Faculty Attraction

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John and Tashia Morgridge joined University of Wisconsin Foundation president and CEO Mike Knetter (center) in November at Camp Randall for the announcement of a $100 million gift designated to allow the university to attract and keep top faculty. Photo: Jeff Miller.

A record-breaking gift builds a legacy of chairs and professorships.

John Morgridge ’55 and Tashia Morgridge ’55 made Badger history last fall when they gave $100 million — the largest single contribution from individual donors in the school’s history — to help the UW recruit and keep top faculty.

But Chancellor Rebecca Blank wants to make one thing crystal clear as Governor Scott Walker and Wisconsin legislators determine the university’s share of the next two-year state budget (as of press time, Walker had proposed a $300 million cut to the UW System budget): “We do not have $100 million to spend.”

Blank delivered that message in her blog, as well as in person to the Faculty Senate, following an announcement of the gift that was spelled out on the Camp Randall scoreboard during the football game against Nebraska last November. “Gifts like this are enormously useful,” she wrote, “but they in no way lessen the importance of maintaining a strong financial base of support from the state, from tuition, and from research dollars.”

In fact, the UW can’t use the Morgridges’ gift to fill gaps left by budget cuts and an ongoing resident undergraduate tuition freeze, but it can use the money to build a legacy of top faculty. The income from the gift will provide $4.5 million per year to fund endowed faculty chairs and professorships, key tools in attracting and hanging on to researchers and teachers who are — or are on their way to becoming — stars in their fields.

Originally from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, the Morgridges are responsible for the next two largest gifts in UW history, including $100 million to establish the Morgridge Institute for Research and $32 million to renovate and expand the School of Education building. And they hope their latest act of generosity will have a ripple effect, inspiring others to give.

Their latest donation will match gifts from any other donors who endow a professorship, chair, or distinguished chair. Ultimately, this could double the thirty-four fully endowed chairs and one hundred and two fully endowed professorships currently on campus. The endowments give chaired professors money to launch new research, buy equipment, or hire undergraduate or graduate research assistants, giving those students the chance to learn from world-class scholars and researchers.

John Morgridge has lamented how public investment in UW–Madison and other public research and teaching institutions has decreased over time, telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the decline was a motivating factor in the gift. “We felt it was incumbent upon those that benefited from [state universities] to help maintain the quality of these institutions,” he said.

“I think it’s pretty well established that great schools are predicated on great faculty,” he added. “That is not a Wisconsin market; that is a worldwide market.”

Published in the Spring 2015 issue

Tags: Alumni, Faculty

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