MADISON, Wis. – University of Wisconsin System President Tommy Thompson called on the UW System and the State of Wisconsin to join forces to compete for anticipated federal funding to support regional research and innovation hubs to help the United States stay competitive on the global scene.

“Wisconsin needs to be in this game – and the University of Wisconsin System is key to why this exciting collaborative effort between the university, the private sector, and government partners should work,” Thompson said. “Our two public R-1 universities – UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee – are major R&D players with deep expertise in areas such as biotechnology and genomics, advanced manufacturing and sustainability, artificial intelligence and quantum computing, among others.”

Thompson also pointed to the significant expertise and experience at UW’s comprehensive universities in areas including health care, engineering, and logistics.

The United States Innovation and Competition Act recently passed the Senate. A similar House bill known as the Endless Frontier Act was considered in the last session of Congress. Both approaches promise delivery of as much as $250 billion to invest in the study of new technologies.

Thompson added the UW already has a strong track record of successful collaborations with industry.

“Wisconsin is the perfect place for these research hubs to thrive,” Thompson said. “With our universities and business partners serving as a foundation, Wisconsin has the capacity to co-invest in a way to spark innovation and raise the state’s attractiveness for creating these academic-industry partnership hubs. And I have no doubt our private sectors would be eager to join. In fact, many of them have told me so.”

A 2019 report by the Brookings Institution ranked Madison #1 and Milwaukee #17 in its list of the top 35 markets identified as key locations for federal investment to support the growth of technology and innovation.

UW System President’s Report

In his report to the Board, President Thompson said the UW System will continue to provide COVID testing to the people of Wisconsin into Winterim and through the spring semester to meet ongoing need. He said the UW is in discussion with the state for reimbursement of testing expenses, which includes staffing. Reimbursement for tuition rebates the UW has been providing to students who are helping to provide health care support at a time when hospitals are stretched thin for resources is also being discussed.

Thompson expressed gratitude to UW-Eau Claire alumni John and Carolyn Sonnentag for their recent $40 million donation to help build the new multi-use Sonnentag Complex in Eau Claire, which will host events and performances, athletics and the arts, health and wellness activities, and a Mayo Clinic location.

The Sonnentags have given a total of $70 million in land and money for the project, which is the largest donation in the history of UW-Eau Claire. “It’s a truly remarkable reflection of their great love for the university,” Thompson said.

On the legislative front, Thompson said several bills supported by the UW System are gaining momentum in the state Capitol. Assembly Bill 714 would allow UW System to administer the tuition reciprocity agreement with Minnesota, and retain more of the tuition dollars earned by the universities. Senate Bill 557 would expand the Board of Regents’ investment authority to the entirety of the System’s working capital, which is currently limited to revenues from gifts, grants, and donations.

Thompson said the UW System is still awaiting action on both the pay plan and Joint Finance Committee supplemental funding.  The 2021-23 state budget included funding and approval for a 2% pay increase for all state employees, including UW System employees, in each year of the biennium. Thompson said the UW is still hopeful JFC will act in December so the pay plan can go into effect in January as planned, but it’s possible the committee will not meet until January.

With the recent announcement of the departure of Warren Anderson, UW System’s first Senior Equity, Diversity & Inclusion officer, Thompson said the UW will aggressively work to identify a successor through a national search which he expects to be launched soon. “Ensuring that we provide a supportive environment for all members of our university community is vitally important work and it’s a high priority for the UW System,” Thompson said.

Finally, Thompson offered early congratulations to the approximately 10,000 students all around the UW System who are expected to receive degrees this month.

Regent President updates Board on searches

Regent President Edmund Manydeeds III told the Board that the current search for the next President of the UW System is on schedule and making good progress. He noted that the Search and Screen committee recently forwarded a list of candidates they believe merit further evaluation to the Special Regents Committee.

Manydeeds, who chairs that Special Regents Committee, said the group will meet tomorrow to begin their preliminary review of candidates in advance of interviews. “If all goes as planned, I hope this committee will have a candidate to recommend to this Board for approval in the near future,” he said.

In his update on the search for a successor to UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, Manydeeds told Regents that the recently announced 21-member Search and Screen Committee will be chaired by Regent Vice President Karen Walsh with Professor Susan Hagness, department chair of the  UW-Madison department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, as vice chair.

“The committee includes a broad cross-section of campus faculty, staff and students, alumni and community members, and Regent representatives who will keep the best interests of the university and the state in mind,” he said.

The search and screen committee will identify and interview candidates and then forward recommended candidates to a Special Regent Committee.

