MADISON, Wis.—President Ray Cross told the Board of Regents today the University of Wisconsin System will be seeking immediate flexibility and regulatory relief to continue to best serve students, faculty, staff, and communities through the COVID-19 crisis.

Cross told Regents the UW System submitted a letter making the request Wednesday to Governor Evers, Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald, and Assembly Speaker Vos.

“As we plan for the fall semester, our universities are determined to find creative solutions to safely deliver quality education to students on-campus and through alternative delivery methods,” Cross said. “However, we face significant financial and operational challenges that are made worse by the ever-changing nature of the pandemic.”

Cross said the UW System is requesting flexibility and regulatory relief in three areas: access to credit markets; flexibility to move up the start date of the fall semester; and reducing the heavy volume of reporting requirements.

The ability to access a line of credit would allow institutions to use a tool that is available to the private sector as well as other public and private institutions of higher education to assist with cash flow challenges that are exacerbated by the current pandemic, Cross said.

“Given how abruptly the COVID-19 pandemic was thrust upon us, we need time to smooth out our cash flow issues that access to a line of credit might provide,” he explained.

The UW System is also asking the Legislature to create a one-time exemption from the school year start date requirement in state statute.

“Many experts predict a spike in coronavirus cases to occur in late fall, so many institutions want to start classes early and use an expedited schedule to get through the entire semester by Thanksgiving,” Cross said.

Finally, Cross noted that the UW System is one of the most regulated higher education systems in the country and reducing the number of required reports, which is particularly burdensome during times of crisis, would provide cost savings and free up necessary staff resources.

Cross said the UW System has asked the Governor and the Legislature to address these pressing concerns as quickly as possible.

Cross also affirmed, as previously reported, that UW System universities expect to be open in the fall with on-campus course delivery. “We have numerous tactical teams on all campuses, as well as our System Plan Ahead team, working on this from every angle, 24/7. Great progress is being made,” Cross said. “Overall, we have strong optimism that Fall 2020 will have students on campus.”

Board approves 2020-21 Annual Operating Budget

The Board of Regents unanimously voted to approve a $6.518 billion annual operating budget for 2020–21.

Sean Nelson, Vice President of Finance, emphasized budgets were prepared using metrics and assumptions for enrollment, revenues, and expenditures as developed prior to the onset of COVID-19. He added that while all UW institutions are planning for campus-based instruction for Fall 2020, institutions continue to plan and prepare for multiple financial scenarios.

“It is anticipated the 2020–21 Annual Operating Budget will need to be revisited as more becomes known about the impact of COVID-19 on university operations,” Nelson said.

Key takeaways of the annual budget:

  • Resident undergraduate tuition is frozen for the eighth consecutive year for four-year institutions
  • Average cost of attendance for an in-state student living on campus at UW System’s 4-year university will increase by 0.9% – the third straight year of increases of 1% or less
  • Total segregated fees will increase at 4-year institutions by an average $30 per year (2.2%)
  • Room and board rates will increase at 4-year institutions by an average $129 per year (1.7%)
  • Unrestricted program revenue balances continue to decline.

In introducing the budget, Regent President Andrew S. Petersen reiterated the value the UW System offers the state. “Our top priority is to continue to advocate for an operating budget that supports the vital work the UW System does every day to meet the needs of Wisconsin, preparing our graduates to be successful and contributing members of society, and providing the people, ideas, and resources to keep Wisconsin’s economy strong,” he said.

The UW System’s 2022–24 biennial budget request will be presented at the August Board meeting.

President Cross reflects on current events

President Cross opened his report to the Board with a brief reflection on the recent death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, while in police custody and the ensuing widespread public protests.

“To achieve real change, we as a society must change our culture,” Cross said. “The problems we are facing here run deep. They go way beyond just reforming police practices. It requires not only changing minds but changing hearts.”

Student Behavioral Health Update

Harry Anderson, Dean of Students at UW-Superior, and Dr. Artanya Wesley, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at UW-Whitewater, led a presentation updating Regents on UW System’s counseling efforts, particularly as affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Anderson told Regents that in addition to high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression many UW students reported previously, the pandemic ushered in new concerns – including increased stress and anxiety symptoms due to family financial problems, the loss of supports and structures needed to succeed socially and academically, and the difficulty of moving to online instruction.

Wesley pointed out the unique challenges of providing virtual counseling. Those challenges include ensuring confidentiality of technology to provide virtual counseling services; licensure to provide tele-health to students outside Wisconsin; supporting staff who are experiencing similar loss or trauma as students; finding safe, secure places to conduct virtual counseling services from home; and loss of counseling staff due to COVID-19 leave, campus furloughs, or summer contracts.

Anderson also updated Regents on several key actions of the Behavioral Health Initiative that was launched last year. He reported that systemwide implementation of SilverCloud, a digital platform with 24/7 self-guided resources for both students and staff addressing a spectrum of behavioral health issues, will go live in July 2020. He also noted that going forward, student identification cards will include suicide prevention hotline information, per the Governor’s order. He also reported that a systemwide counseling impact assessment report, including benchmarking data for each campus, will be available in August 2020.

