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UW-Madison chancellor stresses research excellence (Decmeber 10, 2009)

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December 10, 2009

University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents
December Meeting
Day One News Summary

December 2009 Day 1

UW-Madison chancellor stresses research excellence

MADISON – The University of Wisconsin-Madison is consistently ranked among the finest research universities in the world. The challenge going forward is to maintain that status in the face of dwindling state support, Chancellor Biddy Martin told the UW System Board of Regents on Thursday.

UW-Madison Chancellor Martin
UW-Madison Chancellor
Biddy Martin

“We’re going to need more flexibility so we can help ourselves,” Martin said, as she kicked off the Board’s December meeting with the host presentation, “A World-Class Research University – For Wisconsin and the World.”

Martin said the university needs more flexibility to compete for top talent.

“Flexibility would mean flexibility in pricing, in salaries and wages, in purchasing and in facilities and in personnel policies. These are the forms of flexibility among major universities and minor universities that help us meet the challenges of reduced state funding,” Martin said.

Persistent budget challenges and relatively low tuition levels, compared to peer universities, affect the UW’s ability to compete in the Big 10 and in the global higher-ed market. Given those challenges, “it’s almost amazing that we are what we are,” she said.

Martin reiterated the need for sufficient financial aid to ensure that students can attend UW-Madison regardless of their economic background.

Diversity and achievement gaps are also major emphases for UW-Madison, Martin added. “We also need to internationalize to a far greater degree,” she said.

“Our goal is to remain public-spirited, to compete on the scale that we’re considered to be on; to be able to match peers in attracting ideas and talents,” Martin said.

Showcasing some of UW-Madison’s cutting-edge research, the Regents heard a presentation from virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoko on the search to find answers for the global threat of influenza. 

Political science professor Jon Pevehouse, an international relations specialist, also addressed the impact of foreign lobbyists in American foreign policy.

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Education Committee

Survey shows binge drinking down among students

More than half of University of Wisconsin student drinkers reported binge drinking, but binge drinking appears to be on the decline, according to a new survey that was presented Thursday to the Board of Regents’ Education Committee.

As an educational system committed to quality academics, student success and community engagement, UW System officials must address how alcohol and drug abuse can derail students from achieving academic or career success, said UW-Parkside Chancellor Deborah Ford, who heads the UW System Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Committee.

“We have to start earlier,” Ford said. “Students develop challenging habits while they are students and we have the opportunity and responsibility to be able to work with them to think about making healthy life choices.”

The education committee has worked to develop a common assessment study of alcohol and drug use among students. The survey measures alcohol and other drug use, behaviors, and direct and indirect consequences of drug and alcohol use.

The survey was first given to undergraduate students in spring 2005 and again in spring 2007. More than 6,600 students responded to an invitation to take the survey in spring 2009.

The last survey showed binge drinking rates of 54% compared with 51% this spring.

Direct comparisons with past surveys are complicated by revisions in this year’s survey to yield more meaningful results. For example, non-drinkers were left out of the binge drinking calculation, and the definition of what’s considered binge drinking was changed.

Because of the changes to the survey, UW-Platteville researcher Mark Mailloux said the decline in binge drinking rates should be viewed with guarded optimism. However, leaving non-drinkers out would be expected to show higher binge drinking rates than in past surveys, he said.

The survey also showed freshmen were more likely to binge drink than upper class students. A third of students who drink reported missing at least one class during the school year because of alcohol use. However, there is a growing perception that campus alcohol and drug regulations are being enforced.

One-third of students surveyed reported using illegal drugs or prescription drugs in a manner not prescribed by a health care professional.

Matt Vogel, community health specialist at UW-La Crosse, told the committee that students have many misconceptions about alcohol use and don’t understand how it can affect other parts of campus life.

He offered examples of students’ confusion about alcohol, such as not knowing what are unsafe levels of drinking and the dangers of mixing alcohol with prescription drugs.

