Students at UW–Madison will face a very important question in the ASM spring elections. The ballot for the elections, held March 3-5, will include a referendum question about whether to fund a comprehensive renovation of our campus recreational facilities.
The recreational facilities at UW–Madison play a large role in the university experience for many students. Eighty-three percent of our 42,000 students used these facilities last year. Our Rec Sports facilities had more than 1.7 million visits by users in 2012-13.
But anyone who goes into our recreational sports and fitness facilities will immediately notice that they are old and overcrowded. UW–Madison is lagging behind its peers in this area. We are behind our peers in the Big Ten conference for space devoted to fitness, with just 15,000 square feet. By contrast the leader, Ohio State, has 49,000 square feet.
This lack of space was put in vivid terms during the recent inclement weather. Shortly after it was announced that morning classes would be canceled on Jan. 28 due to extremely cold temperatures and dangerous wind chills, hundreds of students took the opportunity to head to the SERF for a workout. The gym filled up and a line began to form outside. I’m told that there was as much as a seven-minute wait outside in the cold just to get inside of the facility. That shouldn’t happen at a campus of this caliber.
Everyone wants to be able to buy quality goods at low prices. One item in most peoples’ budget that has fallen in price over the past several decades is clothing. One reason for this is the outsourcing of clothing manufacturing to lower-cost countries. While low prices are important, American consumers still want to know that their clothes are produced in factories with safe and fair working conditions.
Here at UW-Madison, we sell a lot of clothes and other items that promote the UW brand. The university has contracts allowing 447 companies to make products bearing the university’s name or logos. Our product sales bring in $3.3 million annually to the university, which puts us among the top 20 colleges and universities in product revenue generation. These proceeds go toward financial aid for scholarships and to the Athletic Department. While some of these items are U.S.-made, many items – particularly clothing – are made in other countries. (In fact, it’s difficult to find a U.S.-made T-shirt anywhere these days.)
So, UW is connected to the manufacturing practices of multinational companies sourcing in far away countries such as Bangladesh, Honduras or Indonesia. And we care about how these goods get made.
Recently, the University of Wisconsin–Madison has been on the receiving end of a harsh campaign that criticizes our research using animal models. The critics are using a graphic picture, taken out of context, blown up to billboard size, and displayed on Madison’s public buses to try to turn public opinion against the valuable medical research conducted by faculty and staff at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
The campaign distorts the facts about our animal research, is inaccurate in its descriptions of how we treat the animals, and does not recognize the value of this work to human and animal health. The university has articulated a strong response to this campaign and will continue to do so.
The research referenced in the bus ads provides basic information essential to understanding how the brain integrates auditory information, and helps develop technologies that benefit people who are hard of hearing. Basic research like this has helped to develop hearing aid algorithms that improve speech understanding for hard of hearing children in classrooms, has led to the creation of widely-used voice recognition systems, and has been instrumental in understanding how to treat people who suffer from vertigo or balance issues, among other benefits.
If you’ve spent time at UW, you probably know of the bronze plaque near the front doors of Bascom Hall. It calls for the “continual and fearless sifting and winnowing” of ideas.
The Class of 1910 donated the plaque in 1915 as a class memorial. It commemorates the wording from the Board of Regents meeting of September 18, 1894 supporting Professor Richard Ely, who was accused of socialist, pro-union activities.
Our sifting and winnowing plaque is as relevant today as it ever was.
In recent months, the American Studies Association has generated a great deal of media attention for passing a resolution calling for a boycott of Israeli higher education institutions. Though we have some faculty who belong to the American Studies Association, the University of Wisconsin at Madison does not have a traditional American Studies program.(Instead, we have a globally-focused cluster called Comparative U.S Studies.) We do not hold an institutional membership with the ASA.
Nonetheless, I have also heard from many alumni and concerned members of the community asking if I supported or opposed the ASA’s action. Rather than debating the details of the ASA resolution, let me share my personal view of academic boycotts in general.
I had the privilege to ring in the New Year as part of the University of Wisconsin–Madison delegation at the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla. It was a thrill to be among the thousands of cheering alumni and students who made the trek to support the football team and to share their Badger pride.
It was a good fall for University of Wisconsin athletes. To list some of the key achievements:
- First-year Football Coach Gary Andersen led his team to a strong 9-4 record, culminating in the Capital One Bowl berth.
- The Women’s Volleyball team, also under a first-year coach, Kelly Sheffield, had a thrilling run all the way to the NCAA championship game.
- The Men’s Soccer team had a successful season, snapping an 18-year NCAA tournament drought, and the Women’s Soccer player Rose Lavelle was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, the first time a member of the UW team has been so honored.
- The Men’s Cross Country team placed ninth in the NCAA Championship meet, extending their streak to 18 consecutive top-10 finishes, while the women’s cross country team also had a successful season, finishing 21st at the NCAAs.
