Photo of UW-La Crosse hosting the UW System Board of Regents July 2023 meeting in the UW-La Crosse Student Union. (Photo by Jen Towner/UWL)

UW-La Crosse hosts the UW System Board of Regents July 2023 meeting in the UW-La Crosse Student Union. (Photo by Jen Towner/UWL)

LA CROSSE, Wis. – The University of Wisconsin System today presented the Board of Regents with a broad overview of the progress on the system’s five-year strategic plan since its adoption by the board last December.

UW System President Jay Rothman told Regents that the strategic plan is the system’s “north star” and “is premised on the fact that the status quo is not sustainable.”

Rothman said the strategic plan is focused on addressing some of the significant challenges facing the state, including, among others, a significant shortage of workers with a four-year degree or more, shifting demographics in the state, a declining perception of the value of a college degree coupled with a decline in the participation rate of high school graduates, and the need to maintain and enhance world-class research capabilities.

“If unaddressed, I believe these issues pose a significant – if not existential – threat to our state’s long-term economic viability,” Rothman said.

He called Regents’ attention to the significant amount of overlap among various strategic objectives. “This is intentional, and helps drive teamwork among our various departments, which collaboration I am pleased to say is alive and well,” Rothman said.

He also noted the substantial alignment between the systemwide strategic plan and the strategic plans of individual universities. “This alignment is essential because fulfillment of the systemwide plan is absolutely dependent on the efforts of our universities, which is as it should be,” he said.

Rothman called on UW System’s three vice presidents – Johannes Britz, senior vice president for Academic and Student Affairs; Sean Nelson, vice president for Finance and Administration; and Jeff Buhrandt, vice president of University Relations – to provide the Board with status updates on the plan’s strategic priorities. They each highlighted action items already completed as well as anticipated actions going forward.

President Rothman reflects on budget

President Rothman told the Regents that he considers the lack of significant overall investment in the UW System in the recently signed state budget a “missed opportunity.”

“To be direct, the budget was a disappointment, and it sets back our goals of partnering with the state to meet workforce challenges,” Rothman said. “At a time when Wisconsin has a historic surplus, much of the legislative debate – unfortunately – was not about the opportunity to make a significant investment in Wisconsin’s most prolific talent generator to meet our state’s workforce needs but rather about cutting our budget because of diversity and inclusion staffing.”

Rothman continued to support the UW System’s commitment to inclusivity. “We are educating students from a variety of backgrounds to enter an increasingly diverse and globally competitive workforce,” he said. “Our employers are counting on our preparing students for a global marketplace. And our students rightfully expect to be exposed to, and learn from, a broad spectrum of cultures, ideas, and opinions.”

“We need to develop all the talent we can in Wisconsin,” Rothman said. “That is job #1 at our universities. At the same time, as I have acknowledged to the legislature, in an organization as large as ours there may be times when initiatives may stray from our primary mission of student success. We acknowledge that and will make every effort to keep our work in this space on track.”

Rothman added that continuing to shrink the UW System’s budget is going to have consequences not only on the university system but more importantly those consequences will jeopardize the longer-term competitiveness of Wisconsin and its economic vibrancy.

“It is profoundly serious when our universities seek an increase that was substantially less than inflation – and instead face cuts that function to have us reduce our purchasing power by hundreds of millions of dollars,” Rothman said. “At a time when Wisconsin has a historic $7 billion surplus, it is inconceivable to me that we are not using even a portion to invest in the state’s best talent generator.”

Rothman told Regents that the UW System will rally in the face of challenges posed by shrinking budgets. “That’s the Wisconsin way,” he said. “There will be tough choices ahead, but we will remain student focused. And we will keep Wisconsin’s wellbeing front and center. But make no mistake, our ability to provide these opportunities is connected to the state’s willingness to invest.”

Host Campus Presentation

Photo of UW-La Crosse Chancellor Gow giving the host-campus presentation to the Board of Regents: “The Keys to UWL’s Success: Great Partnerships and Extraordinary People” (Photo by Jen Towner/UWL)

Chancellor Gow gives the host-campus presentation to the Board of Regents: “The Keys to UWL’s Success: Great Partnerships and Extraordinary People” (Photo by Jen Towner/UWL)

In a presentation to the full Board, UW-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow shared keys to the university’s success in “Great Partnerships, Extraordinary People.”

