All Ways Forward

–submitted by Ellie Schatz; photo by Will Anzenberger

Rebecca Blank 11 4 2015The tone was set for Chancellor Rebecca Blank’s talk about moving the UW Forward by talented UW alumni. Soprano Emily Birsen sang “Quendo m’en vo” from La Bohème, accompanied by pianist Scott Gendel. Do we want to keep supporting and encouraging this kind of talent development in Wisconsin? Their standing ovation plus the response to Chancellor Blank’s opening questions (who in the audience works at, has a family member work at, or graduated from UW) signaled strong passion and commitment to our favorite education and research institution.

Chancellor Blank proceeded to give Renee Moe a run for her money as the fastest speaker we know. Filled with statistics, she demonstrated that we could feel the energy resulting from the tremendous investments to both education and research at UW since its founding in 1848. We can look forward to and support new approaches that will be both exciting and challenging as we move forward.

Trends at UW include a declining number of students from within the state, an increase in the number of out-of-state students, and an increase in the number of international students. There is a clear shift of students moving into STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields, which is a good thing, but with a caution: students should also understand the importance of writing, critical thinking, learning languages, and other skills taught in a broad liberal arts program.

Statistics supporting the good things happening at UW in education and research include: the student retention rate is 95.8! Graduation rates are up, and UW ranks as one of the top 25 research universities in the world. Given a changing research landscape, this means that to offset declining state and federal dollars we need to work differently, building research partnerships with industry. Chancellor Blank gave several examples of such partnerships, showing how we are growing in spite of the 250 million dollar cut in state funding, ongoing budget debates, and negative press.

All Ways Forward is a comprehensive Fundraising Campaign with the goal of raising 3.2 billion dollars by 2020. Recent gifts from John and Tasha Morgridge, Jerome and Simona Chazen, Albert and Nancy Nicolas, and the Grainger Foundation show how transformational gifts can help to move us forward. However, Blank warns, gift dollars are not substitutes for state dollars. $250 million in donor dollars does not equal that in state dollars for several reasons, i.e., gift dollars are tied to donor intent, gift dollars are in endowment, of which only 4 1/2% is accessible in a given year, and what we raise now in pledges may not be dollars in hand until many years out.

With continuing new programs and wonderful spaces, how can we not join the Chancellor in her enthusiasm and optimism. From the Villager Mall programs, a School of Education partnership with MMSD to build a pipeline of students of color and low income to help close the achievement gap, and excellent faculty, to awe-inspiring research, On Wisconsin.

 Did you miss  our meeting this week?  Our thanks to WisconsinEye for videotaping and providing this LINK.

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