Tag Archives: uw-madison

Free tuition proposed for 1st-generation transfers

University of Wisconsin-Madison officials want to provide at least a year of free tuition to two-year transfer students who would be the first in their family to get a degree if legislators give them enough money in the upcoming state budget, the school’s chancellor told UW System leaders earlier this month.

The proposal, dubbed the Badger Promise, calls for changing contracts that guarantee UW-Madison admission for students who transfer in from the system’s 14 two-year colleges and large technical schools.

The new contracts will provide clearer information about the classes required to get into the Madison campus.

They also would require students to maintain at least a 3.2 grade point average rather than the current 2.8 minimum.

First-generation students who complete the contracts would receive scholarships and grants to cover their first year of tuition at UW-Madison.

Students eligible for federal Pell grants in their second year also would get free tuition, Chancellor Rebecca Blank told regents during a meeting on the flagship campus.

Blank said the program would spur first-generation students to greater things, noting such students often come from low-income families, lack family advisement on college matters and drop out of school at higher rates.

The number of first-generation undergraduates at UW-Madison has dropped from 6,439 in 2009 to 5,440 in 2015.

“It’s encouragement and motivation for a group of students that don’t have that encouragement coming to them from other people,” Blank said. “These are the students whom the state has to help the most.”

UW officials estimate the proposal would cost about $1.5 million annually in scholarships. They didn’t have estimates on how many students might participate.

The free tuition segment of the deal hinges largely on how much state aid legislators give UW-Madison in the upcoming 2017-19 state budget, Blank told the regents.

The last two state budgets have frozen in-state undergraduate tuition and the 205-17 spending plan slashed $250 million from the system. The regents have asked for $42.5 million in new funding in the 2017-19 budget.

Gov. Scott Walker plans to unveil his version of the new budget this week. He has said the spending plan will include new funding for the system contingent on meeting as-of-yet undisclosed performance standards as well as a tuition cut.

He hasn’t said how deep the cut might be but he plans to backfill the lost revenue with state aid.

Asked about his support for Badger Promise’s free tuition, Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said only that the governor will review the proposal.

Republican lawmakers were skeptical of the plan.

Rep. John Nygren of Marinette, who co-chairs the Legislature’s powerful budget-writing committee, said he wanted to review the details of the new contracts to make sure they don’t limit student access before he can support the plan.

Rep. Dave Murphy of Greenville, chairman of the Assembly’s universities committee, said in a statement he wants to get a better understanding of how changing the GPA standards to 3.2 will affect access. He also said other colleges have implemented similar promise programs with private donations.

Regent Michael Grebe, a Walker appointee, told Blank he was concerned that the free tuition offer might funnel two-year students to UW-Madison at the expense of the system’s other four-year schools. Blank replied that increasing the GPA requirement to 3.2 would mean many students won’t try to move to Madison.

UW-Madison drops in research ranking after Walker’s budget cuts

UW-Madison has fallen out of the National Science Foundation’s top five research institutions for the first time in over 40 years because of the school’s decreasing spending on research.

Following massive funding cuts to the UW System that were enacted by Gov. Scott Walker and his ruling Republican majority, the school cut research spending by more than $100 million between 2012 and 2015. The cuts were made to offset, in part, massive tax cuts to the state’s wealthiest individuals. Campus officials highlighted the falling expenditures as they encouraged lawmakers to increase funding for the system in the next state budget, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

UW-Madison vice chancellor for research and graduate education Marsha Mailick said years of funding cuts have made it more difficult for the university to recruit top researchers and have led some to leave Wisconsin.

“We are extremely proud of our faculty, staff and students but if Wisconsin is to remain at the pinnacle of American research universities, the state will need to reinvest to be sure we have the faculty positions and conditions necessary to attract and retain the best researchers,” Mailick said.

Walker’s spokesman Tom Evenson said that despite the research ranking, the school recently rose in a U.S. News and World Report ranking of top public universities. Walker said his budget proposal includes increased funding for the UW System that will be tied to unspecified categorical performance.

Evenson said the governor’s focus “is to invest in the university in a way that enhances career-oriented instruction to help students and employers looking for jobs and workers in high-demand fields.”

UW-Madison to review impact of voter ID law in the state

A comprehensive UW-Madison study is underway to determine if Wisconsin’s new voter ID law played a role in the lowest statewide turnout for a presidential election in more than two decades.

The study will review the impact of the state’s voter ID law, considered by some as among the most restrictive in the nation.

The review will focus on Dane and Milwaukee counties, which have the highest percentage of minority and low-income voters in Wisconsin, according to a news release announcing the analysis.

