politics – On Wisconsin https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com For UW-Madison Alumni and Friends Thu, 27 Jun 2019 17:02:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.10 Photography vs. Segregation https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/exhibition/photography-vs-segregation/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/exhibition/photography-vs-segregation/#respond Tue, 28 May 2019 14:48:04 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=25659 In 2002, Gillian Laub ’97 made what would be the first of many trips to Mount Vernon, Georgia, to photograph the lives of teenagers in the South. What she discovered was an idyllic yet racially divided town struggling to confront longstanding issues of race and inequality.

For the next decade, Laub visually documented Mount Vernon and the surrounding Montgomery County. Her photographs of the region’s longstanding segregated proms were published in the New York Times Magazine in 2009. The photo essay, which sparked national outrage, led to integrated dances in the area.

Those photos and more, collectively titled Southern Rites, were on exhibit at the UW’s Chazen Museum of Art this past semester. Laub says that it took many months to curate and organize the exhibition. “The photographs, captions, and case objects are meant to take [audiences] on a decade-long journey,” she explains. “Unfortunately, this story is not an anomaly in this one town. There is segregation and racism all over our country. So I hope viewers can also reflect on what is going on in their own communities.”

This isn’t the first time Laub’s lens has candidly captured and chronicled individuals’ courage while simultaneously investigating cultural conflicts.

Her exhibit Common Ground (Israelis and Palestinians) explored the shared yet divided worlds of these two peoples, while her installation An American Life documented the intimacy and pain that can define family — in this case, Laub’s own family. And just recently, in 2018, the photographer captured Stacey Abrams’s run for Georgia governor — a race that garnered national attention.

Laub also returned to Mount Vernon one year after the town merged its segregated proms and directed and produced a documentary, also titled Southern Rites, along with John Legend and Lisa Heller ’90. The film, which explores racial tensions, premiered in Madison at Union South in April.

While Laub didn’t study photography at the UW, she says that taking art history and English literature classes had a “huge impact” on her future work.

“I learned I wasn’t good at writing, but my love of narrative storytelling influenced my visual art-making,” she says.

]]>
https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/exhibition/photography-vs-segregation/feed/ 0
Ask an Expert: What’s the Tiff about Tariffs? https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/ask-an-expert-whats-the-tiff-about-tariffs/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/ask-an-expert-whats-the-tiff-about-tariffs/#respond Tue, 26 Feb 2019 16:45:58 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=25076

robertmandel/iStock

“I am a Tariff Man,” President Donald Trump famously tweeted in December. That persona is a sharp break from presidents of the past, says Menzie Chinn, a UW professor of public affairs and economics. Trump and other protectionists aim to shield domestic industries from foreign competition by putting taxes — known as tariffs — on imports.

Last spring, the administration imposed steep tariffs on imported aluminum and steel, hoping to bolster U.S. industries and employment. An unintended consequence, Chinn notes, is that American companies relying on these materials — notably within the construction industry — now face higher costs. The tariffs also spurred retaliation on American exports. “I think it’s a misunderstanding in Trump’s mind of what trade protection does,” he says. Overall, Chinn and many trade experts predict a net negative effect on U.S. employment.

What worries Chinn most is how the tariffs were implemented. The administration invoked rarely used trade laws administered by the executive branch, leading to short- and long-term uncertainty. In uncertain times, companies delay expansion and lenders give fewer loans, potentially slowing the economy.

In an increasingly global and technological marketplace, products often are made up of many different parts that are shipped from all over the world. Adding even a small tariff on pieces that cross borders multiple times can create a much larger disruption than in the past.

Ultimately, Chinn believes we will come to find that restricting trade is costly.

]]>
https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/ask-an-expert-whats-the-tiff-about-tariffs/feed/ 0
Room for Debate https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/room-for-debate/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/room-for-debate/#respond Tue, 26 Feb 2019 16:45:58 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=24962

In a polarized world, UW–Madison fosters tough conversations.

On a warm autumn afternoon when I needed it badly, I got a shot of hope for the future of conversation. Pulling up a chair at the Memorial Union Terrace and eavesdropping there under the old oak trees, I heard brilliant debate by research scientists about the best way to get a stubborn gene to express. At another table, there was virtuosic smack talk accompanying a game of cribbage. These lovely (loud!) sounds are ear candy after the deafening silence of being among too many people staring at their phones. They confirmed for me that the great collegiate tradition of chewing the fat with friends lives on.

But I still worried about our collective capacity to have deep conversations about tough topics with people who aren’t already our friends or colleagues and who we suspect see the world from a different perspective. Research shows that, for the first time in more than two decades, members of both political parties have strongly unfavorable opinions of their opponents. And our society is highly subdivided in other ways, so that people often end up congregating almost exclusively — in real life and through online communities — with others who share the same racial, religious, and demographic profiles.

Luckily, though, many at UW–Madison are actively seeking, encouraging, and developing the ability to discuss difficult topics fruitfully. Students are seeking out opportunities to talk through some of the biggest matters on their minds, and they (like many faculty members) are eager to argue respectfully and learn more about what they don’t understand. And those of us eager to reclaim conversation — the face-to-face kind — as a means for sifting through the complexity of contemporary life and building bridges can learn a lot from listening to what people on campus are doing.

Fireside chats

Later last fall, I joined the student-run Afternoon Conversation Series, a regular all-comers-welcome meetup held beside the flickering hearth of the Prairie Fire coffee shop inside Union South. I found about a dozen undergrads and graduate students listening intently as the day’s invited guest, Sumudu Atapattu, director of the UW Law School’s Research Centers and a specialist in international environmental law, spoke in soft, serious tones about the impacts climate change is already having on daily life in places vulnerable to rising sea levels, including parts of Alaska.

Though the legal and human rights implications of climate change Atapattu detailed were sobering, the students present seemed undaunted, going on to pepper her with thoughtful questions about how they might help push for change. One young woman wondered if she could combine her interests in law, science, and economics in a career. Absolutely, Atapattu says. If we’re going to meet the challenges of climate change, “all of those disciplines need to learn how to communicate with each other.”

Last year the group also discussed the status of the young immigrants known as DREAMers and international women’s health. After the conversation, one of the group’s organizers told me that the aim of these intimate talks on serious topics is to give students a chance to interact with professors without “the usual intimidating student–teacher power dynamics.”