“As a chancellor, as any leader, you can have the best intentions and the brightest ideas. But none of that matters unless you have the right people in the right positions to help all of us succeed,” Gow said. “Just like our university would not be the same without our people, our community would not be the same without partnerships. All across the region, we’ve found eager partners who share our vision for building a better La Crosse and a stronger Wisconsin.”

Gow highlighted two of UWL’s many partners in the La Crosse area, Kwik Trip and Mayo Clinic Health System. Both play key roles in supporting the university’s workforce development efforts.

He also discussed UWL’s award-winning Community Engaged Learning program, which pairs local organizations with students and faculty who are uniquely qualified to help those organizations overcome challenges.

“At UWL, we recognize and embrace the important role we play in workforce development,” Gow explained. “And we know that industry standards are constantly changing. So it’s crucial for us to remain nimble and responsive in how we prepare students for their future careers.”

Gow also detailed how UWL’s ACCESS Center increases access to a UWL education by providing personalized accommodations for students with disabilities.

Regent President’s Report

Regent President Karen Walsh provided the Board with an update on the ongoing UW-Parkside chancellor search, noting that the Search & Screen Committee is currently reviewing applications and will reconvene next week to select semi-finalist candidates to interview later this summer.

The Search & Screen Committee, led by Regent Kyle Weatherly as chair and Professor Adrienne Viramontes as co-chair, will then recommend a slate of candidates to the Special Regent Committee who will select finalists to continue the process.

It’s anticipated the search process will conclude before the Board’s next regular meeting in early October.

President Walsh also shared her own experience as a first-generation college student and how it influences her understanding of diversity. As a young woman from a small farming community, it was very daunting to come to a large university, she said, and the support she and other first-generation students received from people on campus focused on making all students feel included was vitally important. “We need to make sure we understand that diversity is broader than what most of us consider,” she said.

System President’s Report

In addition to reflections on the budget, President Rothman in his regular report to the Board said the UW System’s legal team has been working with UW universities for months to prepare for the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent final decision on the use of race in admissions decisions.

“Our analysis of the implications of this decision will be ongoing,” he said. “However, we have already established resources to address questions and to provide guidance, as needed, to our universities on this matter.”

Rothman also shared a brief video highlighting “It’s Just Coffee,” his informal gatherings with students to encourage more open and robust sharing of ideas and civil discourse.

“Since arriving at the UW System just over a year ago, I have had the pleasure of speaking with hundreds of students and I continue to be so impressed. They’re smart, they’re enthusiastic, and they’re brimming with ideas to make the world better,” Rothman said.

Events have been held at four campuses to date (Eau Claire, Milwaukee, Oshkosh and Platteville) and will resume in the fall.

Watch “It’s Just Coffee” video

Rothman also reminded Regents that the UW System continues to have noteworthy accomplishments. He noted that UW-Eau Claire was recently honored with a third-place award for Engaged University of the Year by the Accreditation Council for Entrepreneurial and Engaged Universities. UW-Eau Claire was the only finalist from North America for this international award, which honors universities that inspire innovation, collaboration, and positive change in their communities.

Rothman told Regents that Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction recently announced its five winners of the state’s Teacher of the Year honors. He said he was proud to note that all five of these teachers completed some aspect of their licensure program at a UW institution. Between undergraduate and master’s degrees, this year’s winners came through UW-Eau Claire, UW-La Crosse, UW-Milwaukee, UW Oshkosh, and UW-River Falls.

UW System awarded over 3,500 education degrees in 2021-22, the highest number since 2008-09, Rothman said. He added that UW System institutions produced 76% of all graduates who could fill jobs as elementary, middle, secondary and special education teaching positions in the state.

Business & Finance Committee

Vice President for Finance and Administration Sean Nelson provided an informational update on the FY24 Annual Operating Budget for UW System. The UW budget is informed by the provisions of the state budget bill which include a $32 million GPR reduction being held for release upon approval of the Joint Finance Committee; $21 million in cost-to-continue funding for prior year pay plan and fringe benefit expenses; and pay plan increases of 4% and 2% respectively over the next two years.

With the state budget bill having been signed just this week, the Board’s approval of the UW annual budget will be deferred while the Finance team finalizes the details of a proposal for the Board’s consideration at a future date to be determined.