“Students’ wellbeing is just as important as their academics,” Anderson said.

Transferology will help provide seamless transfers

Associate Vice President Ben Passmore headed a presentation on the new Transferology project, a pair of cloud-based applications that will be fully implemented across Wisconsin public post-secondary institutions on July 1.

The Transferology project replaces the previous TIS (Transfer Information System) and is designed to improve the ability of the UW System to address all aspects of credit transfer and significantly simplify the transfer process.

Passmore called the project “a different kind of transfer system,” and one which is much more student-centered. The project addresses a key priority of the 2020FWD Strategic Framework which called for seamless transfers.

New Regents welcomed

President Petersen welcomed three newly appointed Regents: Amy Blumenfeld Bogost, Corey Saffold, and Kyle Weatherly.

“I was always taught that education is power and the means of progress for our community, the state, and the world. I am honored to serve on this Board,” said Bogost, an attorney with Bogost & Associates in Madison, where her work is focused on ensuring justice for survivors of sexual violence. She noted her family’s ties to the UW System run long and deep.

Corey Saffold, a student at UW-Whitewater pursuing a degree in Criminology while also serving as the interim director of safety and security for the Verona Area School District, will serve as the Board’s nontraditional student regent. He is also a former Madison police officer.

Saffold noted his long-standing work to support students of color. “I wanted to reach those students who flew under the radar … and inspire them to further their education,” he said.

Kyle Weatherly, the CEO and founder of Frontdesk, Inc., in Milwaukee, called his appointment to the Board “the highest honor of my life so far, and I intend to treat it as such.” Weatherly is a graduate of UW-Madison but also attended several WTCS institutions over the years. “I wouldn’t be here without access to the world-class education offered by all these institutions,” he said.

Farewell to System colleague

The Board approved a Resolution of Appreciation for UW-River Falls Chancellor Dean Van Galen, who has accepted a position as president of Missouri Southern State University.

“It’s been a privilege to serve as chancellor the last 11 years,” Van Galen said. “Both my wife, Mary, and I are first-generation college students from Wisconsin … and returning to Wisconsin to serve River Falls has been a special chapter in our lives. And it’s been enriched by really wonderful relationships.”

“Collectively, our work changes trajectories of lives,” Van Galen added. “Thank you for the opportunity to serve UW-River Falls and the great state of Wisconsin.”

“We are losing one of our best and a good friend,” said Regent President Petersen.

President Cross added: “What stands out for all of us is Dean’s character. Solid, stable, steady, thoughtful, respectful and plain decent human being. We really appreciate that.”

Board leadership re-elected

In its regular annual elections, the Board of Regents re-elected Andrew S. Petersen to another one-year term as president. The vote was unanimous. The Regents also re-elected Michael M. Grebe as vice president.

Regent President’s Report

Regent President Petersen called attention to a new report from UW System’s Office of Policy Analysis and Research that shows UW System graduates earn a median salary of nearly $50,000 annually just one year after earning their bachelor’s degrees, and more than $66,000 after five years.

“I have long believed there is no better investment for the state of Wisconsin than the UW System and that the UW System is also a terrific investment for our students as well. This data validates those beliefs,” Petersen said.

Following up on the presentation and discussion of the Blueprint for the UW System Beyond COVID-19 at the May Board meeting, Petersen noted that UW System and Board representatives subsequently have met with about 400 shared governance participants in three recent listening sessions that included all campus communities around the state.

“This has been an important dialogue, and we appreciate everyone’s input,” Petersen said.

Regent Karen Walsh, who was one of four Regents to take part in the sessions, added that it’s clear people want to be engaged. “And we know we need to go arm-in-arm with you to find solutions to these problems.”

Petersen provided brief updates on ongoing leadership searches. The UW-Stevens Point chancellor search, chaired by Regent Walsh, is now in the process of accepting nominations and applicant materials from candidates. Petersen said Regent Scott Beightol will serve as chair of the UW-River Falls chancellor search. The search committee will be charged in August.

Regent Vice President Michael Grebe provided an update on the UW System presidential search, starting with the announcement earlier this week that one finalist will now advance for final consideration: Jim Johnsen, president of the University of Alaska System.

“The committee was unanimous in its decision to advance one candidate,” Grebe said. “Dr. Johnsen matches the characteristics we heard clearly expressed in listening sessions … and I believe he will be a leader to exemplify our commitment to inclusive excellence.”

Dr. Johnsen will participate in a virtual public forum as well as meetings with other UW System constituents on June 9.

