Before Wisconsin Badgers running back Melvin Gordon completed his then NCAA record-setting 408-yard rushing performance, the Nov. 15, 2014 Wisconsin-Nebraska football game in Madison was interrupted for a special announcement: University of Wisconsin alumni John and Tashia Morgridge would match up to $100 million in donations made by others to UW-Madison.
That was huge news. The Morgridges’ match pledge is the largest gift ever made to UW-Madison by a single donor. The money will be used to help recruit and retain top-notch faculty by making salaries more competitive and by funding research.
Both of the Morgridges are from Wauwatosa and graduated from UW-Madison in 1955. John Morgridge served as president, chief executive officer and board chairman for San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems Inc. He retired in 2006. Tashia Morgridge worked as a special education teacher.
The Morgridges expected it to take years of fundraising by the university to match their $100 million pledge. But the university announced recently that a surge of contributions came in to exceed the Morgridges’ initial pledge. The Morgridges decided to match the donations pledged by early June.
The grand total from the fundraising campaign: $250 million, with $125 million from numerous donors and $125 million in matching funds from the Morgridges, $25 million more than their original pledge last fall. Among the other donors are Tom and Karen Falk, who each donated $1.5 million. Tom Falk is the CEO and board president of Irving, Texas-based Kimberly-Clark Corp.
The massive amount of private donations to UW-Madison comes just after the UW System’s budget was cut $250 million in the new state budget passed by the Republican-controlled state Legislature and signed by Gov. Scott Walker in June. The board of regents approved a spending plan reduction to UW-Madison’s budget of $58.9 million for the current academic year.
The UW System was heavily criticized by conservatives after a 2013 Legislative Fiscal Bureau Report revealed a significant surplus. Depending on how the numbers are manipulated, the surplus was pegged at anywhere from nearly $1 billion to $207 million.
Scrutiny of the UW System’s budget is certainly appropriate, but massive spending cuts to the UW System are not an effective strategy to improve Wisconsin’s economic competitiveness.
UW-Madison is a major economic asset to the state. It was ranked 24th in the latest Academic Ranking of World Universities. Great economic regions benefit from great universities, such as Boston with Harvard and MIT and Silicon Valley, with Stanford and the University of California-Berkeley. Great universities attract and develop talent.
The entire UW System, especially UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee, needs public and private support to maintain its vital role as an economic engine for our state.
Andrew Weiland is editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.