Bascom Hall is the citadel of power of the University of Wisconsin. In this building the Regents of the University officially convene. Theirs is the prerogative and the responsibility to establish, to defend, and to preserve the spiritual, the ethical, and the cultural values which comprise the essence of a great university. Securely riveted to the wall in the loggia, immediately to the left of the main entrance, is a tablet cast in enduring bronze. In picturesque language the tablet heralds to the world that the University of Wisconsin is permanently dedicated to the principle of academic freedom. By reason of its location the plaque extends a greeting and flings a pertinent challenge to university officials and to the multitudes who enter Bascom Hall by its main portal. The tablet proclaims:
WHATEVER MAY BE THE LIMITATIONS WHICH TRAMMEL INQUIRY ELSEWHERE, WE BELIEVE THAT THE GREAT STATE UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN SHOULD EVER ENCOURAGE THAT CONTINUAL AND FEARLESS SIFTING AND WINNOWING BY WHICH ALONE THE TRUTH CAN BE FOUND.
Whence came this noble sentiment, and why? Upon whose excellent mind was the thought first mirrored, and whose facile pen etched it out in words so colorful and expressive? Perhaps the words "sifting and winnowing," thoughtfully penned by their author, hark back to that earlier day when he, himself, as a farm boy, may have been required to turn the crank of a winnowing machine, then very generally used by farmers, which separated chaff and refuse from good grain. That early experience and simple lesson may have prepared his mind for a master stroke of his pen in later years in framing a great declaration. At whose behest was this permanent declaration of academic freedom cast in bronze? By whose dictum, under what circumstances, and when was it erected in so prominent a place? To answer these and related questions is the object of this study.
To all who have assisted in this reconstruction of the past, I express sincere appreciation.