- Our basketball and hockey programs are all off to strong starts. Continue reading
One of the frequent topics that comes up during my visits with alumni, media and business leaders around the state is the time it takes to receive a degree at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
When these questions are asked, I have the opportunity to talk about one of the great success stories we’ve had recently at UW–Madison, the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates (MIU). A new report on the results of the MIU has recently been issued, showing reductions in time-to-degree and improvements in access to large required courses.
First, let me give a quick recap for those of you who may not be familiar with MIU. The program was launched in 2009 to improve the value, quality and affordability of an undergraduate education at UW–Madison and was a major initiative of former Chancellor Biddy Martin.
MIU is funded through an allocation from undergraduate tuition – approximately $40 million of the tuition funds collected from undergraduates is set aside for MIU and is divided equally between instructional support and student services, and funding for need-based financial aid.
With all of the efforts to cut the federal budget, research dollars to universities might seem a very low priority. They shouldn’t.
Basic research – that is, research that is designed to advance basic scientific ideas rather than to develop specific products – has long been of key importance in the development of really revolutionary new ideas and products. Early basic research on human cell biology, on electronics, or on radio waves has ended up producing genetic therapies, semiconductors and computers, or GPS systems. Those early scientific studies didn’t foresee these inventions, but this basic research allowed later researchers to start thinking about potential applications.
Basic research is what economists refer to as a “public good.” Without a clear idea of what may come from it, private investors and businesses usually don’t want to get involved. They are interested in the applications, but the applications don’t arise unless the basic research has been done.
UW–Madison’s impact on Wisconsin and the world comes in so many forms. Two of the most visible are the scientific contributions of our faculty and academic staff, and the remarkable employment opportunities available to graduates of our science and engineering programs. Often, those benefits work hand-in-hand, as with the many companies and jobs created to develop and market discoveries emerging from UW–Madison laboratories.
Recently, two of those companies were featured in a report compiled by the Science Coalition, a group of more than 50 leading American research universities. “Sparking Economic Growth 2.0” features 100 companies, each showing how federally funded research conducted in academic labs helps drive the U.S. economy and keep it ahead of its competitors. (For the full coalition report, visit www.sciencecoalition.org/successstories.)
Cellular Dynamics International (CDI) was founded by four UW–Madison professors, including stem cell pioneer James Thomson, and now produces induced pluripotent stem cells for experimentation with new drugs, stem cell banking, and research in new stem cell therapies. Much of the basic research that enables the company’s products was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Two UW–Madison chemical engineers turned their work on plant sugars into Virent, a company that is using plant materials to develop replacements for plastics and fuels traditionally made with hydrocarbons from oil and natural gas. Grants from the U.S. Department of Energy supported the science that produced the first molecules of these new materials.
Over the course of the past three months, I have met with a number of our faculty, staff, students, alumni, business leaders, political leaders, media outlets and more. Those discussions have helped me learn more about the opportunities and challenges at UW-Madison as I settle into my role as chancellor of this great university.
Some topics come up again and again in my conversations with multiple stakeholders. One of the most frequently asked questions is about the challenge we face in maintaining the tradition of excellence at the University of Wisconsin in the decades ahead. How will I, as the new chancellor, preserve and advance the work of those who, over a period of 165 years, helped make this land grant university into one of the best universities in the world.
There is no easy answer to that question, but it’s clear to me that attracting and retaining talented faculty and staff is key. At a university, our people — our teachers, our researchers, and those who keep everything operating — are our most important asset. As a major research university, we are competing on an international level to attract and retain top talent. And it’s a highly competitive world out there. Ask any senior level faculty or staff member, and they will almost surely know colleagues who have been lured away by a higher salary to another university.
I’m continuing my trips around the state to cities with other four-year UW campuses. In my trip this week, I visited Eau Claire and La Crosse, met with editorial boards of the daily newspapers in those towns, and also met with UW–La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow. (I was supposed to see UW-Eau Claire Chancellor Jim Schmidt, but that ended up not working.) As always, one of my main goals is to meet with our graduates and it was wonderful to hear from the enthusiastic alumni in Eau Claire, at a reception with the Chippewa Valley Chapter of the Wisconsin Alumni Association.
My main message when I talk with alumni and with the press is to make the case for why UW–Madison is a great asset to the state. As I’ve said in other venues, we haven’t done a very good job of telling the citizens of Wisconsin how much the university here in Madison contributes to this state.
While in La Crosse, I had the pleasure of touring Gundersen Health System’s new hospital expansion. In that visit I found an excellent example of the positive impact a major research university like the University of Wisconsin can have in Wisconsin communities.
Gundersen is the Western Academic Campus for our School of Medicine and Public Health. We have similar partnerships with Marshfield Clinic in Marshfield and Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee. That means that our medical students benefit by being able to go to these clinics for training in some of their required rotations through different medical specialties.