About 66 percent of voting age people in Wisconsin cast ballots on Nov. 8. That turnout was down nearly four percentage points compared to 2012 and was three points behind the predictions from state election officials.

Most counties in Wisconsin saw a decline in turnout, but the drop was particularly dramatic in Milwaukee County, where nearly 50,000 fewer votes were cast this year compared to 2012.

Preliminary exit polling showed that turnout fell off most among young voters and African-Americans.

In Dane County, turnout was up slightly in real numbers, but down roughly 2 percent from four years ago among registered voters.

“Overall there were few problems on election day,” Milwaukee County Clerk Joe Czarnezki said in a press statement.  “However, there were reports of voters who showed up to the polls with the wrong form of photo ID, while others simply did not go to the polls because they feared they did not have proper ID.  This study will move us from anecdotes to facts.”

Republican blasts UW diversity program as ‘liberal indoctrination’

A Republican state senator says a new diversity outreach program at the UW-Madison is “sinister.”

Sen. Steve Nass made the comment in reaction to UW-Madison announcing its plans to improve the experiences of minorities on the flagship campus. The plan calls for having new students discuss social differences, a new cultural center for black students and increased opportunities to take ethnic studies courses.

Nass is vice-chair of the Senate’s committee on universities.

Nass said university leaders “constantly complain about lacking money” but “they never lack money for advancing new and more sinister ways of liberal indoctrination of students.”

He said the initiative isn’t about advancing critical thinking, but about “telling students to think and act in ways approved by the liberal leadership of our universities.”

UW-Madison leaders, however, say they created the diversity program at issue after a series of race-related incidents have occurred on campus.

The campus will test the program, called Our Wisconsin, on up to 1,000 freshmen to allow students to learn about themselves and others, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

“That’s what the collegiate experience is all about,” UW-Madison Dean of Students Lori Berquam said. “Some of our students are joining us from small towns and they’re going to live in a residence hall that’s bigger.”

More than half of the university’s students are from Wisconsin, which the U.S. Census Bureau said was nearly 88 percent white in 2015.

The campus is part of a national trend of colleges that believe mandatory cultural competency orientation can relieve racial tensions and help students navigate diverse work environments after graduation.

The program’s creators said they consulted with other colleges that have implemented diversity programs, including University of Oklahoma, Oregon State University and the University of Michigan. A diversity consulting firm hired by the university wrote the program’s curriculum.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank set aside $150,000 to $200,000 from a special fund for the pilot program.

Lee Hansen, professor emeritus of economics at UW-Madison, has written several op-eds questioning the program and predicts there will be student backlash. He said the university’s population of more than 43,000 will always include some people who have unshakable views on race and that diversity training only pits students against one another.

Last year, the university saw incidents in which swastikas were taped to a Jewish student’s dorm room door, a Native American elder was heckled and a student of color received an anonymous note with racial threats.



Who killed Brittany Zimmermann, Part 2: The suspect

Brittany Zimmermann became nationally known in the spring of 2008, after the University of Wisconsin-Madison student’s 911 call went unanswered and she was found murdered in her Doty street apartment.

Perhaps overshadowed by the controversy surrounding that call is the mystery of who took her life.

“Ever since somebody broke into Brittany’s house, everything has gone wrong in this investigation,” said Zimmermann’s mother, Jean.

Brittany Zimmermann was attacked and murdered inside her apartment, five blocks from the state Capitol.

But exactly what happened to the 21-year-old Marshfield native is known only to her killer — and to mute feline witnesses.

“We have her cats,” Jean Zimmermann said. They are the “children” her daughter shared with fiancé Jordan Gonnering.

“They were there that day,” the mother said. “They were so overwhelmed with what had happened. So many times, we don’t have people over to our home because it upsets them. If it’s loud here or a doorbell rings, or someone knocks on the door, they are extremely upset and they will go hide. And you cannot get them out.”

The family has been frustrated with the lack of resolution in the case, especially since a DNA match became known this year.

“The truth is that the police had their current suspect the same day as the murder and released him soon after,” Gonnering said. “The DNA collected at the scene matches this suspect, but they cannot bring this to trial because of unknown issues.”


Zimmermann’s family is referring to David A. Kahl.

Kahl was born March 28, 1966. He has blue eyes, thinning gray hair and is right-handed. He stands 5-feet, 6-inches tall and lately weighs about 200 pounds.

Kahl is incarcerated at the Dodge Correctional Institution in Waupun, serving time for his seventh conviction for driving under the influence.

He formerly lived in Madison and his most recent address was in Oregon, Wisconsin.

Kahl has a long list of convictions going back to 1992, including for the manufacture and/or delivery of controlled substances and theft. He’s been registered as a sex offender since Sept. 16, 1993, following conviction for second-degree sexual assault.

