Document Type

Research Report

Original Publication Date



Originally published by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, University Partnerships Clearinghouse, 2002.

Date of Submission

July 2014


Through an initiative called the “Milwaukee Idea,” the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UW-Milwaukee) is striving to become a scholarly partner with its host city and to have that partnership energize the university’s teaching, research, and service activities. Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher conceived the Milwaukee Idea in 1998 as a way to capture the spirit and potential of the university’s urban location and character. This study assesses the extent to which the university has transformed itself through this recommitment to community engagement and whether UW-Milwaukee’s new urban mission is likely to be institutionalized in the coming years.

Zimpher knew from the start that, to be successful, the Milwaukee Idea would require strong commitments from advocates on campus and in the community. She also knew that these advocates would have to represent all disciplines and stakeholder groups. Creating this support for the Milwaukee Idea required months of discussion, planning, negotiation, and action. The process officially began in fall 1998 when 100 campus and community participants gathered in a daylong plenary session and identified seven focus areas that would form the core of the university’s new focus on community engagement. Over the next 2 years, many other interdisciplinary groups would meet to plan and implement community outreach initiatives in each focus area. Initiatives have included a new core curriculum that emphasizes multiculturalism and service learning, a community-based consortium that provides technical assistance and research for economic development, and a collaboration with health and social agencies that addresses urban health issues.

This study suggests that the Milwaukee Idea possesses the ingredients needed to bring about transformative change at UWMilwaukee. These ingredients include a readiness for change at the university, a charismatic leader who has captured the university’s imagination, a capable and committed administrative team, an inclusive process, and new financial resources.This combination makes it likely, the authors suggest, that the Milwaukee Idea will become much more than simply the latest administrative initiative foisted on an unwilling or indifferent campus. How much transformation is likely to take place and whether that transformation will lead to institutionalization depends on the extent to which UW-Milwaukee can address the barriers to change identified by the authors.These barriers include a lack of shared definitions of partnership and engagement, traditional institutional behaviors and values, territoriality, conflicts over funding priorities, a fragile infrastructure, and a lack of widespread understanding about what true diversity means.


Public Domain, U.S. Government Publication

Is Part Of

VCU Dept. of Teaching and Learning Faculty Publications