Edward Weidner's Environmental Vision

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Edward Weidner was the first chancellor of the University of Green Bay. He was instrumental in the creation, vision and planning of the university. Primarily Weider wished to create a university based the princibles of community interaction, interdisciplinary education, and most of all environmentalism.

University of Wisconsin-Green Bay


Edward Weidner's vision was a primary inspiration in his construction of an academic plan for the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. During the 1960s, colleges and universities across the United States were growing at an astonishing rate. The University of Wisconsin in Madison and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee were experiencing massive enrollment pressure. The governor at the time, Warren P. Knowles, authorized the creation of two more Universities of Wisconsin in Green Bay and Kenosha County (University of Wisconsin-Parkside). Edward Weidner was appointed the Chancellor of UW-Green Bay where he would shape a university based on his life's work and his beliefs. Weidner's plan was built on a handful of principles that he deemed central to the mission of this new university. Initially, this included a student-centered approach, student self-pacing, and a focus on initiative. However, these were decided to be inherent goals of a university, and therefore secondary to Weidner's greater plan for the university.

Problem Orientation & Environment as a Focus

Weidner's personal beliefs, views, and career led him to decide on a "problem orientation" for his university. The problems he set out to face were that of "the biophysical environment, tourist and travel industries, rural poverty, and regional development", later expanding to more issues with the help of the community and analysis of it. This idea was quickly accepted as an integral part of future academic planning. The idea of a specialized university and an overarching focus as a school was not a new one. Many smaller universities around the country had adopted this idea as a way of dealing with smaller budgets. UW-Green Bay was always going to follow this model, and Edward Weidner ensured environmental science would be its focus. In fact, all new University of Wisconsin campuses were intended to become environmentally focused institutions, but Weidner saw this as detrimental to his vision for Green Bay. When the official academic plan was published in 1968, ecological research was heavily emphasized and worked into academic plans across all majors and minors of the university.

Theme Colleges, Value Orientation, & Interdisciplinarity

Each problem UW-Green Bay set out to face was analyzed and grouped together into areas of study. Each of these groups would be overseen by a "college" which would be responsible for a variety of "majors" and the academic path of students within each major. The idea was inspired by the rise of what is known as "liberal education" and the growing desire for students to learn from a variety of academic disciplines. Despite taking inspiration from it, Weidner's vision can also be considered a critique or response to liberal education. The chancellor took issue with other universities, and what he saw as a collection of separate and unrelated departments with no depth of study or overarching idea binding them together. As a result, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and all of its colleges would be organized to have an interdisciplinary approach to the main focus of the university -- the environment and ecological issues. All majors in all colleges would have a mission to connect back to this core idea, and classes and academic plans in every discipline would include ecologic study.[1]

Community and the University

Edward Weidner had a very clear goal for the University of Green Bay. His goal was that the University, the staff, the student body, and the city of Green Bay as a whole; would form one united community. Weidner iterated this vision throughout the early years of the University. From his speech at the original ground breaking in 1967, to every commencement speech he ever gave, even at community luncheons. Weidner made it clear this university would be one with the community. He held this vision so strongly that he indirectly coined a term for such a phenomena: Communiversity. While he did not intend to create this phrase, many universities across the nation have adopted this term as their own; in the model of UWGB. After all, there is a reason the main green is called Communiversity Park.

Physical Planning of the University

The academic plan of the university came first, the architecture and building planning came second. The environmental focus for UWGB came after Edward Weidner decided UWGB was going to be a problem solving and problem oriented campus. [2] The academic plan of the University played an important role on how Weidner wanted to design the campus and its layout. Weidner wanted the buildings on campus to mimic a wheel with the library and other student common buildings to be at the center of the wheel. Four theme colleges would be built out as if they were the spokes with the student living spaces on the very outskirts of the wheel. [3] This ties in with the interdisciplinary plan that Weidner wanted, it created an easy division of the theme colleges but they still had easy access to one another. Splitting the campus into four themes that have connecting tunnels so that students can take interdisciplinary classes to supplement their majors was important to the layout of the campus. [4] Students on campus had several opportunities while in class to study and learn, but Weidner wanted to add an additional level. Weidner wanted all students to have hands-on experiences off campus during their time at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. [5] During their time at UWGB students were expected to go off campus to learn and study the how the environment affected their area of study. This was made easy because of the location of UWGB, it is in a central location on the Great Lakes to focus on environmental impacts of local businesses to the area, man-made and natural causes. [6] The location was not only great for student studies, but for outside research to be done in the area. Being a school with an environmental focus, UW-Green Bay attracted others to research the area. Green Bay was chosen as a place for different research issues due to its location in the Midwest [attracted by the grants given to the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute and the new “Eco U” dubbed University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. This inevitably helped students with their off-campus hands on experience and broadened the environmental view of the community]. [7] The UWGB Campus wasn’t built in the current style to be contemporary or in style, it was built to solve environmental issues best. [8] The way this campus was built and where it was built was important to the overall theme of the environment.