A search warrant unsealed in June revealed that in December 2014, the Wisconsin State Crime Lab found Kahl’s DNA on the right sleeve of the shirt worn by Brittany Zimmermann when she died.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out it was him, especially when he told the media he had contact with her the day she was murdered,” said one of Zimmermann’s aunts, Lisa Zimmermann Walcisak. She is a legal secretary in the Price County office of the district attorney.


On the day of the murder, April 2, 2008, Kahl was, by his own admission, looking for money in Brittany Zimmermann’s neighborhood to buy cocaine.

Barely three months earlier, he had been released from prison. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, “He looked for work while at a halfway house and was taking medication for paranoid schizophrenia. He said he quit taking the drug because he was doing well without it.”

Kahl had just turned 42.

Very early that day, at 1 a.m. and on the other side of the Capitol Square, neighbors of UW senior Rachel Krueger opened their front door and found a male asking for $40 to fix a flat tire.

It’s a story others would hear throughout the day. Krueger’s roommates also heard a knock on their door around 1 a.m., but they did not answer.

Eleven hours later, John Lange observed a “very intoxicated” stranger “getting in people’s faces” for money. Lange was a maintenance worker at the Mental Health Center of Dane County and he knew most of the homeless in Brittany Zimmermann’s neighborhood.

Krueger had a friend who lived on the odd side of the 500 block of West Doty Street, just like Zimmermann. At around noon, the friend went to her door after hearing a doorbell ringing incessantly. She saw an older male, lightly complected with gray hair, walking away.

At about that time, Zimmermann was returning to her home at 517 W. Doty St. after an exam.

Kahl later would tell Madison’s WKOW-TV that he and two other men visited Zimmermann. But, he said, “I never entered that house. I was at the door when all of us approached her and borrowed the money.”

Kahl also told the station his companions plotted a return. “They were going to go back, rob her or get the rest of the money,” he said.

So how was Kahl’s DNA found on Zimmermann’s clothing?

“I had a glass of water from her,” he told the station. “I can’t remember if I shook her hand, gave her a hug, thanked her for loaning me the money.”


If that visit took place, the three men almost certainly were the last to see Brittany Zimmermann alive.

Shortly after noon, the outside and inner doors of Zimmermann’s apartment were kicked in. She called 911 at 12:20 p.m. Though her screams and a struggle can be heard on the recording of that call, the dispatcher heard nothing intelligible and did not follow up.

Zimmermann was beaten, strangled and repeatedly stabbed. Half the wounds penetrated her heart. Gonnering, Zimmermann’s fiancé and roommate, found her body and called 911 at 1:08 p.m. Zimmermann’s body was cold and her fingers were stiff — signs of rigor mortis.

Kahl, according to witnesses, was in the neighborhood shortly after the murder.

Holly Davis was on the second floor of 525 W. Washington Ave., two streets away and nearly parallel to Zimmermann’s flat.

At about 1 p.m., Davis heard someone call “hello,” from the ground floor. She stepped out of her bedroom and saw “an older, white male” climbing the stairs. He told her he had a flat tire and needed $40 for repairs. She asked him to leave and he did.

Across the street, barely around the corner, at about 2 p.m., a man approached Matthew Plutschack at his residence, 119 N. Bedford St. The stranger said he needed money to fix a flat.

Plutschack gave $20 to the man, who left as collateral a Wisconsin Department of Corrections identification card. It was Kahl’s ID.

That evening, Davis worked with a police artist to sketch a composite drawing of the man she saw on the stairs.

The officer inadvertently walked Davis past a holding cell. Kahl was inside, having been taken into custody pending charges of criminal trespass and theft by fraud, and suspicion of violating probation.

Davis identified him as her intruder.

Kahl told police a story about two other homeless men, “Hank” and “Mitchell,” who were breaking into houses and “running scams” that day.

Kahl said he wasn’t involved in their crimes and he didn’t know their last names.

He was held as a material witness to the Zimmermann murder. In a police statement, he wrote that “Hank” and “Mitchell” used drugs “at a crack house on Wilson Street” and then separated.

“I also know they were going into houses that were unsecured and stealing things like cellphones and laptop computers,” he wrote.

Kahl helped police sketch one of the men and led police to a homeless shelter to search — another dead end.


Within a year of the murder, Madison police interviewed — and cleared — more than 700 people in the Zimmermann case.

Kahl, in prison, was not immediately available to WiG for comment, and the police will not discuss in any detail an ongoing investigation.

