John Witte tends to learn a subject as he goes along. From industrial relations to education policy, the La Follette School political scientist accepts a challenge and becomes an expert.
Kazakhstan is next on Witte’s agenda. After he retires this summer, Witte will head for Astana and become dean of the new School for Humanities and Social Science at Nazarbayev University.
Witte retires after 35 years as a professor with the La Follette School of Public Affairs and the Department of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. In April he received the campus Hilldale Award, one of the university’s top honors for faculty members. It recognizes professors who excel in teaching, research and service.
Witte has been part of a group of UW faculty members who have extended the Wisconsin Idea to Kazakhstan in Central Asia. “I was part of a delegation from UW who traveled to Astana to see if it would be feasible for UW to help Kazakhstan establish a new university,” Witte says. “Now about 20 people at UW are advising and supporting Kazakhstan in the two-year effort.”
Witte’s research interests have always been eclectic. His Ph.D. in political science, completed at Yale University in 1978, examined how to establish industrial democracy and grassroots management in a factory. “I spent two years working in a factory in California that built high-fidelity speakers,” Witte says. “The research and subsequent book employed sociology, political science and public management, and in the end I concluded that economic democracy was very difficult to make work. Before my work, many others had assumed it would be easy.”