Rebecca Blank, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is a cheerleader for the Wisconsin Idea: using university resources to serve the state. Blank will discuss her contemporary interpretation of this century-old concept on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “University of the Air” (Sunday, November 15, the Ideas Network, 4:04-5 p.m.).
In a wide-ranging conversation with host Emily Auerbach, Blank notes that while many universities pay lip service to community outreach, none approach it with the intensity of UW-Madison.
“In my first six months here, people would come up to me on campus and say, ‘You do know about the Wisconsin Idea? You do know that we are part of the rest of the state, and that’s one of our real strengths?’”
Blank is clearly proud of the university’s contributions and wants to make sure that citizens understand its role in the community.
“One of the things I’m not very happy about in this particular political moment is that folks seem to have forgotten a bit how deeply entwined we are with the state and all the things we do, from our Ag school, which has been absolutely fundamental to the agricultural industry here in Wisconsin, to our School of Medicine and its close collaboration with health care, clinics, and industry all across the state. We need to remind people how this university is connected to the state, and we need to remind ourselves on campus regularly how important it is that we are part of this state.”
Blank discusses UW-Madison’s commitment to serving the low-income population, mentioning such programs as Badger Volunteers, Forward Madison, and the Odyssey Project. Auerbach herself is the director of the Odyssey Project, which helps adults overcome barriers to a college education.
“We are part of this community, and we’ve got to be part of community challenges,” Blank says. “And certainly some of the challenges around inequalities— particularly racial inequalities in the schools, the poverty differentials, and the employment differentials— are important for the university to be very closely involved with.”
Blank’s passion for the Wisconsin Idea would have please her predecessor Charles Van Hise, the UW president who coined the term in 1904.
“I am delighted to be at a place where the commitment to outreach is so strong that we have our own name for it,” she says.