However, Madison Police Chief Mike Koval did recently note that any future prosecution of a suspect has to exclude reasonable doubt. “There are legal thresholds of burden that have to be met,” he said. “We have to find more evidence that pushes us to that case outcome, (to that) of a conviction.”

As in any investigation, “we want to make sure we’re open to all possibilities,” the chief said. “If you lock and load, so to speak, on only one modus operandi, per se, then I think to some extent, at least on a subliminal level, you’re creating blinders to the possibility that others may be complicit.”

The possibility of false confessions is one reason why police departments regularly hold back facts of investigation. The $40,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Zimmermann’s murderer also might inspire lies or, among convicts, demand for special treatment.

In 2014, a Wisconsin man in federal prison in West Virginia, Andrew Scoles, claimed Kahl once “broke down and told me what all happened.” But according to a search warrant, Scoles refused to say more “without getting some deal that would benefit him in exchange.”

And that’s where things stand.

Chief Koval said he is hopeful the case will be solved.

“Sometimes you exhaust the logical leads and you feel like you’re at a standstill,” he said. “And then you’ll get a line to a tip. You’ll have someone who speaks out of carelessness or out of intoxication. It gets heard by another and that provides yet another mechanism to follow up.”

Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series. Part 1 appeared in WiG’s July 14 issue.

Celebrating a century of UW-Madison Yiddish

A century of Yiddish education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will be celebrated with live and historic music, including the first event in an international Jewish performance series.

In the fall semester of 1916, UW-Madison became the nation’s first university to offer Yiddish language instruction. Yiddish is a language rooted in German with elements of Hebrew and Aramaic, along with Slavic elements in eastern Europe. More than 10 million Yiddish speakers lived in Europe prior to World War II, but five million of them were killed during the Holocaust.

UW-Madison is home to the Mayrent Institute, a leading center of Yiddish cultural literacy. It includes more than 9,000 historic Yiddish and Jewish sound recordings, which are being digitized and made available for free online streaming.

The institute is a world center for Yiddish research. “It represents all the geographic places where Yiddish culture moved and blossomed,” says director Henry Sapoznik. “Its stature challenges any other collection internationally.”

This first UW-Madison Yiddish course was taught by Louis Bernard Wolfenson, a native of La Crosse and an alumnus of the Madison campus. He served in the Department of Semitics and Hellenistic Greek, but his work went far beyond language. Wolfenson helped found the Jewish Students’ Association — the precursor of B’nai B’rith Hillel, founded in 1924 — and for years served on the executive committee of Madison’s Jewish Welfare Board.

“Occasionally a generation will produce someone who has a vision that transcends their moment,” says Sapoznik. “Wolfenson created an overview understanding of the diversity of Jewish life. He saw the unity of the recipients. He saw them not only as students but as people and members of the community, and carriers of the tradition as a culture.”

Wolfenson resigned his position in 1925, leaving academia to return to private scholarship and Jewish public service.

UW-Madison begins the year-long celebration of its Yiddish centenary with a variety of events this spring, including a World Records Symposium April 14 and 15, featuring historic and new performances of vernacular music. Yiddish culture will be represented with a presentation of early recording cylinders and a live performance of rural Polish-Yiddish music by renowned musicians Cookie Segelstein (fiddle) and Joshua Horowitz (accordion). All events are free and open to the public.

Then, the festival Out of the Shadows: Rediscovering Jewish Music, Literature and Theater, running May 1 to 5, will serve as the kickoff to an international series featuring performances of Jewish work. Madison’s is the first of four such festivals around the world, and the only U.S. location.

The full project, “Performing the Jewish Archive,” is a major international research effort led by the University of Leeds, in England, and including a multidisciplinary team assembled on four continents.

“We are a unique combination of scholars from a diverse range of subjects, crossing traditional disciplinary boundaries, (and) even integrating scientific research methodologies at the heart of an arts-led investigation,” says Dr. Stephen Muir, of the Leeds School of Music. “‘Performing the Jewish Archive’ will bring recently rediscovered musical, theatrical and literary works by Jewish artists back to the attention of scholars and the public, and stimulate the creation of new works.”

Muir’s team is exploring the years between 1880 and 1950 to discover the role of art during Jewish displacement and upheaval. “We seem to have caught the imagination of a huge range of organizations, both Jewish and non-Jewish, all interested in the Jewish artistic past and how it impinges on all of our futures,” he says.

The other festivals will be held in the Czech Republic, South Africa, Australia and the United Kingdom. Wisconsin partners will include the UW-Madison School of Music, Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, Madison Youth Choirs, and Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra.

Tickets for most May events are $10 general admission, $5 students, and are available at the UW’s Union Theater, uniontheater.wisc.edu, and Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts, overturecenter.org.

