The Wisconsin Idea: Unlocking the
Resources of the University into
Communities of Poverty
Rev. Carmen Porco
combined with the stability in meeting the needs of the non-profits and clients served.
I would request that discussion of how the Morgridge Center could improve the work of both the center and the Badger Volunteer efforts. I would strongly advocate
dialogue that includes a review of the philosophy of low-income clients are served and how it truly becomes a two way learning process. I would further ask that
non-profit leaders be involved in the discussions and also be given leadership opportunities to improve the overall learning experience. I also would hope that
service learning would be examined to develop curriculum that is offered to the students prior to their engagement. It seems that one of the walls that need to be
broken down is the assumption that the expertise is only held by the educated. The reality is likely to be, that expertise is held by the clients and staff of the many
non-profits. The true essence of the Wisconsin Idea is in finding the expertise that lies outside of the walls and minds of the university and integrating such
knowledge into the university. Research dominance may be another way of achieving this, but it does not do justice to the client and the non-profit organizations
The core complexing issue is what is the mission of the Morgridge Center and how is it balancing research , bureaucracy and hands-on two-way service learning?
How is it meeting the conceptual framework and intent of the Wisconsin Idea? Can the community members committee begin to really reshape the philosophy and
mission of the Morgridge Center into a viable community service entity? How is it focused on poverty reduction and enhanced curriculum development for the
various departments that provide the education for the students?
It is my hope that with the new leadership coming into the center will bring a refocus and vibrance to the mission and Wisconsin Idea. I would also encourage more
professors to step up to the plate of the Wisconsin Idea and adopt the potential work of the Morgridge Center.
One area that the Wisconsin Idea shines is in the PEOPLE Program housed in the Office of Diversity. The PEOPLE Program was started by the work of Dr. Walter
Lane, Dr. David Ward, Mr. Akbar Ally, the late Ms. Jaqueline Dewalt and others. It was an outreach effort to attract students who would normally not be connected or
have access to the University or for that matter any higher education. It was taking the resources of the University into the communities of persons of color and
low-income communities. It was a desire to reach those normally left out of the higher education equation. It was taking the expertise of the university outside of its
institutional walls and including those less fortunate but of worthy status to contribute to the vitality of the university.
By Rev. Carmen Porco
I have had a great relationship with the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but have come to feel less positive
about the outreach to the communities of poverty. Over the years of my experience, I have found a diminishing
return of programs that reflect the essence of intent of the Wisconsin idea.
To be sure the focus and outreach seem to be dominated by research and less buy actual hands on with a
sustainable program emphasis. My experience relates to the Morgridge Center and the Division of Diversity,
Equity and Educational Achievement and the PEOPLE Program.
While the Mortgage Center can boast of having many points of contact in communities of poverty, I have found
the focus to be short-sighted and research-oriented. Short-sighted in that involvement is centered on semesters
and not long-term oriented to sustain involvement with sustainable aspects of service and inclusion. While the
Badger Volunteers do admirable work, they are hampered by the voluntary commitment of students engaged
through service learning and conditioned by their semester and workloads. Yet they learn and do many good
things. So I understand the design problem of this encounter.
Could the university find ways to sustain student involvement and service learning that would give more
sustainable and consistent involvement in non-profits that they volunteer for as part of their service learning?
Offering them transportation is not enough. There needs to be discussions on the philosophy of approach
Over the years it expanded to include a very unique program, the PEOPLE Prep
Program. This program was sponsored by two community learning centers in two
low-income housing developments in Madison Wisconsin. With the financial support of
these two developments, that program focused on starting kids at grade two toward
college preparation and after 13 years it was discontinued not for financial reasons but
for a host of dynamics that included bureaucratic, political, and administrative staff
dissonance, this in spite of its success. During the 13-year period, many kids completed
the requirements and went on to higher education institutions including, but not limited
to, the UW-Madison campus. It was instrumental in breaking the chains of poverty and
also breaking down the walls of higher education institutions. Many families were lifted
into hope and out of poverty.
I must reveal that these were two of my learning centers. I must also share that with the
help of Ms. Jacqueline Dewalt, we were able to get Cardinal Stritch University to
engage in a similar program in Milwaukee at two of my other learning center in
low-income housing. Similar results occurred in the Milwaukee centers. So, the
UW-Madison efforts of the Wisconsin Idea influenced a different university in going
beyond its institutional walls.
While a study was done, of which we were not a party to, it was concluded that the
PEOPLE Prep program would not be continued even though the financial support was
maintained. It leaves me to wonder how racism and classism played a role in this
decision. Certainly the usual practice of leaving the voice of the underclass
communities out of the decision-making process raises serious social and systemic
I ask and hope for a true explanation and a reinstitution of the PEOPLE Prep Program
and its connection with the PEOPLE Program. I ask this because the institutions of
higher education must be about justice for all and must be accountable to those outside
the decision making matrix of the cloistered bureaucracy so prevalent in the university.
The greatness of a higher education institution is not in its exclusionary status, but in its
inclusionary discipline. It is not in the expertise and resource of its walls, but in the
extended community of diversity that is a gold mine of expertise and solutions for many
of the social problems that higher education institutions face today. May we rise to the
occasion of opportunity and create the bridges between the communities. Let have the
courage of inclusion and not the bewilderment of isolation. Does the university have a
role in community building?