Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs

The La Follette School Seminar Series engages participants in discussion of a range of public policy issues and showcases the research of faculty from the La Follette School, other UW-Madison departments, and outside the UW-Madison community. Faculty, students, and visitors take part in lively dialogue about topics such as poverty and welfare, health, education, international affairs, trade and finance, and the environment. For more information, email Assistant Professor Rourke O'Brien

Unless otherwise noted, all presentations are from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. at the La Follette School of Public Affairs, 1225 Observatory Drive, and there is no cost to attend. Click here for a printable schedule. Please check back periodically for the most current information.

Spring 2018

Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Salary Workshop for Students
Charlie Trevor, Wisconsin School of Business Professor

Wednesday, January 31, 2018
Charter School City: What the New Orleans School Reforms Teach Us about Government, Markets, and the Future of America's Schools
Doug Harris, Professor of Economics, Tulane University; Director, Education Research Alliance for New Orleans

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans’ public schools experienced an unprecedented reform effort that took the concepts of test-based and market-based accountability to the extreme.

Attendance zones were eliminated so that families could choose schools.

  • All teachers were fired.
  • The union contract was allowed to expire.
  • Tenure and certification requirements were eliminated.
  • All schools were turned over to charter organizations operating under performance-based contracts.

Harris will offer insights into this radical reform.

  • How did it affect students’ test scores, graduation rates, and college outcomes?
  • What parts of the reform package were most influential?
  • What were the intended and unintended effects?
  • What lessons does the New Orleans experience hold for the rest of the country?

A former University of Wisconsin–Madison faculty member, Harris is an economist whose research explores how the level and equity of student educational outcomes are influenced by education policies such as desegregation, standards, teacher certification, test-based accountability, school choice, privatization, and school finance.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018
Regional Financing Arrangements in the Global Financial Safety Net: State of Play, New Developments, and Cooperation
Gong Cheng, economist and policy strategist, European Stability Mechanism

At the height of the Global Financial Crisis, G20 countries called for strengthening the Global Financial Safety Net (GFSN) to mobilize resources – from the national, regional, and global levels – for the sovereign states facing financial strains. Since then, the overall size and coverage of the multi-layered GFSN have expanded significantly.

Cheng will provide an overview of recent GFSN developments with a focus on the role of regional financial arrangements (RFAs), a relatively less known component of it. He also will discuss opportunities for enhancing cooperation among the GFSN’s layers, especially between RFAs and the International Monetary Fund.

Cheng, a collaborator of La Follette School Professor Menzie Chinn, previously was an economist in the International Macroeconomics Division at the Banque de France. His research focuses on international macroeconomics and finance, especially cross-border capital flows, the IMF, regional financing arrangements, and sovereign debt restructuring.

Thursday, February 8, 2018 (Institute for Research on Poverty Seminar)
Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor
Virginia Eubanks, Associate Professor of Political Science, State University of New York – Albany
Social Science Building, Room 8417, 12:15 to 1:30 p.m.

Today, automated systems control which neighborhoods get policed, which families attain needed resources, and who is investigated for fraud. While we all live under this new regime of data analytics, the most invasive and punitive systems are aimed at the poor.

Virginia Eubanks will discuss her book Automating Inequality, in which she systematically investigates the impacts of data mining, policy algorithms, and predictive risk models on poor and working-class people in the United States. The book’s gut-wrenching and eye-opening stories include a woman in Indiana whose benefits are cut off as she lays dying and a Pennsylvania family in daily fear of losing their daughter because they fit a certain statistical profile.

Eubanks is co-principal investigator of Our Data Bodies Project and a fellow at New America

Wednesday, February 21, 2018      Video of seminar
Avoiding a Public Pension Crisis: A History of the Wisconsin Retirement System
Gary Gates, retired secretary, Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds
Union South, 1308 West Dayton Street, 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.

Wisconsin's fully funded, one-of-a-kind pension system serves 604,000 workers and retirees for the state and more than 1,400 local governments. Very few people understand the multibillion-dollar fund as well as Gary Gates, who developed the public pension system with Max Sullivan decades ago.

