Of eggheads and cheeseheads

An essay posted Jan. 2 at Science Online offers a fascinating assessment of the culture at UW-Madison in comparison to “prestige” universities — specifically, Harvard University. The essay, Eggheads and Cheeseheads, is authored by Dan Albert, a member of the UW-Madison Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, who was convinced to come to Madison from Harvard. An excerpt:

The difference in culture and values is manifest in many ways. The faculty members separate their family and personal lives from their careers. People give an honest day’s work, and when necessary a long day’s work, but they strongly value and vigorously protect their personal time. There is, for the most part, a strong sense of collegiality, and individuals applaud their colleagues’ accomplishments. This is coupled with an essentially accepting attitude. Junior faculty members are hired with the expectation that they will obtain tenure, and mentoring committees work diligently toward this end.

The fact that Wisconsin is able to maintain a top research university despite a relatively small population is a source of pride among the state’s citizens. This support is repaid by the university with a spirit of contributing service and knowledge to the state and the region. The administration makes many demands on the faculty’s time but provides limited infrastructure and support. Teaching is a top priority, and faculty members compete for exposure to students.

The essay is available at