By Roger Utnehmer
President and CEO
The best hope for restoring civility to civic discourse in Wisconsin might be a little-known but influential organization operating out of the University of Wisconsin Marathon County campus in Wausau.
The Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service (WIPPS) is developing a respected reputation for research, action and engagement.
According to its website, for the past 10 years WIPPS has been succeeding in its mission to spur civic engagement, nonpartisan public dialogue, student learning and community-building initiatives.
Accomplishments include a summer seminar that gives college students a three-week opportunity to learn about policy-making in Madison and Washington, D.C., conflict resolution training for students and public officials, assistance with financial aid applications for college students, and expert research and programming on issues by facilitating conferences, webinars and public dialogues.
The Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service is a classic example of the Wisconsin Idea at its best. Progressive reformer and former Governor Robert La Follette advocated for the citizen-centered democracy at the heart of the WIPPS mission. He would be proud to see the influence of this university-sponsored effort being extended throughout the state.
WIPPS is effective because of the bi-partisan composition of its board of advisors and a passionate staff led by Eric Giordano. The board is comprised of some of the most thoughtful and articulate citizens in Wisconsin. The ability of the board and staff to facilitate difficult discussions with civility and decorum is reason for optimism.
WIPPS most impressive work may be the facilitation of programs that engage future generations in the process of government. The emerging millennial generation cares deeply about important issues. Millennials prefer cooperation to conflict. They reject the hyperbole characteristic of too much of our political rhetoric and prefer authenticity. Millennials are searching for engagement. WIPPS is providing that opportunity and the guidance to do it well.
Those of us concerned about the coarseness of communications, polarizing political differences and lack of civility in civic discourse will find the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service optimistically refreshing.
University budget cuts should never threaten the ability of WIPPS to carry out its mission. By encouraging legislative support and making personal contributions to WIPPS our best hope for restoring civility to civic discourse in Wisconsin will be stronger.
That's my opinion. I'd like to hear yours.
By Roger Utnehmer