In a letter to his fellow American Legion leader and University of Wisconsin regent Kenneth Greenquist, Gordon Roseleip, a powerful Republican state senator from the small Wisconsin city of Darlington, wrote:
Although you and your fellow Regents may not recognize it, the real question is whether the University is to be run by the Regents representing the people of Wisconsin, or by Cohen and his noisy, tiresome claque of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania students . … In fact, the people of Wisconsin are becoming so fed up the University may suffer an acute case of budget cramps during the next session.1
Roseleip, a frequent university critic, articulated the assumptions many Wisconsinites had about out-of-state students who attended the University of Wisconsin: that they were radical rabble-rousers, and that they were Jews. During the period from 1964 to 1972, as Jewish-identified students took on leadership positions in campus antiwar protests, Roseleip’s views about the undesirability of Jewish out-of-state students guided the admissions policies imposed on the university by the Wisconsin state legislature. Over the objections of university administrators, faculty, and students, many of whom were Jewish, state officials enacted a variety of statutes that limited the entrance of out-of-state, presumably Jewish, students into the University of Wisconsin.
At the same time, the right-wing backlash against the university brought together diverse groups of Jews on campus. Prior to the 1960s, interactions between the different groups of Jews on campus—including Jewish faculty, administrators, and students—were generally rather limited. The insular attitudes of Wisconsinites, conflating Jews with out-of-staters and radicals, prompted these Jews to seek each other out across generational, religious, and regional lines. Ironically, actions to reduce the numbers of Jewish students coming to Madison from other states resulted in a richer, more diverse campus Jewish community by the early 1970s.
The late date of these efforts to limit the admission of out-of-state Jewish students to the University of Wisconsin (UW) calls the well-trod history of [End Page 159] Jewish educational quotas into question. Most studies of the quotas that limited Jewish student enrollment at US universities have focused on the period before World War II. The fixation of such studies on admissions policies in the Ivy League have prevented scholars from looking at the somewhat different manner in which antisemitic perceptions affected admissions at public, state universities.2
Although different states administer their universities in different ways, public universities are always subject to some sort of oversight from elected officials. Historically, public universities were designed to train state residents for jobs needed in specific states, such as agriculture in farm states, engineering in manufacturing states, and primary and secondary education everywhere. Occasionally, public universities have earned enough respect to attract significant numbers of students from out of state or even from overseas. While this sort of acclaim brings a sense of pride to students, professors, and administrators at flagship state universities, the diverse student body attracted to the so-called “public Ivies” occasionally conflicted with social norms in conservative, homogenous states. By calling for limiting out-of-state student admissions, conservative politicians could keep their state universities majority white and Christian while justifying their decisions as based on fiscal issues. In the late 1960s, however, the rhetoric used to limit the University of Wisconsin’s admission of out-of-state students—who had been understood to be mainly Jewish since the 1920s—was unquestionably antisemitic.
Looking only at Ivy League universities downplays the continuing impact of antisemitism on university admissions policies that persisted into the 1970s, if not later. Although the schools of the Ivy League pioneered the use of geographic-diversity rationales for limiting Jewish enrollment in the 1920s and 1930s, moderated their Jewish quotas after World War II, and, in the case of Harvard and Yale, dismantled them in the 1960s, the situation at Wisconsin was the opposite. University leaders saw, and capitalized on, the opportunity to attract academically motivated Jewish students to Wisconsin in the 1920s, and continued to encourage such migration through the 1950s, but then adopted Harvard-style policies that had the effect of...