A professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is introducing a course this fall that aims to foster public discourse about UW’s role in current issues in the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea.

“FORWARD? The Wisconsin Idea, Past and Present,” combines a small undergraduate seminar with a public lecture series that examines UW’s relationship with the people of the state, the creators of the sociology course state on their website.

“At a time when powerful political forces are working to reshape the mission of the university, we think it’s important to foster a public conversation among students, faculty and the citizens of the state about the meaning and history of the Wisconsin Idea,” said professor Chad Alan Goldberg.

The Wisconsin Idea, a bedrock principle of the university, holds that its “beneficent influence” should reach into every home in the state. The tenet dates back to 1904, when UW President Charles Van Hise famously gave expression to the idea that knowledge produced at UW could help illuminate the state’s challenges and contribute to solutions.

Gov. Scott Walker unleashed a public uproar in 2015 when his budget bill sought to remove such aspirational language from the mission statement of the university and replace it with a reference to workforce development. The public outcry forced budget writers to abandon the effort and leave the mission of the university intact.

The new course, Sociology 496-002, will host free public lectures on 15 consecutive Tuesdays, staring on Sept. 6, at 6 p.m. at the Pyle Center, 702 Langdon St.

As Madison as it gets: Get Cap Times' highlights sent daily to your inbox

Scheduled lecture topics include the future of higher education in Wisconsin, the politics of oligarchy and resentment, criminal justice and the role of the university in making public policy. They will be presented by UW-Madison faculty and other expert guest lecturers.

Students enrolled for credit must attend the public lectures, as well as a separate seminar.

Each of the lectures will be recorded and made available on the internet for viewing. A social media outlet for the course is also being constructed.

To enroll as a student or adult auditor, contact the Department of Sociology at 262-2921 or

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.