Education Committee

The Education Committee approved extending the suspension of requirements that freshman applicants to UW universities must submit ACT/SAT scores as part of the admissions process through 2024-25. The requirement was originally suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic but it has become an increasingly common practice within higher education not to require these test scores for admission.

UW System’s Office of Academic and Student Affairs is engaged in 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 long-term consequences of permanently suspending the standardized test requirement or going test-optional; (3) identify if there are other means of measuring a student’s readiness for college; and (4) understand national trends and context among other universities.

In other business, the Education Committee:

  • Approved UW-Milwaukee’s request to establish a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Design and Visual Communication within the Department of Art & Design in the Peck School of the Arts. Elevating the concentration to a separate program responds to recommendations made by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design;
  • Approved UW Oshkosh’s request to establish a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science in Advertising. Currently, while several UW System institutions offer degree programs that include some advertising courses or emphases, none offers an individually authorized advertising major;
  • Approved UW-Stevens Point’s request for a Bachelor of Science in Community Sustainability. The new program would be the first baccalaureate program in the UW System with an emphasis on sustainable community development;
  • Approved UW-River Falls’ request to establish a Bachelor of Science in International Food Operations Management, a dual degree program with Aeres University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Students would receive degrees from both institutions. Establishing the unique program will provide students with expertise and experience in the principles of food processing technology and operations management from both international production and marketing perspectives;
  • Approved amendments to Regent Policy Document (RPD) 20-24, “Procedures Relating to Financial Emergency or Program Discontinuance Requiring Faculty Layoff and Termination.” The amendments bring UW System policy in alignment with recent changes adopted by the Higher Learning Commission that if a discontinued academic program still has students enrolled in it, the institution should create a teach out plan to ensure these students are able to complete the program or transition to a comparable program to complete their academic degrees;
  • Approved a program discontinuance and faculty layoff at UW-Platteville pursuant to RPD 20-24;
  • Heard an overview of the FY 2021 Annual Report for the Wisconsin Partnership Program (WPP) at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. The report also highlights how WPP expanded its response to the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to support initiatives that address the impact of racism and other social determinants on health outcomes;
  • Heard highlights from UW System’s 2021 Developmental Education Report, which is required by the Board every three years. Beginning in 2021, the developmental education measures have been organized and presented in an interactive dashboard report;
  • Heard a panel presentation on the impacts of the Math Initiative strategies at the UW System, campus, and student levels. To support student success, the initiative focuses on strategies to improve the transfer and applicability of gateway mathematics; reduce the need for pre-requisite developmental math; and improve completion of credit-bearing math in the first year. The work has been supported by a $2.3 million Ascendium Education Group grant from 2018-2021;
  • Heard a summary of UW System’s 2020-21 Services for Students with Disabilities Report. The report, which is available on the UW System Disability Resources website, documents the total number of students with disabilities affiliated with campus disability resource centers, disability categories, accommodations, personnel/staffing, and COVID-19 impact on services; and
  • Heard a discussion of campus mental health challenges and strategies, including emerging practices that focus on creating cultures of care and improving overall campus well-being.

Business and Finance Committee

The Business and Finance Committee approved proposed tuition increases for non-resident undergraduate and graduate school students for seven UW System institutions: UW-Madison, UW-Eau Claire, UW Oshkosh, UW-Platteville, UW-River Falls, UW-Stout, and UW-Whitewater. The proposed increases, effective for the 2022-23 academic year, represent inflationary adjustments to maintain price competitiveness relative to peer institutions.

The use of the resulting revenue varies by institution, but includes enhanced student services, lab and technology upgrades, program expansions, and offers to general cost increases, among other initiatives. These tuition increases do not affect resident undergraduate students.

In other business, the Business & Finance Committee:

