Category Archives: Rotary Weekly Guest Speaker

Keeping Dane County Safe During the COVID-19 Pandemic

This week’s presentation by Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and Rotarian Charles Tubbs, Director of Dane County Emergency Management, was not philosophical, but it was profound.  Many club members have limited contact with or personal need for the services our speakers described.  But in this period of colliding glaciers—the things that keep Charles Tubbs up at night—the scale and complexity of work performed by Dane County–is staggering.

Dane County responded to the pandemic mid-March, when it issued the first stay-at-home orders in the state and moved 80% of its staff to virtual work.

The County is addressing especially the negative impact of the crises on shortages of funds for rent and food, and for small businesses and unemployment:  partnering with Second Harvest Bank and local farmers, spending $6 million to-date and an additional $1 million per month; using $11 million in grant funds for the “Dane Buy Local” initiative; $3.5 million for grants up to $15,000 to licensed child care providers; and earmarking $10 million for tenant rent coverage.

Alliant Energy Center now houses a 400-bed reserve field hospital, which also stockpiles personal protective equipment, administers about 2,000 Covid-19 tests daily, and follows up positive tests with contact tracing.

Charles Tubbs puts in seven-day weeks on more functions than can be contained here:  Conference calls of up to 450 people daily with parallel agencies and policy sources; staying in touch with 61 county units of government; keeping social media up to date; housing the homeless; and on-the-ground work with United Way. 

Tubbs says three things keep him awake at night:  threats such as active shooters, civil unrest, and cyber-attacks; severe weather and climate change; and the pandemic . . . to which one could add, the need for sustained federal financial support.

Dane County’s work is sometimes unsung, but it is critical to the fabric of Dane County’s society.

Our thanks to Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and to Charles Tubbs for their presentation this week and to Ellsworth Brown for preparing this review article.  If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here: https://youtu.be/EBviBTT9Cbc.

Pivoting for Change and Adaptation

In the Q&A following Chazen Director Amy Gilman’s presentation, she was asked if pandemic adjustments have had any benefits.   She replied that as the continuum suddenly ended, stillness enabled the Chazen—actually, all of us—to pivot from thoughts about how to return to normalcy and about how the museum can be more intentional about the future fulfillment of its mission.

The Chazen, a UW-Madison museum, has turned its attention to digital/virtual communication, foregoing written communication; alignment of resources (and possible shortages of tax income) with programs; expanding attention to donor communications; creating virtual programming; development of collections; the rejuvenation of the original Chazen facility to more reflect change over time; and applying the measures of diversity and inclusiveness to all elements of its work.  In particular, she recommended to us Parkland: Birth of a Movement by David Cullen.

Two programs are illustrative:  First, virtual tours are in development in support of the UW Art History program, which was accustomed to using the museum’s galleries as part of its activities.  And the Chazen asked 100 Black Men of Madison what is needed by those whom they serve and that the museum could provide.  The result was 1,400 complete kits for two “making art” projects, complete with instructions, examples and necessary supplies . . . part of a significant museum pivot.

Extensive and significant responses to questions followed.  Several focused on the Alliance of American Museums’ forecast that 30% of the nation’s museums—not just art, and usually smaller and more fragile—might fold.  Gilman provided professionally accepted ethical standards for care of collections including their disposition to other museums with shared missions or use of funds from sales of collections for the care and growth of collections rather than for operations.

This was a thoughtful, introspective and constructive presentation informed by a continuing history of service to a variety of audiences—and complete with an invitation to virtual services now and to return to visits when possible.

Our thanks to Amy Gilman for her presentation this week and to Ellsworth Brown for preparing this review article.  If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here:  https://youtu.be/pEnHuVM5Hr8.

Reopening UW-Madison for Fall 2020

Rebecaa Blank 8 12 20When UW-Madison closed campus in March, 8,000 classes were converted to remote learning. Thirteen days later, 97.5% of classes were online. Closure was a heavy lift, but reopening is a much bigger lift.

UW-Madison faces similar challenges we all are due to the pandemic. Revenue streams are slim, PPE expenses are increasing, and the environment is constantly changing making planning and budgeting difficult. All plans must remain responsive to best serve students, employees and the community.

Currently, UW-Madison will use a hybrid teaching model, blending small-group in-person teaching with virtual teaching for large classes. The class schedule will include classes in the evening, Fridays and Saturdays to keep students physically distanced and classrooms clean. Students will be required to take a pledge to adhere to hygiene protocols (masks, hand sanitization, temp checks, testing, social distancing) and faculty may take disciplinary measures should a student resist complying. Employees must also adhere to these protocols and workstations and work hours have been adjusted to reduce interaction.

UW-Madison is engaged in 320 approved or pending COVID-19 research projects to explore the virus and its impacts. One project is seeking to understand how and why the virus has localized mutations; for example, a strain in Madison is different from that in San Diego. This can help understand if an outbreak is due to community spread or travel into the community.

The university is facing a $150 million budget shortfall, and that’s if a full student body matriculates and pays expected tuition. There will be a long road to financial recovery, and it could be even longer should state support for higher education decrease. Nonetheless, Chancellor Blank is optimistic about the future. “Technology doesn’t replace in-person, live experiences. However, we will be teaching better after this for incorporating technology more fully in the classroom.”

Our thanks to Chancellor Rebecca Blank for her presentation this week and to Emily Gruenewald for preparing this review article.  If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here: https://youtu.be/VhwzjUvPtIM.

