Chancellor Rebecca Blank delivered the annual State of the University address on Monday, Oct. 4, walking the Faculty Senate through the triumphs of the recent past and the challenges the University of Wisconsin-Madison continues to face.
Blank highlighted UW-Madison’s designation as a “Green Ribbon School,” the first of the Big Ten to earn such an award. Reducing environmental impacts and costs, improving the health and wellness of faculty and staff and providing effective environmental and sustainability education are components considered in the selection of Green Ribbon schools.
Additionally, Blank highlighted the university’s first-place spot on Washington Monthly’s list of top public universities, as well as being named fourth overall behind MIT, Duke and Stanford.
“This ranking is particularly important, because it measures each university’s impact on the country through education, research and public service — which is at the heart of our mission,” Blank said.
One of the biggest facets of the address focused on how incoming classes have developed throughout the years. UW-Madison spokesperson Meredith McGlone told The Daily Cardinal that the amount of applicants to UW Madison was up 17% from last year, echoing Chancellor Blank’s excitement for the “record-setting” freshman class.
With all these new students, the university is working to prepare for them in a multitude of ways. In addition to expanding class sections and advising options, nine new mental health providers and over 80 new faculty have been hired.
Blank introduced the topic of COVID-19 plans by first highlighting the high vaccination rate on campus — 93% for students, 95% for employees and more than 99% percent for faculty.
Despite success in keeping COVID-19 rates low, Blank warned that the university is not out of the woods yet, and that fighting this endemic disease is going to be a continuous process of working with the pandemic team to frequently evaluate the need for restrictions and protections. This isn’t to say that there isn’t hope — McGlone stressed that these COVID-19 policies are specific responses to needs in the community and not intended to be permanent.
To add to the challenges that the university will face in the upcoming months, the new state budget did not shake out the way many were expecting it to. There was no new increase in general state money to support new programs or break ground on the new Engineering building, said Blank
Regardless, the university is coming out of its most successful fundraising campaign in history, having collected half a billion dollars more than the original goal. According to Blank, these funds make it possible to invest in a compensation fund for faculty as well as equity increase and bonus funds for staff.
Closing her remarks, Blank reminded the Faculty Senate that despite the massive forward strides that UW-Madison has accomplished, there’s always more to go, and more ways to improve.
“I hope you will all be thinking about how we can apply what we’ve learned in this pandemic to improve some aspects of our work,” said Blank. “This is a great university, and our reputation is stronger than ever — but we can be even better.”
Blank will be leaving the university in the summer of 2022 to become the president of Northwestern University.