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SOME HIGHLIGHTS: The Daily Cardinal sits down with Chancellor Rebecca Blank

Chancellor Rebecca Blank talked with The Daily Cardinal News Team in her office on a sunny March afternoon.

Image By: Katie Scheidt

On how UW generates an estimated $24 billion for the state's economy:

There's a number of direct ways in which we generate revenue for the state. We employ some 2,200 people here directly, not to mention our student employees and our students who come in, the number of ways in which people participate in our arts events and our athletic events, all of those are tax revenue. Other ways are hotels and restaurants and just spending at the state.

Then there are indirect effects; if you're an economist there's these. When I go to the grocery store, that not just generates income for me but that also generates further income for the employees and the owners…

On Wisconsin business as allies for state funding, support:

Let me step back ... if you look at high-technology business, where there's high-tech manufacturing or sort of cutting-edge bio things, health care or finances, increasingly if you ask where is the growth of these businesses clustered, they are clustered near research institutions and research centers. Just look at where there is really rapid economic growth in this country. There's a big research institution, if not two or three, in the middle of all of that.

We are one reason businesses come here, one of the reasons they stay here, for all the reasons we just discussed.

So, why it is they go to the governor and talk about the importance of higher education, is because we have very real and immediate impacts on them. They want our engineers, they want our recent graduates, they want our good writers and journalists for their communications departments and they want to be nearby the sort of research that we do to stay in touch with what are the coolest new technologies that are going to impact us and that [they] need to pay attention to and even be a part of helping to explore.

On performance metrics:

I have no concerns at all in saying that we need to be accountable for things like graduation rates and retention rates, and how we're doing on the research front and how are we doing with outreach, and that's the nature of all the output measures being proposed.

The devil is always in the detail, right? There are good ways to do these things, and there are bad ways to do these things. We have a number of examples in other states that have put various output measures in place in a bad way and we shouldn't do that. A number of those states, as a result, have taken those out.

You don't want to destroy excellence by [only] putting money into your lowest-end schools, right? That's an example of not doing it well.

On freedom of speech:

You've got to allow space for both the expression of an opinion, however unpopular as it may be, as well as protest. You have to make sure the protest does not stop the expression of an opinion, and that's a very delicate balance. We've seen schools where that didn't happen in the recent past.

We had a Ben Shapiro event last semester and I actually thought we did that very well. We had a group of protestors and we talked to them ahead of time and said "You can come in, but you have five minutes because this event must go on." The protesters came in, they disrupted the event—it actually went on seven minutes—and they left at that point and the event proceeded. The protesters were in the hall, making it very clear as people came and went.

But I thought that was exactly—when talking about creating a balance— not a bad balance, and I was actually quite proud of our students on both sides of that event in terms of how they handled that. Mr. Shapiro got to give his full speech and at the same time it was very clear that there was controversy about this.

It's clear that there are some people telling us we don't have enough conservative voices on campus. I personally think they don't personally understand a lot of the voices that are expressed here. I mean, I would guess that 90 to 95 percent of the presentations that go on on this campus have no political content whatsoever.

On how UW-Madison has reduced time to degree:

My predecessor, Biddy Martin—this is almost unbelievable in today's current budget—actually did a deal with the legislator, maybe seven years ago, where we raised our tuition in a step function by $1,500 and put all of that money back into affordability and access.

We did three things: We hired a number of faculty in those really big course areas where courses often close out, we substantially beefed up our advising so we have more advisors per student and we increased financial aid—big increase in the internal financial aid dollars we started giving out.

It's a fine example of how increased investments can produce results.

On direct admission to colleges:

Our business school and our engineering school are where we're going to see [direct admits] most. And we're quite unusual compared to our peers in that many of them [direct] admit pretty much the whole class of the freshman year or a very high share of them. We [directly] admitted almost no one in their freshman year.

On how [direct admits] would affect transfer students:

Well, that’s one reason why you don't want to admit a really high share of your class because a lot of your transfer students who come in want those colleges, and we've gotta preserve space for that. And have the transfer students have options to be admitted, just as we also want to do the same for a student who might spend their freshman year pretty undecided.

On measuring professors’ time in the classroom:

There’s nothing wrong with measuring workloads, most companies do it. If indeed we need to put a workload policy in place we’ll put a full workload policy in place, which looks at time spent teaching, advising, mentoring students.

There’s actually a lot of overlap between those particular [areas, especially] with graduate students. And time spent in administrative work and outreach in the state, and our faculty to all of those.

On hiring faculty only at retention level:

Whether that’s true or not depends a little on which school or college you’re looking at … One of the effects of budget cuts is people retire and we haven’t replaced them in some departments. You have to look by the department to get that story.

And it does reflect changes in student demand. There's been real shifts in where students are majoring over the last decade. Resources move slowly around a university because faculty are here for long periods of time and we want them here. But there are shifts that do follow faculty.

On diversity at UW-Madison:

One of the particular challenges right now is we do have external voices often on the political side that are saying things quite different from at least what some group of internal voices are saying.

You’ve got at least some individuals from outside who are attacking us for dealing with diversity and my role in that— which is the communication role— is to say particularly to the outside, that this is not about political correctness, and this is not about trying to give in to student demands, this is about a fundamental educational need of our students as they go to work in the 21st century.

They must be able to work in a diverse and highly differentiated environment with people from other countries, with people from other parts of this nation and with people from very different racial and ethnic backgrounds. If they can’t do that, they will not be very successful in their careers. That’s an important message to get out to those who are critical of what we’re doing. 

Peter Coutu, Madeline Heim, and Andrew Bahl contributed to this report

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