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Three to receive honorary degrees on May 13

April 27, 2011

A highly respected former Wisconsin congressman and a husband and wife team dedicated to advocating for water systems worldwide, ancient and modern, have been selected to receive honorary degrees at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s May 13 spring commencement ceremony.

Robert W. Kastenmeier, Wisconsin’s 2nd District Congressman from 1959-91, will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree.

Ruth M. and Kenneth R. Wright, national and international leaders in environmental innovation, service and stewardship, will receive a joint honorary doctor of science degree.

Kastenmeier received his LLB degree from the UW–Madison Law School.

During his 32-year career in Congress, he contributed to a wide variety of areas of law and public policy.

In the early 1990s, he served as chair of the National Commission on Judicial Discipline and Removal, created by Congress to study issues related to misconduct by federal judges. He has also served in a number of nonprofit capacities.

A plaque on the Robert W. Kastenmeier U.S. Courthouse in Madison describes him as “a leading voice for civil rights and civil liberties, the value of ideas and the peaceful resolution of conflict among nations. Bob Kastenmeier’s humanity, ethics and fairness earned him a reputation as the conscience of Congress and friend of the courts. He will always inspire those who be noble in thought and honorable in deed.”

Ada Deer, distinguished lecturer emerita in the School of Social Work and the American Indian Studies Program wrote in support of Kastenmeier’s nomination for the honorary degree, writes, “His usual modus operandi was to quietly and effectively solve problems. An excellent example is his multiyear quest to reform copyright law. He pursued and realized his goal, which has affected thousands of people’s lives by protecting their work. He did it quietly and persistently.”

Kastenmeier also made substantial contributions to the nation’s intellectual property laws.

“His legislative initiatives were often found at the intersection of law and technological change, and his legacy of success affects the largest and fastest-growing elements in the current U.S. economy,” says Carl Gulbrandsen, managing director of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

Emeritus professor of law Stanley Kutler writes, “Few can match his idealization and fulfillment of the Wisconsin Idea. His influence and impact on this state and the nation as well exemplifies that spirit of public service and achievement which has infused our political life for more than a century.”

Since leaving Congress, Kastenmeier has continued to emphasize service to the public. He created an endowment fund to support major lectures at the Law School; the first lecture was delivered by former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Other lecturers have included members of Congress, professors and nationally recognized columnists. The lectures are an example of the ways in which Kastenmeier has helped merge the university’s skills and knowledge with national leaders.

The Wrights, who are Milwaukee-area natives, have a strong commitment to the environment, particularly to water issues. Their thorough multidisciplinary efforts to study, document, preserve, protect and restore natural resources and public lands literally span the globe. They are respected and renowned for their leadership and contributions to the unique field of paleohydrology, the study of the ancient use and handling of water.

Ruth Wright, who earned her bachelor’s degree from Marquette University and her JD from the University of Colorado, is a water resources attorney and former Colorado legislator. She was a key figure in the origins of the open space preservation movement in Boulder, Colo., where she and her husband reside.

She is a member of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District board of directors. She also serves on the boards of the Colorado Water Trust and Colorado Open Lands and is a member of the U.S. Commission on Irrigation and Drainage.

Kenneth Wright holds three UW–Madison degrees: a bachelor of business administration, and a bachelor of science and master of science in civil engineering.

In 1961, he founded Wright Water Engineers, Colorado’s leading water resources engineering company. He is its chief financial officer and chief engineer. Among many other publications, he wrote an urban storm drainage criteria manual that became the leading global guide in urban drainage and flood control.

He is in charge of the company’s paleohydrologic research at Mesa Verde National Park and at Machu Picchu, Tipon, and Moray, Peru.

The Wrights founded the Wright Paleohydrological Institute, a nonprofit organization to further knowledge of past civilizations through the study of ancient water management and practices.

They are passionate about community service and welcome opportunities to share their knowledge and experience with others. They are committed to public education and philanthropy, and both have received numerous awards for their achievements.

“Ruth and Ken not only create leading-edge scientific knowledge and public policy, but they also unearth and draw on lessons from the past to inform others about the future of water,” says College of Engineering dean Paul Peercy.

“They are examples of how professional people can broaden their interests way beyond their formal schooling and lead a life of productive scholarship and service that has worldwide significance,” writes Henry Petroski, professor of civil engineering and history.

The honorary degrees, as well as doctoral and professional degrees, will be bestowed at the 5:30 p.m. commencement ceremony on Friday, May 13, at the Kohl Center. The ceremony is the first of five that will be held that weekend.