The art of argument

UW mathematics professor Jordan Ellenberg is a fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery and professional-grade curator of talk — one of those classic social network figures who’s as comfortable discussing baseball and James Baldwin as he is breaking down the intricacies of multivariable equations. Over tea at a café near campus last spring, Ellenberg says that, for him, a key benefit of working at “this gigantic, multifarious institution” is having many opportunities to chat and mind-meld with researchers working in far-flung disciplines, who often shed surprising new light on his work, and he on theirs. But he also enjoys the “intellectual exfoliation” he receives as a result of speaking with other faculty members who aren’t afraid to challenge conventional wisdom and “push you to expand and enlarge” how you view an issue.

One such stimulating loofah figure Ellenberg always likes being “a little conversationally scraped by” is Harry Brighouse. The UW philosophy professor has argued on his popular blog and at various campus gatherings on teaching methodologies that the standard, top-down instructional model many American college classrooms follow does students a disservice. Research shows that college students (and adults generally) can pay attention to a single speaker for only about 20 minutes. So Brighouse makes a deliberate point of beginning classes with a short lecture, but then largely ceding the floor to his students.

To keep the conversation on track — or to redirect when one or more students begin to dominate a group discussion — Brighouse continues to dole out questions carefully. And he has his students — most of whom are accustomed to socializing mainly with their dorm and apartment mates — introduce themselves to each other over and over. It’s a strategy inspired by his own experience as an undergraduate at King’s College London, where he not only took all of his classes with the same group of people, but lived and ate meals with them, too, sparring over philosophy and history all the while.

And his chief aim, he explains, is to help students burn through shyness to become friends and strong intellectual debate partners for each other.

“Some of my students come to college reeeeally reluctant to argue. But even they will eventually say, ‘What are we going to argue about next?’ They’re really hungry for this,” Brighouse says.

Describe your path

In his cozy office decorated with vintage school maps and a stellar collection of LEGO Star Wars ships, Greg Downey, associate dean for the social sciences in the College of Letters & Science, keeps a small conference table. Students know they can sit down and discuss their aspirations and future plans, bouncing ideas around until they land on ones that feel, if not perfect, then good enough for now. And it’s here — as well as in the college’s popular Taking Initiative professional planning course, which Downey leads, and its new SuccessWorks career center — where Downey and his colleagues are invested in helping students get hands-on experience and find the right words to describe their evolving skills and interests to prospective employers.

Companies consistently report that they consider strong verbal and written communication skills essential for hiring, and there’s evidence from social psychology showing that creating an overarching narrative (aka storyline) for your life helps people gain healthy perspective and move ahead fruitfully. Downey has each of his students develop a “two-minute career story” and practice delivering it with classmates. Some struggle with the assignment. Maybe they’ve heard that speaking about your accomplishments amounts to bragging, or they’re still not entirely sure what they want to do with their lives, Downey explains. But once they hear other students sharing similar stories and realize that it’s okay to be still exploring options and just say this plainly, they usually get more comfortable.

But there are other reasons why he thinks it’s important for him, and faculty and staff at colleges everywhere, to be available to speak with students about whatever’s weighing on their minds. “UW students are accomplished and goal-oriented,” Downey says. “If you set them a task, they will work through it.” But he and other campus advisers have also realized — partly in light of the fact that the number of college students seeking treatment for anxiety and depression has shot up in recent years — “that we need to be continually active in encouraging our students to talk with us, and talk with each other,” he says.

Beyond managing coursework, many students today face “family pressures, peer pressures, [and] pressures from jobs. Technology pervades their lives, and while sometimes it helps them cope, sometimes it ratchets those pressures up.”

Group dynamics

More and more, students and faculty are seeking out and welcoming conversations where they can feel not only free, but encouraged to unfurl — working through difficult thoughts together with others in an unhurried way, saying things they’ve never said (or thought) before, opening up new doors of understanding to combat distrust.

Last fall, the UW released its Campus Climate Survey, which found that, while most students find the campus to be a safe, welcoming, and respectful place, students of color and from other historically disadvantaged groups consistently rated the climate less favorably overall than students from majority groups did. And since then, the work of various UW discussion programs created to foster greater equality, inclusion, and understanding across differences has taken on new urgency.

One such program, run by the UW School of Education’s Department of Counseling Psychology, is Diversity Dialogues. When it started almost 15 years ago, the big, burning divide that students wanted to discuss was the difference between students from the Midwest and the coasts. But now that issues of racial discrimination, gender nonconformity, and economic disparity have shot to the forefront of national news, students from different racial, ethnic, gender, and class backgrounds are eager to meet and talk about how these dimensions have shaped their experiences and perceptions.

UW professor of counseling psychology Steve Quintana, who directs Diversity Dialogues, says that one of its primary objectives is to help students recognize that all people (not just those who are obviously similar to them) are “living rich, interesting, and complex lives.” The theory behind deepening social understanding is that it makes it easier for people to understand and appreciate (if not always love) why others may act a certain way or hold a certain view.

To help students who typically have never met before they start talking, Quintana and other dialogue facilitators give participants different cues, such as asking them to describe pivotal childhood experiences or their own negative or positive experiences of diversity. A running rule is that no one can interrupt whoever is speaking for at least 90 seconds. Facilitators also work to sustain a respectful balance by reminding participants that every person’s perspective and personal experience are valid.

They also point out that mixed-company conversations on race, in particular, have a tendency to become “one-sided white confessionals,” wherein white students wax on describing their guilt over certain societal privileges they’ve enjoyed, at the expense (in terms of comfort) of black students in the group. But just naming the potential dynamic up front and noting that it can place additional burdens on black students is a surprisingly effective way of keeping it at bay, Quintana says.

After they’ve participated in the program, many students tell him that learning how to trade notes on class, race, sexuality, and other topics in a calm, non-adversarial setting (unlike so many of the combative finger-pointing sessions we see on TV today) made them feel more flexible and open — and eager to keep speaking with people who aren’t obviously like them. Getting new “windows into the depths of people’s experience is rewarding,” Quintana says. Once they’ve realized that everyone has an interesting story to tell, students often say they’re more likely to break the ice with strangers in everyday settings.