In other business, the Business & Finance Committee:

  • Approved the UW System Status Report on Large or High-Risk Information Technology Projects. The report details 10 major IT projects across the system. Two of those projects were completed since the last update in February, both under budget. For those projects still in progress, the report provides updates on each project’s schedule, scope, and budget. Supply chain and workforce issues continue to pose challenges. The total project portfolio is $257 million, a 2.5% increase from February;
  • Approved an amendment to UW System’s agreement with Huron Consulting Group to increase the number of hours of professional services necessary to support the software implementation for the Administrative Transformation Program. These services will address the need to complete testing and configuration work and provide supplemental consultants to the current team. These costs will be offset by lower-than-expected in-house staff expenses resulting from hiring challenges, and will not require the use of contingency reserves;
  • Approved an amendment to UW System’s agreement with Workday, which provides the enterprise resource planning software for ATP. This amendment will add three new modules to provide critical functionality sought by the HR governance committee. These modules include candidate engagement, messaging, and Cloud Connect for Learning. As with the previous amendment, the $2.3 million does not jeopardize the program budget or require the use of contingency reserves;
  • Approved agreements with Avaap USA and Strata Information Group, to provide additional staff augmentation to the Administrative Transformation Program. These contracts do not add unbudgeted costs to the project but offer UW System two additional vendors from which to add supplemental staff to support software implementation, again necessitated by the challenges in finding available talent. These agreements authorize expenditures of up to $5 million per contract, allowing the project team to quickly add resources as necessary;
  • Heard an update from the UW System’s Office of Trust Funds on the 403(b) Supplemental Retirement Program, which offers UW employees a voluntary, tax-advantaged savings plan for retirement. Following the implementation of several program enhancements made effective in 2022, employee contributions rose 12% from the prior year. Program assets total nearly $3 billion, with over 23,600 accounts; and
  • Received the Cost-Benefit Analysis of Foundations and Associated Affiliated Organizations Report for fiscal year 2021-22. The report notes that 80 foundations and affiliated organizations supported the missions of UW System institutions during that period. The universities received a total of nearly $380 million – an increase of over $40 million from the previous year – while providing $11.6 million in administrative support for these organizations.

Education Committee

The Education Committee approved the modification of the UW System undergraduate application fee structure. The resolution maintains the current application fee of $0 for new undergraduate admission, signaling the UW System’s commitment to educational access for all students. After three free applications, subsequent applications will incur a $25 fee.

UW-Eau Claire, UW-La Crosse, and UW-Madison will continue to charge undergraduate applicants their current fees of $25, $25, and $70, respectively. All institutions can still waive application fees for students who meet the conditions of financial hardship.

The existing waiver of application fees at UW institutions has significantly increased the number of applications at UW institutions and led to smaller declines in freshman enrollment than seen during the same time period nationwide. At the same time, for many institutions, the influx of additional applications has introduced significant challenges in determining where to direct scarce resources to maximize yield. It is expected that reducing the number of free applications will help students to be more focused on the schools they are most interested in attending, and thus help universities better target their time and resources to improve yield.

In other business, the Education Committee:

  • Approved UW-Eau Claire’s request for a Master of Science in Exercise Physiology. It will provide foundational knowledge and clinical experiences to prepare students for work in preventative health programs such including medically based fitness programs; cardiac rehabilitation and other clinically related areas, such as aging, diabetes management, cancer, and neurology; and rehabilitation programs for individuals with disabilities. In the next few years, the program will pursue accreditation through Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) to allow students to meet certification requirements for Exercise Physiologist (ACSM-EP) or Clinical Exercise Physiologist (ACSM-CEP) expected to be in place in August 2027;
  • Approved UW Oshkosh’s request for a Bachelor of Science in Automation Engineering. The program will complement the university’s existing engineering technology offerings and aid in research, economic development, entrepreneurship, and sustainability in Wisconsin. It will prepare graduates to enter a wide range of careers in automation engineering, with this field being in high demand in the manufacturing sector. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) accreditation will be sought to ensure program quality;
  • Heard a host presentation by UW-La Crosse Provost Betsy Morgan, Radiation Therapy Program Director Melissa Weege, Nuclear Medicine Program Director Angela Weiler and students from the programs focused on UWL’s programs associated with radiologic science including Radiation Therapy and Nuclear Medicine Technology. The presentation included a short video and discussions with students regarding why they chose this field, and why this field is a strong choice for students interested in an undergraduate health profession career; and
  • Representatives from four UW institutions discussed the processes, strategies, and initiatives on their campuses aligned with the UW System Strategic Plan. UW-Platteville Interim Provost Wayne Weber facilitated campus panels from UW-Eau Claire, UW-River Falls, and UW-Whitewater to provide examples showing: 1) how the nine strategic priorities identified in the plan apply in their unique contexts; 2) how campuses work with UW System and collaborate with campus partners; and 3) future strategic priorities, actions, and potential impacts.