In other business, the Board:

  • Approved the exercise of the two option periods in UW System’s current contract with Instructure for the Canvas Digital Learning Environment software;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s contractual service agreement with Attainment Holdco, LLC, d/b/a InStride, a public benefit corporation that helps employers provide opportunities for their employees to obtain a university education through their network of partner universities;
  • Approved UW-Milwaukee’s request for an exception to Regent Policy Document 31-15 to allow for the expenditure of the principal of the bequest from the Robert Meyer Trust. UW-Milwaukee received a gift of $1.15 million from the Robert Meyer Trust for the benefit of WUWM, a public radio station administered by the university’s College of Letters & Science;
  • Approved UW-Green Bay’s request to elevate a Bachelor of Business Arts degree emphasis in Finance, by establishing a stand-alone Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance;
  • Approved UW-Green Bay’s request to elevate a BBA degree emphasis in Human Resource Management, by establishing a stand-alone Bachelor of Business Administration in Human Resource Management;
  • Approved UW-Green Bay’s Austin E. Cofrin School of Business request to elevate a BBA degree emphasis in Management, by establishing a stand-alone Bachelor of Business Administration in Management;
  • Approved UW-Green Bay’s Austin E. Cofrin School of Business request to elevate a Bachelor of Business Arts degree emphasis in Finance, by establishing a stand-alone Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.) program in Marketing;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request to establish a Master of Science in Business: Analytics;
  • Approved UW-Milwaukee’s request to establish a Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science;
  • Approved UW-Milwaukee’s request to establish a Bachelor of Arts in Digital Arts and Culture within the College of Letters and Science;
  • Approved UW-Milwaukee’s request to establish a Doctor of Philosophy in Electrical Engineering;
  • Approved UW-Milwaukee’s request to establish a Master of Urban Design;
  • Approved UW-Platteville’s request to establish a Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity;
  • Approved the annual request for funding from the Vilas Trust Fund for UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee;
  • Approved updates to RPD 20-2, “Student Evaluation of Instruction”;
  • Approved the 2020 Report on Faculty Promotions, Tenure Designations, and Other Changes of Status for all 13 UW universities;
  • Approved UW-Stevens Point’s request to establish the Schools of Design and Communication; Performing Arts; Behavioral and Social Sciences; Biology, Chemistry, and Biochemistry; Humanities and Global Studies; Mathematics, Computing, Physics and Astronomy; and Health Sciences and Wellness. UWSP currently operates with an organizational structure of four curricular colleges: the College of Fine Arts and Communication (COFAC), the College of Letters and Science (COLS), the College of Professional Studies (CPS), and the College of Natural Resources. This proposal modifies the existing department structure within three of these colleges (COFAC, COLS, and CPS) to combine existing units into new schools;
  • Approved UW-Stevens Point’s request to establish a Bachelor of Science in Conservation Law Enforcement;
  • Approved UW-Stevens Point in the College of Fine Arts and Communication’s request to elevate its National Association of Schools of Art and Design-accredited graphic design emphasis, within the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art program, to a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design;
  • Approved UW-Stevens Point in the College of Fine Arts and Communication’s request to establish a Bachelor of Arts program in Media Studies;
  • Heard an update from Anny Morrobel-Sosa, Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs, that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UW System funding to support potential recommendations from the UW System Task Force for Advancing Teachers and School Leaders for Wisconsin Task Force has been depleted. As a result, the work of the Task Force is suspended;
  • Heard a report from Chief Audit Executive Lori Stortz on audit plan progress to date as well as a summary of recently issued audits. Stortz also addressed projects spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic and planning for fiscal year 2021;
  • Heard an update from Associate Vice President Katherine Mayer on issues related to pandemic disruption and cyber security;
  • Heard a report from Title IX and Clery Administrator Sarah Harebo on UW System’s proposed response to the new Title IX regulations from the Department of Education;
  • Heard a report from Director of Compliance and Integrity Katie Ignatowski on the tools being developed to support campus compliance during the COVID-19 crisis;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request to complete the design and to construct the UW-Managed Chemistry 2nd Floor Wang Lab Remodel project;
  • Heard the semi-annual status report on leasing;
  • Heard the semi-annual report on UW solely managed capital projects;
  • Heard a status report on access provided to Board of Regents-owned facilities as part of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a result of Executive Order #72;
  • Heard a report on UW System’s 2021-27 capital plan, including a statistical overview of the 185 capital project requests for the 2021-27 Capital Plan and 2021-23 Capital Budget received by the Office of Capital Planning and Budget. Additionally, as part of a process improvement strategy implemented by President Cross, the Capital Planning and Budget Office developed a Department of Administration (DOA) Managed Capital Projects Process Flow Chart which identifies potential improvements for the development of a capital project, the design and construction process, and clarification of the roles and responsibilities of the university, the system, and DOA;
  • Heard a presentation by UW-Milwaukee on three current initiatives related to pandemic research efforts;
  • Heard an overview from UW-Madison on the 160 proposed and funded research projects aimed at addressing the impacts of COVID-19;
  • Received an update from Missy Hughes, Secretary and CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, on initiatives in the agency’s Focus Forward initiative designed to accelerate the pandemic remediation and recovery effort for business and industry;
  • Approved an extension of the delegation of authority to temporarily suspend provisions of Regent Policy Documents through December 31, 2020 due toCOVID-19. This extension only modifies the date of the authority already granted to the Office of the President. No new authorities are granted by the motion; and
  • Approved the 2021 meeting schedule for the Board of Regents.

The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents’ next meeting will be Aug. 20–21, 2020, at UW-Green Bay.