University of Wisconsin-Madison

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University of Wisconsin-Madison
City: Madison, Wisconsin
Type: Public
Colors: red, gold
Mascot: Badgers
Bascom Hill, historic center of the university, with Bascom Hall at top; on a commemorative postcard reproduced from an 1879 lithograph

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is widely considered to be one of the most liberal public research universities in the nation.[1] This is despite a plaque at the university which has reads since 1894: “Whatever may be the limitations that trammel inquiry elsewhere We believe that the great state University of Wisconsin should forever encourage the continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.”

Lavishly funded, it has an enrollment of over forty thousand students and a budget of over two billion dollars. It is located in the state capital, Madison, Wisconsin, on a sprawling lakeside campus. It is academically ranked among the top fifty U. S. universities, and among the ten best public universities by U.S. News & World Report.[2]

Campus ethnic diversity at UW-Madison is among the lowest in the Big Ten,[3] with the student composition comprising only 3% Hispanics, 2.7% African Americans and 0.6% Native Americans. A ten-year plan to increase diversity, begun in 1998,[4] was judged in 2006 to have failed.[5] The university caps out-of-state enrollment at 25% and draws most of its students from mostly-white Wisconsin and Minnesota, but the university's chancellor said that the cause of the problem was that minority students graduate at rates far lower than other students and claimed that “[t]hose differences are not attributable to ability or preparation or background or anything other than the difficulty of being a student of color on our campus."[5] But UW-Madison's history is not any better: in 1940, Milton Friedman left his teaching job there "[a]fter an ugly display of ... anti-Semitism."[6]

Bucky Badger, athletic mascot of the University of Wisconsin

The University of Wisconsin is a member of the Big Ten athletic conference, and its teams are named the Badgers.[7]

Aldo Leopold wrote his classic 1949 work, A Sand County Almanac, while a professor of game management at the University of Wisconsin.[8]

The University of Wisconsin was a pioneer in the patenting and commercial licensing of university research. The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) was founded in 1925 to license professor Harry Steenbock's process for fortifying milk with vitamin D.[9] Another important WARF patent involved the blood anti-coagulating agent, dicumarol. The substance was discovered at the university in the 1933 by Karl Paul Link, after Ed Carlson—a farmer from Deer Park who was confident that the university would be interested in his problem—arrived unannounced on Link's doorstep bearing a milk can of blood from a dead calf and a hundred pounds of spoiled sweet clover. The drug was used first as a rat poison under the name Warfarin, then in human medicine under the name Dicoumadin. In 1999 it was the eleventh-most-prescribed drug in the United States.[10][11][12]

E. A. Birge and Chancey Juday, UW limnology pioneers, operating a plankton trap

The first limnology studies in North America were made in the early 1900s by E. A. Birge and Chancey Juday at the University of Wisconsin.[13]

Alexander Meiklejohn's Experimental College, inaugurated in 1927, was a short-lived but very influential educational experiment at the University of Wisconsin. It was one of a number of attempts to present the liberal arts as a unified whole, with emphasis on the direct reading of original sources. It can be broadly considered as part of the "Great Books" movement, which lives on in its purest state today at St. John's College in Annapolis, and in an attenuated form at WIsconsin as the Integrated Liberal Studies program.[14]

The university's radio station, WHA, was an important pioneer in broadcast radio, and claims to be[15] "the oldest station in the nation"[16][17] The physics department began experimental transmissions in 1900, received experimental license 9XM in 1915, began voice transmissions in 1920, and received its current call letters, WHA, in 1922.

Plaque on Bascom Hall commemorating 1894 Regents statement: "We believe that the great state University of Wisconsin shall ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found."

During the late 1960s, students at the University of Wisconsin became radicalized by the Vietnam war, and the university was a center of campus unrest. One protest focussed on the presence of Dow Chemical Company job recruiters—Dow being singled out as a manufacturer of napalm, a weapon thought to be particularly cruel. Others centered on the military-funded Army Mathematics Research Center (AMRC) which performed a mixture of published and secret research; the university stressed AMRC's theoretical studies, while campus radicals pointed to evidence that some of its work had direct military applications. In 1970, Karleton Armstrong and three other students constructed what would now be called a "car bomb," filling a stolen van with a mixture of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil (a home-made explosive familiar to farmers). They exploded it outside the Sterling Hall building which housed the AMRC.[18] The explosion killed a graduate student. The ensuing shock and revulsion, and the winding down of the Vietnam war, led to the decline and fall the period of Wisconsin campus radicalism.[19]

It is the birthplace of the Critical legal studies[20] movement.