“Please join us to celebrate the 100th birthday of Yiddish at the UW Madison,” says Sapoznik. “Come and be part of the next 100 years.”

For more details on these events or other projects, go to mayrentinstitute.wisc.edu.

Wisconsin Film Festival fills Madison screens with variety

images - wigout - 040716 - WiFilmLogoThe Wisconsin Film Festival has reached the age of majority — 18 years strong — and it’s celebrating by kicking off this year’s celebration of film with a Hollywood-style opening at its newest venue, the Barrymore Theatre, April 14.

Unfortunately, if you don’t already have a ticket, you’re not likely to catch the Madison festival’s opening night screening of Hunt for the Wilderpeople at 7 p.m. or the afterparty at Harmony Bar at 9 p.m. — festival coordinator Ben Reiser says the premiere sold out quickly online. But there’s still time to find seats for the next seven days, as Reiser and festival organizers bring 157 more features and shorts to six venues throughout Madison through April 21.

Reiser says the interest in the premiere and other nights is an indication that Madison moviegoers have only increased their appetites for films from the familiar and foreign to the classic and contemporary. This year’s festival will retain a format similar to previous years, with a mix of old and new features and documentaries, as well as restorations, rediscoveries and rarities.

This year marks a significant increase in the “Wisconsin’s Own” category, dedicated to work by filmmakers with Badger State ties. Reiser says there will be 50 such features and shorts in the festival, chosen from among 160 submissions.

From the “Wisconsin’s Own” list, Reiser recommends The Boy on the Train, the world premiere that takes place in Budapest and is directed by Green Bay-born director Roger Deutsch. The film sports Hitchcockian twists and a leading character who, not coincidentally, is also an experimental filmmaker named Roger Deutsch.

Another state-based film has already attracted significant attention. The Smart Studios Story chronicles the history of the legendary Madison recording studio run by record producer Butch Vig, now the drummer for alternative band Garbage. In its day Smart attracted the cream of the indie crop, including Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana, with Vig himself producing Nirvana’s 1991 diamond-selling album Nevermind.

Wendy Schneider, the film’s director, as well as Vig and Garbage guitarist Steve Marker are scheduled to appear at the film’s opening. But if you don’t already have your ticket, you’re out of luck, Reiser says again. This showing too is sold out — a sign that haste is needed to catch any remaining films in this increasingly popular festival.

The festival will also spotlight a selection of rare films from director Robert Altman, including 1974’s California Split with its original soundtrack and HealtH, a 1980 feature starring Carol Burnett, James Garner, Lauren Bacall and other celebrities that was never released commercially.

Festival programming director Jim Healy highly recommends California Split as “funny, loose and shaggy, the pinnacle of American road/buddy comedy.”

Healy also recommends Tickled, a documentary that focuses on endurance tickling and the lengths that an openly gay New Zealand journalist and blogger (David Farrier, who also directs) will go to uncover the secrets behind this soft-core empire. The 2015 Belgian/French film Valley of Love, in its Wisconsin premiere, also ranks high on Healy’s list.

“Isabelle Huppert and Gerard Depardieu are reunited on screen for the first time in 35 years, this time as fictionalized versions of themselves,” Healy explains. “They’re both excellent, but Depardieu is especially funny and touching.”

Fellow film programmer Mike King takes a more esoteric view in choosing his festival favorites. The 2015 film John From, directed by Portugal’s João Nicolau, paints a dreamy portrait of two Lisbon teenage girls pining for their new neighbor. The film will receive its U.S premier at the festival, with director Nicolau in attendance.

The 2016 documentary Unlocking the Cage, which examines the struggle to provide legal rights to chimpanzees, was co-directed by D.A. Pennebaker, best known for his 1967 Bob Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back. Conversely, Paths of the Soul is a 2015 Chinese documentary of a very different type.

“This visually stunning odyssey takes us on a Buddhist ‘bowing pilgrimage,’ in which a group of Tibetans walk over 1,000 miles of mountain roads, stopping to lie flat on the ground every few steps,” King says.  “A road movie like no other, this is a truly spiritual cinematic experience.”

On the classics side, Reiser’s recommendations include Ingrid Bergman In Her Own Words, a 2015 Swedish documentary comprised of clips from Bergman’s own never-before-seen home movies, audio clips from interviews with the actress and excerpts from personal journals and diaries. The film is paired on the program with Europe ’51, a rarely seen Bergman feature from 1952 directed by her lover-turned-husband Roberto Rosellini.

