Prof Positive

John and Tashia Morgridge

The last year and a half won’t erase the name Vilas from campus, but it might challenge the primary place that it holds.

Vilas is ubiquitous at UW–Madison: Vilas Hall, Vilas Associates, Vilas Research and Travel Grants, Vilas Professors and Distinguished Professors. All those Vilases are still on campus, but the completion of the Morgridge Match in 2015 cements a legacythat will be more far reaching.

William Vilas was the UW’s first truly transformational alumnus. A veteran of the Civil War, he became a prominent attorney and served as a regent, United States senator, post-master general, and secretary of the interior. At his death, he left the Vilas Trust to his alma mater as an endowment, setting aside funds in particular to support “the advancement of knowledge.” Vilas professorships are now considered among the most prestigious at UW–Madison.

In the century and more since Vilas’s death, many other Badger graduates have given to their alma mater, but few have made such a long-lasting impact on faculty development. Then came John and Tashia Morgridge, whose vast matching gift helped to create or complete more than 150 fully funded endowed professorships and chairs.

“The generosity of John and Tashia Morgridge and the hundreds of proud Badgers who joined them will transform our ability to retain and attract top talent.”
Chancellor Rebecca Blank

Announced in November 2014 as a $100 million challenge match, the Morgridges’ gift inspired an immediate response among UW–Madison alumni and friends. By June 2015, donors had more than filled the Morgridges’ initial offer, so they increased the matching dollars available to $125 million, bringing the grand total to $250 million raised for faculty endowments. WFAA celebrated the completion of that gift at an event in October 2015.

“The generosity of John and Tashia Morgridge and the hundreds of proud Badgers who joined them will transform our ability to retain and attract top talent,” says Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “This is about much more than the dollars that go to the faculty members. It is about the ability to recruit and retain outstanding faculty who attract top graduate and undergraduate students and compete for federal research dollars.”

Unlike the long-ago Vilas gift, the Morgridges decided not to put their name on the faculty positions that they helped to fund, allowing the matching donors to name the jointly funded chairs.

“This gift does everything you could ever wish for in a lead gift for a campaign,” says Mike Knetter, CEO of the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association. “It is extremely generous in magnitude; it is aimed at a top priority; and it is designed to encourage others by giving all the recognition to matching donors. John and Tashia lead by example in every way. Wisconsin is a different place because of them, and they are now inspiring others to follow in their footsteps.”