The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: A big shout-out and thank you goes to Mead Witter Foundation for supporting music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But did the entire School of Music have to be renamed? | July 28, 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, it has happened again.

The great University of Wisconsin-Madison, which was recently once again named one of the best public schools in the country and the world, shows more and more signs of being privatized.

UW logos

As of July 1,  the official name of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music  is now the Mead Witter School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

That’s an ungainly mouthful to say and write.

But The Ear doesn’t blame the School of Music and its directors for having to take such steps.

To The Ear, the renaming means that the state legislators and the state government have once again been negligent in preserving and bettering this great institution that generations of ordinary Wisconsin citizens supported through taxes, and then benefitted from through “The Wisconsin Idea” that the university serves the public that supports it.

Underfunding goes along with the Republicans’ anti-education and anti-intellectual agenda of imposing steep budget cuts, undermining tenure, alienating faculty who then leave and implementing other measures that hurt this great state university. 

So, The Ear objects to the move, much as he did with the selling of the Law School; with the renaming of the Elvehjem Museum of Art to the Chazen Museum of Art; and with the Wisconsin Union Theater, which was renamed Shannon Hall (below top).

Plus, there is the new music building and performance center (below bottom), which sees a groundbreaking in late October, named — not renamed — for the Hamel family.

Shannon Hall UW-Madison

uw hamel performance center exterior

Such naming and renaming by big private money blurs the distinction between a donation or a gift and a purchase. Call it branding, naming, PR, advertising, whatever – The Ear doesn’t like it. What is public should remain public.

Do the egos of the wealthy really know no bounds, especially during these days when the political talk is of wealth inequality and income distribution?

So The Ear says a deep and hearty thank you to the Mead Witter Foundation of Wisconsin Rapids for its help.

But he sure wishes its corporate ego had been satisfied with a hall or a building being named after it, and with perhaps a big bronze bas-relief plaque containing a history about its fortune in the paper industry and an appreciation of its generous philanthropy.

But to rename an entire school that has more than a century of history behind it?

Sorry. That’s over the top.

It is overkill and seems downright tacky.

To The Ear it will always be the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, just as it has for the past century-plus.

If you want more background and details, here are three official UW links, with the most recent ones coming first

What do readers and the tax-paying public think and say?

Do you agree or disagree with The Ear?

The Ear wants to hear.



  1. I hope the naming now commits Mead Witter to fund the school in perpetuity, adding regular new infusions of cash.

    Comment by Ron McCrea — July 31, 2016 @ 10:04 am

  2. I’m a bit late responding to this, for health reasons, but I share the sadness about my alma mater being ‘branded’ at the same time I very much appreciate replacing the Horrible Humanities Building as soon as possible — from the beginning it was like something built in East Germany during the Soviet occupation. I’ve always thought the Frautschis showed real class in not asking that the Overture Center carry their name.

    Comment by slfiore — July 30, 2016 @ 7:20 am

  3. Well stated–totally agree.

    Comment by Mary Gordon — July 29, 2016 @ 10:17 pm

  4. The barbarians are at the gates. Start heating the cauldrons of oil.

    Comment by bbead — July 28, 2016 @ 6:27 pm

  5. Thank you for your well-stated opinion on this issue. You no doubt express the view of many who treasure and support the University of Wisconsin School of Music.

    Comment by Carol — July 28, 2016 @ 4:39 pm

  6. I’d love to know if the Mead Witter Foundation demanded this level of recognition or if UW offered it outright. Tacky doesn’t begin to describe this very unfortunate trend at a public university.

    Comment by Ginger — July 28, 2016 @ 12:53 pm

  7. I agree that it’s a truly unfortunate price for the UW-Madison School of Music to pay for this generous grant and definitely an order of magnitude in gratitude above naming (merely) a building for the Mead Witter Foundation. But Wisconsin voters have repeatedly demonstrated their lack of appreciation for this University so this is the only way forward, apparently. Melinda Certain (Madison) Sent from my iPhone


    Comment by Melinda — July 28, 2016 @ 10:49 am

  8. Of course I agree with you Ear. But we are all complicit. What if we refused to wear clothes that said “Insert Brand Name Here.” What if we insisted on elected officials being named after their sponsors, as in the Koch Brothers Governor of Wisconsin, or Major Donor Senator of the US.

    Comment by Ronnie Hess — July 28, 2016 @ 8:15 am

  9. I agree. It’s a shame what Gov. Walker and the Republicans are doing to our state, and now the UW. Slashing funding, trying to get rid of the Wisconsin Idea and then claiming he didn’t, going after tenure and stacking the Regents with his choices. Now Rep. Vos has asked for the teaching schedule of professors, probably to try to show they don’t teach enough. But of course many have to do research to write the required number of books, spend time with their grad students and writing course plans, exams, and of course grading the exams and papers. And this is coming from a governor who couldn’t finish college.

    Comment by Genie Ogden — July 28, 2016 @ 12:10 am

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