Reinvigorating The Wisconsin Idea

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Heard On The Morning Show
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It’s called The Wisconsin Idea, a concept that university research can help stakeholders solve real world problems. The theory is more than a century old. Our guest says now is the time to rejuvenate the Idea and use innovation, collaboration, and passion to achieve Wisconsin’s full potential.

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  • UW Professor: It's Time To Re-Energize The Wisconsin Idea

    The Wisconsin Idea is one the oldest, most ingrained traditions associated with the University of Wisconsin, but it is time to re-energize the tradition, according to UW-Madison biochemistry professor Michael Sussman.

    “It has a very long tradition of making sure the university stays engaged and embedded with the people of Wisconsin,” Sussman said.

    Sussman, along with former Gov. Tommy Thompson, argued this perspective in a commentary article recently published by It was one of a series of articles organized by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF).

    For more than a century, the Wisconsin Idea has been a force behind applying university research and knowledge to better people’s lives across the state. But in recent decades, Sussman argues that the political polarization that has gripped much of the country has seeped into public education and created an atmosphere of micromanagement.

    “Disease has no politics,” he said. “Things have gotten polarized politically and we need to get rid of that when we’re looking at engaging the university and its expertise.”

    UW-Madison is a top-tier school, and to remain at that level, legislatures and the university need to work together, Sussman said. An invitation to the governor and Legislature to come visit campus and bridge that divide is open, he said.

    “Bottom line, when you have a long-term relationship, you need to re-engage,” he said. “Things can get stagnant and we forget … there’s always conflicts, but when those conflicts prevent you from making the kind of progress we’re capable of … then it is the biggest sin.”

    Yet, Sussman cautions against running a university like it’s a business, even in a climate where the state’s universities are facing budget cuts and the scaling down of programs.

    “If you try to manage a university like you would a company, you’re really going to run a huge risk because companies need to be profitable,” he said. “At universities we’re exploring the unknown, we’re looking at things no one thinks can be done.”

    And cutting budgets will only cause Wisconsin to fall behind, Sussman said.

    “Other states are putting more money (into their universities),” he said. “They want to be like Wisconsin has been. But if we continue with these cuts, they don’t need to get any better, we’re just going to get worse.”

    The ballot box is the best place for individuals to advance the Wisconsin Idea, Sussman said.

    “If you see a Legislature that you’ve elected that is not doing bipartisan work to help the education system thrive and prosper, vote him out,” he said. “Vote in the ones who do understand the value of innovation and creativity and the university’s place.”

Episode Credits

  • Kate Archer Kent Host
  • Kealey Bultena Producer
  • Michael Sussman Guest

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