Gates, the first secretary of Wisconsin’s Department of Employee Trust Funds, will provide a brief history of the retiree pension program. He also will explain why Wisconsin has not experienced shortfalls like several other states and how to avoid a public-pension crisis in the future. La Follette School Associate Professor J. Michael Collins will moderate the discussion.

Wisconsin’s pension system includes elements of both a defined contribution plan and a defined benefit plan, which guarantees qualifying workers a fixed minimum benefit based on their years of service and final salary at retirement. However, Wisconsin uses a shared-risk model, which means a retiree’s benefits can rise and fall based on the plan’s investment performance.

Related information
Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds (ETF)
Funding Policy of the Wisconsin Retirement System 
Wisconsin Retirement System Fact Sheet
Co-sponsored by PROFS

Wednesday, February 28, 2018
The Political Consequences of Economic Shocks: Evidence from Poland
Mark Copelovitch, Associate Professor, La Follette School of Public Affairs

Using original survey data collected just prior to the 2015 Polish parliamentary elections and comparing current with past foreign exchange borrowers, Mark Copelovitch will show how economic shocks influence domestic politics.

A surprise revaluation of the Swiss franc in early 2015 provides the backdrop for identifying Polish citizens most directly exposed to the shock – those repaying mortgages dominated in Swiss francs. Copelovitch and his colleague at the University of Zurich also found that these people were much more likely to demand government support.

Current borrowers’ preferences for a generous resolution scheme translated into distinct voting behavior. Among former government voters, Swiss franc borrowers were more likely to desert the government and vote for the largest opposition party, PiS, which had promised the most generous bailout plan.

The evidence suggests that PiS was able to use the franc shock to expand its electoral coalition beyond its core voters to include those directly affected by the franc shock, a subgroup otherwise unlikely to support PiS. Simulation results indicate that absent the franc shock, PiS is unlikely to have won a parliamentary majority.

Copelovitch received financial support for this project from a 2017 Vilas Associates Award.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018 -  Presentaion slides
Women, Work, and Care: What Can We Learn from Cross-National Comparisons?
Janet Gornick, Professor of Political Science and Sociology, The Graduate Center, City University of New York
Discovery Building, 4 p.m. 

Professor Janet Gornick will present an overview of work-family reconciliation policies - mainly paid leave, early childhood education and care, and working time regulations - as they currently operate across a selection of high-income countries.

Gornick will assess current knowledge and what remains to be learned about the consequences of
these policies - both intended and unintended - regarding gender inequality in the labor market. She
will close with a discussion of "American exceptionalism" in the provision of policy supports for
workers with caregiving responsibilities.

Gornick serves as director of the Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality at CUNY and as director of the U.S. office of the Luxembourg Income Study (LIS), which was founded by La Follette School
Professor Tim Smeeding and six colleagues. She has been associated with LIS, the cross-national data center in Luxembourg, for more than 25 years.

Gornick's visit is sponsored by the Jean Monnet European Union Center of Excellence,
the La Follette School, the Institute for Research on Poverty, and the Center for
Demography and Ecology.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018
The Weeds: A Q&A with Matt Yglesias about Covering Public Policy
Matthew Yglesias, Vox Media
Union South, 12:30 p.m. 

Yglesias, who studied philosophy at Harvard University, created with Ezra Klein and Melissa Bell in 2014. He is a senior correspondent focused on politics and economic policy, and he co-hosts The Weeds podcast on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Born and raised in New York City, Yglesias previously wrote the Moneybag column for Slate and blogged for Think Progress, The Atlantic, TPM, and The American Prospect. He is the author of two books, most recently “The Rent Is Too Damn High” about the policy origins of the middle class housing affordability crisis in the United States. His first book, “Heads in the Sand,” was published in 2008.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018
A Non-Corrupt Public Sector – If You Can Keep It: Multi-Country Study of Honesty and Public Sector Job Preferences
Asmus Olsen, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Copenhagen

Most forms of human organization rely on individual honesty. When individuals engage in dishonest or otherwise illicit forms of behavior, rule monitoring and enforcement costs increase, common resources can be depleted, and patterns of cooperation and trust can break down.

