Kohl Initiative empowers La Follette to promote civil discourse

This month marks the four-year anniversary of the Kohl Initiative, a $10 million donation from former U.S. Senator Herb Kohl that has empowered the La Follette School to grow at an unprecedented rate and to greatly expand policy education and outreach on campus.

David Haynes addresses Manny Teodoro, Sarah Halpern-Meekin, and Morgan Edwards in Green Bay, WI
During a Main Street Agenda town hall in Green Bay, WI, David Haynes (right) of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel addresses La Follette School faculty (from left to right) Manny Teodoro, Sarah Halpern-Meekin, and Morgan Edwards. Photo by Samantha Madar, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.

With funding from the Kohl Initiative, the school has been able to host more events that encourage productive policy discussions with a focus on civility and collaboration. Through the Main Street Agenda project last fall, the La Follette School convened several town halls across the state to learn what issues Wisconsin’s voters care most about and to engage people with many different viewpoints in civil conversations about policy solutions to issues ranging from health and climate to inflation, the economy, and financial security. This year’s La Follette Forum reinforced the importance of working together when it comes to policy implementation, as panelists and attendees shared success stories from across the state.

Panelists sit at a table on a stage during the 2023 La Follette Forum
Benoy Jacob addresses panelists Erick Shambarger (MPA ’02), Ruben Anthony, and Tara Yang during the March 2023 La Follette Forum.

“We learned that there is a hunger across our state for these thoughtful conversations, and that voters want policymakers to work together in a bipartisan manner to solve society’s problems,” says La Follette School Director Susan Webb Yackee. “These events simply would not have been possible without the Kohl Initiative.”

Thanks to the Kohl Initiative, La Follette has also been able to address the exploding demand for public policy education by greatly expanding opportunities to learn about public policy and health policy. The school educated 360 undergraduates in 2022-2023 through its undergraduate certificate programs, which are some of the fastest-growing programs on the UW–Madison campus.

A student raises their hand in a crowded auditorium.
A student raises their hand during a presentation by FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver. Photo by Clint Thayer, Focal Flame Photography.

In addition, the Herb Kohl Public Service Research Competition has funded 36 research projects tackling pressing public policy topics spanning poverty, immigration, foreign policy, health care, and more. The projects have supported 33 faculty and 22 graduate students since 2019.

The Kohl Initiative has enabled La Follette to train more and more future public leaders who are dedicated to moving our country forward by finding common ground. As the La Follette School approaches its 40th anniversary, the school is exploring the possibility of creating an undergraduate major in public policy, which would allow the school to reach more people than ever before through its outreach, education, and research.

Subscribe to our newsletter