MADISON, Wis. — Atop a steep hill on the University of Wisconsin campus is a granite boulder affixed with a bronze plaque honoring the university system’s lofty mission: to benefit the entire state by promoting public service and a search for truth.
Summed up in one phrase — “the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state” — the mission statement, known as the Wisconsin Idea, has been cherished by educators and graduates for a century. So when Gov. Scott Walker, a second-term Republican, presented a budget this month proposing to delete some of its most soaring passages, as well as to sharply cut state aid to the system, he ignited a furious backlash that crossed party and regional lines.
“We were really upset about it,” said Tony Sumnicht, the student body president at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls, a small college in the western part of the state, echoing a sentiment voiced by some Republican lawmakers. “The Wisconsin Idea is the philosophy that during our years in college we live and learn by.”