Police and Policing at UW–Madison

Learning Objectives:

Students will be able to understand the origins and development of the UW–Madison Police Department.

Students will be able to determine how students, faculty, the administration, and the campus police interacted and where areas of tension developed. 

Students will be able to understand why students, faculty, and even some administrators began to distrust the university police department and tried to enact reforms.  

Sources and Readings

Recommended Primary Sources:

“Brash Outdated Police Practices Need Action Now” Article: Read Article Here

This Daily Cardinal article offers a history of actions committed by UW–Madison’s Police Department and student’s frustration with the police. The author highlights how UWM-PD entered classrooms to arrest and harass students over parking tickets, raided residence halls, ticketed and harassed students for smoking, and their actions against LGBTQ community members on UW’s campus. The article also described how faculty and the administration were in the process of carrying out an investigation against the university police department.

Student Removed from Classroom Letters: Read Letters Here

This is a two-part letter. The first letter is from the vice president of the university, who expressed his frustration to the chief of the UWM-PD about an officer entering a professor’s classroom to question a student about outstanding parking tickets. The second part of the letter is a response to the vice president by the Dean of Men Theodore Zillman, who does not apologize for the officer’s actions, but rather explains how parking ticket violations have been disseminated to the student court and that it’s important for students to uphold their obligation to paying them.

Student Demands Letter: Read Letter Here

This is a letter from UW–Madison’s Student Board President to the administration with their demands for changes to the university police department after the student board’s investigation. The three recommendations were a fundamental reevaluation of university police’s philosophy and enforcement, the transfer of the police from the grounds department to a university official with training in human relations and counseling, and the creation of a committee with students, faculty, and administrators to help oversee police matters.

Recommended Readings:

Public History Project Blog “The Hammersley Method: The History of Mistrust between the UW–Madison Community and the UW–Madison Police Department.” Read Blog Post Here

The Washington Post article “The racist roots of campus policing.” By Eddie R. Cole. Read Article Here

The Atlantic article “The Rise of Law Enforcement on College Campuses.” By Melinda Anderson. Read Article Here 

Additional Primary Sources:

Alumni Letter to President: Read Letters Here

This two-part letter is a complaint from a former alumni and an apology from the university president. A former medical student wrote a letter of displeasure to the UW–Madison president about his extremely negative experience with UWM-PD for the officer’s “boorish, dictatorial, and discourteous attitude” about a ticket they received while trying to park at the union. The president issued an apology and canceled the ticket, but also noted that the alumni received wrong information about parking and that the police officer had no complaints against him. 

“Police Policy Under Study” Article: Read Article Here

This Daily Cardinal article highlighted how the university was about to issue a formal statement and response to their investigation into UW–Madison’s police force. The article highlights that a part of the university investigation was considering a transfer from the ground services to a student personnel service and how the department was created when the university was smaller, but since its increase in size and function, it has led to more interactions and experiences that should have been handled by university officials rather than the police.

Additional/Alternative Readings:

Grace Watkins (2020) ‘Cops Are Cops’: American Campus Police and the Global Carceral Apparatus. Comparative American Studies an International Journal, 17:3-4, 242-256. Read Article Here   

An American Sociological Association publication. “Race, Violence, Justice, and Campus Police.” By John Sloan. Read Article Here

Discussion and Questions

Primary Source Discussion Questions

“Brash Outdated Police Practices Need Action Now” Article:

  •       Why do you think the police force was first established at UW–Madison?
  •       After reading this article and several other sources, what do you notice about most of the violations in question and anger from UW–Madison stemming from? How does this differ with modern campus policing today?
  •       How does this article portray the university administration’s feelings and attitudes towards the university police department?

Student Removed from Classroom Letters:

  •       Why would a UWM-PD officer question and harass a student in the middle of a lecture about parking tickets?
  •       Why do you think the professor and administration were displeased, angered, and upset by UWM-PD’s actions?
  •       Why would Zillman support the university police department and write a letter of support to their chief? (Note: there are good sources about Zillman in the “Gay Purge” source set that offer further insights into Zillman’s personal and professional attitudes)  

Student Demands:

  •       Why do you think the student board asked for these three specific provisions?
  •       What overlapping ideas and elements do you see in all three of these demands?  Why?
  •       How do these demands compare to more recent demands about policing and accountability in society?

Reading Discussion Questions

  •   “There is a sizable disconnect between the way the police see their role on campus and in society and the way students understand the police on campus and in society.” How do you see that in the primary and secondary sources you have examined and read?
  •   How does university policing affect more than just individuals at the university?
  •   How do you see the development, organization, and purpose of campus police transforming throughout the 20th century into the 21st century?  

Discussion Norms: These are based on Walter Parker, Teaching Democracy: Unity and Diversity in Public Life, 138-9

  •       Do not raise hands
  •       Address one another, not the discussion leader
  •       Invite others into the conversation
  •       Cite and/or reference the texts to support your texts
  •       Base response in the reading/sources
  •       Listen to and build on others’ comments
  •       Critically Agree and Disagree

For more ideas about structuring discussion and asking good questions, see The Discussion Project

Source Citations

“Brash Outdated Police Practices Need Action Now” Article: “Behind the Headlines – Brash, Outdated Police Practices Need Action, Now.” Daily Cardinal (Madison, WI) May 23, 1951, UW–Madison Archives, UW–Madison Libraries.

Student Removed from Classroom Letters: Letters and Communication re: student removal, VP of Business and Finance; general correspondence files Ce-Coll 1953-1954, Series 24/1/1, Box 325, Department of Protection and Security 1953-1954 Folder, UW–Madison Archives, UW–Madison Libraries.

Student Demands Letter: Student Board Resolution on Campus Policing, VP of Business and Finance; general correspondence files Ce-Coll 1951-1952 Series 24/1/1, Box 289, Buildings and Grounds University Police Folder, UW–Madison Archives, UW–Madison Libraries.

Alumni Letter to President: Communication re: campus policing, VP of Business and Finance; general correspondence files Ce-Coll 1960-1961 Series 24/1/1, Box 463, Protection & Security 1960-1961 Folder, UW–Madison Archives, UW–Madison Libraries.

“Police Policy Under Study” Article: Zack Zeldes, “Police Under Study, Administrative Statement Due,” Daily Cardinal (Madison, WI), September 21, 1950, UW–Madison Archives, UW–Madison Libraries.