Editor's Note: Controversy erupted this week when Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker released a budget that not only slashed funding for the University of Wisconsin system, but edited its mission statement.
The words Walker removed––"to extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campuses," "to serve and stimulate society," and to extend "the search for truth"––are the bedrock values of the Wisconsin Idea, championed by The Progressive founder Fighting Bob La Follette.
The Wisconsin Idea, encouraging a cooperative relationship among citizens, policymakers and our great public university system, made Wisconsin "a laboratory of democracy" and the birthplace of progressive legislation from workers' compensation to open government to the minimum wage. All of that is now under attack by Scott Walker as he eyes a Republican presidential nomination.
UW political science professor Ernst C. Meyer wrote in the June 1910 edition of what was then called La Follette's Weekly Magazine, referencing the newly created Extension Department of the State University's Municipal Reference Bureau "to assist citizens of this commonwealth in their quest for information" :
"This Bureau will occupy a peculiarly advantageous position to supply information because of the intimate relation which has been established between it and various Departments and Schools in the University. It has been decided to closely affiliate it with the research work in municipal administration conducted in the seminary on public administration in the Political Science Department of the University.
In this way students of public administration are given an opportunity to engage themselves in a most practical manner with the living problems of city government in the state as brought out by the inquiries received at the Bureau. The people of the state, on the other hand, are given the direct benefit of the investigations in this line as carried on by the University which they support.
The University thus becomes in one more way the pulsating heart which assists, as far as it can, in applying that understanding which is the power of life to the body politic of this commonwealth."
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