Comfortable with uncomfortable

UW professor Christy Clark-Pujara often spends the first few sessions of her classes on African American history and the history of slavery speaking with students about why it’s important for them to be able to discuss race together, even though it’s a subject many of them have been told to avoid. And she explains that “it’s okay to feel uncomfortable in this class, and even a good thing, because that’s where you learn and grow.” Clark-Pujara knows most of her students have so far been taught only the scantest rendition of black American history: “First there was slavery. That was bad, but some people were nice. Then there was Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement, and now everything’s fine.” But then she begins fleshing out that time line with stories that fly in the face of certain well-oiled myths, including the myth that slaves did little to resist their circumstances.

“When you look at the primary documents, the history of slavery becomes a history of great resistance — not only physical, but moral, emotional, and cultural resistance,” Clark-Pujara says. She also disproves the folkloric belief that Wisconsin was always free of slavery. French-Canadian trappers brought slaves with them when they settled here in the early 1700s. When Southerners — including Henry Dodge, two-time governor of the Territory of Wisconsin — arrived in the early 1800s to mine for lead in the southwestern part of what later became the state, they had slaves with them, too.

At some point during the semester, students of different races overflow with “indignation” over never having been given an inkling of this richer, more complicated history. Clark-Pujara is there for all of it, ready to help them talk through and process “the terribly uncomfortable” fact that the “economic ascent of the United States rests on the backs of enslaved black people.” Empathy is a major theme in the class, she adds.

As we neared the end of our own conversation, Clark-Pujara pulled out two thank-you notes she had just received from students who’d taken her Introduction to African American History course. Each described a different way in which the class and Clark-Pujara’s teaching had changed not only their minds but their lives. The notes were beautiful. And they reminded me why talk, at the UW and everywhere, is so vital to staying alive and engaged: our world is never going to be perfect, and individuals and systems will inevitably let us down. But we should by no means withdraw and give up.

By debating and grappling with new ideas together with others, in real time — riding tides of confrontation without getting too rattled, watching one another’s faces light up and fall and light up again — we get to take another look at what we think, and make it better.

But we can’t get there through silence.

]]>
https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/room-for-debate/feed/ 0
Diplomatic Dilemma https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/diplomatic-dilemma/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/diplomatic-dilemma/#respond Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:30:13 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=24295 Russ Feingold

Tom Williams/AP

It’s been 47 years since Russ Feingold ’75 first walked up Bascom Hill as a freshman from Janesville, Wisconsin. He would go on to earn degrees in history and political science, win a Rhodes Scholarship, and eventually serve in the Wisconsin State Legislature and the U.S. Senate.

This fall, he made the same walk — as a visiting lecturer in UW–Madison’s African Studies Program. Feingold is teaching a capstone course for international studies based on his experiences as a special envoy to the Great Lakes region of Africa, which includes Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and surrounding countries.

Millions have died there since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, as armed groups fight for control of lucrative land and minerals. From 2013 to 2015, Feingold worked with envoys from the African Union, Europe, and the United Nations to successfully get Rwanda to stop supporting the March 23 Movement, a brutal rebel group. But conflict and violence remain in the region, which has a multilayered history.

“By the time we get to the end of this course, you’ll want to pull your hair out. Some things aren’t knowable,” Feingold told his students in September. “Some things are simply that complicated.”

And that’s one reason why Americans don’t know more about what Feingold calls “one of the greatest catastrophes in human history” during a class discussion on Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa. (The author, Jason Stearns, worked for the UN in Congo.) The book — from a reading list Feingold received when he was appointed to his diplomatic position — explains how the conflict has involved at least 20 rebel groups and the armies of nine countries.

“There’s no one bad guy” — no single figure like Hitler or Mussolini, Feingold tells the class. That ambiguity has led to less news coverage compared to other parts of Africa, such as Darfur, despite how many have suffered and died in the Congo.

Like Feingold, most of the course’s 17 students are Wisconsin natives. “I really feel at home here,” Feingold says. “There couldn’t be a more special place in my life and the lives of many Wisconsinites.”

]]>
https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/diplomatic-dilemma/feed/ 0
Brian Stockmaster MFA’98 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/recognition/brian-stockmaster-mfa98/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/recognition/brian-stockmaster-mfa98/#respond Mon, 05 Nov 2018 20:30:13 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=24425 Brian Stockmaster

Charlie Simokaitis

When Barack Obama appeared before cheering crowds in Chicago on the night he won the 2008 election, Brian Stockmaster MFA’98 had a unique connection to the president-elect. The majestic stage in Grant Park had been mapped out, designed, and assembled in less than two weeks under Stockmaster’s supervision at Chicago Scenic Studios (CSS), a design and fabrication firm. The lectern itself had been built only three days earlier.

“There was a sense of pride in being associated with such a moment in history. The energy of the crowd was amazing,” Stockmaster says. Although he had a ticket to go backstage, he chose to stand outside with everyone else, not wanting to get in the way.

A quiet drive to see a job done right has fueled Stockmaster’s work ethic and career. He came to UW–Madison expecting to become an engineer but studied theater technology instead, from pneumatics to architecture to electricity. Upon graduation, he honed his skills at venerable design firms in New York. He worked on Broadway shows (Aida, The Lion King, and Kiss Me, Kate among them) and cable programs, building the first big set for ESPN’s SportsCenter, before taking a position at CSS in 2005.

Preparing for large events can often get stressful. After a 20-foot-wide turntable for displaying cars malfunctioned the night before an important auto show, Stockmaster drove from Chicago to Detroit, pulled apart the elaborate set, repaired the equipment, and had everything back in place before the next morning. “It was a pretty hairy evening,” he admits.

Stockmaster gives a lot of credit for his career path to Dennis Dorn ’70, a UW professor emeritus of theater technology and a mentor to this day. “He was a tough guy, but also very patient,” Stockmaster says. “Dennis is a very thoughtful person, asks great questions, and really does listen.”

Despite CSS’s high-profile projects such as building sets for the Oprah Winfrey Show and constructing the new headquarters of the Chicago Bears at Halas Hall, Stockmaster hasn’t let it go to his head. For him, the set’s the thing — especially when the review of his handiwork could come from the commander in chief.

