student athletes remains central to our decisions,” Alvarez said. “In the end, when I have an exit interview with student athletes, I want them to say they had support from their coaches on the field and off. I want them to walk out of here with a meaningful degree and if they had it all to do over again, they’d come back and do it the same.”

Alvarez told Regents the overall GPA for UW-Madison’s student athletes this past fall was 3.306. The program also had 108 student athletes receive Academic All-Big Ten honors.

Business & Finance Committee

The Business and Finance Committee approved various proposed nonresident undergraduate and graduate school tuition increases for UW-Milwaukee, UW-Platteville, UW-Stevens Point, and UW-Stout. The changes will be effective for the 2021-22 academic year. The universities benchmarked their tuition rates against peer institutions and provided information regarding the amounts and uses of additional revenue generated. None of the requests impacts resident undergraduate students.

In other business, the Business & Finance Committee:

  • Heard a report from Laurent Heller, UW-Madison Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration, and David Murphy, Associate Vice Chancellor for Finance, that included an overview of the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic ($319 million to date), steps taken by the university to partially offset revenue reductions, and recommendations of a study group commissioned to provide ideas to leverage UW-Madison assets to maximize their long-term value. Heller said UW-Madison is “well positioned to get through this (pandemic)”;
  • Approved UW-Milwaukee’s request to expand the purposes for which the College of Engineering & Applied Science (CEAS) differential tuition funds may be used, including laboratory support staff, academic instructional staff, and support for the student success center; this change in scope would allow CEAS to further enhance the quality of the engineering program, increase the value of a UW-Milwaukee engineering degree, and provide instructional and support services which would have a significant, positive impact on students.
  • Approved the semi-annual UW System Status Report on Large/Vital Information Technology Projects, which provides the Board with the necessary information to execute oversight over large and high-risk IT projects across the UW System; the report includes individual progress reports on 18 major information technology projects;
  • Approved a UW System report on the Strategic Plans for Major Information Technology Projects, which provides the Board with the information it needs to execute oversight over upcoming technology projects for FY 2021-2022; the report includes an inventory of ongoing and new projects as well as statutorily required details for each;
  • Approved a contractual agreement between UW-Madison and AbbVie Inc., a Chicago-based biopharmaceutical company that originated as a spin-off of Abbott Laboratories; the agreement allows the parties to specify distinct clinical study activities to be performed by UW-Madison through issuance of multiple individual agreements with AbbVie, whose research areas include immunology, oncology, neuroscience, virology, eye care, and aesthetics;
  • Approved the rescission and replacement of three Regent Policy Documents (RPD) related to auxiliary funds with a new RPD titled “Internal Management Flexibility of Auxiliary Funds.” The proposed policy updates and consolidates into one policy several of the provisions of RPDs 21-1, 21-2, and 21-3, as well as incorporate flexibilities provided in 2011 Wisconsin Act 32;
  • Heard a Budget-to-Actuals Report which is based on financial data for fiscal year FY20-FY21 and reflects the status of the UW System budget by major areas of activity in comparison to actuals for the period of July 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020;
  • Heard a summary report on gifts, grants, and contracts awarded to UW System institutions from July 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020. Total gifts, grants, and contracts for the six-month period were approximately $981.4 million, a 10.9% increase from the same period in the prior year. Federal awards increased $104.8 million (19.0%), while non-federal awards decreased by nearly $8.6 million (7.2%) between the first half of fiscal years 2019-20 and 2020-21;
  • Heard a report from Vice President Sean Nelson on COVID-19-related impacts on UW System finances, including both revenue losses and expenditure increases incurred for health and safety measures and technology needs. Federal actions in March and December 2020 have and will provide relief funding both directly and through state-managed allocations that, along with a variety of earlier and ongoing cost reduction steps implemented by UW System Administration and UW institutions, have partially mitigated these impacts. Net loss Systemwide through Dec. 2020 is $317.7 million; and
  • Jim Langdon, UW System Vice President for Administration, provided an update on reorganization activities within the Office of Administration.

Education Committee

UW System continues to face challenges in its freshman applicants’ ability to submit ACT or SAT scores as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. In response, the Education Committee approved the extension of the temporary suspension of Regent Policy Document 7-3, that requires the submission of ACT/SAT test scores by freshman applicants. The policy action will give prospective freshman students one additional year to apply to UW System institutions without having to submit their ACT/SAT test scores. As required by Regent Policy 7-3, students will continue to be evaluated holistically on the basis of the other application materials submitted.

During the period in which the extension of ACT/SAT waiver is in effect, UW System’s Office of Academic and Student Affairs will undertake a formal research study to: 1) determine the degree to which the ACT/SAT score accurately predicts the academic achievement of UW students; 2) evaluate the long-term consequences of permanently suspending the standardized test score requirement or going test-optional; and 3) identify if there are other means of measuring a student’s academic readiness for college that could be used in place of a standardized test score.

