Ask Abe: Sifting and Winnowing

An Alum

Who wrote the famous “fearless sifting and winnowing” quote on Bascom Hall?

Abe

It’s shockingly difficult to pin down just one author. The quote was issued in a report by the Board of Regents on September 18, 1894, in response to accusations that Richard Ely, head of the UW’s School of Economics, was a socialist and was teaching “utopian, impractical, or pernicious doctrines.” After an investigation, Ely was declared innocent. It was then that the Board of Regents introduced the concept of academic freedom by stating that the university should never censor or limit its members’ quest for knowledge. The following quote is now on a plaque on the façade of Bascom Hall:

“Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe that the great state university of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.”