Liberal Education and Wisconsin's Promise


Liberal Education and Wisconsin’s Promise:
Building Leadership, Advocacy and Support for What Really Matters in College

A Wingspread Conference held on April 29-30, 2008
Co-sponsored by Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton
UW System President Kevin Reilly and
The Johnson Foundation


Photo of Barbara Lawton
Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton

On April 29-30, 2008, a conference was held at the Wingspread Conference Center in Racine on the topic of Liberal Education and Wisconsin’s Promise:  Building Leadership, Advocacy and Support for What Really Matters in College.  In partnership with the Johnson Foundation, University of Wisconsin System President Kevin Reilly and Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton convened almost 40 leaders from the state’s education, policy, business, media, and non-profit sectors, to develop a campaign promoting liberal education as the key to a vibrant, knowledge-based economy. 

The conference built upon a national higher education initiative in which both the Lt. Governor and the UW System are playing lead roles, that of the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) Campaign.  The AAC&U LEAP Campaign is designed as a decade-long, public advocacy and campus action initiative that will expand both public and student understanding of what really matters in college.  (To learn more about the LEAP Campaign, go to:

photo of UW System President Keven Reilly
UW System President Kevin Reilly

As a pilot partner in moving the LEAP Campaign forward, the UW System has been sponsoring activities that engage its institutions and other colleges and universities in the state with the broader public, including government, employers, local and statewide business councils and civic groups, and secondary school leaders.  Lieutenant Governor Lawton has been critical to that effort both throughout Wisconsin and nationally in her role as a member of AAC&U’s National Leadership Council.  President Reilly has placed several goals of the LEAP Campaign front and center in his “Growth Agenda” for Wisconsin.  Both Lt. Governor Lawton and President Reilly have dedicated their public platforms to make the case for liberal education to their multiple stakeholders, and, in the process, to generate increased support for public higher education in Wisconsin.

The Wingspread Conference provided a truly hospitable forum for bringing people together from all of these sectors to focus on expanding public understanding of the value of higher education, and the kinds of learning essential for citizenship and democracy.  Lt. Governor Lawton opened the conference by charging participants to renew the state’s commitment to higher education and to embrace more fully the profound responsibility to make clear the societal wealth of what higher education brings to Wisconsin and the nation.  President Reilly encouraged participants to consider the vital components of liberal education as the “discipline and furniture of the mind,” that is, the knowledge, skills, values and habits of mind that are essential for work, life and the advancement of human potential in the 21st century.  Throughout the conference, participants worked to develop a blueprint for action that would make the ideals of the LEAP Campaign understood, accessible, and realizable for Wisconsin’s increasingly diverse population.

At the end of the conference, Lt. Governor Lawton and President Reilly issued a LEAP Proclamation, celebrating Wisconsin’s participation in the AAC&U’s LEAP Campaign and 2008 as a leap year.  

Participants left the two-day meeting with a shared sense of purpose and the stated commitment to assume leadership roles within their spheres of influence and communities to advocate for the kinds of learning vital to Wisconsin citizens and the state’s workforce.  To that end, working groups are being convened in fall 2008, with a Wingspread follow-up meeting on November 7.  The follow-up meeting will provide participants with the opportunity to move forward the conference charge and activities emerging from it.