]]>
https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/recognition/brian-stockmaster-mfa98/feed/ 0
Science Faction https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/science-faction/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/science-faction/#respond Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:33:26 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=23583 In his autobiography, Tommy, which is out this September, Tommy Thompson ’63, JD’66 shares stories about his small-town upbringing in Elroy, Wisconsin, his days on campus, and his career in government. Thompson devotes a significant passage to his support for stem cell research, both on campus and worldwide. In May 2017, the university opened the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership, which states that it seeks to provide “a multidisciplinary, nonpartisan environment to study, discuss, and improve leadership.” Although some have questioned whether the center will live up to its nonpartisan charge, few would disagree that its namesake is known for reaching across the aisle and for being a tireless promoter of Wisconsin and its state university.

It was at a cabinet meeting that first spring after being named secretary of Health and Human Services when President George W. Bush asked me if I would stay afterward.

“I need to address stem cells,” the president said. “I want to know more about them.”

I nodded.

“I know you are for the research,” the president continued, “and I know Karl Rove [then White House deputy chief of staff] is against it. I am going to schedule a lunch for the three of us. I want you to come in, and I want you and Karl to discuss it.”

I wasn’t surprised. In my 1999 State of the State speech, I introduced James Thomson, a UW–Madison developmental biologist whose lab, in 1998, was the first to isolate stem cells from human embryos. His findings were published in Science magazine in November 1998, and the following month the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) received a patent on the discovery. Even in those early days it was being touted as a breakthrough that could revolutionize modern medicine and health care.

But the research was not without controversy. Though the cells Thomson used were left over from fertility clinics — and the donors had signed off on their use in research — some right-to-life people called it immoral, unethical, or both. They were furious with me for introducing Thomson during my State of the State speech, and it was brought up again by the Bush team prior to my appointment.

“I support stem cells,” I told them. “If that means I can’t get the appointment, so be it.”

My passionate support of Thomson and WARF were part of my larger belief that the University of Wisconsin’s emergence as a leader in biotechnology and biomedical research was great for both our state and humanity in general. Where are lifesaving advances going to come from, if not great institutions like the University of Wisconsin?

As governor, I tried to forge a partnership that would help the UW System grow while at the same time generating new technologies and businesses to pump up the state’s economy. During my time as governor, more than 4,000 building projects at a collective cost of nearly $2 billion were initiated at campuses across the state. It was a mix of public and private money. I helped Donna Shalala, before she left the UW–Madison’s chancellor job to join the Clinton administration, generate private funds to advance the expansion. Later, I called it the New Wisconsin Idea — a collaboration between academia and the private sector that would benefit both and bring good-paying new jobs to Wisconsin.

I can’t understand why any public official wouldn’t see the University of Wisconsin System as an ally, especially in a world that is changing faster than ever.

I remember having a discussion at some point in my last term as governor with John Wiley MS’65, PhD’68, who would later be UW–Madison chancellor but at the time was provost. John said he wanted me to meet Michael Sussman, a biochemist on campus who was doing some interesting work perfecting DNA chips utilized in identifying genetic abnormalities that can eventually lead to new drugs and ways to fight disease.

I said I’d be happy to meet Sussman. During my first term as governor, Chancellor Shalala had approached me about assisting with a new Biotechnology Center on the Madison campus. I agreed to help, and with a mix of federal, state, and private dollars, the center was built on the site of the old Wisconsin High School. By the time Wiley brought Sussman to see me in the late 1990s, the biosciences were exploding on campus, and the center I’d helped fund was already inadequate. Sussman sat in my office in the capitol and for two hours talked about DNA and the potential for all this great science to generate medical advances. I liked Sussman, his enthusiasm and genuineness, though we joked later about how he’s a Democrat from New York and would never have voted for me prior to meeting me. He said that more brilliant students than ever were interested in studying biology at Wisconsin, but because of space limitations, some had to be turned away. He said we weren’t losing them to Michigan State — we were losing them to Harvard and Stanford. We’re a great university, he said, but we need a new building and more lab space.

He impressed me. Within a few days of the meeting, I called Wiley and promised funding for one of the things we had talked about: five new faculty hires in the area of human genomics. I toured the existing facilities, learning more about the science all the time. Then, in my January 2000 State of the State speech, I unveiled the $317 million BioStar Initiative, which included an addition to the Biotechnology Center as well as renovations and additional buildings for biology-related departments.

I’m proud of what I was able to do for the University of Wisconsin. It made sense for all kinds of reasons, including economic development. I was always trying to figure out how to help Wisconsin compete with the technology triangle in North Carolina and Silicon Valley. I wanted Wisconsin to be the third pillar out there.

At some point after I left for Washington and Health and Human Services, word reached me that Mike Sussman was thinking of leaving UW–Madison. He had a very attractive offer from the University of California–Davis, and was considering it to the point he’d already looked at houses.

I telephoned Mike one night from Washington — he later joked that he’d had a couple of drinks by the time I called — and asked if it was true.

“You’re thinking about leaving?”

“Yes,” Mike said.

“You can’t do it,” I said. I talked about all we’d accomplished and all that was still to come. This was when Mike confessed he was a Democrat. “I usually bat for the other team,” was the way he put it.

“I suspected it but never held it against you,” I said. We laughed. “Now, let’s talk about why you’re going to stay.”

I’m sure all my work on behalf of biomedical research at the University of Wisconsin was somewhere in my mind when I went to the White House in spring 2001 to meet with Bush and Rove to discuss stem cells.

The president had us in to the Oval Office. There’s a little room off to the side of the Oval Office, and that’s where we sat for lunch. I had a hamburger, and the president had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I don’t remember what Rove had to eat, but he spoke first, and he was adamant that Bush keep a hard line against allowing the use of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research. He brought up the ethical concerns, but he stressed — and this was not atypical for Rove — the potential political fallout of softening that stance. I must admit I could relate. As I noted earlier, antiabortion groups in Wisconsin were furious with my support of Thomson’s research. They are passionate, and they are vocal.

But as I have also stated, I believed that in the end, the lifesaving potential of the research should carry the day.

A few weeks before my lunch with Rove and Bush, I’d been visited in Washington by Jere Fluno ’63, a classmate of mine at UW–Madison who went on to a vastly successful career in business. Jere was also a philanthropist. I attended the luncheon in 1997 at the Madison Club when Jere’s gift of $3 million to UW–Madison for an executive education facility — now called the Fluno Center — was announced.

Four years later, he was in my office at HHS in Washington to talk to me about his granddaughter, Lauren, who has juvenile diabetes. Jere told me about getting the phone call from his daughter informing him about Lauren’s diagnosis. She was two years old. He talked about seeing that tiny girl in that big hospital bed. And he talked about the need for research to find a cure.

