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UW-Madison and Urban Institute launch Offner lecture series

October 24, 2007

Paul Offner’s legacy of applying good scholarship to public policy solutions, especially for society’s disadvantaged, will be celebrated with a lecture series sponsored by the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s La Follette School of Public Affairs in partnership with the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute.

The first lecture and social event will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 14, at 5 p.m. at the Pyle Center, 702 Langdon St.

The speakers will be Harry Holzer and Peter Edelman, co-authors with Offner of "Reconnecting Disadvantaged Young Men." The book, which presents an array of policies to improve the lives of the 2-3 million young people who are out of work and out of school, was published after Offner, a former Wisconsin state senator, died of cancer in 2004 at age 61.

Holzer is a professor and former associate dean of public policy at Georgetown University and a visiting fellow at the Urban Institute. Edelman is a professor of law and former associate dean at the Georgetown University Law Center.

Offner, who grew up in Italy and earned a doctorate in 1970 from Princeton University, moved to La Crosse, in 1973 to start what turned out to be a long career as a public intellectual. He represented the La Crosse area in the Wisconsin Senate from 1977-1983. He ran for lieutenant governor and Congress before leaving Wisconsin in 1984 to serve as deputy director of the Ohio Department of Human Services.

Offner went on to be a senior legislative assistant to U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y.; chief health and welfare counselor for the U.S. Senate Finance Committee; and commissioner of the District of Columbia’s Commission on Health Care Finance. He was a research professor for Georgetown University’s Institute for Health Care Research and Policy and was an adjunct faculty member of the university’s Public Policy Institute. He left that post in 2002 for the Urban Institute, where he contributed to breakthrough research on poverty in America.

"Paul Offner represents the best of public service," says Barbara Wolfe, director of the La Follette School. "We are honored to sponsor a public lecture in his memory in partnership with the Urban Institute."

"Paul’s experience, which was unique, allowed him to analyze public policy issues using the tools of a first-rate academic, the insights of an elected politician and the wisdom of a seasoned government program administrator. He taught us a lot," says Robert Reischauer, president of the Urban Institute.

One of the event organizers, Tom Loftus, says Offner made a difference in the policy debates in Wisconsin.

"Paul taught us all to challenge the conventional and embrace the different way," says Loftus, who was speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly and ambassador to Norway during the Clinton administration. "It was a time when debate about the future of the state and the country resulted in policy that moved us forward. He was amazing."

The first lecture is being underwritten through a generous donation by the Washington, D.C.-based American Hospital Association.