It is one of only 15 U.S. Universities found to require a course in Shakespeare in order to receive a degree in English.[21]

The university announced in mid-November 2020 that it would remove a rock because it was considered racist.[22]


  1. Bill O'Reilly, for example, stated in an interview with a Wisconsin state representative that "This University of Wisconsin at Madison [is] one of the most liberal colleges in the country's history, not just in the country." The state representative did not dispute that about his own state's school.[1]
  2. Academically ranked among the top fifty U. S. universities, and among the ten best public universities by U. S. News and World Report
  3. In the Big Ten schools, the U. S. News' Campus Ethnic Diversity Index ranges from 0.47 (Northwestern) down to 0.17 (Iowa), with UW-Madison third from the bottom at 0.22
  4. Plan 2008: Educational Quality Through Racial and Ethnic Diversity
  5. 5.0 5.1 Campus diversity efforts failing, Plan 2008 panelists say, Daily Cardinal, May 1, 2006
  6. David Warsh, Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations p. 133 (2007)
  7. A reference to Wisconsin's nickname, the Badger State. The nickname, in turn, comes from the nickname for Cornish miners who worked Wisconsin's lead mines in the early 1800s.
  8. Biography of Aldo Leopold - He became professor of game management at the University of Wisconsin in 1933 where he worked until his death. This book was written during that time.
  9. Our History, WARF website
  10. Ask Abe Archives - People, UW website
  11. Controlling Blood Clotting, photograph of historical plaque.
  12. Biographical Memoirs of Karl Paul Link, uncorrected OCR at National Academy of Sciences: pp. 183-4, "Farmer Carlson's multiple evidence was a dead heifer, a milk can containing blood completely destitute of clotting capacity, and about 100 pounds of spoiled sweet clover.
  13. The History of Limnology, University of Wisconsin website
  14. Meiklejohn's Experimental College, University of Wisconsin ILS website
  15. The rival claimant is Pittsburgh's KDKA. Randall Davidson, WHA announcer and author of a book on 9XM/WHA, was said in 2007 to be "pretty convinced that, if you're talking about a station broadcasting by radio, for the public, on some sort of regular schedule, Pittsburgh's KDKA wins the prize by going on the air on Nov. 2, 1920. The official record says 9XM didn't start its regular weather forecasts until about two months later." Madison Capital Times, Feb. 28, 2007: "History On The Air"
  16. "The Oldest Station in the Nation", photograph of historical marker
  17. [The Wisconsin Idea—In Broadcasting]. At the plaque dedication ceremony "When Mr. [C. M.] Jansky, Jr. was asked about the facts in the WHA 'oldest station' claim, he remarked, 'Not only do I think this is correct in respect to WHA; but since it is well recognized that regular broadcasting started in the United States, WHA may also be credited with being the oldest broadcasting station in the world.'
  18. Sterling Hall Bombing, Madison library website
  19. 30 years ago, bomb shattered UW campus, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Online, Aug 19, 2000: "The statement made by the Sterling Hall bombing was one that many anti-war activists opposed. They feared the attack discredited the peace movement and gave credence to people who viewed war protesters as dangerous.... Activists posted fliers and held meetings, but could no longer rally support.... Across the country, anti-war demonstrations declined dramatically. 'I've never seen anything change so quickly,' said Michael Zaleski, the prosecutor who eventually brought criminal charges against Karl Armstrong. 'Before the bombing, there used to be 10,000 to 15,000 kids rioting in this city every week. Everything stopped. I remember there being just one event after that, with a couple of hundred people - and half of them were FBI agents and undercover cops.' Activist professors at UW-Madison silenced themselves. Students who asked them to lecture were refused."
  22. University of Wisconsin Declares Large Rock to be Racist; Votes to Remove