Community and the University

Edward Weidner envisioned a university that walked hand in hand with the community at large. This was exemplified by Weidner's first speech for the university in 1967. In this speech Weidner explained his vision and goals for the university. In this speech Weidner gave thanks for all the members of the community that were instrumental in obtaining the rights to build the university. This theme of giving thanks would follow Weidner for the rest of his chancellery. In every single one of his speeches from 1967-1968, Weidner gave thanks to everyone whom helped him obtain his dream for the university. After the completion of the universities construction and the first class in 1968, Weidner continued his ideal of creating the ideal university and its cooperation with the university. In 1968-1971 Weidner began to implement his plans for the community and the university. During each of his community dinners, Weidner made a focused and concise effort to thank every single member of the community that was assisting the university. The point of Weidner giving thanks to all of these people? Each one of these people gave Weidner the means he needed to fulfill his goals and dreams. Also each one of his thanks reiterated his vision of a university that is inclusive of the community. Each year there were people whom contributed to the university. As such each year Weidner made sure to thank all individuals he could

Weidner's vision for the university is best exemplified by Weidner's speech titled "Communiversity" in this speech Weidner gives thanks, again, to multiple members of the community. He would then go on to thank both members of the student body and staff in the university. The university itself took Weidner's vision to heart. UWGB became one of the most open and inclusive universities in the nation. All members of the community had a say in the direction of the school. From student, to staff, to resident. Many other schools adopted this plan for their own universities. However as the university grew and aged, this vision slowly declined. However this is not due to Weidner himself but rather external political factors. However that is another discussion. Weidner envisioned a university where the community and the people within the university worked together and cooperated for the betterment of the university and the community. But what betterment did he seek? Well that vision was environmentalism. Weidner based many of his visions and goals of the university around environmentalism. The goal was to help create university that would help to maintain the health of the region as a whole.

International Impact

Chancellor Weidner worked in the international community during, and after his instatement as chancellor. Before he became chancellor, he had a lifelong love of the environment that grew as he aged. He would write to magazines and news papers about his ideas about the environment, but it happened more often after he became the chancellor at UWGB. [9] In one article he had published he stated that “The ecological crisis is not one that has been brought on primarily by lack of scientific and technological knowledge. The crisis is rooted in attitudes that have allowed all of us, in our business, industrial, domestic, and recreational activities, to do things that have had a cumulative and massive degrading effect on our environment.” [10] These words were true in 1970 when they were published, and for the rest of Weidner’s life, both at the University and away from it.

To help the students and the community realize this more in-depth Chancellor Weidner would hold a lecture series that had many people in the environmental field come to speak at the campus. Some of the guest lecturers that had come to this were people like the head of the Director of Public Affairs of the Environmental Protection Agency for instance. They would talk about how man was affecting his environment, and how it needed to be changed in order to keep progressing into the future. It was even argued in these lectures that the past decades of pollution were causing the environmental crises of the sixties and seventies. It was also noted that without the support and coverage of the media on the topic that the movement would have fallen flat and nothing would have changed. Earth Day in 1970 helped to catapult the idea into the forefront of everyone’s minds, but Ed was on the topic way before they were.

Even after Ed Weidner left the position of chancellor, he was still very involved on the environmental front. He wanted to have schools be more environmentally friendly but also to teach children about the environment in which they lived. [11] He went as far as to catch a plane, in a snow storm, to Washington DC, and run from the airport to the court house, just to talk to the legislature about putting this topic into schools. He wanted to make sure his words were heard, and that he was not ignored as another crazy activist. He had research and notes to back up his claims and he was heard out. He also helped with the arboretum on the Green Bay campus, and was an avid nature lover into his final days. Not only this but he helped to find teachers in the Green Bay area to help teach environmentalism in the public schools.


  1. Weidner, Edward. "Draft of Chapter I: Origin of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay." February 15, 1973. Box 28, Folder 5. Chancellor Records: Edward Weidner. University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Archives and Area Research Center, Green Bay, WI.
  2. Weidner, Edward. Box 31, Folder 15. Chancellor Records: Edward Weidner. University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Archives and Area Research Center, Green Bay, WI.
  3. Weidner, Edward. Box 6, Folder 5. Chancellor Records: Edward Weidner. University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Archives and Area Research Center, Green Bay, WI.
  4. Weidner, Edward. “The University and the Community”. Box 6, Folder 7. Chancellor Records: Edward Weidner. University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Archives and Area Research Center, Green Bay, WI.
  5. Weidner, Edward. Box 6, Folder 6. Chancellor Records: Edward Weidner. University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Archives and Area Research Center, Green Bay, WI.
  6. Box 28, Folder 20. Chancellor Records: Edward Weidner. University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Archives and Area Research Center, Green Bay, WI.
  7. Harris, Hallett J., Robert B. Wenger, Paul E. Sager, and J. Val Klump. "The Green Bay Saga: Environmental Change, Scientific Investigation, and Watershed Management." Elsevier 44, no. 5 (October 2018): 829-36. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jglr.2018.08.001.
  8. Box 28, Folder 20. Chancellor Records: Edward Weidner. University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Archives and Area Research Center, Green Bay, WI.
  9. UW Green Bay Archives,Chancellors Office, Weidner, Subject Files, Mission Statement, 1968;1973-1974, Box 33, Folder 7, Green Bay WI
  10. UW Green Bay Archives,Chancellors Office, Weidner Publications, "A Whole University Goes Environmental", 1970, Box 28, Folder 20, Green Bay WI
  11. UW Green Bay Archives,Chancellors Office, Weidner, Subject Files, Lecture Series, 1975-1976, Box 33, Folder 3, Green Bay WI