On the more contemporary side, Reiser suggests Nothing Lasts Forever, the only feature film directed by former Saturday Night Live staff writer Tom Schiller. The offbeat 1984 musical fantasy revolves around a young artist (Zach Galligan) and his adventures in a New York City of the future. The equally quirky support cast includes Imogene Cocoa, Mort Sahl, Larry “Bud” Melman and extended cameos by Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd.

MGM had no idea how to promote the comedic gem, and it was never formally released. The feature will be accompanied by Schiller’s Reel, a series of shorts that did see airplay on the long-running NBC show, as well as a festival appearance by Schiller himself.


The Fest will also take place at venues both familiar to regular festivalgoers and new this year. Sundance Cinema at Hilldale Mall will again devote three screens to the festival, and other locations include Vilas Hall, the Chazen Museum of Art, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Marquee Cinema at Union South.

Unlike last year, WFF will not include the Capitol Theater in Overture Center — which became too expensive to rent, Reiser says. He adds that a number of other potential venues had to be dismissed due to the increasing technical sophistication of the digital film industry.

“To have the highest quality possible we have to rent these incredibly expensive projectors,” Reiser says. “That’s why we concentrated on digital-ready venues.”


Festival Dates: April 14 to 21

Number of films: 158, of varying lengths.

Number of venues: Eight screens in six different venues, including:

  • UW Cinematheque, Rm. 4070, Vilas Hall, 821 University Ave.
  • UW Chazen Museum of Art, Auditorium, 750 University Ave.
  • UW Union South, The Marquee, 1308 Dayton St.
  • Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Overture Center, 201 State St.
  • Barrymore Theatre, 2090 Atwood Ave.
  • Sundance Cinema (three screens), Hilldale Shopping Center, 730 N. Midvale Blvd.

Ticket prices: A festival pass is $300; individual showings are $10 each, $8 for students, seniors, UW affiliates and military; $5 for the Big Screens, Little Folks series. All venues are general admission, but festival pass holders get priority seating.

Total attendees: Past festivals have attracted upwards of 30,000 people.

Complete schedule: 2016.wifilmfest.org.

Oscar ‘Spotlight’ falls on a former UW-Madison producer

While Madison has lately been gripped by basketball fever, one Badger has already won a competition that rivals any NCAA tournament. Former University of Wisconsin-Madison student Nicole Rocklin received an Oscar for producing Spotlight, named the best picture of 2015 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Rocklin graduated with honors from UW-Madison in 2001. “I couldn’t have had a better college experience than I did in Madison,” she says. “I love the university.”

From left to right, “Spotlight” producers Michael Sugar, Blye Pagon Faust, Nicole Rocklin and Steve Golin. Photo: Nicole Rocklin
From left to right, “Spotlight” producers Michael Sugar, Blye Pagon Faust, Nicole Rocklin and Steve Golin. Photo: Nicole Rocklin

Rocklin wasn’t a graduate of either the departments of communication arts, or theater and drama. Hoping to enter law school, she double-majored in history and Afro-American studies.

“I don’t think film school is necessary if you want to produce,” she says. “My point of view is that if you have a more worldly viewpoint, you actually bring a better sense of skills and a better perspective to the film business.”

After graduating, she applied to law school, worked for some entertainment attorneys, thought of entering the music industry, and then worked for high-powered producer Jerry Bruckheimer in her native Los Angeles. His projects have included The Amazing Race and CSI television series, and movies such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop.

She’d already pulled back her law school application. After a friend urged Rocklin to become a producer herself, she did. Not that it happened just like that, she clarifies. It hasn’t been easy, and producing a movie draws on skills that most would not consider glamorous.

“I could sell tires,” she explains. “I’m in the business of selling. A lot of your job in making a movie is selling, in addition to fostering great relationships and being able to problem-solve and all those things.”

There are creative aspects, of course, but, “When you think about a movie, you’re selling your project to studios, you’re selling your project to actors that you want to be in it, you’re selling your project to filmmakers and writers you want to come on board,” she says. And once the movie is done, “You’re selling in terms of marketing your movie.”

Getting Spotlight to the screen with her business partner and co-producer, Blye Pagon Faust, took seven years. Michael Sugar and Steve Golin joined the two as co-producers.

“Seven years in my business isn’t that long,” says Rocklin.

But film projects don’t make money while they’re being developed, nor do movies earn income during shooting or post-production. “It’s exciting, a lot of work, and there are a lot of moments when you don’t know how you’ll keep things together,” she says. “It’s not the easiest.”

Despite receiving six Oscar nominations and winning best picture and best original screenplay awards, the fact that Spotlight even got made was a miracle, according to Rocklin. The film tells the story of how journalists at The Boston Globe uncovered sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. It stars Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Liev Schreiber.

