JAY: How's your blog going, Emmy?
EM: Not bad. But I sometimes feel like it's too predictable. "Hey look, Em wrote about the Twins. Hey look, Em wrote about quilting." I mean I'm trying to take a more meaningful tack on these things, like I said I would, but I'm starting to wonder if there is really any substance to what I've written so far. I need something meatier. But then there's also the other extreme...I don't want to be overly serious all the time either. I may have gone analysis-overboard with the HeLa post...and the anosognosia post...you know?
JAY: Well, have you written about the Wisconsin Idea yet? I mean you really love the Wisconsin Idea...it's sort of your whole academic raison d'être...
(Okay, Jay didn't really speak French, but it's super cute to imagine that he did, right?)
|History of Higher Ed class notes circa 1997|
|Sifting and winnowing...|
But I like the definition offered by Dr. Richard Roberts, of the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, better:
"The Wisconsin Idea is figuring out ways to help leverage resources and skills of the university across the state so everyone benefits," (Badger Herald, 2010).
The Wisconsin Idea was born of the roots of political progressivism in the early 1900s, and is often re-imagined to fit with current times. This also provides a nice history of the Wisconsin Idea...just in case you're as excited about this as I am!
|At Vassar, decked out in Bucky!|
And thanks to my American Higher Education: A History textbook (by Christopher J. Lucas), it was like I finally had some serious academic authority to claim the moral superiority of my baccalaureate alma mater (because, as you know, these are critically important battles). Like I wanted to walk up to the lot of them, slam the not-at-all-heavy book down on the table and say something like:
Fine. You take the invention of basketball. I'm taking the idea of a state and it's university "work[ing] in concert, mounting a systematic attack upon the nation's ills" (Lucas, p. 175).
|Fightin' Bob La Follette|
Oh snap! [insert smiley-faced emoticon here to demonstrate that most of this is just some good ol', in-jest, smack talk...I do so love my University of Kansas! Rock Chalk Jayhawk and all that.]
That last quote, by the way, is from Robert M. La Follette's autobiography and can be found on page 15 of the 1968, 4th edition paperback bequeathed to me by my father when I was appointed to River Falls City Council, complete with notes in the margins in his unmistakable, meticulous, warms-my-heart penmanship.
Anyway. Back to the Wisconsin Idea and its contribution...how it warms our world:
It goes without saying, that the Wisconsin Idea contributes to the public good and the general well-being of the citizens of the state of Wisconsin. I'm not going to say too much about it, since it's so obvious. But I will offer this:
UW's fifth president, John Bascom, called for "a more organic connection between [UW's] activities and [the state] community needs" (Lucas, p. 176). It wasn't enough, as a member of the University of Wisconsin community, to merely engage in service or volunteerism. It was time to "bring higher learning into the mainstream social life, to extend the benefits of applied scholarship and research to the real needs of the people, to enshrine the ideal of public service as the organizing center of academic life" (Lucas, p. 176).
The other contribution of the Wisconsin Idea is the wisdom and intelligence of the concept itself. This nearing-the-turn-of-the-century idea of service to the people of the state, with particular regard to policy development and the resolution of various societal issues, is one that is decidedly prescient, especially when contrasted with the overriding expectation today that universities (especially public, state universities) serve predominantly as economic engines for the region/state.
Not that policy, service and economic welfare are mutually exclusive ideas...of course they are not. They are obviously part and parcel of a healthy state. Economic development is certainly an important role of modern academic institutions. But it is not the only role our public institutions should play. More importantly, the subsequent privatization of knowledge that often follows an increasingly for-profit emphasis...the idea of education as a personal, private good, instead of a larger, public good...the rush to market in regard to academic research...is troubling to me. Especially in a time where we--so very critically--need an open forum for ideas to make our world a better place. This all makes me extremely grateful that a group of leaders in education and policy took the time, well over a century ago, to formulate such thoughtful, far-sighted ideas for the future of their state.
If you want to accuse me of being wildly idealistic about all this, go ahead. I'm fine with it. I come by it honestly. You see, I was brainwashed to love the University of Wisconsin from a very young age. All of this romanticism, however, doesn't mean I'm not critically aware of the conspicuously hypocritical, no-so-public-good-y examples coming from my alma mater. This stem cell controversy made me sick. And if you need any explanation why, go read my previous post. This is hardly the only example, but I don't want to rant and be negative. Besides, I think you catch my drift.
Before I wrap this post up, I do want to share a story with you...about how I learned to love Wisconsin so very much. A key bit of propaganda went something like this:
[Walking through Library Mall, the heart of the University of Wisconsin campus, my father (UW class of 1966) puts his arm around my shoulder and says]:
|Dad embraces a Gopher.|
[long, pregnant pause]
...but really, why would you want to go anywhere else but here!?
You can obviously see that I had no chance...I was a Badger from the very beginning. It's a heartwarming story, isn't it? Absolutely one of my favorites.
You know what else warms the heart (and the world)? Idealistic notions about making our world a better place...state by state, school by school, citizen by citizen.