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Gathering the Clans

When the winds of change are in the air, it’s a good idea to gather one’s extended circle—especially the wisdom-keepers and those who understand our history and how it shapes these times and the future. By taking the time to come together, we can figure out what all this change means, how we might want to respond, and how we can foster the resilience and longevity of our extended Wisconsin family.

Change has certainly been in the air in Wisconsin in the context of how our state values higher education, science, environmental stewardship, and creative culture. So, we’re calling the Academy clan together this fall on November 6th and 7th for our first member meeting in more than fifteen years.

Our clan—the thousand-plus group of Academy members—is comprised of truly remarkable people: scholars, scientists, academic leaders, librarians, gardeners, inventors, entrepreneurs, artists of many kinds, farmers, policymakers, volunteers, business and civic leaders, attorneys, health professionals, poets, writers, and passionate readers. Our clan is diverse in vocation yet united by an enthusiasm for ideas and a love of Wisconsin. This is a good combination for creative problem solving, and makes for interesting people to be around.

We hope to renew connections and forge new ones among those who believe that the Academy’s historic pledge to “gather, share, and act upon knowledge in sciences, arts, and letters for the betterment of the people of Wisconsin” is needed today more than ever. We seek your collective wisdom as people who care about Wisconsin and the Academy. We hope to gather it through your reflections on provocative presentations, through questions and discussions, and even through your poetry and art.

Gatherings like our member meeting are also about renewing old friendships and forging new ones, having fun together, and celebrating heritage. Perhaps most importantly, they are also about the promise of the future. So we invite you to join us this November as we explore the topic: The Promise of the Wisconsin Idea. At its essence, the Wisconsin Idea is about the power of knowledge—and access to it—to improve lives, livelihoods and our society. It implies the old notion of a rising tide raising all boats.

While the roots of the Wisconsin Idea were formed in progressive and egalitarian values, education is the essential element that makes it grow. But assumptions about education in Wisconsin are in flux, across the full spectrum from early learning to post-graduate research. Budgets from K–12 to the university system are more constrained than I remember at any other time in my 35 years of living in Wisconsin, while the cost of college education has soared beyond reach for some—and beyond imagination for many. The role of scientific knowledge in policy-making has shifted, too, with sound data often ignored by those with singular agendas.

Because of our state’s waning commitment to excellence in education and a diminished incorporation of scientific information in policy decisions, many teachers, academic researchers, and young people are leaving Wisconsin for perceived greener pastures. Does the promise of the Wisconsin Idea still hold today? If it is at risk, what can we do to strengthen and renew its promise? And what can those of us who are concerned about the potential loss of its promise do? These will be among the topics we’ll explore in our time together.

“Base camp” for our member meeting will be the Pyle Center on the UW–Madison campus, where Friday evening will include dinner and a panel discussion about the Wisconsin Idea by three Academy Fellows. Saturday morning local field trips will give you a chance to explore science, arts, and letters close up with special lab tours, gallery talks, and museum tours on the UW campus tailored just for our members. On Saturday afternoon, we’ll host round table discussions about the Wisconsin Idea and your hopes and concerns about Wisconsin, and we’ll also offer three workshops—one on writing poetry, another on creating art, and a third discussing sustainability in Wisconsin through the lens of our Wisconsin Initiatives on Climate & Energy and Waters of Wisconsin. Before we conclude, we’ll share the best ideas emerging from our time together in a wrap-up plenary session. We’ll also host some optional Saturday evening events for those who want to keep the fun going after our formal sessions conclude.

We’re excited about the opportunity to gather our clan. We can’t promise you a colorful mix of tartans or a caber toss, but we expect there will be the opportunity for mental workouts when it comes to elevating the role of arts in Wisconsin, or the role of science in policy making, as well as lots of enjoyable discussion with people who are enthusiastic about learning, ideas, and a better Wisconsin. 

So, bundle up and plan to spend part of a brisk November weekend with the warm company of your Academy clan. We hope it will be the beginning of a new tradition, and look forward to future gatherings in other communities around Wisconsin.

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Jane Elder recently retired from her position as Executive Director of the Wisconsin Academy. She brought to the Wisconsin Academy a strong background in public policy leadership, nonprofit management, and involvement in Wisconsin arts.

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