MADISON, Wis.—University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross told the Board of Regents today in a virtual meeting that the University’s commitment to the Wisconsin Idea of serving every corner of the state continues, despite COVID-19.

“We are now doing many things differently, but the University of Wisconsin System institutions remain open. I am enormously gratified and proud of the work being done at the institutional and system level to make this happen,” Cross said.

In his report on the UW System’s continuing response to COVID-19, Cross noted that campus leaders, faculty, and staff at all 26 campuses leveraged spring break to transition courses to alternative methods of delivery to help keep students, faculty, staff, and colleagues healthy and safe.

Cross provided an update on the federal response to the pandemic, noting that the COVID-19 bill, passed by Congress and signed by the President last week, includes a $30.75-billion Education Stabilization Fund to provide emergency support to local school systems and higher education institutions. According to data provided by national higher education organizations, Cross said Wisconsin can expect about $47 million in emergency grants for students and $47 million in institutional support from the federal government.

“As these funds are distributed, it will be a powerful down payment to help with the University’s most immediate challenges and needs,” Cross said.

On the state front, Cross shared the UW System submitted a preliminary request for state assistance. The request includes allocations to provide funds for student support related to behavioral health,  student practicum completion, IT support for the move to alternative delivery methods for instruction, and institutional aid to help stabilize campuses.

Cross emphasized, the unknown scope of continued lost revenues and increased costs to continue to serve students due to COVID-19 may require additional federal and state support in the future.

While significant questions remain about what’s upcoming, Cross stressed the UW System must start planning for whatever could be next.

Cross had a special note to students: “You are our future – and we want nothing more than to have you succeed and thrive. Despite these very challenging times, we remain committed to helping you do that.”

To the UW System’s “amazing faculty and staff,” Cross said their “‘can do’ attitude and commitment to carry on in support of our students are truly magnificent.”

Board President’s Report

Regent President Drew Petersen thanked System leadership, chancellors, provosts, chief business officers, faculty, staff and students for their “extraordinary support, understanding, and compassion at this highly unorthodox time.” He added that while things will continue to be rocky for a time, “what sustains me is my belief in our shared humanity, our willingness to adapt, and our ability to work together.”

“It is through our shared commitment that we will get through this – and, I believe, emerge even stronger as a people and as a University system,” Petersen said.

Addressing the UW System’s decision to suspend traditional commencement ceremonies later this spring, Petersen said, “This was a very difficult decision, because we know how hard (students) have been working to reach that apex moment, and how much you and your families were looking forward to it.” He noted that every UW campus is working to come up with either rescheduled ceremonies or other ways to mark this important celebration.

Finally, Petersen reminded the Board that the UW System is one of the state’s largest employers – with about 40,000 employees and 170,000 students. “We are a unique and powerful economic engine for the state, with a $24 billion annual impact on the Wisconsin economy,” Petersen said. “To keep the state’s businesses and communities strong, it is vital that the UW System and our operations are supported. Simply put, as the University goes, so goes the state.”

Update on current leadership searches

President Petersen provided an update on current leadership searches. He told Regents that a 12-member search and screen committee was named last month to help identify a successor to UW-Stevens Point Chancellor Bernie Patterson, who previously announced plans to retire later this year. Regent Karen Walsh will chair the committee. Petersen plans to charge the committee will next week and then will begin the search process.

Regent Vice President Michael Grebe, chair of the UW System presidential search committee, reported that even in these extraordinary times, the search for the next UW System president is proceeding, with virtual interviews with candidates scheduled for mid-April. Given the current and considerable uncertainties, however, Grebe said it’s possible their schedule or circumstances could change.

New UW-Green Bay Chancellor approved

In closed session, the Regents unanimously approved Michael Alexander, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, as the seventh Chancellor of the university, which has campus locations in Green Bay, Marinette, Manitowoc, and Sheboygan.

Alexander will assume the leadership post on May 1.

2025FWD Strategic Framework Approved

The Regents approved the UW System 2025FWD strategic framework, an update to its predecessor, 2020FWD. The framework, which is intended to provide guidance for the priorities and activities of UW System Administration and UW System institutions, is organized under the same four main pillars as 2020FWD. These include: (1) the educational pipeline, (2) the university experience, (3) business and community engagement, and (4) operational excellence.

President Cross reported that after gathering input from a diversity of viewpoints across campuses and communities, it was agreed the four main pillars should remain as a focus of System-level priorities. He pointed out that some underlying priorities have changed, however, such as issues like student behavioral health becoming more acute, or university-to-business educational programming emerging as a key tactic to solve the state’s workforce challenges.

