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Professor Tom O'Guinn To Lead Fall 2018 Wisconsin Idea Course

by Clare Becker Wednesday, August 15, 2018
Tom O'Guinn seated for a portrait

Tom O'Guinn is a professor of marketing and the Thomas J. Falk Distinguished Chair in Business at the Wisconsin School of Business. Photo by Paul L. Newby II

The Wisconsin Idea—the beloved tenet of the University of Wisconsin–Madison that promotes learning beyond the boundaries of the campus—has long inspired Wisconsin School of Business Professor Tom O’Guinn. This fall, he’ll share that belief by leading “Forward? The Wisconsin Idea Past and Present,” a special topics course and public lecture series that explores how knowledge generated by the university has benefited the public for over a century, and will continue to benefit the public for decades to come.

Now in its third year, the cross-disciplinary course connects expert University of Wisconsin–Madison faculty with the wider campus and statewide community. Though designed for undergraduate students, the course is also open to the public and in previous years has drawn a broad community audience.

The Wisconsin Idea holds special significance for O’Guinn, a professor of marketing and the Thomas J. Falk Distinguished Chair in Business at WSB.

“The Wisconsin Idea was one of the central attractions for me to leave my position at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign,” O’Guinn says. “I grew up believing in participatory democracy as served up by universities. We should all see ourselves as servants of this idea. Teaching citizenship to create informed citizens is the most important thing I teach, the most noble part of my job.”

O’Guinn has won numerous awards for his research and is a regular contributor to national media outlets on topics relating to marketing, popular culture, social class, and consumer behavior.

“My research is about how branded material objects, services, people, and ideas work in ways to either facilitate some sense of ‘we-ness’ or to inhibit it,” he says. “I bring to this course my unique background and perspective: I believe that business is best when it resonates with and empowers consumer citizens.

“Today, everything, including the University of Wisconsin, is branded; that is, brands carry meaning designed to promote. To be sustainable, in both the smaller and larger meaning of that word, businesses have to be socially conscious. When they are not, they are often the target of justifiable criticism and loss of business. At the University of Wisconsin, there is no more central idea than the Wisconsin Idea. It is a big part of our brand. Just as in business, brands have to be actively protected. How shall we keep the Wisconsin Idea vital? How shall we ensure that at the center of the Wisconsin brand is the relentless search for truth—and with it, the trust, transparency, and knowledge to inform citizenship for all?”

Former UW President Charles Van Hise is often credited with bringing the Wisconsin Idea into being during a 1905 speech where he famously stated, “I shall never be content until the beneficent influences of the university reaches every family of the state.”

The Fall 2018 series kicks off September 11 and runs through December 11 and features 14 speakers on topics ranging from dairy research to politics to music.

Some of the topics explored this fall include:

  • Communicating the Wisconsin Idea in a Polarized Era
  • Universities as Honest Knowledge Brokers: The Case Study of the Family Impact Seminars
  • Music Outreach, Music Inreach—on musicians collaborating with other academics
  • Making the Wisconsin Idea Local: The UniverCity Alliance’s Work with Local Government
  • Preserving the ‘Public Household:’ The Wisconsin Idea and the 2011 Protests

The course, which is housed in the Department of Sociology, designates a new instructor each year. Past leaders include Associate Professor Eric Sandgren of the School of Veterinary Medicine and Professor Chad Alan Goldberg of the Department of Sociology.

Attendees can choose between a one-credit, lectures-only option and a three-credit, lectures plus course option.