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Saturday, July 26, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 77.0° F  Overcast
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OPINION

Welcome to Wisconsin, Rebecca Blank: Advice for the new UW chancellor


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The search committee has recommended Rebecca Blank to be the new UW-Madison chancellor. Assuming the Board of Regents accepts her, I have some unsolicited advice for Dr. Blank. It's worth what she paid for it (Isthmus is a free weekly publication).

First, make sure you pronounce our name correctly. We get touchy when we hear someone say WES-con-sin. It is wis-CON-sin. Accent that second syllable hard and you'll be fine.

Second, I hope they told you in the interviews about this shared governance thing. Where you come from, your word may have been law. Here you dare not speak any words until you have vetted them with several faculty committees.

Third, beware of the schizophrenic nature of Wisconsin politics. We're the state that elected Joe McCarthy and Russ Feingold, Fighting Bob La Follette and Scott Walker. Go figure. Who knows what's next? Whatever you do, don't get too chummy with our current governor. He's kind of unpopular on campus.

Fourth, you may have to find the moo in MOOCs. Wisconsin just joined the world of massive open online courses. This is a great thing unless it's a horrible thing. MOOCs join an aggressive for-profit college industry, increasing reticence to take on debt among students and their parents, and the political pressure to emphasize "practical" skills over a general liberal education as challenges for big bricks-and-mortar research institutions like this one. You may not know what to do about this. Actually, nobody does. Good luck with that.

Fifth, when it snows do not try to stop the snowball fight that will inevitably break out among students on Bascom Hill. "Hey, hey, you kids, it's funny until somebody loses an eye!" is not going to cut it with this crowd. If I were you I'd grab a tray from the nearest cafeteria and slide down the hill, preferably with a couple of student newspaper photographers waiting for you at the bottom. You will be canonized.

Sixth, learn to play Sheepshead, the world's most complicated card game and a staple among a lot of the Wisconsin kids who come here to learn things at the Memorial Union. What's that? You have several Ph.D.s? This will make it much harder.

Seventh, order the removal of the bronzed statues of Barry Alvarez and Pat Richter that stand at the entrance to Camp Randall. Like all Badger fans I love Barry and Pat, but does anybody else think it's vaguely creepy to have statues of living people on campus, and football legends at that? I mean, there's no statue of Aldo Leopold or Charles Van Hise or Stephen Babcock. On second thought, no, don't really do this. It's not worth all the flak you'll take from the "W" Club, and you have to raise a bunch of money from people who actually like this sort of thing. But I'm still right about this.

Eighth, you know the old joke that Old Abe will stand up when a virgin walks by, and he's remained seated since he was installed in front of Bascom Hall? Don't ever tell that joke.

Ninth, there's a certain call-and-response chant that has been a long tradition in the student sections during football games. One group of students yells "Keep fit!" while the other shouts back "Thank you!" It's best just to pretend that you hear it that way.

Tenth, the students have this big party on Mifflin Street every year. Do not film a video in which you say "don't go" a dozen times in three minutes. Trust me on this one.

Eleventh, remember that all former mayors of Madison automatically receive free center-court tickets to all basketball games and have their own table in the chancellor's box at Camp Randall. It has been this way from time immemorial, and the Badgers will start losing if the chain is ever broken.

Twelfth, when you sing "Varsity" you start with your right arm extended. If you start the other way you'll accidentally slug the person standing next to you. If this happens to be Scott Walker, you will become Chancellor for Life.

Seriously, chancellor of the UW-Madison is a special job because the UW is a special place. It's the most important economic and cultural resource in Madison. The university shapes the town. We have a reputation for working hard but also for working hard at having fun and being creative. Irreverence is at the heart of who we are, but so is a good nature. Reflect that back to us and you'll do just fine. Welcome home. U-rah-rah.


Dave Cieslewicz is the former mayor of Madison. He blogs as Citizen Dave.

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