VCFA statement of solidarity

Finance & Administration colleagues,

I hope this note finds you all safe and well.  I know that it finds all of us in a challenging time where we’re being pushed to redefine what “safe and well” even mean.  Like you, as I survey the chaotic world around us, I see reasons to feel rage and fury, fear and concern, and yes, I even see reasons for hope.

My colleagues, Chancellor Blank and Deputy Vice Chancellor for Diversity & Inclusion Patrick Sims, have each written to the campus community recently.  If you haven’t read their messages, I strongly encourage you to do so.  I stand with them and other campus leaders in utterly rejecting the heinous acts of racism and violence most recently perpetrated against George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor.  I reject similar acts of cruelty suffered by our communities of color all too frequently and for far too long in our country, in our city, and on our campus.  I affirm my commitment to fighting against the structures that enable and perpetuate systemic racism and to owning my role within them.

Beyond this, I will be honest and say that I have struggled with how I can helpfully add my voice to the vital discussions renewed by these recent tragedies.  I am a white man, in a position of power and influence.  I know that I cannot begin to fully understand the ways that this reality has impacted our colleagues and friends from communities of color, especially our Black community. What I feel I must do is say unequivocally to all our employees of color that you belong here at UW-Madison. You matter. Your work matters, your ideas matter, and your lives matter. I stand beside you and I’m ready to listen, learn from, and support you.

I also find reasons for us all to have hope in the righteous anger and fury of recent global protests.  Former President Obama noted in his recent virtual town hall that, unlike protest movements of the civil rights era, today’s protests include people from all races and ethnicities, young and old, bound together by a common and urgent desire for justice and meaningful change.  It is incumbent upon all of us, but particularly those in positions of power and privilege, to make meaningful change this time.  We are faced with a singular opportunity to seize this moment, united, to argue for a more just system and a better future.

In Finance and Administration, we have long engaged with this work.  Most notably, our Engagement, Inclusion, and Diversity (EID) initiative aims to make tangible progress on these issues through a grass roots, organized effort to forge a more just, inclusive, and equitable workplace where everyone’s contributions are valued, and where each of us can bring our full selves to our jobs.  Informed by our bi-annual survey, there is real evidence that what we’re doing is having an impact, but there remains a very long way to go.  This is not the time for patience – it’s high time we seize the moment.

We will begin work this summer to renew our EID strategy across Finance and Administration units.  I am open to new dialogues, new ideas, and new commitments to accelerate and expand real change here at UW-Madison.  I’m asking you to do your part as well. You can start now with personal learning, forging discussions with colleagues or your local EID Committees, and participating in campus forums.  Or you can start by sending me a message and replying to this email.  More details will follow as our process moves forward in the weeks and months ahead.

Please stay safe, be well, be impatient, be hungry, and make your voices heard.



Laurent Heller
Vice Chancellor for Finance & Administration
University of Wisconsin-Madison