“We’re very scared to talk about drugs,” Vogel said. “I don’t think its parents’ fault or high schools’ fault. I don’t think we’re armed with a lot of information.”

Standing credit approved for Project Lead the Way classes

The Education Committee approved a policy allowing students who complete certain Project Lead the Way classes in high school to earn advanced standing credit at UW System schools.

Project Lead the Way is an engineering and technology curriculum for middle school and high school students that is offered in nearly 3,500 schools across the country, including 132 high schools and 74 middle schools in Wisconsin. 

UW-Madison highlights innovation in education, research and service

Nine UW-Madison programs rank in the top 10 nationally -- providing just one example of the school’s success in leading research and education across disciplines, UW-Madison Provost Paul DeLuca told the committee.

“The activities of this institution are, by any ruler we’re able to find, having a national and international impact on the quality of education of our students,” DeLuca said.

DeLuca’s comments were part of a presentation on key aspects of UW-Madison’s academic environment. He highlighted innovations in teaching and learning in some of UW-Madison’s largest undergraduate courses, as well as early results from the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates.

Affordable textbooks update

A UW System policy to make textbooks more affordable is being developed and will be presented to the Board of Regents this spring, UW System Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs Rebecca Martin told the committee. Students’ need for affordability is being balanced with faculty concerns, she said.

Martin updated the committee on the draft policy. Many ideas for bringing down costs are already being implemented; seven campuses have started textbook rental programs, she said.

The Board of Regents is aiming to have a new policy in place by the time federal rules take effect in July 2010, Martin said.

Martin also reviewed a summary of 2010-11 sabbatical assignments.

In other action, the Committee:

  • Approved a B.S. in Supply Chain Management at UW-Stout;
  • Approved a M.S. in Medical Dosimetry at UW-La Crosse; and
  • Approved revisions to the faculty personnel rules at UW-Oshkosh.                                    

Joint committees hear report on UW’s energy conservation efforts

In a joint session of the Business, Finance, and Audit Committee and the Capital Planning and Budget Committee, Regents were updated on numerous facilities-related energy conservation measures UW institutions have adopted. The measures include maintenance, repair, and replacement activities; better scheduling of building usage; energy meters and controls; and, in some instances, reliance on alternative energy sources.

It was also emphasized that making behavioral change – such as turning off lights or wearing warmer clothing in winter – is a significant opportunity but also a challenge in achieving energy conservation on campus.

Getting student involvement is vital, said Julie Gordon, Director of UW’s Office of Operations Review & Audit (OPAR).  She cited the Environmental Consciousness Organization at UW-River Falls and UW-Madison’s student chapter of We Conserve as successful examples.

The OPAR report recommends that each UW institution continue to pursue funding opportunities for energy conservation projects. It also recommends that each institution implement processes to identify goals, measurable objectives, assigned responsibilities, timeframes, and follow-up activities.

In other joint session business, UW Colleges offered an annual report on City and County Financial Support of the colleges.  Emphasizing the strong support the UW Colleges gets from their city and county partners, it was noted that UW Colleges received $8.3 million of local financial support in 2009.

“At the local level, there’s a real recognition of the economic value of colleges to their areas,” said David Wilson, Chancellor of UW-Colleges and UW Extension.

To illustrate the multiple stakeholders that UW Colleges campuses have relationships with, Dean Jim Perry of UW-Fox Valley described for Regents the often complex process his campus went through in building its new $13.9-million Communication Arts Center, which opened this fall.

“It’s been my experience that communities take a real proprietary interest in these things,” said Regent Jeff Bartell.

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Business, Finance and Audit Committee

UW-Madison students report on “The Madison Initiative for Undergraduates”

Students are playing an important role in determining which proposals should be funded by the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates, a campus-wide undergraduate differential tuition program that adds a tuition surcharge of $250 for in-state undergraduates and $750 for students from other states.

A student oversight board provides ratings on each proposal to Chancellor Biddy Martin and the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates Oversight Committee; Martin said in most cases the student board ratings were more rigorous than the overall committee.

