This fall, University of Wisconsin’s Sociology Department is sponsoring its second year of Sociology 496: “FORWARD? The Wisconsin Idea, Past and Present,” a public lecture series and class discussion that intends to bring The Wisconsin Idea to life.
Recent political trends and events, such as the advent of white supremacists at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, have caused the university to reexamine the theme of this semester’s course, “What makes an idea a Wisconsin Idea?”
The course combines a small undergraduate seminar with a public lecture series that examines the university’s relationship with the people of the state, according to the course’s syllabus.
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The series is designed for students who want to think more globally about the possibilities of their education, according to the syllabus.
According to the syllabus, exploration of successes and failures will be covered through 15 weeks of topics that include: “The Power to Change Lives: The UW Odyssey Project” and “The Path from Basic to Applied Research, or: What the Hell Are You Doing with My Tax Dollars?”
Moreover, the public lecture series aims to examine the working relationship between the individuals in the university and the state government, one of the UW professors teaching the course, Eric Sandgren said.
Although the lecture series began well before the events in Charlottesville, it is being reviewed in light of a study of the UW’s history with the KKK and how the university can move forward while acknowledging history.
But, Sandgren said there is no connection between the class and the study.
“The lecture series and the study are not directly related, though the examination of our KKK history certainly is an example of our university doing its best to get to know itself, as is the Wisconsin Idea course,” Sandgren said.
Last year, there was concern about the course being seen as provocative by legislators, Sandgren said.
This year Sandgren and Patrick Brenzel, an employee of the UW sociology department, are teaching “FORWARD?” knowing there is a big demand for the kinds of information the class might provide.
“We are not just putting out another lefty program,” Brenzel said. “This is all archived and public, attendees from last year would leave having learned great amounts of information.”
Brenzel said the university must have difficult conversations about legacy to do a better job and we still have a lot to learn.
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“I think that the shock of having our governor write the Wisconsin Idea out of the university mission woke something up in many of the faculty and staff on campus,” Sandgren said.
But defining the Wisconsin Idea is not the easiest thing to articulate, Brenzel said.
The class hopes to convey that Wisconsin history is tied to the Wisconsin idea, Brenzel said. and that it is important to know and understand both.
“The Wisconsin Idea is Wisconsin history, and it is honorable and worth knowing,” Brenzel said.
A previous version of this article indicated Patrick Brenzel was a UW sociology professor. The article has been updated to clarify his role in the sociology department. The Badger Herald regrets this error.