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Hove, Arthur (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Volume 66, Number 2 (Nov. 1964)

Burke, Jack
The story behind a tradition,   pp. 10-11


Page 10


THE STORY BEHIND A TRADITION
                                          by Jack Burke
H IS NAME is almost forgotten-but Richard T. Ely,
the hero of the University of Wisconsin's famed
"sifting and winnowing" plaque, really started some-
thing 70 years ago.
  To mark the anniversary and to stress the great im-
pact created by the message on the plaque, the Uni-
versity has held several special programs this fall.
  First, UW Pres. Fred Harvey Harrington told the
colorful story at the new students' convocation in Mad-
ison on Sept. 10. When Alumni Association officers and
directors from all over the country met on the campus
Sept. 19, Pres. Harrington related anew the school's
role in the long and continuous struggle for academic
freedom, and how this is symbolized by the plaque on
Bascom Hall. NBC-TV, in a new Saturday night docu-
mentary series, "Profiles in Courage," will feature a
program devoted to Ely, the man responsible for the
statement on the plaque. The television series is based
on the best-selling book by the late Pres. Kennedy.
  The "sifting and winnowing" statement was taken
from a report made by UW Regents on Sept. 18, 1894.
This ringing declaration followed a bitter battle. It
was this eloquent, forthright defense of academic free-
dom which marked a milestone in the conflict for an
unfettered atmosphere on public university campuses,
and for the unrestricted right to pursue ideas regard-
less of where the paths might lead.
  Prof. Ely came to Wisconsin in 1892 with a wide
reputation as one of the nation's most distinguished
economists. He had written five books, often expressing
displeasure at the sterility of academic discussion of
urgent issues; played a strong role in the founding of
the American Economics Association which advocated
government action to protect the people against ex-
ploitation; and worked for a number of tax commissions.
  Because of his challenging books, he had come under
fire repeatedly from the Nation, then an ultraconserva-
tive eastern magazine.
  In the summer of 1894, with the country sunk in a
depression, dozens of strikes broke out. Two of these
occurred in Madison printing firms, and brought out
fights, clubbings, a stabbing, and a lockout. Ely stepped
into the battle, and urged the owners of the printeries
to permit union shops and other concessions for the
Wisconsin Alumnus
10


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