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Remarks to the Board of Regents

Katharine C. Lyall

President, University of Wisconsin System
November 7, 2003

Yogi Berra, when he didn’t like a call at home plate, would glare at the umpire and say, "we agree different!" In the last several weeks, we have "agreed different" among ourselves and with others on various issues—and we need to be able to do that on important educational issues. But I hope we also "agree the same" on our basic goals: we share stewardship for one of Wisconsin's most important public assets, its university system. And we must find ways to sustain its quality and maintain its focus on preparing students for success in life and work. We also have an obligation to put our shoulder to the wheel of statewide economic development and employ the intellectual capital of our faculty and laboratories they operate to help business foster new startup companies that can generate jobs in Wisconsin. That work is also relieving human suffering and treating diseases, protecting our environment, and doing many other things. And we must do all this by finding new ways of doing and supporting our work, as we just heard Chancellor Wiley talk about this morning.

Fall 2003 Enrollments

Let me focus first on our students. This fall we have 161,000 students enrolled throughout the UW System. This is about 300 more than last year, but with 325 fewer faculty and staff and $100 million less in our instructional budget.

Overall, the System is about a half percent above our systemwide enrollment target with several individual campuses above their target and a couple slightly below their fall target, which evens out across the state. I am pleased that our institutions have managed a difficult admissions period with an eye to maintaining access and meeting the needs of students and the state. We must now monitor the impacts on educational quality and work and find ways to cushion these where possible. Demand for admission to the UW continues to grow, reflecting I think both the difficult job market and the rising return in lifetime earnings to a college degree.

Qualitatively, this is the best freshman class we’ve ever had, not just at UW-Madison but across the UW System: they have the highest average ACT scores and high school class rank of any class since merger. This new class contains record numbers of transfers from the Technical Colleges and the UW Colleges. I am also pleased to note that underrepresented minority and disadvantaged students constitute 8.8 percent of the entering class—moving us much closer toward the statewide representation of people of color in overall population.

I am also very pleased to note that 84.5 percent of last year’s freshmen have returned to a UW campus, the highest-ever retention rate for returning sophomore students. As you know, we have a goal to increase retention and graduation rates at every UW institution and this fall’s returning sophomores are setting a brisk pace towards that goal.

In short, we have the best entering class ever: our goal now has to be to give them the best education ever! The challenges our institutions face in doing this with fewer faculty, staff, and instructional dollars are significant, and they call for incentives, ingenuity, and inspiration. Many of the ideas that your working groups discussed yesterday are designed to move to that direction.

Chancellors, provosts, deans, and System staff are working together to identify and implement operating efficiencies wherever we can so that dollars we can save in administrative and business operations can be reprogrammed to alleviate some of the most pressing instructional needs in the classroom. I want to say that the power of this incentive—to strengthen classroom instruction—should not be underestimated. Likewise, the disincentive effect of seeing such savings disappear into further cuts should not be underestimated either. We have the capacity to help ourselves here, and we need to be clear where the savings are going.

As we work to identify operating efficiencies, we have come to recognize some important principles:

  • Time is money—overlapping or duplicate processing delays the delivery of educational services; for example, in the case of our building projects, finding ways to reduce UW's "cycle time" of six years for a major project to two years—more like other universities nationally—could save millions of dollars for the classroom.
  • Zero-error is unaffordable—we continually strive for the lowest possible error rate in our operations, but the cost of zero errors is prohibitive in our current circumstances. Zero errors would cost many times the savings in redundant staff, duplicate signoffs, and similar procedures. Such redundancy may have been feasible in "fatter" years, but it is poor business practice in these "lean" years. A better way to do this is with post-audits to catch errors without slowing down business on the front end.
  • Institutional mission affects administrative organization—universities organize to achieve certain missions (research, teaching, outreach) and to deliver a specific program array. Moreover, alumni identify with departments, programs, and disciplines as well as with the overall institution from which they graduate, which determines their giving. Reasonable organizational changes and “best practices” should be adopted to achieve efficiencies, but identical organizational structures across all institutions are not desirable or likely to be effective for educational institutions.

To help us with this streamlining, we're anticipating some useful information from the pending LAB audit of administrative costs. We hope that study will help us by providing benchmark information for our peers, by identifying "best practices" elsewhere that could fit in Wisconsin, and evaluating regional and national consortia that could help us reduce overhead costs further.

Since the audit was instituted in February of this year, our institutions have tackled the task of cutting $100 million dollars from current budgets and finding another $50-$60 million dollars in base reallocations to meet unfunded mandates for part-time employees' health insurance, utilities, and other items . . . so I can assure you that the hunt for administrative savings is already very intense throughout the System. We look forward to what the audit report can tell us to help us in this effort further.