Capital Planning & Budget Committee

The Capital Planning & Budget Committee approved UW-Madison’s request for authority to increase the budget of the Veterinary Medicine Addition and Renovation project by $24,000,000 for a revised estimated total project cost of $152,103,000.

This project constructs a new three-story building just north of the School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM) between Observatory and Linden Drives. The new facility will provide space for the small animal clinic and connect it to the existing clinic; construct new research, animal biosafety level 3, and biosafety level 2 and 3 laboratories; and include new offices, conference rooms, and shared collaboration/interaction spaces to support the teaching hospital. The clinical space will be expanded to increase access to the small and large animal isolation suites that are required to meet accreditation standards, increase the quantity of specialized surgery environments and equipment, provide imaging space for horses and cattle, and separate patient access to medical oncology services.

The scope for this project has been revised to include an upgrade to the existing BSL-3 lab. The pandemic related challenges of the past three years highlighted the importance of high quality, secure biological research laboratories at UW-Madison. The renovation portion of this project provides an opportunity for SVM to upgrade an existing BSL-3 laboratory to modern standards to meet the need for biological research facilities conducting critical and timely research on airborne diseases, such as COVID-19.

In other business, the Capital Planning & Budget Committee:

  • Approved UW-Madison’s request to sell 1,067 SF of vacant land adjacent to the road right-of-way and part of the Wisconsin Energy Institute to the City of Madison for construction of the Bus Rapid Transit system. The entire transaction with the City includes a Temporary Limited Easement that will aid construction enough for a ‘bus only’ traffic lane. The temporary limited easement totals 3,304 SF;
  • Approved UW System’s request for authority to construct various all agency maintenance and repair projects at an estimated total cost of $21,300,400 ($9,644,900 Program Revenue Supported Borrowing; $11,555,500 Cash; and $100,000 Gifts/Grants);
    • At UW-Madison, the Athletic Facility Repair and Renovation project constructs various maintenance, repair, and renovation scopes of work across the majority of athletics facilities on campus. The Kohl Center Cooling Coil Replacement project removes and replaces cooling coils in 12 air handling units. The cooling coils are original to when the Kohl Center was built in 1998.
    • At UW-Milwaukee, Kenilworth Apartments Exterior Envelope Repairs project repairs the concrete and metal panel façades of the Kenilworth Square Apartments (KSA) building.
    • At UW-Parkside, the Student Center Elevator Renovation project will modernize and replace elevator components and equipment for passenger elevator number one and the associated elevator machine room. The Wyllie Hall Parking Lot project constructs a new one-acre, 55-stall parking lot east of Wyllie Hall, access drive to the parking lot from University Drive, and associated underground utility systems. Due to the original campus core facilities siting, Wyllie Hall is not easily accessible to emergency vehicles. The proposed parking lot and location will resolve these issues. The Residence Life Fire Alarm System project renovates and upgrades the residence life facilities fire alarm systems to meet all current building and fire/safety codes.
    • At UW-River Falls, Hathorn Hall Normal & Emergency Power System Renovation project resolves maintenance and reliability issues with the Hathorn Hall electrical distribution systems and emergency power backup systems. The 29-year-old generator does not have capacity for additional loads and is well over the projected life span of 20 years.
    • At UW-Oshkosh, Titan Stadium Track Replacement replaces the exterior competition track within the Titan Athletic Complex. The replacement track surface will meet NCAA – Rule 1 Construction of Facilities – Section 1 requirements. The top surface has deteriorated and worn through and in its current condition, this track is restricted from scheduling any event.
    • At UW-Whitewater, Parking Lot 19 Reconstruction project re-constructs the parking lot including the drive entrances and will also add a new storm water management detention facility to improve storm water quality.
    • At UW-La Crosse, the Wentz Hall Renovation project improves life/safety systems and ADA accessibility in two residence halls. Wentz Hall was constructed in 1964 and there have been no significant renovations or upgrades in either facility since original construction.
  • Approved UW System’s request for authority to construct various minor facilities renewal projects at an estimated total cost of $8,813,000 ($7,399,000 General Fund Supported Borrowing and $1,414,000 Cash);
