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It was my good fortune to hear a presentation at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Tuesday night about the Wisconsin Idea.

It was hosted by the union of academic professionals and it was eye-opening.

We learned that the Wisconsin idea was and is the notion that the state, the university and the citizenry all thrive when they collaborate for the common good.

We heard some historic examples of how this was practiced, such as a program in the Great Depression that connected rural students with university faculty via radio.

We learned that the Wisconsin idea is nationally known as a model for a healthy and prosperous state. We learned that the idea is vigorously lived out “right here in river city.”

Faculty and students from the English department do workshops with prisoners in the county jail. Faculty and students from the psychology department work with developmentally disabled students at Chileda. Faculty and students in the history department work to record and preserve the oral histories living in our community and otherwise lost to us and our descendants.

And many, many more examples could be added. But, finally, we learned that the Wisconsin Idea is under threat from a political climate that seems intent on diminishing our capacity to envision a better state and to work together, in healthy institutions, to bring it about.

We left wondering why this was so and what we could do to address it.

Stephen Minnema, La Crosse

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