The Old Wisconsin Idea & The New UW Cooperative Extension

For October 17, 2018        
Hi WN@TL Fans,
I first heard of ‘The Wisconsin Idea’ from Prof Jim Holler, my mycology teacher at UW-Platteville, in a conversation with him in Room 303 Boebel Hall in about 1978.  He was incredulous:  had I never heard of the Wisconsin Idea, that the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state?!
Being college student from Illinois, up until that time I had the impression that the Wisconsin Idea might be, “I think I’ll have another beer…”
But Prof Holler set me straight:  there’s more than bucolic Gemütlichkeit going on here.
My intro to the Idea illustrates a few key points:
-the Idea is important, and it has been for a long time
-the Idea is important to lots of campuses and organizations in Wisconsin
-it’s not inborn:  you have to be carefully taught, perhaps by demonstration, even better by participation.
One of the things I’ve learned is that every generation has an opportunity and an obligation to refine, redefine, refuel and retool the Wisconsin Idea to meet the needs of their times.
This spring WARF launched a series of essays & op-eds emphasizing the university’s roles in innovation, technology transfer and entrepreneurship. Former governor Tommy Thompson in his essay (co-authored with Mike Sussman of the Biotech Center) referred t“a new Wisconsin Idea.”
This week (October 17) Gerry Campbell, emeritus of both UW-Madison and UW-Extension, and I will talk on “The Old Wisconsin Idea and the New UW Cooperative Extension. ”  
We’ll be looking at the origins of the old Wisconsin Idea and offering alternative visions, some complementary and some competing, for the Wisconsin Idea in the coming years.  We’ll review the changes at UW-Extension set afoot starting in January 2015, the re-organization of Cooperative Extension, the elimination this year of the entities formerly known as UW-Extension & UW Colleges, and the future for Cooperative Extension as it returns to UW-Madison for the first time since the mid-1960’s.  
As I note from time to time, I am not from Wisconsin;  I am from Illinois.  I also note from time to time that there is no “Illinois Idea” — and I say that as an alum of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  
I know of no other state university that has a brand or a mantra for its public service mission that animates the life and elevates the mission of a land-grant university quite the way “The Wisconsin Idea” does here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  
And by the way:  for some of us, for many of us, The Wisconsin Idea isn’t just about the university—it’s about Wisconsin.
Tonight’s talk is a supplement to the “Forward?  The Wisconsin Idea” public seminar being held every Tuesday at 6:00pm in Room 1111 Genetics Biotech Center—the same place as WN@TL is held.
Next week (October 24), Jean-Michel Ane of Bacteriology & Agronomy will be here to share the astonishing story of how a research team parsed out the Saga in Oaxaca:  the aerial roots of a type of corn exude a gel in which bacteria can grow & where the bacteria can convert or “fix” N2 into a form of nitrogen that can get into the corn.
This is cool biology, period.
It’s also laden with possibilities.  Nitrogen is often a limiting factor in growing field crops, especially the grains, particularly corn. One of the Holy Grails of agronomy has been to find ways to get corn to fix its own nitrogen, and thereby bypass some or all of the need for applying nitrogen fertilizer.  
One approach has been to develop a corn that, like beans or alfalfa, can host symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria in root nodules in the soil. These Oaxacans provide a twist:  corn and roots and bacteria, yes;  but aerial roots, not soil roots; and gel, instead of nodules.  
Cue the Shakespeare:  “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Also, cue the lines right before those famous words:
Horatio:   O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!

Hamlet:   And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
You are always welcome at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab.

Tom Zinnen
Biotechnology Center & Cooperative Extension