“Stem cells give us hope,” Jere said.

It was an emotional meeting, and I remembered it at that Oval Office lunch, after Rove had finished and it was my turn to speak. I gave myself a quick, internal pep talk, knowing that the next few minutes might be my only chance to make my case.

“Mr. President,” I said, “your mother and father have been great champions in the fight against cancer. They’ve devoted a tremendous amount of time, money, and effort to that cause.

“And you’ve started out your presidency by increasing funding for the National Institutes of Health. I thank you for that. It’s the right thing to do, a great use of federal dollars.

“But Mr. President,” I continued, “if you come out against embryonic stem cell research, no matter if you double the money for NIH, or anything else, if you turn down embryonic stem cells you’re going to be remembered as the president who was antiscience.” The president kept looking at me but didn’t say anything, so I went on.

“Every person in your administration has either a member of their family or a close friend who is suffering from a debilitating illness. You had a sister who died young of a terrible illness. Your mother and father did everything they could for that child.”

I was referencing the daughter George H. W. and Barbara Bush lost to leukemia before she was four years old. “Every parent,” I told the president, “who has a child with juvenile diabetes, and who has to get up every night, four or five or six times, to check that child’s blood, not knowing if that child is going to live or die, those parents are counting on stem cells to come up with a cure. If you, as president, stand in the way of giving those parents the hope and dream of a cure, you’re going to be viewed as antiscience and stopping the great progress being made on juvenile diabetes, ALS, Parkinson’s — you name it.”

“But we don’t know that it will work,” the president said.

“It’s the hope, Mr. President,” I said. “The belief. And the dream.”

About six weeks later, on August 8, I was called to the White House for an early evening meeting. The president told me he was going to give a prime-time address — the first of his presidency — the following night to state his position on federal funding of research using human embryonic stem cells. The president had decided to allow federal funds to be used for research on existing stem cell lines — cells derived prior to August 9, 2001. Federal dollars would not be used for any cell lines derived after that date. It was, essentially, a compromise, and while it didn’t go as far as I might have hoped, I was pleased that the president at least went halfway. It got the federal funds flowing. I think what I said that day at lunch may have swayed him. The president didn’t tell me so, but that’s what I believe.

That night I called Carl Gulbrandsen, then managing director of WARF, which held the patent on Thomson’s research, to tell him what was coming. Carl was at dinner with his wife, Mary, in Colorado. I asked Carl, “Can you make these cell lines available?”

“Absolutely,” he said. “We’ll do everything we can.”

By the first week of September, we had signed an agreement with the WiCell Research Institute, a nonprofit subsidiary of WARF, granting NIH scientists access to the cell lines, along with academic researchers, while also respecting WARF’s patent and license rights.

There is no question in my mind that my coming from Wisconsin and personally knowing people like Michael Sussman, Jamie Thomson, and Carl Gulbrandsen helped us accomplish more in a shorter time frame than would otherwise have been the case. We respected and trusted each other. Carl came to Washington several times during the implementation process and let me know that someone at NIH told him the agency had never moved so quickly on anything. I brought a group of 20 scientists and administrators from NIH to Madison to see where the research was happening and meet the people responsible for it.

I don’t mean to suggest any of this was easy. Throughout the debate, I was caught in the middle between the strict pro-life contingent and those — like Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter — who wanted all restrictions on embryonic stem cell research removed.

In spring 2016, UW–Madison invited me back and awarded me an honorary doctorate of laws degree for meritorious activity “as a dedicated promoter of the Wisconsin Idea and the use of government to enhance the life of its citizens.”

I spoke at commencement at the Kohl Center in Madison, and I shared the story of Mike Sussman — he stayed — while just generally touting the assets of this great economic diamond, the University of Wisconsin.

I didn’t speak long, 10 minutes or so. Primarily I wanted to thank the university for what it had given me — much more than an honorary degree — and once again make the case for how very valuable our great university is to the entire state of Wisconsin, as an economic engine and more.

I thought it was important to tell the graduating students in the audience a little about myself. How I came from a small city called Elroy, where if you dialed a wrong number on the phone you talked to whoever answered, because of course everyone knew everyone else. I talked about coming down to Madison for school with nothing but some dreams, and I told them how, with a lot of hard work, a lot of help, and a bit of luck, I’d been elected to the Wisconsin assembly and then elected governor. I’d gone to Washington and served a president in his cabinet. It still seemed so improbable, talking about it all these years later.

What I really wanted to convey was that my story, so much a Wisconsin story, could be their story, too, if they dreamt big enough and reached high enough.

Later, Chancellor Blank asked me if it would be possible to get a copy of my speech. I had to tell her there were no copies. I’d written nothing down. It came from the heart.

]]>
https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/science-faction/feed/ 0
LOL https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/lol/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/lol/#respond Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:33:10 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=23632 The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.]]> As the chipper CEO of a charity called 1-877-CARS-4-SHARKS, writer and actor Brian Stack MA’88 speaks directly to viewers.

Like many sketches on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, it plays off news from the White House — in this case, recent stories about adult film actress Stormy Daniels’s tryst with Donald Trump before he was president. After Daniels had revealed how Trump had expressed hatred for sharks, increased donations flowed to shark conservation groups.

That led to the mock infomercial that opened the show that night. Accompanied by a guitar-playing shark, Stack, as the straight-laced CEO Burt Ridgewood, explains the benefits of putting live sharks into used cars, despite the high probability that drivers would be eaten in traffic.

The punchline features a picture of Stack, smiling, dressed as a double cheeseburger.

“It was so ridiculous,” Stack says. “One of my favorite compliments is when someone tells me: ‘That’s so stupid.’ That’s often my most favorite stuff — when it’s wonderfully dumb.”

Since the late 1990s, Stack has thrived by writing and performing wonderfully dumb sketches with some of late-night television’s biggest stars. After writing for Conan O’Brien’s show for 17 years, he joined the Colbert production team on CBS in 2015.

On O’Brien’s show, Stack had indulged his inner clown, writing for one of television’s funniest comics. But with Colbert, whom he’d known from their days in Chicago with the Second City improv troupe, Stack had to recalibrate his approach. Colbert’s forte is comic commentary on the day’s news. In a media landscape where satire has found a strong footing on television, Stack moved his antic, wacky humor into the political arena.

