Politics & Government

A Boost for Democracy

With a gift from Herb Kohl ’56, the La Follette School addresses critical issues.

Herb Kohl

Kohl: “Our democracy is being threatened by bitter partisanship, and the La Follette School is poised to lead by example.” Focal Flame Photography

Since former U.S. Senator Herb Kohl ’56 made a $10 million gift to the La Follette School of Public Affairs in 2019 for the Kohl Initiative, the school has undergone the largest expansion in its 37-year history.

Kohl is perhaps best known for his $25 million lead gift to fund the Kohl Center, as well as his support for education throughout Wisconsin. But his latest gift is particularly timely. “Senator Kohl’s generous and inspirational gift could not have come at a better time,” said La Follette School director Susan Webb Yackee. “Thoughtful and evidence-based policy-making is more important than ever in Wisconsin and across the country.”

To meet students’ burgeoning interest in public policy, the school has added 11 faculty members, nearly doubling its roster. They will expand opportunities for students and the broader community to learn about timely issues such as health policy, as well as the benefits of racial diversity for social relations and civic participation. Other areas of expertise among the new faculty include climate policy, state and local finance, international trade, water policy, child health policy, and public management.

The Kohl Initiative also provides wide-ranging resources for the school’s new undergraduate certificate in public policy program, which has tripled from an initial cohort of 50 students to more than 150 for fall 2020.

Kohl-funded research at the school has focused on topics such as out-of-pocket health care costs, minimum wages and immigrants’ health, social genomics, state agency leadership and policy-making, and the impact of financial aid on post-education economic outcomes.

In addition, the Kohl Initiative allowed the school to convene nearly 350 policymakers, practitioners, community leaders, and researchers for its inaugural La Follette Forum in early 2020. The forum focused on critical health policy topics and innovative solutions for improving the health of Wisconsin residents.

Kohl, a former owner of the Milwaukee Bucks who represented Wisconsin in the Senate for 24 years, has long demonstrated a deep commitment to public service and an ethos of civility in public debate and policy-making. A founding member of the La Follette School’s board of visitors, he believes the school is critically important for solving many of the country’s most difficult issues. When the gift was announced, Kohl said, “Our democracy is being threatened by bitter partisanship, and the La Follette School is poised to lead by example — fostering cooperation, respectful discourse, and service to others. The school’s commitment to be a convener of thoughtful debate and evidence-based research provides a critical path for moving our country forward.”

Published in the Winter 2020 issue


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