  • Heard an overview of the Annual Financial Report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021. Because the financial audit by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau is not yet complete, it does not include an audit opinion and is presented in draft form. The draft report indicates the UW System’s Total Net Position increased by $600 million (or 11%) over the prior year, largely due to the Governmental Accounting Standard Board’s requirements on the reporting of post-employment benefits and significant, unprojected gains to UW System’s pension assets;
  • Approved a service agreement with Huron Consulting Group to lead the implementation of UW System’s newly purchased Workday Human Capital Management and Finance Software packages; the agreement is for two years at a cost of $26.8;
  • Approved UW System’s purchase of lease administration functionality offered by Oracle/PeopleSoft. The software is needed to support compliance with a new standard of the Government Accounting Standards Board. While the one-time cost is $75,000 with ongoing annual maintenance at $16,500, UW System’s current total spend with Oracle exceeds $1 million, necessitating the Board’s approval of this procurement;
  • Approved a research agreement between UW-Madison and TerraPower, a nuclear innovation company. As a subcontractor under the Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Development Program, researchers in the College of Engineering will observe fundamental thermal striping and flow control in a sodium reactor in support of the project’s goal to improve sustainability and safety, and reduce carbon emission through the development of a new type of nuclear reactor. The 27-month agreement will be funded at just less than $2 million;
  • Approved a master research agreement between UW-Madison and Opsis Therapeutics, a Madison-based company focused on therapies to treat blinding disorders of the retina. Under the agreement, the Waisman Center’s Gamm Laboratory will conduct critical animal studies in support of an investigational new drug submission and subsequent clinical trials for the first Opsis product, which will target retinitis pigmentosa. Previous agreement with Opsis have brought in a combined $3.5 million to the Gamm laboratory;
  • Approved an agreement between UW-Madison and Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), where the company will operate as a subawardee to UW-Madison’s $10 million award from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. The project is aimed at making advances in superconductivity and high-power reactor heating systems. While CFS will receive $1.3 million through the agreement, the company will contribute over 99% of the $2.2 million mandatory cost share required in UW-Madison ARPA-E contract;
  • Approved an amendment to UW-Madison’s contract with Learfield Communications. In addition to a three-year extension, the amendment includes terms under which Learfield will be responsible for marketing and selling the naming rights to corporate partners for a variety of opportunities that will emerge from UW-Madison’s renovation of the south end zone of Camp Randall Stadium, planned for completion prior to the 2022 football season;
  • Approved revisions to RPD 21-4, related to Identity Theft Detection, Prevention and Mitigation. These revisions provide minor updates to ensure ongoing consistency and compliance with federal regulations commonly referred to as the “Red Flags Rule,” which requires universities to administer written programs to counter identity theft activities;
  • Tabled discussion of adjustments to the salary ranges for UW System senior executives;
  • Heard the Report on Faculty Turnover in the UW System, which provides a summary of tenured and non-tenured faculty departures attributed to retirement, resignation, and non-renewed contracts over the previous year. The 390 faculty who left UW System in FY21 represent 6.96% of all faculty in the System, a slight increase from the 6.7% in the prior year. Retirements account for about two-thirds of all departures;
  • Heard the Report on Faculty and Staff Base Salary Adjustments and Additional Compensation Payments. The report includes a high-level summary comparison for the last five fiscal years; and
  • Heard a report from Rob Cramer, UW-Madison interim Vice Chancellor for Finance & Administration, following up on previous presentations related to University Research Park and providing insights into the process for moving parcels through MOU phases. He also discussed the compelling opportunity for innovation and corporate incubation spaces that accelerate the university’s research output.

Capital Planning and Budget Committee

The Capital Planning and Budget Committee approved UW-Madison’s request for authority to execute the remainder of the design contract and construct the Engineering Hall Chemical and Biological Engineering Instructional and Research Lab Renovation project for an estimated total cost of $14,427,000 gift/grant funds to renovate instructional and research laboratory space in Engineering Hall.

These improvements address the bottleneck students currently face when scheduling their required laboratory courses and are critical to the recruitment and retention of faculty and researchers in biological research.

In other business, the Capital Planning and Budget Committee:

  • Approved UW-Madison’s request for authority to execute the remainder of the design contract and construct the Computer, Data, and Information Sciences (CDIS) building project for an estimated total cost of $230 million gift/grant funds. In addition to housing the Computer Science, Statistics, and Information Sciences School, the new building will also house the American Family Insurance Data Science Institute, the Biostatistics and Medical Informatics department of the School of Medicine and Public Health, and the Center for High Throughput Computing;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request to increase the budget of the Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research Dock and NIH Research Lab Renovation project by $950,000 gift funds for an estimated total project cost of $6,300,000 gift funds. The increase is necessary to accept a construction bid received in November that exceeded the original approved budget due to risks associated with current material shipping delays and market conditions;
  • Approved UW-Stevens Point’s request for authority to accept the gift of a 0.26-acre parcel of land with a two-story commercial building that is located on the north edge of campus. The UW-Stevens Point Foundation purchases the former Catholic student center building in 2020 and reconfigured and renovated it to serve as a new easily accessible Welcome Center, which opened in mid-December 2020;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request to assign an air rights lease and acceptance of the surrender of an air rights lease and the reversion of air rights and improvements at the Fluno Center for Executive Education. External factors including the COVID-19 pandemic as well as changes to the executive education model have occurred and sustainable operations cannot continue. Board approval will result in the termination of the lease and convey the Fluno Center to the Board for the benefit of UW-Madison;
  • Approved UW-Green Bay’s request to transfer a 4.92-acre parcel of land located in Oconto County, the majority of which is classified as aquatic marsh, that was donated to UW-Green Bay in 1974. Because the university has not included this parcel in its curricula for many years, a decision was made to offer the property to the State of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which already actively manages land at that location as a logical transfer of underutilized land from one state agency to another;
  • Approved a UW System request to construct a minor project at UW-Madison to replace a damaged brick steam tunnel and associated utility lines;
  • Approved a UW System request to construct three All Agency Maintenance and Repair projects: a safety systems renovation project at UW-Green Bay’s Weidner Center; a utilities replacement project at UW-Madison’s Educational Sciences & Horticulture site; and an electrical substation overcurrent protection project at UW-Madison’s Radio Hall and the Bacteriology buildings.
  • Heard a presentation on advancing the real estate strategy and new MOU to drive economic and mission benefits at UW-Madison;
  • Heard the semi-annual Status Report on Leasing Activity;
  • Heard the semi-annual Status Report on UW Solely Managed Capital Projects; and
  • Heard an update on recent Building Commission actions as well as an update on recent capital projects.