“It’s a challenge to funnel my natural … non-topical brain into the world of politics,” Stack says. “With Conan, we would address the news in a glancing, silly way. It was like fun cartoons. It never felt as driven by the news as our show feels at Colbert these days.”

That focus has added a certain immediacy to the joke-making process, especially with a president whose Twitter blasts provide ample fodder.

“There’s such a fast turnaround,” Stack says. “Sometimes we’re doing rewrite until showtime, but when it’s 5:30 p.m., that’s the script. You want it to be as good as it can be, and you also have to let it go. There’s always a show tomorrow.”

Get Me Rewrite

Making jokes for the Late Show starts early each morning after Stack’s commute into Manhattan from his home in Sleepy Hollow, about 25 miles north of New York City, to his office at the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway. He and members of the writing staff toss around possible bits for Colbert’s monologue or “cold open” skits like the zany shark piece.

Stack’s improv skills come in handy during the collaborative writing sessions, where he and his colleagues build on each other’s ideas, even if what’s suggested doesn’t turn out to be all that funny.

“A bad idea can lead to a good one,” says Stack. “You need to feel free to toss out one that might be bad. That’s healthy brainstorming.”

Colbert is very much involved in the process. “He’s as much a writer as a host,” says Stack. “He’ll riff around in the rehearsal, tweak the language, or flat-out write new jokes on the fly.”

Those riffs can also occur when Colbert and Stack converse on camera, as when Colbert looks heavenward to speak with God, the animated character whose mouth moves to Stack’s voice-over. In one February sketch, Colbert asks God about the NRA president’s contention that gun ownership was a right granted from on high.

Colbert wonders if God is pro-gun.

“You created the Second Amendment,” God retorts. “I said a ‘well-regulated militia.’ That doesn’t sound like buying an AR–15 should be easier than buying Sudafed.”

Even on camera, Stack thrives on such nail-biting spontaneity. “I like it when we go off on riffs — when you go off the rails and know you won’t be left hanging,” he says. “That can be the most fun.”

Chunkable Comedy

At 53, Stack is tall and lanky, with a full head of red hair that can be slicked back and neatly combed on air. It’s somewhat untamed when he shows up to speak in late October at the Hudson Valley Writers Center in Sleepy Hollow, not far from his home. He’s around the same age as O’Brien and Colbert, part of the late 1980s and early 1990s generation that found inspiration in Chicago during what Stack likes to call the golden age for improv comedy, when he found his comedic voice alongside future stars Colbert, Steve Carell, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey. Dressed in a gray button-down shirt with gray slacks and black suit jacket, he talks about how Americans may not stay up until midnight to watch his latest sketches. But many of his fans watch regularly on short clips that run a minute or two and get shared on Facebook or Twitter.

“People watch TV today in chunks,” he says. “You hope that you make something that’s chunkable, something that’s shareable.”

Colbert’s writing staff includes a slew of young writers, whom Stack says he relies on at times to keep himself up to date.

“I’ve been married since 1996, so certain areas of social media, like Snapchat and Tinder, which enter into scripts at times, are alien to me,” he says. “I sometimes worry about my references. But I’m pleasantly made aware every day that we are almost always on the same page. I relate so much to their sense of humor and what they find funny.”

That’s not to say that Stack shuns social media. He has more than 33,000 Twitter followers at @BrianStack153. A recent header photo depicted him in a goatee, mustache, and glasses, intently reading a volume titled Things Only Weenies Care About.

His feed is, as befits a comedian, hilarious — and sometimes moving. In a tribute to the late Anthony Bourdain, who tragically took his own life, Stack reveals that he has also had a brush with depression. He comments on movies, politics, and musicians ranging from Prince to John Prine. And he retweets other comedians and hysterical dog videos — including his own. There’s his dog, Darby, tailgating in a Badgers hat before the Orange Bowl, resting his head on a pillow while his master shovels snow, and lying inside the front door covered with mail because he was “too lazy to get up when the mail was dropped on him through the door slot.”

The Ark of His Career

Stack’s comedic journey began at the Ark Theatre in Madison, located in a converted garage on Bassett Street. A graduate of Indiana University, Stack had taken a comedy improvisation workshop in Chicago in the summer of 1986. He arrived in Madison that fall to pursue a master’s in communication arts, delving into the psychology of media and contemplating a career in academia or advertising.

In Madison, he mustered up the courage to audition at the Ark to give comedy a shot while hitting the books for his graduate studies.

“I was so scared to try,” says Stack. “Once I did it, I wished I’d done it earlier.”

Among those in the company were up-and-coming comic Chris Farley and longtime Onion writer Todd Hanson x’90.

“I connected right away with Chris, even though we didn’t seem to have anything in common,” recalls Stack. “He was a big guy from Madison. I was a skinny, unathletic kid. We bonded through comedy. Chris couldn’t wait to get to Chicago, and by 1990, he was in New York on Saturday Night Live. I went to see his first show. I didn’t expect to know someone on television.”

At the time, Stack couldn’t imagine a way to make money making people laugh. After graduation, he moved back home to Chicago to work for four years in an ad agency. But comedy still beckoned, so he performed improv for fun on weekends.

He was really funny. Maybe he could follow Farley’s path to the big stage, he thought. “While I always dreamed of having some kind of career in comedy, I never thought that seemed realistic at all, since [I thought that] show biz people came from another planet,” he says. “I really didn’t have any idea what ‘realistic’ career to pursue while doing improv for fun early on.”

That became a moot point after he landed a job with the touring company of Second City. Comedy led to romance, too. He met his wife, Miriam Tolan, in a Chicago improv ensemble called Jazz Freddy. They worked together at Second City, got married, and have two daughters, Nora, 20, and Colette, 16.

“The friendships and relationships formed through improv become so strong,” he says. “You are in the trenches together, relying on each other. It feels like you are going into battle together. You have each other’s backs. And back then, after the shows, there was socializing — way too much partying during those Chicago days.”

After four years at Second City, Stack had his big break, joining the writing staff at Late Night with Conan O’Brien for what was to be a 13-week stint. A sketch he wrote for Amy Poehler, with her playing a 13-year-old, helped convince the powers at NBC to extend his contract. His fill-in gig turned into 12 years with O’Brien’s show on NBC, and another five years after O’Brien moved to TBS.