In other business, the Education Committee:

  • Heard a presentation on “Delivering High-Quality Education in a Pandemic,” led by Karl Scholz, UW-Madison’s Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. Scholz described some of the steps taken to make the Fall successful at UW-Madison. Professor Kassem Fawaz of UW-Madison’s College of Engineering provided a focused example of one creative approach to providing remote, high-quality lab experiences for students;
  • Approved UW-Green Bay’s proposal to establish a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Community Health Education. This program extends from the suite of other health-related programs in the College of Health, Education, and Social Welfare, fulfills the area need for community health educators, and fosters additional partnerships with local agencies. Program graduates will be prepared for entry-level community health positions such as public health educator, prevention specialist, and community health navigator;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s proposal to establish a Master of Science (M.S.) in Environmental Remediation and Management. This program responds to the need for professionals to investigate, assess, and remediate contaminated commercial and industrial sites and to develop protocols for emerging contaminants. Upon completion of the program, students will be OSHA Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER)-certified, a requirement for work in this career;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s proposal to offer a Ph.D. in Information. This program represents a reconfiguration of the existing Ph.D. in Library and Information Studies (Ph.D.-LIS). The program will feature three prominent areas of research not previously reflected in the Ph.D.-LIS, namely human computer interaction, scientometrics/infometrics, and information retrieval. Graduates of the Ph.D. in Information will demonstrate mastery of statistical, computational, and digital data collection and analysis methodologies and will be prepared to contribute to scholarship and instruction in the field;
  • Approved UW-River Falls’ proposal to establish a Doctor of Education (EdD) program in Montessori Studies (Montessori EdD). The proposal responds to strong demands for a terminal degree focusing on the Montessori philosophy and its application in areas such as eldercare, educational leadership, special education, and social justice. This will be the first accredited EdD in Montessori Studies in the United States;
  • Approved UW-Whitewater’s proposal to establish a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Legal Studies. The B.A./B.S. in Legal Studies will prepare students for a variety of careers in the legal field, including those in court or agency administration, mediation, and entry-level positions such as legal assistant and paralegal. Graduates will be prepared to continue to advanced degrees in law. Nationally, employment in legal occupations is projected to increase 5.1% between 2018 and 2028;
  • Heard an update from Executive Director Marissa Jablonski on the status of planning for the Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin (FCW), an initiative that builds upon the collective assets of all 13 four-year institutions to collaborate on freshwater research, training, innovation and economic development; and
  • Heard an update from Anny Morrobel-Sosa, Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs, on both the UW System Reverse Transfer Implementation Plan and the UW System Teacher Workforce Initiative.

Audit Committee

Director of Youth Protection and Compliance Prenicia Clifton told Regents that plans are being developed to help campuses bring minors safely back to campus for summer 2021 programming. She also noted that professional development opportunities are being offered monthly.

In other business, the Audit Committee:

  • Heard a progress report from Chief Audit Executive Lori Stortz on the Fiscal Year 2021 audit plan to date. She also provided summarized results of audits recently issued; and
  • Heard a Title IX update from Title IX and Clery Administrator Sarah E. Harebo.

Capital Planning & Budget Committee

The Capital Planning & Budget Committee approved UW-Eau Claire’s request to enter into a space rental agreement for the Flesch Family Welcome Center. With the development and construction of this center, the UW-Eau Claire Foundation would like a more visible presence at this entry point when parents and students visit campus. The Foundation raised funds and donated $5.5 million toward the construction of this new facility. This new 25-year lease agreement would allow the foundation to move its offices into the new building under the same terms it has at its current location in Schofield Hall.

In other business, the Capital Planning & Budget Committee:

  • Approved UW System’s request to construct two 2019-21 Classroom Renovation/Instructional Technology Improvement Program projects, including the renovation of space in music practice rooms at UW-Oshkosh to provide better sound isolation between rooms and to meet the National Association of Schools of Music accreditation requirements; renovation of space in UW-Oshkosh’s Swart Hall to provide additional classroom and lab space for the Anthropology program; and remodeling rehearsal and various classroom spaces in UW-Eau Claire’s Haas Fine Arts Music Laboratories to improve sound isolation and acoustics;
  • Approve UW System’s request to construct two Minor Facilities Renewal projects at UW-Madison, including replacing the fire alarm and smoke detection systems in eight buildings at UW-Madison, whose systems are more than 20 years old, and replacing direct buried high-pressure steam, pumped condensate return, and compressed air utilities between two steam pits and replacing four steam pits at UW-Madison;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request to complete the design and to construct the UW-Managed Engineering Hall Sprinkler Piping and Gas Distribution Piping Phase I project. This project is phase I of a multi-phase project to design and construct a fire suppression system and gas distribution piping system in Engineering Hall;
  • Heard a presentation from host campus UW-Madison on “Critical Building and Infrastructure Priorities”; and
  • Heard a report from Senior Associate Vice President Alex Roe on recent real estate activities.

Research, Economic Development & Innovation (REDI) Committee

Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education Steve Ackerman provided the REDI Committee with an overview of the substantial and broad range of research activities UW-Madison researchers are engaged in to address impacts of COVID-19. Sharing some of their research findings, Dr. Song Gao highlighted the mapping of human mobility for geospatial modeling of COVID-19 spread and Dr. Nasia Safdar discussed innovative strategies for prevention of COVID-19 within healthcare systems.

In other business, the REDI Committee:

  • Hosted a panel discussion on the increased overall awareness of the importance and benefits of personal health and wellness during the pandemic. REDI Chair Regent Bob Atwell moderated a health and wellness/economic discussion to include business and university perspectives on generating vibrant and sustainable economic growth. Chris Fortune, founder and CEO of Saris, highlighted his Madison-based company’s efforts to replace fossil-fuel delivery systems with pedal power. Provost Johannes Britz provided an overview of UW-Milwaukee’s urban research setting as a “lab for learning” that sets the stage for improving quality of life and health.

The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents meeting will continue at 8:45 a.m. on Friday, February 5, 2021, by videoconference.