Audit Committee

Steven Hopper, Associate Vice President and Chief Information Officer, and Angela Ryan, Director of Risk Management, presented an overview of UW System’s digital infrastructure risk management.

The Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) program focuses on the following key risks for digital infrastructure: the historically decentralized nature of IT throughout the UW System which makes information security a challenging and expensive proposition; the accumulation of legacy applications for over 30 years in tandem with IT budget cuts and staff reductions which has yielded a high degree of aging technology that is expensive to maintain and poses information security risks; increased reliance on digital technology and the associated competition with private businesses which make it increasingly difficult to hire and retain the in-demand technical skills required to manage complex IT environments; and increasing cost of technology solutions.

The IT as a Service (ITaaS) program is UW System’s overall IT strategy, building on the principle that the scale of UW System is an asset, not a liability. High-priority projects to leverage this scale to mitigate risks include: a Student Information System consolidation; consolidation of data center infrastructure into a hybrid cloud environment with full disaster recovery capabilities; cyber defense services; and consolidation of identity and access control across UW institutions.

In other business, the Audit Committee:

  • Heard a report from Chief Audit Executive Lori Stortz on audit plan progress to date as well as a summary of recently issued audits. She also reported on progress her office is making on closing audit comments;
  • Heard a report from Prenicia Clifton, UW System Director of Youth Protection and Compliance, on the ongoing work with campuses and precollege liaisons to maintain COVID-19 risk mitigation strategies and implement industry best practices around risk mitigation with minors. Key actions include the establishment of a central registration of all youth activities to allow universities to know who is on campus, when and why; an upcoming UW System Youth Activity Registration System will enable universities to document all interactions with minors on campus for historical documentation and provide an overview of programs systemwide; and a centralized process to document Criminal Background Checks and reference checks for all individuals working with minors; and
  • Heard an update on Internal Control Plans from Sr. Associate Vice President for Finance Julie Gordon.

Research, Economic Development, and Innovation Committee

Regents in the REDI Committee heard a presentation led by Steve Ackerman, UW-Madison’s Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education, on the university’s cutting-edge biomedical research driving health care advances in cancer and in fighting the COVID-19 virus. Presenters included David Beebe, the John D. MacArthur Professor and Claude Bernard Professor of Biomedical Engineering, and David O’Connor, UW Medical Foundation Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

Dr. Beebe spoke about his cancer research which is focused on using primary cells taken from the patient’s own tumor tissue to help personalize treatment for each patient to reduce side effects, increase treatment response, and improve patient outcomes. The same technologies are being applied to improve COVID testing (in collaboration with O’Connor), which has led to the creation of a start-up company developing a novel mobile COVID testing laboratory.

O’Connor, who is a leader in HIV vaccine research and also leads the UW’s Zika project, spoke about using advanced genomic tools to track the COVID-19 virus through space and time, and which helped provide reassurance that hospital PPE effectively protects healthcare workers from infection.

In other business, the REDI Committee:

  • Heard a panel discussion on honing Wisconsin’s competitive edge in the competition for federal funds to support the growth of technology hubs across the U.S. heartland. Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, moderated the panel, which included Erik Iverson, chief executive office of WARF, Dr. Jessica Silvaggi, vice president of UW-Milwaukee Research Foundation, and David Vasko, senior director of Advanced Technology for Rockwell Automation.

The University of Wisconsin Board of Regents will resume its meeting at 8:45 a.m. on December 10, 2021, in Madison.