AFT Media Affairs
MADISON, WIS.—Last week, the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents approved a policy to suspend and expel students who protest speeches on University of Wisconsin campuses. Sixteen of the board’s 18 members are appointees of Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
This policy change occurs in a sobering context: Demonstrations on college campuses have become an important defense against attempts by right-wing extremists and white supremacists to recruit and expand their campaigns of hate and fear. These groups want to exploit the culture of open debate on college campuses in order to gain access, recruit adherents, create a climate of fear, and claim a university seal of approval on racist ideas.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said:
“One wonders why a university with a proud history of academic freedom would take a huge leap backward from this great tradition and sacrosanct American value. Sadly, this policy appears to be a reaction, by right-wing elements appointed to the university’s board of regents by Scott Walker, to campus demonstrations against outside speakers who brazenly present themselves as extreme right-wing conspiracy theorists and Nazis. On campus after campus, brave students also are using their voices to stand up for their values and say ‘not here.’ Now the cronies of Wisconsin’s right-wing governor want to censor and scare Wisconsin’s students.
“Democracy requires protecting dissent, not punishing it. These students face the same choice we all face: Either we vigorously oppose the resurgent wave of white supremacy in America, or we concede to it. This policy seeks to prevent students from making that choice for themselves.”
American Association of University Professors President Rudy Fichtenbaum said:
“Protest is free speech, and the leadership of the University of Wisconsin system should be working to protect that speech, not to stifle it.
“Student academic freedom protects the right to challenge what another speaker says, even if that challenge comes in a form some might consider disruptive. Sometimes being disruptive is precisely the response that is called for. In a free and open society, protestors have free speech rights, too. It is deeply alarming that this board of regents wants to make the University of Wisconsin a place where that is no longer true.
“Make no mistake, this is not only about shutting down speech that the regents, and their political allies, don’t like. This policy is about challenging the very notion of the university as a space of free and open debate. As such, this policy is part of the larger attack on higher education as a common good—an attack that started with Act 10 in 2011 and has continued through the attacks on shared governance, tenure and due process enacted in 2015 as well as the more recent attacks against UW’s two-year and four-year campuses.”