Lubar Center for Public Policy Research and Civic Education

It was a pair of announcements that raised people's eyebrows. In mid-2006, Mike Gousha, longtime news anchor on Milwaukee's WTMJ (Channel 4) and regarded as the preeminent broadcast journalist in Wisconsin, announced he was leaving the station after 25 years. Several months later, Marquette University announced that Gousha was joining the university's Law School as distinguished fellow in law and public policy.

What did that mean? Gousha wasn't going to teach. He wasn't a lawyer. What was he going to do? Dean Joseph D. Kearney said at the time that the goal was to add a dimension to the Law School's service. In addition to the core mission of educating students to be lawyers and its secondary mission of public service or pro bono work, the Law School would strive to be a crossroads for serious, evenhanded discussion of major public issues. In programs open to the public, Gousha would interview significant and interesting people; host debates involving candidates in major elections; moderate panel discussions on crucial issues facing Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the nation; and, in general terms, broaden and elevate public discourse.

To be sure, the plan was not so detailed. Indeed, Kearney acknowledged at the time that he was proceeding as much on an intuition as on a specific proposal. But the general interest was clear: Marquette University Law School would help a broad audience understand the issues facing the community. The school would not be an advocate but a convener—a place where important thinking about issues is offered in constructive ways that are accessible to wide audiences.

That was the aim. And, almost 11 years later, this much is clear: The idea is working.

The public policy initiative, which has grown larger and more far-reaching year by year, has an expanded and newly ambitious future starting this fall. A $5.5 million gift from Milwaukee philanthropists Sheldon and Marianne Lubar, announced in April, will combine with $1.5 million donated by the Lubars in 2010 to create a $7 million endowment to support future policy initiatives. The policy program has been named the Lubar Center for Public Policy Research and Civic Education.

The gift reflects what Marquette University President Michael R. Lovell characterized as "the belief of Sheldon and Marianne Lubar in our university's ability to bring greater understanding through constructive conversations." There is particular reason for that belief, Shel Lubar said when the gift was announced: "In recent years, in particular, Marquette Law School has played a leading role in significant discussions and research in important topics."

Indeed, shortly after the opening in 2010 of Eckstein Hall, the Law School's extraordinary home, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel characterized the school as "Milwaukee's public square." But few would disagree with Shel Lubar's coda to his own statement: "There is so much more to do."

So what lies ahead for the public policy initiative—that is, for the Lubar Center? Ambitious ideas are in the works. Charles Franklin, professor of law and public policy at the Law School, called on Shakespeare this past spring to frame the overall answer: "What's past is prologue." That is, the best sense of activities to come can be gained from looking at the growth and accomplishments of the public policy initiative to this point.

Sheldon and Marianne Lubar
Sheldon and Marianne Lubar