Good News . . .

Last weekend, at the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, Georgia, the John H. Bradley Clinic was dedicated in honor of Regent Mark Bradley’s father who was among the men who raised the flag on Iwo Jima during World War II. This was a special honor as "Doc Bradley," as he was called, was a Navy Corpsman and this was a Navy Clinic established on a Marine base in recognition of his contribution and those of other Navy soldiers. Mark’s brother, James, also paid a recent visit to Madison to talk about his latest best selling book, "Flyboys." He is also the author of "Flags of our Fathers." Quite a distinguished family.

UW-River Falls and UW-Parkside Receive State Diversity Awards

Two UW institutions were recognized in the Capitol last week for their exceptional efforts at increasing diversity on campus. UW-River Falls received the 2003 Educational Diversity Award for its integrated combination of programs including pre-college, TRIO Upward Bound, multilingual and career development programs as well as the McNair Scholars program and new faculty/staff orientation, which altogether constitute a "coherent package" of initiatives on the UW-River Falls campus. This package approach is designed to encourage diverse students to enroll at the campus, support them academically and personally, and prepared them for success upon graduation. I think as River Falls comes closer within the Twin Cities metro orbit there, these efforts are increasingly necessary and also increasingly successful. Congratulations to you, Ann, and the campus for that award.

UW-Parkside received the 2003 Program Merit Award for its efforts to tackle racism through Diversity Circles on campus and in the larger Racine/Kenosha communities by training leaders in residence halls, prisons, churches, and other focal points. UW-Extension has partnered with UW-Parkside in sponsoring these Diversity Circles. Jack, thanks for being a leader on that front as well.

UW-Stout Professor and Student Contribute and Learn at NASA

Professor Gary Godfrey at UW-Stout recently spent ten weeks at NASA as part of its Faculty Fellowship Program. He applied his special computer software expertise to correct a flaw in the design of Columbia’s door. Professor Godfrey notes that the door was one of several weak spots detected from the shuttle wreckage. His new computer models will be used to train NASA staff to correct and identify safety problems. The NASA Faculty Fellowship program offers science and engineering faculty hands-on exposure to NASA’s research challenges—what an exciting opportunity if you have those skills. A UW-Stout graduate student will join Professor Godfrey there this summer for an equally exciting experience. This is a wonderful example of how professional development programs work to spark creativity and valuable applied work for faculty and students.

UW-Milwaukee Accumulates Awards

Congratulations go to UW-Milwaukee for being named by Milwaukee Magazine as one of the top five "Best Places to Work for Women." This represents a real turnaround from several years ago and, in my view, is just one of many benefits of the expanded sense of engagement that has come about through the Milwaukee Idea.

Another notable achievement at UW-Milwaukee is the fact that the School of Architecture and Urban Planning did a clean sweep of all design awards in the Midwest schools of architecture design competition this year, beating out the University of Michigan, Notre Dame and the University of Illinois. Aside from the bragging rights this confers, which are real and not to be discouraged, the real rewards flow to UWM's graduates who are highly sought after for their design skills. For example, Chancellor Greenstreet tells me that Skidmore Owings and Merrill, one of the largest architectural firms in the world, is 10 percent UW-Milwaukee graduates.

Weimer a Trustee at Cedar Crest

UW System Vice President of University Relations Linda Weimer has been elected to serve on the Board of Trustees of her alma mater, Cedar Crest College in Allentown (Pennsylvania). At the time Linda graduated at a date I won't mention, her grandmother at age 94 was the oldest living alumna of the college. Linda, we know how important service on boards of trustees and regents is, and we wish you well.

UW-River Falls Daycare Center

I'd like to note that UW-River Falls broke ground ten days ago for its new Daycare Center which will serve up to 96 children up to 12 years. The Center is funded entirely from a federal grant and student fees voted by the students themselves. It will serve also as a practicum site for elementary education majors and early childhood minors who will supplement regular Center staff there. This much-needed facility will help students at UW-River Falls take advantage of the academic programs there.

Wisconsin Public Television Shares in Emmy Award for Community Service

Last week, at an awards ceremony in New York, the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences presented an Emmy Award for Community Service to the one-hour documentary, No Greater Love. The program is a powerful call to action to broaden the public's understanding and acceptance of organ donation and transplant.

WPT also set up a Web site that offered the opportunity to chat with organ recipients, donors, and experts in the field and produced print materials that were distributed across the country, free of charge, on organ donations and ways to get out the message on the value of the gift of life.

The WPT documentary won over ten films nominated for the Community Service Award, and I think they should be very, very proud.

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