He noted the adoption of the 2025FWD framework is not meant to be binding on the next UW System President. “Many of these priorities are intended to address the most obvious challenges facing the UW System and higher education in general, and in many cases reflect initiatives that have been in progress for several years,” Cross said. “I expect my successor will find that to be the case, but he or she will be entirely able to make any adjustments deemed appropriate.”

Update on ATP progress

Laurent Heller, UW-Madison’s Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration, and Rob Cramer, UW System’s Vice President for Administration, provided an update on the status of the Administrative Transformation Program (ATP).

ATP is a single, integrated program to right-size current complexities in human resource and finance services by streamlining policies, standardizing processes, organizing roles, and modernizing technology with cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.

Given the current situation with COVID-19, ATP has been temporarily slowed according to Heller. The selection of a cloud-based software will be paused at this time, with no award. The implementation selection process will be rescheduled to reflect the current situation, and a statement of work for the quality assurance vendor will be finished.

With new uncertainties related to a range of university operations, revenue, and expenditures, Heller called the decision “a prudent approach” at this time.

Regent President Petersen acknowledged the expense involved with ATP but said he is convinced the work needs to be done when the time is appropriate. An update regarding ATP will be provided again at the Board’s June meeting.

EApp application fees reduced

The Board voted to approve reducing the EApp application fee from the current $50 to $25 for new undergraduate admission to all UW universities, excepting UW-Madison; and to approve the exemption of an application fee for students transferring from a UW branch campus or a UW university to another UW university. The effective date of these changes is August 1, 2020.

President Cross told Regents the fee reduction may encourage more students to apply to one or more UW universities, and will help the UW be more competitive with neighboring state systems.

“The bottom line is we should be focused on what is most important: helping students find the right fit in our System without being limited by cost,” Cross said.

He noted while the UW System’s new EApp was under development prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, having an easy, low-cost application is likely more critical now than ever in helping grow the number of students attending the UW.

New colleagues welcomed

The Board welcomed new Regent Héctor Colón of Milwaukee. Colón is the President and CEO of Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. He previously served as Executive Director of the Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services, where he led several countywide initiatives, including efforts to reform the juvenile justice system, end chronic homelessness, transform mental health care, and eliminate a 30-year waitlist for disabilities services. As a former member of the U.S. national boxing team, Colón won seven national titles and competed in the 1992 Olympic trials.

Colón, who was appointed by Governor Tony Evers to succeed Regent Gerald Whitburn, said he is “very humbled and honored” to join the Board.

Katherine Frank, who started March 1 as the new Chancellor at UW-Stout, was also welcomed. Frank previously served as Vice President of Academic Innovation and Professor of English at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Wash. Earlier in her career, she held leadership positions at Northern Kentucky University, Indiana University East, and Colorado State University-Pueblo.

President Cross noted that Frank is making history in this role. As UW-Stout’s eighth chancellor, she is also the first woman to lead the polytechnic institution.

In other business, the Board of Regents:

  • Approved the Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering at UW-Green Bay;
  • Approved the Master of Science in Athletic Training at UW-Madison;
  • Approved the Bachelor of Science in Global Health at UW-Madison;
  • Approved the Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering at UW-River Falls;
  • Approved the Master of Science in Business Analytics at UW-Whitewater;
  • Approved the modification and consolidation of Regent Policy Documents related to the transfer and award of credit for extra-institutional learning;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request for authority to lease space for the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request for authority to construct the demolition and abatement scope of the Gymnasium/Natatorium replacement project;
  • Approved UW System’s request for authority to construct All Agency maintenance and repair projects, including exterior window replacement at three interconnected residence halls at UW-Superior, and a central heating plant fuel reliability upgrade at UW-La Crosse;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request for authority to complete the design and construct the Dutton Laboratory renovation project in Weeks Hall;
  • Approved UW-Milwaukee’s Connected Systems Institute membership agreement with Wisconsin Electric Power Company;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s clinical trial agreement with Novartis Pharma AG;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s clinical trial agreement with Janssen;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s fixed price agreement with EG Crop Science, Inc.;
  • Approved Administrative Code modifications to Ch. UWS 17, Wis. Admin. Code, “Student Nonacademic Misconduct Procedures”;
  • Approved Administrative Code modifications to Ch. UWS 18, Wis. Admin. Code, “Conduct on University Lands”; and
  • In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, approved a resolution delegating authority to the UW System President to temporarily suspend the provisions of Regent Policy Documents or Wisconsin Administrative Rule.


The next meeting of the UW System Board of Regents is scheduled for June 4-5, 2020, at UW-Milwaukee.