On the Significance of Memorial Day

–submitted by Jessica Giesen

VA Sec Mary KolarOn May 20, 2020, VA Secretary Mary Kolar gave an insightful presentation regarding the significance of Memorial Day. She first offered information regarding the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs and the services and benefits provided for service members in Wisconsin, where 345,000 veterans reside. The WDVA works hard each day to ensure that veterans have access to all benefits available to them. The programs the WDVA oversees extend from administering the Wisconsin Veterans Museum (a Smithsonian affiliate that welcomes 90,000+ visitors each year), where it continuously educates the public with unique stories and histories of Wisconsin’s veterans, to veterans’ cemeteries where our veterans receive honorable burials, to providing access to mental health and housing assistance.

Sec. Kolar then turned to Memorial Day, a holiday dedicated to remembering those who lost their lives while serving in the United States Armed Forces. The day’s meaning and purpose, she explained, “is profoundly rooted in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War and the inherent desire of veterans to remember their comrades who never came home.”

The individual stories Sec. Kolar told of Wisconsin servicemen who lost their lives in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Cold War were equally inspiring as they were heartbreaking; they brought this author, for one, to tears: Stories such as that of Morris Togstad, who was the last from Madison to die in World War I and Victor Glenn, one of the first to die in World War II — two men for which the street “Togstad Glenn” in Madison was named. Then there were the Barber brothers – Malcom, Randolph and LeRoy – whose father wrote to their leaders and asked that they be separated and assigned to different ships should anything happen. Unfortunately, prior to that happening, all three remained together aboard the Oklahoma on the fateful Sunday morning of December 7, 1941 – the attack on Pearl Harbor– and all three lost their lives. The USS Barber is named in their honor.

We all reflect together on Memorial Day each year, but it is important to also honor those who serve to protect us throughout the entire year, as well as their families who support them and have been left behind. We can honor these memories through acts of kindness and acts of citizenship – by sharing stories, by voting. Sec. Kolar reminded us that we can never, ever honor our fallen service members enough. This year, as Memorial Day approaches during the COVID-19 pandemic, our community will be unable to gather in person across the state at veteran’s cemeteries. However, a Wisconsin Virtual Commemoration will be held on May 25, 2020, to honor and reflect. Please visit www.WisVetsMemorialDay2020.com to be a part of that special program.

If you missed our online Rotary meeting this week, you can watch it here.

Ramadan Traditions Revealed

submitted by Rich Leffler

Nasra WehelieFellow Rotarian and board member Nasra Wehelie spoke to us virtually via YouTube this week. Her subject was the traditions of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which are both rewarding and challenging. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar, said to be when the Koran was revealed to Muhammad. Because it is based on the lunar calendar, it varies according to the Roman calendar.

One of the more well known traditions of Ramadan is fasting from sunrise to sunset. This fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, and it offers several benefits: self-discipline, empathy, closeness to God and health. All adult Muslims are required to fast, except the ill, travelers or pregnant women.

Important elements of the holiday are the fellowship and community that take place at Iftar, the evening meal at the end of the daily fast. The current Covid-19 pandemic has made this difficult. But Zoom is being used in lieu of personal engagement.

Muslims who are celebrating Ramadan need some support at work or at school. It is best to avoid activities in the evenings, when the end of the fast is celebrated. And the scheduling of school activities should be sensitive to the demands of Ramadan.

The end of Ramadan is traditionally a time of celebration and community. But not this year, because of Covid-19. This will be a hard time for everyone, even if there is Zoom.

After the YouTube session, there was a question-and-answer session via Zoom. Nasra mentioned some of the benefits of this year of the pandemic and quarantine: Being home provides an opportunity for contemplation and self-reflection, and it helps eliminate temptations during the fast.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

Q&A with Wisconsin Supreme Court Candidate Judge Jill Karofsky

submitted by Ellie Schatz

Jill KarofskyOne candidate accepted the invitation and spoke to our club about her background and plans for serving as Supreme Court Justice: Jill Karofsky. Having been a judge, a local and state prosecutor, and director of the state’s Office of Crime Victim Services, she has advocated for victims’ rights across every court in Wisconsin. She convincingly tells how she has the experience, values, and toughness to lead a legal system that works.

Supreme court cases have consequences for now and the future. To name a few, consider gerrymandering, women’s access to healthcare, and gun control. Whatever the case, following the rule of law is the bottom line, and Karofsky says her record of being fair and impartial is clear.

Her values include upholding laws to protect the environment. She is concerned about climate change but will follow the rule of law. She is strong on individual rights, attacking problems of racial disparity by informing policy makers of what she sees in the courtroom day after day. She says judges need to inform the legislature, have a dialogue with them, but are not there to legislate. More than anything, our courts are about constitutional rights and through the court systems she has fought for the needs of crime victims, stood up for racial justice and civil rights, and protected the right to marriage equality, never allowing for the rights of women to be rolled back. Her goal is to be collegiate on the court, to help pull all sides together under the rule of law. Right now she sees political forces seeking to roll back advances made in civil rights. We must not go backwards, she stresses.

As the Wisconsin Chief Justice is drawing up her budget, Karofsky is pushing for her to put treatment courts at the top of the list as opposed to a business court, which is essentially two courts – one for businesses and one for the rest of us.

When asked about the perception that she is a progressive candidate, she responds: “I am clear about my values, and I have support from Republicans and Independents. I ask for support as someone who follows the rule of law.”

Our thanks to WisconsinEye for videotaping our meeting this week.  You can watch the video here.