Category Archives: UW-Madison

Ten-Year Journey of the Wisconsin Union

–submitted by Andrea Kaminski; photo by Pete Christianson

Mark Guthier 10 18 2017

Rotarian Eric Salisbury with Mark Guthier (center) and Rotarian Mary Ellen O’Brien

Mark Guthier, Director of the Wisconsin Union at UW-Madison, filled Rotarians in on the 10-year journey of reflection and growth that has resulted in restored, renovated and enhanced facilities for Memorial Union and Union South. He emphasized that the project was “our journey” because there were so many people, including students and many Rotarians, involved in its completion.

The Master Plan for the project was completed in 2004 and announced at the Memorial Union’s 75th Anniversary. Two years later a student referendum approved a student fee of $96 per student per semester in support of the project, and a capital campaign was launched in 2007. Operating revenues will cover the remainder of the $220 million budget.

In 2012 the Wisconsin Union Theater, Hoofers and Craft Shop facilities were closed. The “saddest period in the Union’s history” was when the Terrace was closed for several months, Guthier said. But now all of these facilities – and more – are open and operating and serving the University community. The crowning event was the recent opening of Alumni Park.

There were three goals for the project: infrastructure improvements to update deteriorating or obsolete facilities and meet new student expectations; increased space for student programming, meeting rooms, food service and production storage; and mission enhancements to serve the entire campus better and re-energize the Union’s status as a membership organization.

The project had a new Design Committee appointed annually, including nine students, two alumni, two faculty and two staff members. The Committee was always led by a student and Guthier himself had just one vote. In addition there were multiple advisory groups to ensure that the new facilities would meet the needs of the community.

The Committee abided by design principles that ensured the buildings will be “people magnets,” will advance student programming, and will be timeless and enduring. They strived for green construction and sustainability. Their goal was to achieve LEED Silver status for both buildings, and the prospects look good. Union South has received LEED Gold status, and they are still awaiting the rating for Memorial Union. In addition, the project aimed at making the buildings complementary of each other and welcoming of all University community members. Finally, they wanted the buildings to tell the story of the Union, student leadership on campus, and the state of Wisconsin.

Goals for ongoing operations are to “make every day an event,” operate according to sustainable principles and build community for the entire campus. The Unions must have a customer-first perspective because they rely on program revenue for their existence.

Guthier closed his presentation with a slide show of the renovated facilities and the many celebrations that marked the Union’s 10-year journey. He invited Rotarians to attend two upcoming events: a November 10 celebration of the Memorial Union being on the National Register of Historic Places and the November 11 re-dedication of the Gold Star Honor Roll.

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

Gill v Whitford

–submitted by Kevin Hoffman; photo by Mike Engelberger

David Canon 9 27 2017

From left: Sarah Canon, Club President Donna Hurd & Guest Speaker Prof. David Canon

UW Professor David Canon presented a historical context and current review of Gill v. Whitford, the Wisconsin case before the US Supreme Court that challenges the most recent redistricting completed in 2011.  The issue is whether the plan used excessive partisan gerrymandering to create an unconstitutional redistricting that discriminated in favor of one political party over another.  Oral arguments are scheduled this Tuesday, October 3.

Professor Canon explained that redistricting happens every ten years following the census to adjust districts for changes in population.  Generally, districts must be of equal population, must conform to voting rights acts (cannot violate racial or ethnic considerations), be compact and contiguous, and respect traditional and natural boundaries.  However, the practice of achieving partisan districts, called gerrymandering (drawing boundaries to enhance political advantage), has been part of our nation’s history for over 200 years.  The party in power wants to maintain an advantage whether it is Democrat or Republican.

Methods used to do this are called “cracking” and “packing”.  Cracking is the practice of drawing the district boundaries to reduce a given party’s voters so that they are too small to have an impact on the election outcome.  The sweet spot for cracking is to obtain a 55-60% election advantage.  Higher than that becomes overkill.  Packing is the practice of drawing the boundaries so that a given party’s voters are concentrated into a few districts.  The objective of these methods is to maximize the number of legislative seats for a given party.

