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October 26, 2019

Message from ECE Department Chair Susan Hagness, Oct. 26, 2019

Written By: Susan Hagness

Ian Robertson, Grainger Dean of the College of Engineering, recently sent a message to the College of Engineering community regarding a news article about the death of a graduate student and disciplinary actions against a faculty member. Both of these individuals were members of our department, and I expect this to raise questions about the climate and behavior in our department specifically and the college overall.

I want to echo the message shared by Dean Robertson: We will not tolerate hostile or intimidating behavior.

While the article focuses on the behavior of one individual, it is our collective responsibility to foster a climate that is safe and welcoming for every member of our community. In addition to the steps outlined by Dean Robertson in his message, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering has taken further action at the department level over the last several years to foster a positive, supportive climate for our graduate students. Examples include the following:

  • Appointed Professor Barry Van Veen as the ECE Associate Chair for Graduate Studies. In this role, Prof. Van Veen serves at the primary point of contact for our graduate programs and is available to all ECE graduate students for confidential support, advocacy, and resource referral.
  • Appointed Professor David Anderson as the ECE Grievance Advisor. The graduate student handbook outlines the department’s grievance procedures, including how to reach out to Prof. Anderson to seek problem resolution.
  • Raised awareness among our faculty about mental health issues through faculty meeting conversations with the Associate Director of UHS Mental Health Services.
  • Implemented a cohort model for first-year courses for graduate students (ECE 610 and 611) to build community from the first semester onward.
  • Revised our Ph.D. program policy to require the preliminary exam be taken within three semesters of passing the qualifying exam, to encourage steady progress towards the degree.
  • Partnered with the ECE Graduate Student Association to encourage peer-to-peer mentoring, networking, and social activities through co-hosted events including the new graduate student orientation in the fall and the “Chat with the Chair” in the spring.
  • Reinforced awareness of well-being resources available to our graduate students through multiple communication means.

If you have experienced or witnessed behavior that does not align with our core values, please bring the situation to light so it can be addressed. Graduate students can reach out to Prof. Van Veen ( or 608-265-2488) or Prof. Anderson ( or 608-262-0172); you may also contact Chris Brace, College of Engineering Assistant Dean of Graduate Affairs ( or 608-262-4151).  Undergraduate students can reach out to Prof. Bernie Lesieutre, ECE Associate Chair for Undergraduate Studies ( or 608-890-1883), or Rachel Jones, College of Engineering Assistant Dean for Student Affairs ( or 608-890-3692). You may also reach out to me at any time.  We take these matters very seriously and will pursue the appropriate actions.

I also want to reiterate our concern and support for students’ mental health. If you are struggling with this or any issue, or if you’re concerned for the well-being of someone you know, call University Health Services to speak with an on-call crisis counselor who will help address your most pressing concerns, assess your safety and help connect you will follow-up service needs. They can be reached at (608) 265-5600, option 9.

As the department chair, I renew my commitment to proactively foster a supportive climate – and I ask you to join me in ensuring that all members of our ECE community experience the welcoming environment we uphold as a core value of the UW-Madison.