It was a run that led to five Writers Guild Awards for Writing in a Comedy/Variety Series and an Emmy award in 2007.

That first year on Late Night wasn’t easy. Stack recalls the December day that O’Brien walked grim-faced into the writers’ room. He told them that Chris Farley was dead, at age 33.

“It was really hard,” says Stack. “I’d been so excited for Chris when he made it to Saturday Night Live, but also worried for him. He was childlike in his vulnerability. He was fragile and easily wounded. He had so much life in him. I couldn’t believe you could snuff that out.”

Although Stack’s sense of loss has lingered to this day, he continued to hone the sense of comedy that has landed him on late-night’s most highly rated talk show.

Late-Night Badgers

Stack isn’t the only Badger contributing to Colbert’s signature brand of laughs. Gabe Gronli ’04 and Aaron Cohen ’03, who had worked as interns with Stack at Late Night with Conan O’Brien, moved to CBS to join the writing staff with Stack when The Late Show with Stephen Colbert debuted in 2015. Cohen, now a writer and supervising producer for Colbert’s show, marvels at Stack’s range.

“There are very few people who can play both God and the devil,” he says. “When Stack plays God, he’s a bumbling, lovable God, and his full, red-body-painted devil is just as likable.”

Gronli, one of the Late Show’s writers, grew up on Madison’s west side. He remembers the first day of his Conan internship, when he met Stack, whom he calls the friendliest person he’s met during his television career.

“I was an avid Conan fan, and Stack was an idol of mine,” says Gronli, a founding member of Madison’s Atlas Improv Company. “He’d heard about me and greeted me by name when I came out of the elevator. I was so happy. Brian Stack knew my name!”

Gronli says Stack has an uncanny ability to create characters, each with a distinct point of view and mannerisms to match. This all comes out in the collaborative writing process, which Gronli says occasionally circles back to Madison.

“When working with him, he’ll go from something incredibly funny, to coming up with a great character, to shouting about old restaurants in Madison he’s eaten at, to his favorite rock band,” Gronli says. “He has a unique brain for characters. He inhabits them very easily.”

Stack believes that his knack for writing emanates from his training in improv, which he still performs monthly in Manhattan at the Upright Citizens Brigade show Gravid Water. The show features experienced stage actors who recite lines from a play, with the improvisor, who hasn’t read the script, responding to lines they’ve heard for the first time. In late February, Stack adopts a deadpan British accent in a scene from the play Mary Page Marlowe. It’s a scene in which a husband faces allegations of infidelity from his wife.

Stack’s character brushes off the allegations, but his disinterest in the marriage is revealed. The audience erupts in laughter after Stack tells his estranged wife that he’ll watch over their baby — whose name he can’t remember.

“It’s a way to keep my chops up,” says Stack. “Improv is my first love. It keeps your synapses firing.”

]]>
https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/lol/feed/ 0
Jessica Weeks https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/conversation/jessica-weeks/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/conversation/jessica-weeks/#respond Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:33:09 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=23724 Head shot of Jessica Weeks

Jessica Weeks is fascinated by the “dark side” of international relations: dictatorships. But her award-winning research combats the black-and-white view of authoritarian regimes and democracies. Dictators at War and Peace, published in 2014, classifies regimes to better understand them: bosses/strongmen, with an unchecked personalist leader; juntas, with influential military elites; and machines, with influential political elites. Weeks, a UW associate professor of political science, spoke to members of the U.S. intelligence community in Washington, DC, last year as they grappled with how to contain North Korea.

How do authoritarian regimes differ?

Who is inside the regime really matters. Boss and strongman regimes have the stereotypical dictator, like Saddam Hussein, Mao, Stalin, Hitler. One person has a lot of power and, because of that, can make decisions without too much concern that people within the regime will disagree or try to get rid of him. But when you don’t have people helping you make a decision or [holding you accountable], that often leads to suboptimal outcomes. These leaders tend to fight really risky wars, start more wars, and lose a lot more frequently. … Machines, I argue, are the most peaceful kinds of regimes. These include the Soviet Union after Stalin and China after Mao. They don’t fight as many wars and tend to have much better outcomes when they fight. Juntas are more likely to [engage in war] because the military officers are more likely to see force as a viable option and policy tool. They end up falling in between the machines and the bosses.

According to your book, machine regimes are just as risk averse as democracies when it comes to initiating force — and are just as successful when they do go to war. Why?

It’s because of the risks that the leader would face if they undertook foolish foreign-policy decisions. A leader in a democracy needs to think about what the electoral consequences would be if they lost a war. You don’t pick wars that you can’t win. You have the same dynamic going on in these machines. The leader knows — they’re not thinking about the public, per se — but they know that if they start a war and it goes badly, then they could be ousted by the other top people in the regime. The accountability is coming from other people within the regime rather than the public at large.

How do nuclear capabilities fit into this discussion?

I have [research] that finds that boss and strongman regimes are more likely to pursue nuclear weapons than machines and juntas. It’s similar dynamics. These leaders face fewer constraints. When a country tries to pursue nuclear weapons, it often faces a lot of costs from the international community. But the leaders don’t really internalize those in the same way. So you end up seeing that the same regimes that fight a lot of wars are often also trying to acquire these weapons.

What did you think of the summit with North Korea?

I think the U.S. [needs] to be extremely cautious about any promises [from] North Korea. … If Kim [Jong-un] made a promise and then went back on it, there are going to be no domestic consequences for that — because there’s no one to criticize him. It’s the quintessential boss regime.

Interview conducted, edited, and condensed by Preston Schmitt ’14

]]>
https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/conversation/jessica-weeks/feed/ 0
Parental POV https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/parental-pov/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/parental-pov/#respond Wed, 23 May 2018 14:24:41 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=23119 Ronald Reagan waves to supporters in front of plane with "Reagan '80" painted on side

The Reagan Era takes wing: Ronald Reagan waves to supporters at Van Nuys Airport before a set of presidential campaign rallies in the Los Angeles area in October 1980.

For the sake of learning — and with occasional family healing — a UW history course is asking students to turn their parents into historical subjects.

Professor Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen’s History 221 course, The History of Your Parents’ Generation (1970s–90s), tackles a tumultuous few decades through a generational lens, assigning students to interview their parents (“compelling figures in the drama of American life in their own right,” the syllabus states) about their upbringing and their memories of music, fashion, and historic milestones.

