The UW Now Livestream: Greg Gard and Rebecca Blank

Keep perspective was the theme of The UW Now Livestream event on April 21. Guests Greg Gard, head coach of the Badger men’s basketball team, and Rebecca Blank, UW–Madison’s chancellor, both talked about how an awareness of greater issues helps them deal with crises.

“Every season has its turbulence,” said Gard in his conversation with WFAA president and CEO Mike Knetter, “but our biggest obstacle or thing that was thrown at us was almost a year ago, when Coach [Howard] Moore and his family were in that awful accident.” The May 2019 car accident, which killed Moore’s wife and daughter and left him gravely injured, gave a sense of perspective to Gard and the 2019–20 Badger team. “What we were dealing with in the game of basketball and that small realm was miniscule,” Gard said. “There are bigger problems in the world.”

Badger Season Faces Problems

Bigger problems also overshadowed the end of the 2019–20 Badger season, which came to a sudden stop due to the coronavirus pandemic. Gard discussed the progress of the turbulent season with Knetter, and then he took questions from the approximately 1,000 alumni who tuned in.

The season was unprecedented in a variety of ways, but Gard said that next season will have the Badgers dealing with unfamiliar situations again: they’re likely to begin as a highly ranked team but have limited time for practice and preparation. But a sense of perspective will help him and his team deal with what comes.

“Canceling a basketball tournament is a first-world problem,” Gard said. “There are bigger issues in the world, and obviously we’ve seen over the last six weeks what bigger issues are.”

How the University is Transitioning to Online Learning

Following his conversation with Gard, Knetter spoke with UW–Madison chancellor Rebecca Blank, who discussed the university’s transition to distance learning in the middle of the spring 2020 semester. “It has been a very strange and very intense last six weeks on campus,” she said. “I don’t think I needed this much experience in crisis management, but we’ve all got it in any case.”

She listed the three priorities that guided her through the onset of the pandemic: to finish the spring semester, to communicate clearly, and to honestly admit when she and the university don’t know what’s coming. And she described the effort that went into putting more than 7,000 courses online in just 11 days. Afterward, she, too, took questions from viewers, including about plans for the fall semester and about the future of online teaching at the UW. Overall, she sees a bright future for the university.

“We are research machines,” Blank said. “and I really hope this reminds everyone, not just in the state of Wisconsin but all around the country, of the value of these big research universities and particularly these big public universities, whose mission is to serve the public and to solve big problems.”

The UW Now Livestream is itself a response to the pandemic. The UW Now had originally been planned as a series of events in cities across the United States. Instead, the programming is now offered via YouTube and will continue through the spring. The next event will be April 28 and will feature a conversation about vaccine development with Thomas Friedrich ’97, PhD’03, professor of pathobiological sciences in the School of Veterinary Medicine.