The Wisconsin Idea: A Platform for Church-University Collaboration?

Upper House Events

15-12-2023 • 48 mins

This gathering was cohosted with the Awaken Dane project, a Lilly Endowment, Inc., funded initiative that helps participants from local churches listen deeply for and awaken to where the Spirit of God is at work in their local communities so they can join in that holy work. During our evening together, we will address pressing questions: How might the Church help the university advance the common good, or more effectively implement the Wisconsin Idea? What can the Church learn from the University to better serve its communities?

A long-standing critique of colleges and universities is that they are elitist institutions detached from the interests of everyday citizens. In fact, the 19th-century term “ivory tower” disparages faculty who happily pursued their favorite subjects without giving any thought to the greater public, whose taxes fund public institutions. UW President Charles Van Hise directly addressed such public concerns by articulating the Wisconsin Idea (1904) — that university research should be applied to solve problems and improve health, quality of life, the environment, and agriculture for all citizens of the state of Wisconsin — thus drawing a clear connection between the work of the university and the common good.

While still strongly associated with the Wisconsin Idea, many citizens perceive the UW as a detached, inaccessible institution whose programs are so specialized and obscure they bear little relation to most people’s felt needs and realities. In fact, universities across the country are grappling with loss of public trust in higher education and questions about their work having public relevance. These concerns are fueling a national and international movement to reimagine what it means for universities to meaningfully collaborate with communities to advance the common good. Potential collaborators in this movement? The Church and its leaders, who serve the spiritual, physical, and social needs of their communities. Through the platform of the Wisconsin Idea, the UW and the Church might find ways to converse and advance the common good in our community. Joining us to discuss the challenges and opportunities of these distinct institutions working together is David Weerts, who brings his scholarship on the Wisconsin Idea and insights from his work in the Office of Public Engagement at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, to our dinner.

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This event was recorded on November 9, 2023.

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About our speaker:

David J. Weerts, Ph.D., is a professor of higher education and faculty director in the Office for Public Engagement at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Over the past 25 years, his scholarship and teaching have focused on how colleges and universities collaborate with external partners to serve the public good. He has received awards for his research from the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE), the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), and the National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good. Professor Weerts serves as vice chair of the board at Anselm House, a Christian Study Center that exists to help students and faculty at the University of Minnesota connect faith and knowledge with all of life. He holds a Ph.D. in educational administration from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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