“Once a badger, always a badger” — that is the motto that pushed a small group of University of Wisconsin alumni to take issues affecting their alma mater into their own hands.
More than 14 of these alumni in 2011 founded Badger Advocates, an independent group of politically active alumni that aims to inspire more stakeholders to participate in UW matters. Specifically, they hope to increase UW’s financial stability and give UW more autonomy.
“We aim to be political advocates for the university,” Matt Kussow, executive director of Badger Advocates, said. “We are not connected to the alumni association or the chancellor but hope to benefit them with our work.”
Badger Advocates consists of UW graduates who have already made their mark in the world, such as those who have become highly successful working in government affairs and lobbying, as well as members from the corporate world.
Members of Badger Advocates use their experience and clout to influence decisions affecting UW, which they hope will affect real change, Kussow said.
Because of the group’s relatively new status in the community, Kussow said several aspects of Badger Advocates are still being developed, but that has not inhibited them from pushing for change.
To make a difference, Kussow said Badger Advocates will continue to engage in lobbying efforts on different political levels. This involves directly interacting with lawmakers and the Wisconsin State Legislature as a whole.
Kussow said it is important that people understand the profound impact UW has on Wisconsin’s economy and overall financial well-being.
“[The alumni] developed a deep understanding of not only Wisconsin’s economy, but the role UW plays in that economy,” Kussow said. “It is important for that story to be told.”
Kussow said the Legislature tends to focus on more controversial issues and the “hot topics of the day,” like the biennial budget. This often makes them overlook more subtle topics, such as student participation and equity, that also have a significant impact on UW. Badger Advocates looks to bridge this gap and ensure lawmakers pay equal attention to all types of issues.
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Currently, Badger Advocates is preparing to lobby during the 2017-19 budget discussions that begin in January, Kussow said.
Badger Advocates also intends to be a secondary voice for UW’s administration. Kussow said the group wants to engage in conversations with Wisconsin’s political system that might be difficult for administration to have. Moreover, Badger Advocates looks to give a more “organized outlet” to faculty and staff to participate in the political process.
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Moving forward, Kussow said Badger Advocates also wants to work with students. He said there are many students who are aware of what is happening at the Capitol and want to participate.
“A lot of times people say, ‘What can I do?’ and hopefully Badger Advocates is an organization that can provide them with opportunities to get involved in the political debate and overall welfare of the university,” Kussow said.