“It’s not a comic book movie or a thriller,” she says. “It’s not an overtly commercial movie. So to get a movie like this put together and do it well and successfully, and have it be financially successful, is not an easy task.”

There are rewards, of course. Yes, getting an Oscar is nice, but only a Packer fan would be as thrilled to meet quarterback Aaron Rodgers at the Academy Awards that same night.

Rocklin introduced herself and shared that her father, a big fan, had recently passed away. Seeing Rodgers, she told him, made her feel that he was present.

“I’m rooting for you,” said Rodgers.

And so life goes on for Rocklin. “We have a pretty nice slate of projects, but I’m not sure what’s next,” she says. “I need to come back to Madison for a football game, at the very least. And I need to go back and now hit up a Packers game, too.”

Oh, and her Oscar?

“There are moments when it’s been on my desk,” she says. “There are other moments when it’s sitting on my dresser. It’s always sitting far enough away from my one-and-a-half year old that he can’t have it fall on him or he can’t damage it.”

Madison’s ‘little’ museums offer big ideas

Gone are the days when museums were dusty archives of half-forgotten lore. Wisconsin is full of bright, interactive learning environments that stress teaching important lessons over merely archiving historical minutiae, and some of the most interesting and unique examples are tightly condensed into downtown Madison.

Spring is coming, but there are still stormy days that beg for indoor activity. Five of Madison’s “little” museums – three on the Capitol Square and two on the University of Wisconsin campus – offer some big ideas for visitors to consider.


In the vertebrate room at the Geology Museum, replicas of a Mastadon and Edmontosaurus dinosaur skeletons tower over undergraduate student and tour guide Summer Ostrowski, center, as she takes questions from a group of 2nd grade children visiting from Northside Elementary School in Sun Prairie. ©UW-Madison University Communications 608/262-0067 Photo by: Jeff Miller Date: 04/04 File#: D100 digital camera frame 3537
In the vertebrate room at the Geology Museum, replicas of a Mastadon and Edmontosaurus dinosaur skeletons tower over undergraduate student and tour guide Summer Ostrowski.
Photo: Jeff Miller

UW-Madison is a world-renowned research university with countless resources at its disposal. Two different schools within the university share their wealth with the general public via two innovative museums.

Those who think geology is merely the study of rocks will have their eyes opened by a visit to the UW-Madison Geology Museum, housed in Weeks Hall on the south edge of campus. Founded in 1848, the same year Wisconsin became a state, the Geology Museum is a perennial favorite among visitors thanks to its large collection of rocks, minerals and fossils.

Home to 120,000 geological and paleontological specimens, UWMGM is best known for its fossilized dinosaur and early mammal skeletons. The collection also includes reptiles, fish, birds and paleogene mammals from the Jurassic, Cretaceous, Paleozoic and Early Silurian periods. The museum also is a repository for vertebrate fossils from federal lands and National Park specimens.

Clearly, UWMGM really rocks, and in more ways than one.

The UW-Madison Geology Museum, located in Weeks Hall at 1215 W. Dayton St., is free and open to the public from 8:30 to 4:40 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. Guided tours are available at a nominal cost of $2 per visitor. For more information, visit geoscience.wisc.edu/museum_wp.


UW-Madison's Physics Museum features numerous hands-on exhibits.
UW-Madison’s Physics Museum features numerous hands-on exhibits.

Those who want to get their physics on – and who among us doesn’t? – will want to visit the L.R. Ingersoll Physics Museum, located in Chamberlin Hall in the heart of the UW campus. Established in 1918 and celebrating its centennial in 2018, the museum was one of the first in the nation devoted to the study of physics.

It’s also an incredibly interactive museum, asking patrons to dive into physics hand-first. The museum’s six subject areas are mechanics, computer-based physics, electricity and magnetism, light and optics, wave and sound, and modern physics, and each features multiple experiments to explore. “Light and Optics” alone offers 14 different interactive activities, giving visitors to the smallest of these five options some of the most vibrant experiences.

The L.R. Ingersoll Physics Museum, located in Chamberlin Hall at 1150 University Ave., is free and open to the public Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. The experience is self-guided, but guided group tours can be arranged. For tour and other information, contact Program and Museum Manager Steve Narf at 608-262-3898 or .


The Wisconsin Veterans Museum has existed in multiple locations over the last century, but has had a permanent home on the Capitol Square since 1993.
The Wisconsin Veterans Museum has existed in multiple locations over the last century, but has had a permanent home on the Capitol Square since 1993. Photo: Wisconsin Veterans Museum.

