Industry leaders renewed calls for Wisconsin lawmakers to support a new University of Wisconsin-Madison engineering building in a statewide campaign Sunday, with UW-Madison saying private donors may withdraw support if additional funding is not secured.
In an open-letter advertisement in the Sunday editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Wisconsin State Journal, CEOs from companies like Epic Systems, American Family Insurance, Milwaukee Tool and 39 others encouraged legislators to meet the gap on funding for the building.
It’s part of a statewide campaign funded by the Wisconsin Alumni Association, according to an email statement from Charles Hoslet, UW-Madison vice chancellor for university relations.
“The decision by the Joint Finance Committee not to advance the building surprised many in the state’s business, economic development and media communities, who saw the project as an obvious step to address critical workforce development issues facing Wisconsin,” Hoslet said. “Without urgent action, private donors may withdraw their support, project costs will continue to rise and Wisconsin's economy, employers and students will suffer.”
In June 2023, the Republican-led state budget-writing committee struck down funding for the estimated $347 million Engineering Hall project already approved by Gov. Tony Evers in the state’s 2023-25 capital budget.
Nearly half of the funding — $147 million — would have been provided by private philanthropy, with $197 million requested by Evers from the state.
In June, Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, told reporters the budget-writing committee cut funding for the building because they “had to reduce an unrealistic capital budget” proposed by Evers, according to The Cap Times.
Democrats and UW-Madison officials decried the move, saying it would hurt workforce development and engineering recruitment statewide.
“UW-Madison will continue to fall further behind other states and competitors like Purdue and Illinois, which have seen significant enrollment growth and investment in their programs and buildings,” Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin said in a statement following the budget committee’s vote.
Industry leaders in the open letter said a “new, state-of-the art building” would provide space to educate more engineering students and grow the undergraduate engineering population by 1,000 students.
“This expansion will enable the university to serve more Wisconsin students and employers and will assist in the recruitment and retention of top-tier faculty members, sustaining its excellence in research and education,” the letter said.
Acceptance statistics are a key concern for UW-Madison in funding a new building. The university says it can only accept 20% of College of Engineering applicants, according to Hoslet’s statement. Increased acceptance would fill “unmet workforce needs,” Hoslet said.
Sunday’s advertisement reinforced the uncertainty of donor funding without state support. Of the $147 million UW-Madison pledged for the building, $100 million has already been raised, according to the ad. But without additional legislative funding, that $100 million may not stick.
“Delaying this project to the next state budget would increase the total cost to approximately $400 million, with no guarantee that donor funds will still be available,” it read.
In an email statement from Hoslet, the university said the need for the new building is “undeniable.”
“At the core of this campaign is the university’s dedication to strengthening our workforce and building Wisconsin’s talent pipeline,” Hoslet said.
The university’s campaign aims to “reinvigorate support and demonstrate that the project’s long-term benefits far outweigh the upfront costs” over the next month, Hoslet added.
Liam Beran is the Campus News Editor for The Daily Cardinal and a third-year English major. Throughout his time at the Cardinal, he's written articles for campus, state and in-depth news. Follow him on Twitter at @liampberan.