“Really the best proposals do find their way to the top,” said Tyler Junger, chair of Associated Students of Madison and chair of the Madison Initiative student oversight board. “Students’ money is paying for what students really want.”

In November, eight proposals received a share of $3.8 million – ranging from an electronic system designed to capture notes of student meetings with advisers to expanding First-Year Interest Groups (FIGS) to hiring 17 new faculty in high-demand areas in the College of Letters & Science.

“We are really seeing transformative ideas that are going to affect the quality of our education here,” said Tom Templeton, vice chair of Associated Students of Madison.

There were 29 proposals for the first phase of the program; 114 proposals are under review for phase two and decisions on those ideas are expected in February or March.

“When you’re spending student money, the best thing you can do is ask students how you should spend it,” Junger said.

Regents hear Mental Health committee update

College students are arriving on campuses with more mental health issues than previous generations, including the growing number of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, putting significant demands on counseling services.

“Mental health issues impact academics,” said Joseph Abhold, chair of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Mental Health and director of the UW-Oshkosh Counseling Center.

The Committee voted to clarify UW System basic health guidelines to include a minimum level of mental health services at every UW institution and added anxiety, depression and suicide to the list of issues needing prevention and education activities. The new guidelines also call for identifying at-risk students and situations, behavioral intervention teams, threat assessment and preventing anxiety, depression and suicide.

Abhold said UW System schools have made some gains since a 2008 audit looked at ratios of counselors to students, but need to continue efforts to reach staffing level recommended by the International Association of Counseling Services, which is one counselor for every 1,000 to 1,500 students. The current UW System average is one counselor to every 2,143 students, with ratios varying among campuses. The committee recommends UW System campuses work toward reaching 75 percent of the recommended staff to student ratio.

Abhold reported that campus counseling centers have been making changes to address severity and demand, including: session limits, referrals off campus, group therapy, increased use of interns, and triage systems.

“We’re making more referrals, we’re making them earlier,” he said.

The ad-hoc mental health committee also recommended: establishing and collecting data to monitor trends, funding research to study the impact of mental health services on academic success, creating an annual summit to provide training in nationally recognized best practices in college counseling, strengthening procedures for routine and high-risk referrals, and continuing to seek more funding to support the appropriate level of counseling services.

Report recommends new policies for UW camps and clinics

Accident insurance should be mandatory for all UW-sponsored campus and clinics to better protect UW System and its institutions from potential liability in the case of injury, according to a new report from the Office of Operations Review and Audit.

“The risk of injury is obviously persistent and unpredictable,” said OPAR Director Julie Gordon.

In 2008, more than 50,000 people – ranging in age from 4 years old to adults – participated in more than 750 campus and clinics offered by UW institutions. Accident insurance costs, on average, between 70 cents and $2 per participant, she said.

“Many institutions have implemented health and safety practices,” Gordon said. “We did identify areas where those efforts could be enhanced.”

UW institutions should also extend criminal background checks to contractors and volunteers working directly with vulnerable populations, such as children and people with disabilities, and adopt and implement the health requirements for camps according to state statute, regardless of whether the UW-sponsored camps and clinics meet the definition of “camp” in that code.

The report also suggests that if schools have not done so already, they should assign an office or committee on campus to develop camp/clinic policies and procedures and work to ensure compliance and develop an approval process for new camps, those with a serious injury or those with significant changes to the program.

New Food Service contract language adopted

The Committee approved changes to standard contract language regarding “fair trial” rights of current food service contractor employees after transition to a new contract vendor. The new language gives employees of the former vendor the opportunity for a 90-day trial period to compete for jobs with the new contractor.