    • At UW-Madison, the Fluno Center Plaza Deck Waterproofing and Repair (Increase) increases the project budget to match recent bid results for the originally approved project scope. This project is needed to provide comprehensive long-term solutions to the water intrusions to maintain full use of the parking facility and mitigate damage to the overall structure. Second, the Armory & Gymnasium Exterior Envelope Repair & Replacement project repairs the exterior masonry walls and replaces the roof for this historic facility. The Armory and Gymnasium was constructed in 1894, designed in the Romanesque Revival style. It was listed with the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. In 1974, it was added to the Bascom Hill Historic District.
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request for authority to increase the budget for the construction of the Chemistry Second and Fourth Floor Lab Renovation project for an estimated total project cost of $12,952,000 Gift/Grant Funds. The Chemistry Second and Fourth Floor Lab Renovation was originally approved by the Board of Regents in March 2023 with a budget of $10,952,000. The budget increase of $2,000,000 is due to cost escalation increases based on lead times and labor shortages. Both locations include a full renovation of mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection systems;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request for the design and construction of the Engineering Hall Sprinkler Piping and Gas Distribution Piping Phase II project for an estimated total project cost of $10,000,000 Gift/Grant Funds. This project is Phase 2 of a two-phase project that seeks to design and construct a fire suppression system and gas distribution piping system in Engineering Hall;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request for authority to increase the budget of the Chemistry Addition and Renovation project by $7,400,000 for a revised estimated total project cost of $140,500,000 ($91,200,000 GFSB, $7,400,000 EX- GFSB, $16,072,000 PR-CASH, and $25,828,000 GIFTS). The project, as currently funded, consists of the design and construction of a 10 level, 188,442 GSF undergraduate chemistry teaching tower, and the replacement of critical HVAC and exhaust systems serving the existing research and teaching labs in the Daniels and Mathews chemistry buildings;
  • Approved a request by UW-Madison for authority to increase the budget by $27,550,000 and construct the College of Letters and Science Academic Building project for a revised estimated total project cost of $115,991,000 ($60,363,000 GFSB, $20,628,000 CASH, and $35,000,000 Gift/Grant Funds). This project creates a new 70,028 ASF/115,881 GSF unified home for the Department of History and nine other ethnic studies departments, programs, and centers within the College of Letters and Sciences (L&S) by consolidating and co-locating spaces currently spread across eight facilities. The increase in budget will address cost escalations related to inflation and ensure programmatic requirements of the Departments are not cut from the scope; and
  • Heard a report by Senior Associate Vice President, Alex Roe.

Audit Committee

UW System Chief Compliance Officer Paige Smith provided the Audit Committee with an overview of its plans to initiate the UW System Risk, Compliance, and Audit (RCA) Pilot Program during the 2023-24 academic year.

The Office of Compliance and Risk Management has developed a new risk assessment approach that will enhance and improve the manner, method, and timeline under which UW System and its universities identify, assess, and mitigate high-level risks. The pilot program will create a standardized and consistent process at the university levels for conducting consistent and informative risk assessments. It will encourage universities to engage in regular and updated discussions to stay aware of their risks that could impact their universities.

In other business, the Audit Committee:

  • Reviewed and approved the Fiscal Year 2023 internal audit plan;
  • Heard a summary of recently issued audits:
    • Child Care Centers
    • Controlled Substances in Research
    • Payroll Bi-Annual Audit Report
    • Research Integrity
    • Working in Isolation;
  • Heard a summary report of Integrity Hotline activity for the period of July 1, 2022 through May 31, 2023;
  • Heard a progress report on closing audit comments, which monitors and identifies whether corrective actions have been effectively implemented, or whether senior management has accepted the risk of not taking action; and
  • Heard an update on the progress of implementation of System Policy 625, the Youth Protection and Data Collection Policy.

More Photos

Photos and captions from UW System Board of Regents meeting: Meeting, reception and more from the July 6 and 7 event on the UWL campus

2023 Board of Regents Photo Essay (Photos by Jen Towner/UWL)

See July 7 (day 2) news summary

The UW System Board of Regents will continue its meeting at 8:45 a.m., July 7, 2023, at UW-La Crosse.