The Wisconsin Veterans Museum would boast a bigger collection were it not for tragedy: a 1904 fire that gutted the city’s Capitol building and destroyed many of the Civil War relics stored there. The remaining collection was itinerant for many years afterward, moving around the Capitol and growing with each armed national conflict. In 1993, it finally found a home right across the street.

The Veterans Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate institution, boasts 20,000 square feet of exhibit space. Its displays chronicle American wars from the Civil War to modern-day Middle East conflicts. The museum has more than 3,000 artifacts, and an estimated 90,000 visitors pass through its doors each year.

Its first-class permanent exhibitions bring visitors into dioramas with the men and women who have served. The museum also offers online exhibits, to explore subjects in greater depth, and a traveling exhibit program that brings the museum’s collection to different locations around the state.

And it hosts temporary exhibitions, many featuring works from outside the museum’s collection. Its current exhibit even dabbles in the realm of visual art. War: Raw features 59 dramatic pieces of art created by Wisconsin veterans as a way of recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. The art therapy program is sponsored by the nonprofit Artists for the Humanities, and helps veterans confront unresolved trauma, embrace personal growth and successfully reintegrate into civilian life.

War: Raw is on display through May 8. The Wisconsin Veterans Museum at 30 W. Mifflin St. is free and open to the public Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. Call 608-267-1799 or visit wisvetsmuseum.com for more details.


The Wisconsin Historical Museum includes items from the frontier period, as well as earlier Native American artifacts and more recent items.
The Wisconsin Historical Museum includes items from the frontier period, as well as earlier Native American artifacts and more recent items. Photo: Wisconsin Historical Museum.

Across the street from the Veterans Museum you can learn even more about our state’s past by visiting the Wisconsin Historical Museum. As the public face of the Wisconsin Historical Society, the museum has extensive archives, and displays them through exhibits, programs and lectures about the growth and development of the Badger State.

Three floors of exhibition space chart Wisconsin’s history, from the first Native American residents through its frontier period to the establishment of cities and towns. Historical artifacts are joined by photos, maps, paintings and other objects to tell Wisconsin’s story.

The museum may be best known for its “History Sandwiched In” noon lunch lecture series. Upcoming installments include discussions of Ole Evinrude, the Wisconsinite who invented the first outboard motor for boats (March 15), the lavish Lake Geneva mansion Black Point Estate (April 5), Wisconsin families during World War II (April 19), and Native American effigy mounds (May 3). Bring a bag lunch, sit back and experience history.

The Wisconsin Historical Museum at 30 N. Carroll St. is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and closed on major holidays. Admission is free to Historical Society members; nonmembers are asked for an admission donation of $5 for adults and $3 for children. For more information, call 608-264-6555 or visit historicalmusuem.wisconsinhistory.org.


The Capitol rotunda is
The Capitol rotunda features “Resources of Wisconsin,” a mural by Edwin Blashfield, on its ceiling. Photo: Michael Muckian.

The final option is by far the largest and best known — and technically isn’t a “museum,” per se. But the Wisconsin State Capitol, in the center of Madison’s isthmus, offers plenty of history as well as an occasional chance to see history in the making.

The current Capitol building is the state’s third structure in that spot. The first Capitol, built in 1838, was replaced by a larger structure in 1863. When the 1904 fire destroyed that building, a third, even grander Capitol was built between 1906 and 1917 at a cost of $7.25 million.

Legend has that the current Capitol building was originally five inches taller than the national Capitol in Washington D.C., due to a statue of an eagle that graced the top of the dome. The eagle was subsequently replaced by Daniel Chester French’s shorter (but no less elegant) statue “Wisconsin” — not, as it’s often mistakenly called, “Miss Forward,” the name of a smaller statue on the Capitol grounds. The Athena-like bronze statue of a woman with a badger on her head reduces the building’s height to a nationally acceptable level below that of the national Capitol.

The State Capitol’s biggest draw is its monumental architecture, produced from 43 varieties of stone, and the series of murals located throughout the building. The Capitol dome, which peaks at 200 feet above the ground, is the country’s only granite dome. Artist Edwin Blashfield’s mural “Resources of Wisconsin” lavishly decorates the ceiling of the rotunda.

The murals continue through the state Supreme Court, Senate and Assembly chambers. The Governor’s Conference Room also boasts a decorated ceiling and historic portraiture.

History buffs may want to look for the small statute of Old Abe, the American bald eagle that accompanied the Eighth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment and served as mascot during more than 30 bloody Civil War battles. His likeness presides over the state Assembly Chamber.

Free tours of the State Capitol are offered on the hour 358 days per year. Report to the tour desk in the lobby of the Capitol a 2 E. Main St. or call 608-266-0382 for large group reservations. Self-guided tours also are allowed.