The issue of partisan gerrymandering has come before the US Supreme Court in prior cases but the court has been reluctant to rule it unconstitutional since an objective and neutral measure of partisan balance has not been available.  Gill v Whitford uses an Efficiency Gap calculation to attempt to quantify the competitiveness of a given district.  The gap is the difference in the two party’s losing votes divided by the total votes.  Gaps closest to zero indicate a competitive district.  Anything over 7% is considered uncompetitive.  Wisconsin’s was in the 10-13% range.

The Federal District court has ruled the Wisconsin redistricting unconstitutional but did not force redistricting pending review by the Supreme Court.  The US Supreme Court is expected to come down along ideological lines with Justice Kennedy the swing vote.

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

Science is Fun Returns to Rotary

–submitted by Ben Hebebrand; photo by Donna Beestman

Bassam3While the denial of climate change has prompted outcries of “Science Is Real,” Madisonians have for the past 48 years primarily embraced the idea that “Science is Fun.” This is a credit due to the work of Dr. Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, who presented at the Rotary Club of Madison’s August 9 meeting which also signifies the Club’s Family Day.

The presentation, which was attended by 85 guests, the vast majority of whom were children or grandchildren of Rotarians, indeed elicited many fun moments around science experiments mixed with some deep educational and social messages.

On the more serious side, Dr. Shakhashiri reminded the audience that the Number One priority of the work of science and scientific experimentation is about sustaining “Earth and its people.” Specifically, Dr. Shakhashiri cited issues such as population growth, availability of finite resources such as water, climate change, malnutrition, the spreading of disease, war, and deadly violence as the kind of issues that scientists embrace and actively work on bringing about solutions. Above all, Dr. Shakhashiri said, the pursuit and knowledge of science is an essential human right. “Everybody has the right to benefit from scientific and technological progress.” In addition to religion, Dr. Shakhashiri counts science as the “strongest force in society.”

Dr. Shakhashiri, who began his career at UW-Madison in 1970, has always made community outreach an integral part of his work. The “Science is Fun” campaign is a commitment to elicit awe, wonder, and curiosity in science among people of all ages with a particular affinity toward enlightening the youngest members of society – our children. Dr. Shakhashiri said that especially among children, science can elicit emotional responses.

This was the case at the Rotary meeting as Dr. Shakhashiri went about some of his delightfully wacky and magical science tricks, whereby liquids changed color by mixing potassium iodine with lead nitrates. He had the children in the audience in stitches as colors of the liquid frequently changed. He appealed to the audience to hone their observation skills.

Above all, Dr. Shakhashiri’s work is rooted in the notion that education is the great equalizer. “Science literacy enlightens and enables people to make informed choices, to be skeptical, and to reject shams, unproven conjecture, and to avoid being bamboozled into making foolish decisions where matters of science and technology are concerned.”

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

Prof. Jonathan Patz Describes Health Risks of Climate Change

–submitted by Jerry Thain; photo by Mike Engelberger

Jonathan Patz 7 12 2017On July 12, Professor Jonathan Patz, Director of the Global Health Institute at UW-Madison and a pioneer in researching global climate change and its consequences (he has been active in national and international programs in this area for more than two decades and received a Paul Harris fellow award at the RI annual meeting in Atlanta last month when he addressed a break-out session on the connection between extreme weather events and the explosion of the Zika virus)  described the health consequences of global climate change and his proposals for addressing these issues.

He began by noting that increasingly high temperatures world-wide have significant health consequences.  Climate disruption causes extreme heat waves, increased air pollution and increases in insect-borne and water borne diseases.  It adversely affects food supply and mental health.  Among many studies cited was one noting that US cities are likely to triple their annual number of 90 degree days by mid-century.  Yet, it is not just hotter temperatures that create havoc; the water cycle is altered and rain will fall in stronger fashion than before due to the increase in hot air.

