- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 8, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A University of Wisconsin-Madison fundraising drive that began last fall with a $100 million pledge has generated a quarter of a billion dollars, university officials announced Tuesday.

Alumni John and Tashia Morgridge pledged last November to match up to $100 million in donations - the largest gift from individual donors in school history - to help establish endowed professorships and chairmanships. UW officials said they anticipated it would take two to three years to fulfill the match, but in seven months 1,000 donors responded with $125 million. The Morgridges have agreed to increase their match by $25 million, generating $250 million.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank said in a statement the gift “is an investment in Wisconsin students for generations to come.”

The donation comes as the state’s flagship university is grappling with deep budget cuts. Republican lawmakers who crafted the state budget slashed $250 million from the UW System over the next two years; UW-Madison lost $53 million in state aid this fiscal year. But Blank said the gift money won’t be used to fill that hole.

As per the donors’ wishes, the university plans to invest the money and use about $11.25 million in dividends annually to expand the number of endowed professorships and chairmanships from 142 to 300. The funding will cover part of those positions’ salaries and support their research. Blank said state aid and tuition dollars are typically devoted to academic programs, not research or named faculty chairmanships.

Endowed positions are considered an honor in academia. Karl Scholz, dean of UW-Madison’s College of Letters and Sciences, said the gift money will help attract and retain star faculty.

“Why is this so important? It’s trite to say, but universities are all about people,” Scholz said. “We have to retain leading experts in their fields. Higher education is incredibly competitive. Having these resources are just critical for our future. The Morgridge gift is absolutely transformative.”

The Morgridges are both 1955 graduates of UW-Madison. The Wauwatosa couple has made a number of contributions to their alma mater over the years, including several gifts totaling $100 million to establish the Morgridge Institute for Research and $32 million to renovate the School of Education building.

The announcement comes less than a week after UW-Madison said another alumni couple, Tom and Karen Falk, will give $10 million to the university to fund two scholarships and two endowed faculty chairs in the education and business schools.

Late last month American Family Insurance announced it plans to double its spending on advertising on donations at UW-Madison, pledging $4 million annually over the next decade. About $25 million will go toward sponsorships and Badger athletics; the remaining $15 million will go toward academics.


Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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