THE WISCONSIN IDEA DEFINES US
For more than a century, the Wisconsin Idea has defined who we are as citizens of this state. It is an Inspired Idea. It is an idea based on the principles that learning must be available to all and that the search for truth is paramount.
In his 2015-2017 Budget Bill, Governor Walker struck the Wisconsin Idea from our laws.
Section 36.01 of the Wisconsin Statutes embodies the Wisconsin Idea in its definitions of the purpose and mission of the State University system. The purpose holds it is “in the public interest to provide a system of higher education.” The mission insists: “Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for the truth.”
These are the concepts Governor Walker deleted.
In a 2006 publication titled The Wisconsin Idea – Roots of the Idea by Lawrence Barish, the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau explains how the Wisconsin Idea “grew out of a series of fortunate circumstances.” One year after we became a state in 1848, our university system was founded about a mile away from the capital. Barish explains: “The proximity of the seat of learning and the seat of government, coupled with the fact that both institutions were organized at about the same time, provided the fertile environment for the Idea to take root.”
With the help of University professors, our local industries found technical and practical solutions that helped them flourish, according to Barish. For example, Wisconsin became known as “America’s Dairyland” as a direct result of the College of Agriculture’s assistance to our dairy farmers.
“Equally as important were the governmental reforms that were enacted,” wrote Barish. “This legislation was innovative and visionary and a direct out-growth of the principles of good government embodied by the Wisconsin Idea.” Our legislation even became an archetype for the rest of the country.
When confronted by citizens about eradicating the purpose and mission of our University system, Governor Walker blithely hid the truth. He never mentioned his true purpose when he introduced his budget on February 3rd. News sources reported that when asked about the proposed change at a stop in De Pere on February 4th, he brokered no excuse. Only later that day did he claim the struck language was a “drafting error.” In a February 5th Press Release, he blamed the University, stating he “was surprised we had not heard concerns about the final version” of his budget from UW staff. Later that day, he admitted UW staff had raised concerns about the specific language. In a statement to the Journal Sentinel late February 5th, he explained he had tweeted the day before “It’s no big deal,” when describing the “mistake” made by his administration’s budget office.
The Wisconsin Idea is a big deal. This inspired idea recognizes and encourages the value of Knowledge. For what does education exist if not Knowledge? And what is Knowledge if not a search for the Truth?
What kind of person seeks to remove higher education from the public interest and erase the search for the truth? Someone who believes that Knowledge is Power.
Every day we are called to step forward and define ourselves. Who we are. What we value. The Governor has stepped forward in opposition to, and with disdain for, the Wisconsin Idea that defines us as citizens of this great state.
Confident in the knowledge that the Truth will set us free, let us all step forward now and define ourselves by recommitting to our Wisconsin Idea.