Chancellor Rebecca Blank emphasized her confidence in the university and its future, despite university-wide issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic in a virtual speech to the Wisconsin Alumni Associationon Tuesday.
“We have really been in the midst of three crises: a crisis related to COVID, a crisis related to budget, and crisis related to this social revolution around racial justice,” explained Blank, who spoke as part of the association’s “The UW Now” livestream video series..
Chancellor Blank also made a point to highlight “good-news” pertinent to this fall semester. The freshman class, according to Chancellor Blank, is the most diverse in UW-Madison history.
She also triumphed the 175 new faculty members hired at UW-Madison over the last few months as well as the all-time high graduation rate recorded this past spring.
While discussing the COVID-19 pandemic, Blank acknowledged the spike of positive cases the first week of this semester and how she and university officials are still trying to understand exactly what happened to cause this increase. She also acknowledged that UW-Madison COVID-19 cases rose much faster than other peer schools with similar testing plans.
Blank concluded that the two week lockdown of the Sellery and Witte residence halls and some fraternities and sororities, as well as reduced in-person interactions and complete shift to remote learning, last month, were effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19 cases on campus.
In the livestream, Blank also highlighted how revenue—due to campus-wide shutdowns and changes in university operations—has and will continue to drop. She also noted how state budget lapses, and Governor Evers decision to “pull-back” money during both this fiscal year, to combat the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, raised concerns over the budget. The UW System overall will face a $45 million budget lapse, much of which will impact Blank’s flagship UW-Madison campus.
Finally, Chancellor Blank touched on issues of equity and inclusion facing the entire country, including UW-Madison. She recognized how the UW-Madison community needs to continue to address their institutionalized prejudice as a predominantly white institution in a predominantly white state.
Chancellor Blank cited increasing diversity in admissions and in university faculty, among other topics, as ways in which she and the university are addressing this issue today. She also stressed the commitment the university has made to maintaining these initiatives in the future.
“We’re trying to think not just about how we get through these next nine months, though we are thinking about that,” Blank said. “But how do we come out stronger and better? A better functioning university and a better functioning research institution.”
The UW Now series, organized by the Wisconsin Alumni Association, is available on their YouTube channel. The next livestream event is October 20.