Responses have ranged from the stereotypical — dads waxing poetic about Bruce Springsteen, moms admitting to wearing disco sequins — to the unexpected. One student learned that her mother, a nurse, rushed to the front lines of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s to work at a specialized clinic. The mother cried as she recounted the death, terror, and antigay backlash she witnessed. Another student leveraged the assignment to ease tensions between a mother and grandmother who hadn’t spoken to each other in years. One student even found out about a half-sibling for the first time.

“It seemed to me that [the course’s approach] could get students to connect to history,” Ratner-Rosenhagen says. “History is nothing other than actual human beings in time and space having thoughts and feelings and being affected by their world.”

She challenges students to keep their parents’ answers in mind during the course’s traditional lectures and readings, which cover the cultural fracturing and economic upheaval — or the “great shift” — that defined the ’70s and ’80s. The course concludes as it started, with students conducting follow-up interviews with their parents and connecting them with subject matter from the course.

Lindsey Brugger ’18, who took the class in 2016, wrote her final essay on childhood nostalgia and its association with political identity. She posits that her father’s happy upbringing on an isolated farm may have contributed to his lasting fondness for Ronald Reagan, even though he can’t recall any of the former president’s policies or actions.

“A really great takeaway was getting to know my parents a little better and getting to understand how they came into a political awareness at the same time that I was discovering mine,” Brugger says. “I grew closer to my parents because of [it].”

]]>
https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/on_campus/parental-pov/feed/ 0
A Judge on Trial https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/a-judge-on-trial/ https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/a-judge-on-trial/#respond Thu, 22 Feb 2018 19:12:33 +0000 https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/?p=22440 Before Twitter and cable news, political fights were up close and personal. For John Becker LLB1890, the battle that would change the course of his life took place 100 years ago on a February night in Monroe, Wisconsin, at the height of World War I.
Editorial cartoon picturing a hand grabbing away Lady Liberty's torch.

This editorial cartoon opposing the Espionage Act was published before Congress passed the law in June 1917. Federal prosecutors used the act to charge Becker less than a year later. Winsor McCay, Library of Congress; Green County Clerk of Courts

It was 17 degrees below zero outside when the shouting started inside the courthouse. Becker, a local judge, was among 50 or so residents who trudged through two feet of snow in the howling wind to attend a regularly scheduled meeting of the Green County Board. Not enough board members made the journey, so without a quorum, the group left county business aside. An informal and increasingly agitated conversation about the war erupted. Becker did not back down.

“There is no shortage of food. The idea of a shortage of food is being preached by agents employed by corporations for their own gains and going about the country on high-paid salaries,” said Becker, an ardent pacifist and Progressive Republican gubernatorial candidate. “This is a rich man’s war. There is no labor shortage. There is no seed shortage. Farmers, beware of taxes, war taxes, which must be paid in July.”

“I have listened to a speech which is seditious,” responded Monroe school superintendent Paul Neverman with indignation. “If the boys over in France could have heard his speech, they would make short work of him.”

“I doubt you can define the word seditious,” Becker replied.

“You’re a traitor,” the superintendent sneered.

Roughly three and a half months later, Albert Wolfe LLB1900, the U.S. Attorney for Western Wisconsin, made the accusation official.

In a 12-page indictment, he accused Becker of violating the Espionage Act of 1917. He charged him with seven counts of making false statements “willfully and feloniously … with the intent to interfere with the operation and success of the military and naval forces of the United States.”

  Becker was no stranger to challenging the government: he believed it was the definition of what citizens should do. He was the chair of Wisconsin’s Commission on Peace and lobbied for a citywide referendum in Monroe on whether the United States should get involved in World War I. In April 1917, three days before the U.S. entered the war, Becker and his fellow Monroe neighbors voted 954 to 50 against American intervention in the conflict.

The Milwaukee Journal called the referendum, “The Monroe Folly,” and wrote that the “stupidity and disloyalty” of the city injured the whole state. And the Los Angeles Times editorialized that there was “more disloyalty per square foot in Wisconsin than anywhere else in the country.”

But once U.S. soldiers headed to Europe, Becker encouraged his son to sign up for the military and stated publicly it was the responsibility of all citizens to support the war effort. At the same time, he poked and prodded at elected officials, as did his political mentor, Wisconsin Senator Robert La Follette 1879, to ensure a more representative policy.

“Judge Becker practiced a complex patriotism, not unlike that of Senator La Follette,” says Richard Pifer MA’76, PhD’83, who recently authored The Great War Comes to Wisconsin: Sacrifice, Patriotism, and Free Speech in a Time of Crisis. “He approached the war effort with similar integrity and nuance, advocating policies he thought best for the nation during the war, even when his position flew in the face of government policy, and even though the result would lead to hostile attacks by super-patriots with little understanding of the war or Judge Becker.”

Those “super-patriots” took Judge Becker to trial in August 1918. A jury took less than six hours to convict him and he was sentenced to three years at the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas. Wolfe, the U.S. attorney, told reporters afterward that he hoped Becker’s situation would “deter” lesser citizens who might be disloyal. Becker was forced to resign the seat on the bench he’d been elected to five times and held for 21 years in his community.

“It seemed to me, the response to what he said was over the top,” says Leslie Bellais MA’09, curator of social history at the Wisconsin Historical Museum. “It was an ongoing struggle in America, balancing civil liberties with national security. We saw it all over the United States and especially in Wisconsin — this overwhelming desire to shut down civil rights — a reaction, as we would see it today, that seemed un-American.”

The museum displays a sign donated by Becker’s family members that someone affixed to their home during his 1918 trial. Below his name is a crudely drawn figure in yellow with a speech balloon that says, “Berlin for Me.”

“It’s a powerful statement that during World War I, people would attack others this way,” Bellais said. “It’s not an abstract concept. This impacted real people.”

Becker never served a day in jail, and the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned his conviction two years later, but the court of public opinion had rendered its verdict. He was defeated in his subsequent attempts to run for district attorney and for his former county judge seat.

When he died in 1926 at age 57, the local newspaper in Monroe described him as “a fighter, but fair. If he felt he was right, he battled to the end, staunchly supporting his friend, client, or cause upon which he was engaged and if defeated … winning admiration even of those opposed to him at the time.”

]]>
https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/a-judge-on-trial/feed/ 0