The Wisconsin Idea

The University of Wisconsin System was created by legislation in 1971 through the merger of two public university systems under a single Board of Regents, but its roots date to the mid-1800s, when both the land-grant university in Madison and nine normal schools were founded.

The UW System is known throughout the world for the Wisconsin Idea—education for people wherever they live and work, working in partnership with government, local communities, businesses, and others to solve problems and improve the quality of life for all citizens of the state.

The Wisconsin Idea is one of the longest and deepest traditions surrounding the University of Wisconsin, and the genesis is attributed to former UW President Charles Van Hise. In 1903, Van Hise was chosen as the first UW alumnus to serve as its president. His inaugural address launched what later became known as the Wisconsin Idea, the principle that the university should influence people’s lives beyond the classroom. He declared, “I shall never be content until the beneficent influence of the university reaches every home in the state.”

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