Regents elected to postpone a decision on requiring a new vendor to provide those employees with loans to cover their health insurance costs during that 90-day period after some expressed concerns over how that change would affect the competitive bidding process for food service contracts

In other business, the Committee:

  • Approved changes to the UW System Policy on non-medical leaves of absence to allow chancellors to grant leaves of up to five years. Current policy for unclassified staff to take non-medical leaves is complex and creates barriers to granting leaves for staff to participate in entrepreneurial activities such as starting a company, serving at other UW System institutions or engaging in appointed or elected public service.
  • Approved revisions to the University of Wisconsin Trust Funds Investment Policy Statement to reflect the State of Wisconsin’s recent adoption of the Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act (UPMIFA).
  • Heard a regular report by Senior Vice President Tom Anderes, including an update on the current status of the UW System Human Resources System project; Anderes said state-imposed furlough days reduced the number of hours put into the project, but the project remains on schedule and budget.
  • Heard a Quarterly Status Report by Director Gordon on current Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) projects affecting the UW System.
  • Heard a Quarterly Report that total gifts, grants and contracts for this period were $584.4 million, an increase of $136.5 million from the comparable period of the previous fiscal year. Federal awards increased by $171.5 million, due to federal stimulus legislation, while non-federal awards decreased by $35.0 million.

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Capital Planning & Budget Committee

After some discussion, the Committee approved granting authority to seek enumeration of the UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences Research Building, Phase I. 

The $50-million General Fund Supported Borrowing (GFSB) building is the initial project of the UW-Milwaukee Master Plan Initiative.  This particular project would construct a research laboratory on the site of the existing Great Lakes Research Facility.

The Master Plan Initiative was adopted in the 2009-11 Biennial Budget, which requires legislative enumeration of specific projects to release funds. 

Regent Stan Davis inquired about some environmental concerns that have been raised about the sites under discussion. UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Carlos Santiago said such concerns must be taken seriously, but they can be addressed.

He also noted that the university cannot achieve its larger goals of growing as a major urban research university unless it expands. “For us to achieve our goals, we need to be better integrated into the community, where we can make a real difference, and that means going beyond the east side of Milwaukee. I think this really is a regional initiative,” Santiago said.

Freshwater sciences has been identified in the university’s master planning process as one of the collaborative research themes to lead the institution forward in its development as an entrepreneurial research institution. 

The project will construct the initial phase of an Integrated Marine, Freshwater, and Atmospheric Research Laboratory on the site of the existing Great Lakes Research Facility (GLRF).  The proposed project will be the next step of fully developing a Harbor Campus on and around the existing GLRF property.

The project is needed to create a research environment that attracts a diverse group of researchers by providing them with both the tools and colleagues to advance fundamental and strategic science.

Vice President David Miller noted that if the project secures private gifts or grants, that funding could be substituted for General Fund Supported Borrowing. Those funds could then revert to other priority projects in the UW-Milwaukee Master Plan Initiative.

A more in-depth discussion of UW-Milwaukee’s Master Plan Initiative is scheduled for the next meeting of the Board of Regents in January 2010.

In other business, the Committee:

  • Heard a presentation from UW-Madison, “Building for Our Future,” providing Regents with a progress report on its 2005 Campus Master Plan, including details of the 22 major completed projects since 2005, the 12 currently under construction, and the 8 projects in design.
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request for authority to enable Madison Gas and Electric Company to design/build a Walnut Street Substation upgrade;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request for authority to lease 26,791 square feet of space for the McBurney Disability Resource Center and the Office of Admissions within the newly constructed University Square complex;
  • Approved UW-Madison’s request for authority to increase the budget of the Microbial Science building by $321,000 using residual state bonding to add snow-stopping mechanisms to outside air intakes to improve the operation of the mechanical systems;
  • Approved UW-Milwaukee’s request for authority to construct the Central Chiller Installation Project; and
  • Approved six maintenance and repair projects at five campuses, including the creation of an integrated system for the production and demonstration of bioenergy at the Pioneer Farm at UW-Platteville.

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Photo Credit: Ken Lee

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The Board of Regents will resume its December 2009 meeting on Friday, December 11, at 9 a.m.
in the Memorial Union on the UW-Madison campus



Related: Read December 11 (day 2) news summary