Foxconn Technology Group gave no money to UW-Madison over the past year, renewing questions about the company's commitment to its $100 million pledge to the university nearly two years ago.
UW-Madison received $700,000 in the first of a five-year agreement — less than 1% of the company's overall commitment. Records show the university has received no additional money in the second year of the agreement.
Foxconn critics say the Taiwanese technology company has failed to live up to its promises, pointing to UW-Madison's struggle to secure what it was promised as just one example. UW-Madison and Foxconn announced "the largest research partnership in the university's history" back in August 2018, with Foxconn committing $100 million to help fund a new UW-Madison engineering building and company-related research.
The master agreement signed by UW-Madison and Foxconn, however, does not specify a dollar figure, instead stating broadly that the company "intends to make a substantial investment in research and other activities" with the university.
"UW-Madison continues to maintain open lines of communication with Foxconn representatives," university spokesman John Lucas said. "Although Foxconn is in the best position to explain its plans, the university understands that changes in the firm's executive leadership, business goals and impact of the pandemic have resulted in shifting priorities."
Louis Woo, who has often represented the company in Wisconsin and served as a special assistant to Foxconn founder Terry Gou, stepped down last year for personal reasons. Also in 2019, Gou resigned as Foxconn chairman to pursue political office. Both attended the 2018 ceremony when the company pledged $100 million to UW-Madison.
University officials declined to answer additional questions, including how much UW-Madison has raised in matching funds and whether the university is hopeful the partnership will move forward in the three remaining years of the agreement.
A Foxconn spokeswoman did not provide answers to a list of questions sent Monday. The company said in a statement last summer that it remains committed to engineering and research at UW-Madison.
Skepticism of Foxconn
Wisconsin landed the company's first U.S. factory after then-Gov. Scott Walker offered more than $3 billion in tax incentives if the company meets jobs goals. The project has been a political hot potato, garnering praise from Republicans and fueling skepticism from Democrats as plans shifted.
Some critics saw several company announcements relating to University of Wisconsin System campuses in 2018 as a ploy to drum up good publicity for Walker as he mounted a reelection bid. Walker lost his re-election bid in November of that year.
President Donald Trump, who stands for re-election in November, declared the company's Mount Pleasant campus "the 8th wonder of the world" at a ceremonial groundbreaking in 2018. A spokeswoman for Trump's presidential campaign referred a request for comment to the White House, which did not immediately respond Thursday to an inquiry about the company's progress so far, including its partnership with UW-Madison.
UW-Madison graduate students formed a group called the Foxhounds to protest the partnership, which they see as too cozy of a relationship for a public university to have with a private company criticized for its labor and environmental practices. In the 2018-19 school year, members circulated anti-Foxconn flyers at a campus career fair and dropped anti-Foxconn banners at a UW Board of Regents meeting.
The Foxhounds have been largely silent over the last academic year, perhaps because there is little to protest when negotiations between UW-Madison and Foxconn appear stalled. But one Foxhounds member, Liam Hutchison, said the group plans to reconvene and continue resistance efforts this fall.
Another state flagship, the University of Illinois, also recently partnered with Foxconn. A company subsidiary last fall pledged $50 million in matching funds over 10 years for a technology center to be housed in the Grainger College of Engineering.
But Illinois' agreement references the dollar amount and includes a payment schedule. College of Engineering spokesman Bill Bell confirmed Wednesday that the university has received what is outlined in the agreement so far — $1.25 million per calendar quarter — and said the program is going well.
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