The value of UWM to the region lies in its ability to address and solve many of Milwaukee’s most pervasive problems through its research, workforce development and partnerships, Chancellor Mark Mone said in his plenary address on Thursday at the Zelazo Center. Even more, the university has a responsibility to meet the needs of its diverse urban community in the state’s largest economic hub.
But problems, particularly of social inequality, are so extreme that the university needs increased state support to sustain its research and access missions, the chancellor said.
“Why does this campus exist?” Mone asked. “What are we doing that other universities or organizations cannot address?” To answer that, he said, you need to acknowledge the “two Milwaukees.”
In contrast to the new buildings, festivals and nightlife of one Milwaukee, the other is characterized by grim statistics. A study by UWM professor emeritus Marc Levine found that if you’re born poor and Black in Milwaukee, by age 25 you’re earning 80% less than your white counterparts.
Other studies put Milwaukee at the bottom of most social indices, showing gross economic, educational and health disparities between Black and Brown communities, compared with white communities.
Leadership and expertise required
Turning those around require leadership, expertise and coordination – long-term sustained commitment. And that’s where UWM comes in, Mone said. He detailed some of the key education partnerships the university is involved in, including M³ (UWM, MATC and MPS), HERA (Higher Education Regional Alliance), the Moon Shot for Equity program and the Milwaukee Anchor Collaborative.
Through these group efforts, the university is focused on improving college attainment in the region, especially for minorities (HERA), eliminating the achievement gap on our campus (Moon Shot); increasing the pipeline of prepared college students (M³); and diversifying hiring and procurement in the city’s most vulnerable communities (Anchor).
“This is some of the most important work we will undertake in the future,” Mone said. “I’m going to argue that the twin pillars of education and economic prosperity are the most important things we can do.”
Research was another area where UWM makes a difference, he said, in issues such as water stewardship, environmental sustainability and racial inequities in health and education. For every headline, Mone said, he could name a UWM research project addressing the issue.
He gave special praise to the campus’s environmental achievements, and announced that UWM would soon roll out a climate resiliency plan that will set the university on the path to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to reach net-zero.
“It’s important to recognized that we are a leader in this area,” he said, citing 69% of course offerings related to sustainability, 69% of departments engaged in related research, and a half million square feet of building space that is LEED certified, a high ranking by the U.S. Green Building Council.
The importance of diversity
During his plenary, Mone also handed the stage to Chia Vang, the faculty member who is helping to build a new diversity framework at UWM that will ensure equitable resources for student success, improved recruitment of diverse talent and building a more inclusive campus climate.
“We know the importance of an increasingly diverse workforce and of better serving the diverse student body that we have,” Vang said. “We are not where we want to be. But we are committed to doing better.”
The renamed Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, formerly called Global Inclusion and Engagement, will start its work with one-year goals that include investing in efforts to recruit and retain diverse students, faculty and staff and also providing continuous DEI professional development.
Providing workers in high-demand fields
Finally, Mone pointed out the UWM was vital to providing trained workers. “Where else in this state are you going to get 5,300 graduates per year in the four buckets including the fastest growing, highest demand areas of health and human services, business, computer science and engineering? Eighty percent of our students graduate in these fields.”
UWM is also the institution where diverse talent will come from, he added, but we will need much more financial support to sustain our achievements. Mone said he is working with members of the Board of Regents and others to ask for more advocacy and policy changes, specifically a new funding formula for UWM.
After his address to the Board of Regents in June in which he made the same case for more support for UWM, Mone said, he heard unprecedented responses from regents. Many of them agreed that UWM’s unique mission of access and research and our location dictated that we should get more resources. “Since then, there’s been a lot of discussion and we’ve really seized the momentum,” he said.
In a question and answer session after his speech, Mone was asked whether he thought that UWM’s pleas would be forgotten once a new UW System president takes over from interim president Tommy Thompson. “There’s nothing in the state of Wisconsin that more important than what we’re doing,” Mone answered. “A new president has got to acknowledge that.”
A video of the plenary address is available on the Secretary of the University webpage.