In response to this problem, social science has since its inception grappled with the psychological, social, and institutional antecedents of dishonest behavior. A recent strand of literature on dishonesty, rooted in various social science disciplines, emphasizes the social nature of dishonesty.

Asmus Leth Olsen will present a set of results from his recent studies of the role of self-selection into public service in sustaining honesty in the public sector. He argues that the attraction of (dis)honest individuals into public service is an important channel for self-sustaining cross-national differences in corruption levels. Using experimental dice tasks to measure dishonesty, he estimates how the self-selection of (dis)honest individuals is a channel through which stability in corruption levels between countries is kept in place.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018
Purposeful Leadership: Life Lessons from Curt Culver 
Curt Culver, La Follette School Board of Visitors member
Discovery Building, DeLuca Forum, 4 p.m., reception to follow

Curt Culver, the retired CEO of MGIC Investment Corp., will discuss the key ingredients – the 5 Hs – for making a difference through leadership in the workplace and the difference it makes in enjoying life. A member of the La Follette School’s Board of visitors, Culver received a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in real estate finance and urban land economics from the Wisconsin School of Business.

Culver began his career in the mortgage insurance business in 1976, joining MGIC’s principal subsidiary, Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corp. (MGIC), in 1982. He was president of MGIC from 1996 to 2015 and CEO of MGIC Investment from 2000 to 2015. Culver’s first work experience was at his parents’ restaurant in Sauk City, which his brother, Craig, has expanded to more than 600 locations in 24 states.

In 2016, Curt Culver and his wife, Sue, pledged $200,000 for the Curt & Sue Culver Graduate Fellowship Fund in Public Service, which provides financial assistance to some of the La Follette School’s top students. The Culvers also are generous donors to the UW Athletic Department and the Wisconsin School of Business.

Culver’s presentation is supported by the William Fitch Scholarship Fund, which brings business people and other experts to Madison for lectures on the free-enterprise system in the United States. It is co-sponsored by UW–Madison’s Law School and School of Business.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Who's Driving the Austerity Machine? Money, Power, and the Role of State Policies
Yunji Kim, Assistant Professor of Urban and Regional Planning, UW–Madison

Local governments are facing fiscal challenges since the Great Recession, and some argue they are behaving like austerity machines that cut and privatize services. But who is driving these austerity measures? Yunji Kim will explore three areas in which state policies affect local government: expenditure responsibilities, revenue tools, and policy authority.

Data from the Census of Governments and focus groups with local officials show expenditure responsibilities (especially for social welfare) are shifting down to the state and local level, while local revenue tools and policy authority are being usurped upward.

This breaks the tie between responsibility and power, threatening the basic structure of federalism. Corporate-state legislator coalitions are key drivers of this process. Local democracy is being undermined, while states are being captured by larger corporate interests.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018
Racial Differences in Family Formation Within Maternal Education Groups and Their Implications for Children’s School Readiness
Jordan Conwell, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Educational Policy Studies, UW–Madison

Thanks to gains in recent decades, both black and white women are now more likely to complete college than same-race men. These gains have coincided with increasing divergence between women with high and low levels of education, and in factors such as age at first childbirth and rates of single motherhood. Few studies have investigated whether black and white women who have attained the same level of education have different family processes.

Using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010-11, Jordan Conwell and colleagues find significant variation in family formation and household composition between black and white mothers within each of four education groups (less than high school, high school, some college, bachelor’s degree or higher).

They also find that this variation drives gaps in school readiness between same-education black and white mothers’ children. When controlling for a small set of these measures, Conwell and colleagues fully account for the large and significant black-white gaps (by mother’s race) in school-entry reading achievement within maternal education groups.

Past Seminars