Professor Patz said climate change should be approached as a health issue and noted its impact on energy and the food supply.  He stated that while moving to reduce carbon emissions has a cost, that can be out-weighed by benefits, citing a cost of $30 per ton of removed carbon dioxide emissions being off-set by a benefit of more than $200 in the reduction of air pollution – pollution which causes 7 million deaths a year now.  Moreover, the costs of wind and solar energy are dropping rapidly.  He also cited studies indicating that simply substituting bike rides for auto trips of 2 and 1/2 miles or less in the summer could save 1300  lives annually as well as 8 billion dollars.  As to employment concerns, he noted that far more people are already employed in energy work not related to fossil fuels than are employed by the oil and gas industries.

Although the United States has stated it will be the only major nation not to continue to adhere to the Paris climate accords, it cannot officially leave the agreement until Nov. 4, 2020, and a huge number of US cities and other jurisdictions are expressing adherence to its principles and lobbying to continue to abide by it.  The new RI president has said response to climate change should be a major cause for the organization.  There is a moral issue here because poorer countries are most gravely harmed by climate change when they have been the least responsible for it.  Historically, the United States has been most responsible for the emissions that are a major cause of climate change although China now surpasses us in pollution  (China, however, is taking major steps to increase its reliance on solar energy.)

Professor Patz concluded by noting that full implementation by every nation of the goals of the Paris accords would be insufficient to resolve the problems created by it.  Individual citizens and non-governmental organizations must move to substitute cleaner energy for fossil fuel reliance and develop a healthier society.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.  Our thanks to WisconsinEye for videotaping our meeting this week.

The U.S. Supreme Court and Its History

Submitted by Rich Leffler; photo by Valerie Johnson

Ryan Owens 4 26 2017Professor Ryan Owens, a member of the UW Department of Political Science and an Affiliate Faculty of the Law School (and who is developing the Tommy Thompson Center on Public Leadership) spoke to the Club about “The Past, Present, and Future of the U.S. Supreme Court.” He began with an interesting “Thought Experiment.” With the addition of Neil Gorsuch to the Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy continues to be the middle or the median justice, often called the swing vote. But what happens if he retires, and if President Trump appoints a solid conservative such as Paul Clement, who is perhaps more conservative than Samuel Alito? In that case, the new median justice becomes Chief Justice John Roberts, who would then become the most powerful [influential?] Chief Justice since John Marshall. [Though he would be a very distant second.] If Ruth Bader Ginsburg were then to retire, Justice Alito would become the median justice. On the other hand, if Hillary Clinton had been elected, Justice Stephen Breyer might be the swing vote, etc. Very easily, a 6-3 conservative court under Trump might have been a 6-3 liberal court under Clinton. The presidential election of 2016 was, then, a very consequential election.

Professor Owens then wondered whether this was not a time for reforms to the Court. Two that he suggested were age limits on the justices, and perhaps requiring them to “ride the circuit,” as was once the case. The U.S. is the only common-law country without some limits on judicial tenure.

An age limit would remove the incentive for judges to retire “strategically,” so as to assure a like-minded jurist were appointed. It would also reduce the likelihood of justices serving while suffering from dementia. Attending circuit courts would let the justices see the consequences of their decisions and let the people see them in action close-up. It might also encourage the justices to retire earlier. [But would it also discourage people from taking an appointment?]

In answer to a question, Professor Owens said that he and a colleague were doing research on the age issue by studying oral arguments over the years to see if there is any evidence of dementia in sitting justices. He also questioned whether the Senate’s refusal to consider Merrick Garland’s nomination would not lead to further retaliation beyond the recent filibuster. He expects the Trinity Lutheran case, probably Justice Gorsuch’s first major opinion, to be an important decision.

