Category Archives: Wisconsin and Regional Interest

30th Annual Midwest Book Award win for Dairylandia

We are thrilled to announce a Midwest Book Award winner from the University of Wisconsin Press! These awards from the Midwest Independent Publishing Association (MIPA) recognize quality in independent publishing in the Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin).

Book cover showing Mona Lisa in Wisconsin Rose Bowl shirt painted on side of barn with cows in front.

Dairylandia: Dispatches from a State of Mind by Steve Hannah won the travel category. This book recounts Hannah’s love for his adopted state through his long-lived column, “State of Mind.” He profiles the lives of the seemingly ordinary yet quite (and quietly) extraordinary folks he met and befriended as he traveled the main streets and back roads of Wisconsin. From Norwegian farmers to a CIA-trained Laotian fighter to a woman who kept her favorite dead bird in the freezer, Hannah was charmed and fascinated by the kind and authentic folks he met. These captivating vignettes are by turns humorous, touching, and inspiring.

Congratulations again to the author and all involved! 

Ed Garvey and the tradition of Wisconsin Progressivism

Today is the 2020 Wisconsin Spring Election (for more information on voting, visit MyVote Wisconsin). Author and local journalist Rob Zaleski shares his motivation for writing Ed Garvey Unvarnished: Lessons from a Visionary Progressive.

In 2011, shortly after Republican Scott Walker was elected Wisconsin’s governor, Ed Garvey, a dynamic and widely respected progressive activist from Burlington, and I had 17 in-depth interviews. We discussed a myriad of issues related not only to Walker’s victory but to Garvey’s remarkable life—including his sterling accomplishments as an environmental crusader and three failed attempts at public office. Those interviews, we figured, would make for an engrossing, thought-provoking book.

In our final interview, Garvey revealed that he was about to seek a publisher for a second book he’d been working on about his time as the executive director of the National Football League’s players union. Fascinating guy that he was, I doubted there was a market for both his book and the one I was writing about him.

After Garvey succumbed to Parkinson’s in February 2017, I was taken aback by the many glowing tributes to him—not only from his many friends and admirers throughout Wisconsin but from media voices and politicians across the country.

“Ed Garvey was a hero to progressives in this state,” my colleague Natasha Kassulke pointedly noted over lunch. “And progressives have never needed a hero more than now. Rob, you’ve got to finish your book.”

She was right. So I went back to work, and in September of this past year—some eight years after Garvey and I met at his suburban Shorewood Hills home for our first interview—UW Press published Ed Garvey Unvarnished.

The Garvey name, I’ve discovered, still resonates. A number of readers have expressed their amazement at how candid and brutally honest Garvey was in our interviews. Several were intrigued by the access he afforded me—and the fact that he trusted me with many of his deep, personal feelings on a variety of issues.

But, as anyone who knew Garvey well can attest, brutal honesty was his trademark. It’s who he was. As for trusting me with his most sensitive inner-thoughts, I believe it had to do with the sense of urgency he felt from the moment we sat down for that first interview: he was fully aware that the clock was running out.

First and foremost, Garvey wanted to remind people of what he had stood for his entire life. But he also felt he hadn’t received his due for his work on behalf of the National Football League Players Association—a view that is shared in the book by two former NFLPA players’ reps: Pat Richter, who went on to become athletic director at the University of Wisconsin, and Mark Murphy, now president of the Green Bay Packers.

Prior to Garvey’s hiring as the NFLPA’s executive director in 1971, most players worked part-time in the offseason. They had virtually no job security. Then, the average NFL salary was $24,000. Today it’s about $2.7 million.

“Look at what players have now,” Murphy marveled. “This was Ed’s dream. People thought we were crazy when the players went on strike in 1982 and demanded a percentage of the league’s gross [profits]. Our rallying cry was, ‘We are the game,’ which of course is true. Now the players do get a percentage of the gross, and everybody views it as a great system that’s working well for everybody. And it’s mainly because of Ed.”

Much as I admired what Garvey had accomplished in his NFLPA days, it’s not the main reason I wanted to do this book. I have interviewed thousands of people during my 30-plus years in the newspaper business. But no one quite like Ed Garvey.

Yes, he had a hair-trigger temper. And yes, he could be viciously sarcastic. In heated debates, he wouldn’t hesitate to go for his rival’s jugular. But I’ve never met a public figure—certainly never a politician—who was as decent, as forthright, and as determined to speak the truth as Ed Garvey. And I wanted people to know what a fascinating and unique person he was.

When he took a stance on a particular issue, he never checked the opinion polls or conferred with a bunch of high-falutin’ consultants. He did it because he believed it was the right thing to do. While he felt the Republican party was controlled by selfish, bigoted, wealthy old men, he routinely criticized the Democratic party for catering to the same well-heeled special interests as Republicans.

Ed Garvey, I came to realize, truly was one of a kind. My hope is that younger Americans who read his words will be inspired to seize his mantle.

Rob Zaleski is a freelance writer and award-winning columnist. He spent twenty-six years writing for The Capital Times in Madison.

Land Economics and the history of “Sifting and Winnowing”

Land Economics journal founder Richard T. Ely and the battle for academic freedom

Richard T. Ely
Richard T. Ely

The founder of the field of land economics, and of the journal of the same name, played a pivotal role in the history of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He also scored a victory for academics everywhere when he defended his teaching and scholarship against charges that it promoted a subversive political agenda. Richard T. Ely taught economics at the University of Wisconsin from 1892 to 1925. His Progressivist ideas went against the current of the laissez-faire economic theory of the time, and his support for social reforms and organized labor earned him the scrutiny of the Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction, Oliver E. Wells. Wells charged that Ely was promoting anarchism and socialism to his students, and that he encouraged labor union strikes and boycotts—charges that Ely denied. In fact, he had written articles and books that were critical of socialism. Under media scrutiny, the UW Board of Regents launched an investigation, and Ely was tried in a public hearing in August of 1894. The economics community, as well as other academics, spoke out emphatically in Ely’s defense, and he was acquitted by a unanimous vote. In their report of the hearing, the regents issued a strong statement in support of academic freedom, part of which now graces a plaque on the university’s main administration building. The plaque reads:

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.

This idea of “sifting and winnowing” has become a cornerstone of the University of Wisconsin’s institutional philosophy, and in this phrase, proponents of higher education can recognize the imperative to preserve the freedom to teach and research without censorship.

Land Economics cover image

Ely went on to found the Institute for Research in Land Economics and Public Utilities in 1920, along with the Journal of Land & Public Utility Economics. In 1948, this journal was renamed Land Economics. For more on Ely, see this excellent history of “sifting and winnowing,” which appeared in September of this year to mark the 125th anniversary of the regents’ statement. Additionally, Ely’s legacy has been a recurring topic in the pages of Land Economics. He is profiled in this tribute from the year of his death, in the published proceedings of a 1948 symposium at UW–Madison on frontiers of housing research, and in the journal’s fiftieth anniversary issue.