Teaching & Learning

The Wisconsin Idea Is Having a Moment


Alumni at the Wisconsin Ideas showcase in Naples, Florida, including Betty Roller ’55, enjoyed sitting for caricatures that featured quotes about their UW experiences. Photo: Nick Shirghio.

From faculty showcases to national news, alumni weigh in on this cherished Badger principle.

The Wisconsin Idea was on global display this spring in more ways than one, and alumni who hold the concept dear loomed large in the national conversation.

In March, alumni in Naples, Florida, hosted the first “Wisconsin Ideas” event — a showcase of top faculty, inspiring students, and a “state of the university” address by Chancellor Rebecca Blank. Together, the evening’s highlights celebrated the education, innovation, and discovery that rightly earn UW–Madison the descriptor world class.

It’s a traveling event that’s bringing a Wisconsin immersion experience to alumni and donors across the nation. Next stops include Milwaukee, New York City, and San Francisco.

“Wisconsin Ideas” drew an impressive crowd of alumni, who — during presentations on promising Alzheimer’s research, as well as virtual reality, climate, and the science of prizewinning Wisconsin cheese — fondly recalled their own UW education and reflected on the power of the Wisconsin Idea.

“Our alumni are diverse in so many ways, but yet we share that bond of having been here,” says Paula Bonner MS’78, WAA’s president and chief alumni officer. “As alumni have responded to their sense of pride and being part of something that’s known as the Wisconsin Idea — our tradition of solving problems and making a difference in the world — there’s a unifying thread about being part of the University of Wisconsin.”

Just a month earlier, thousands of alumni made their own impression on the world with swift and vocal reaction to a version of the Wisconsin state budget that proposed “editing” state statutes that describe the Wisconsin Idea as part of the UW System mission. The proposal would have removed the phrases “the search for truth” and “improving the human condition,” in favor of adding language about meeting the state’s workforce needs.

Reaction to the proposal appeared globally in news reports and social media, where a resounding number of alumni were not shy in their displeasure, sharing how much the Wisconsin Idea meant to their education, and still inspires as they sift and winnow in their lives today.

In April, Governor Scott Walker assured that the final document would preserve the articulation of the Wisconsin Idea. For alumni, that could make this the first season Wisconsin State Statutes appear on summer reading lists.

Published in the Summer 2015 issue


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