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

Pevehouse: International Order is Costly But Necessary

–submitted by Valerie Johnson

Jon Pevehouse 4 5 17Jon Pevehouse, UW Political Science Professor, asked and answered the question, “How should the Trump administration balance power with constraint to maximize our legitimacy and prosperity?” at the April 5 Rotary meeting.

With graduate student Ryan Powers and Carnegie Foundation grant-funded opinion polls, Pevehouse has a wealth of information on what Americans want in international trade policy:

  • The last 5-6 years have found more people interested in trade barriers
  • Older, non-college educated people are more interested in trade barriers (these tend to be Trump supporters)
  • People want to keep jobs in the US, a platform Bernie Sanders also ran on as evidenced by the many “NO TPP” signs seen at the Democratic convention
  • Most American still want free trade (12% margin) even with job losses
  • Both political parties are pro-free trade; Hillary Clinton ran on this and Bill Clinton began NAFTA
  • Interest in trade barriers follows the economy; people like trade better than trade agreements.

Trump has indicated an interest in re-negotiating NAFTA.  Wisconsin has a positive balance of trade with Mexico, even though US does not.  The rules of origin Trump complains about were already re-negotiated by Obama as part of the TPP, but Trump threw that out; it would increase the percent of product manufactured/labeled required to be created in Mexico (for example) from 65% to perhaps 85%, decreasing what can come from China.

The concern is the Trump administration likes the power of the US economy, but not the traditional constraints we have used with other countries, such as the foreign ad Bush quietly used or the traditional tools such as the World Bank, WTO, etc.

“But without constraint,” Pevehouse said, “the fear is our power endangers our foreign policy.  International order is costly, but gives us legitimacy, as we have had with the last 60 years of prosperity.

Professor Pevehouse’s research in the areas of international relations, international political economy, American foreign policy, international organizations, and political methodology. Topics on which he has recently published include regional trade agreements, human rights institutions, exchange rate politics, and international organizations. He is the author, with Joshua Goldstein, of International Relations, the leading textbook on international politics. He is currently the editor of International Organization, the leading journal in the field of international relations.

Pevehouse has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Ohio State University and a B.A. in Political Science from University of Kansas.

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

Educating the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs at UW-Madison

–submitted by Mary Borland

olszewski_danielEntrepreneurship is one of the most important drivers of economic and job growth in our state and across the globe. It is also a topic that is of growing interest to today’s college students. On February 15, Dan Olszewski, the Director of the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship at UW-Madison School of Business, spoke with us about how UW-Madison is one of the leaders in teaching and inspiring students interested in entrepreneurship as a potential career.

Today, people under the age of 30 will have held eight different employment positions! The entire economy has become very dynamic and large and small companies in all industries are looking for employees with an entrepreneurial skill set to drive innovation in their companies. Whether a future student starts up their own company or goes to work for another company, entrepreneurship is important to society for job and wealth creation which leads to a more robust economy and innovation for consumers.

Anyone can become an entrepreneur, though the average age to begin is 40 years old.

The ways entrepreneurship is taught at UW-Madison includes classes, student start-ups (experimental things to sell) and via a link to alumni and practitioners.  For students, it is about action and doing.

Other activities enrolled students participate in include:

  1. Wisconsin Entrepreneurship Showcase – where stories can be shared and inspiration given
  2. Distinguished Entrepreneurs Lunch – where question and answers of an entrepreneur happen
  3. Wisconsin Entrepreneurship Bootcamp – five, 12 hour days for a specific subset of students
  4. WSB Business Plan Competition – students pitch ideas; winner moves on to Governor’s contest

Enrollment in these classes is coming from sections of campus and most from outside the business school. Several graduates locally have gone on to obtain over $50M in venture capital. In approximately 10 years, we will really see the fruits of this teaching with people making this world a better place by solving problems with high energy and optimism!

Rotarians can support these UW students by being event sponsors, providing student scholarships and by encouraging students they know to take these entrepreneurial courses.

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