Tag Archives: Madison

Protest Versus Disruption at the University of Wisconsin

CEO_Logo.pngIt has been over a week since the University of Wisconsin at Madison was torn by the debate over affirmative action on September 13. The conflict was precipitated by the presentation of a study conducted by the Center for Equal Opportunity, which alleges reverse discrimination in UW admissions policies.

A lot has been written about what happened at the press conference announcing the event and the debate between CEO’s Roger Clegg and UW law professor Larry Church later that evening. Most publicly presented views have been supportive of the students who protested at these events, and have defended the UW’s admissions policies. But criticisms of how this conflict has been handled have percolated beneath the surface.

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What the Madison Confrontation Reveals

student protesters.jpgMost observers have framed the recent disruption by backers of racial and ethnic preferences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a free-speech conflict. Free speech is clearly involved but lying below the surface are three issues that warrant close attention, specifically how Wisconsin once handled “inclusion;” how the protest reflects the transformation of the idea of “opportunity;” and how the university’s policies to help select minorities breeds dependency.

I attended UW-Madison from 1965 to 1969 as a graduate student and back then, at least for in-state residents, the University was highly inclusive. It simply admitted the top three-quarters of all Wisconsin high school graduates (non-residents faced tougher standards) and pretty much left them to survive on their own. I recall seeing only a few blacks on campus, but this undoubtedly reflected the state’s then largely white demography. Surely, if this generous admission standard were applied today, the affirmative action issue would be moot.

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A Campus Dress Rehearsal for McCarthyism?

radosh article.jpgThe American Association of University Professors (AAUP) made its name as a respectable association dedicated to promoting the interests of the academy and protecting the academic freedom of professors. Now, judging from its regular publications, it has morphed into something quite different—an association dedicated to promoting the agenda of the academic left.

The July-August issue of  the AAUP’s regular publication, Academe, reads like a straightforward and one-sided primer for leftist activism. It includes an article on “How to Radicalize Students,” and another endorsing the recent protests in Madison, Wisconsin against Governor Scott Walker. But the most troubling article in the issue is “The Dress Rehearsal for McCarthyism” by one Carol Smith, identified only as a retired faculty member at The City College of New York-CUNY. The would-be dress rehearsal, Ms. Smith argues, took place in the mid-1930’s, and revolved around what Smith says was “a conservative backlash against the political gains of the New Deal and against labor unions,” carried out under the guise of an investigation of so-called “Communist subversion at the public colleges.”

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Should University Flagships Go It Alone?

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Overshadowed by the big political confrontation in Wisconsin is a higher-education story of note: The highly regarded “flagship” Madison campus of the University of Wisconsin seeks permission to secede from the rest of the state public higher education system (yet remain under the state’s oversight and subsidization).  While this is being justified now by the state’s budgetary problems, it is an aspiration long held by Madison and some of its sister “flagships” in other states. Is flagship independence a good idea?  Probably not, but in each state it depends on how its public higher education institutions are currently managed, and what any new-found autonomy might permit or restrict.

Two quite distinct issues are embroiled in this debate. One –the more important, I think–is the degree of financial and managerial autonomy that any state campus is allowed.  The other is the coherence and consistency with which state campuses are managed and financially supported as a group.  My views are colored by my ten-year experience as the chief academic officer of the State University of New York System, the largest in the nation, and one that manages, under one administrative roof,  64 diverse institutions, from community colleges to research universities.

I learned soon after I began as a SUNY system official how desirable it was to give the state’s public campuses enough administrative freedom to effectively meet their local responsibilities and balance their budgets.  After all, there was no way that a small staff in Albany could possibly micro-manage 64 widely dispersed campuses with different missions, thousands of faculty and staff and more than 450,000 students.  Thus, after 1997, every SUNY campus, not Albany, was given the last word on how its budgetary resources were spent, how its faculty and staff were deployed, and how it delivered education in the classroom.  But, giving campuses a greater measure of administrative freedom only worked because we also held campuses accountable to clear-cut, mutually agreed upon, operational academic and financial goals and metrics. 

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Signs of Campus Dissent in Madison

Not surprisingly, the University of Wisconsin at Madison has been deeply affected by the important labor dispute that has consumed the state, its capitol, and the nation the last two weeks. Passions are high, especially over the part of Governor Scott Walker’s budget proposal that will drastically limit collective bargaining by state employees covered by unions. The budget proposal also requires public employees to contribute substantially more to their healthcare and pensions. But the collective bargaining provision has generated the most heat.

Libertarian thinker Alvaro Vargos Llosa has remarked that Wisconsin’s debate over collective bargaining is of “planetary” significance, while Walter Russell Mead of The American Interest claims that the standoff constitutes a “watershed” event in American history, as the nation vies over the size and scope of public finances.

At an overflow law school forum on the issue on February 23, I stated that the conflict is an example of what the great political scientist Samuel Huntington called “creedal passion” in American Politics and the Promise of Disharmony. Creedal passion involves the intense conflict that periodically erupts over which fundamental values will shape public policy and philosophy.  As Huntington wrote, “The history of American politics is the repetition of new beginnings and flawed outcomes, promise and disillusion, reform and reaction. American history is the history of the efforts of groups to promote their interests by realizing American ideals.” In the Wisconsin case, the creedal debate concerns the proper balance and arrangement between the private and public sectors in an era of crippling debt.

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Hate and Free Speech at Wisconsin

A student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin-Madison drew an unusual and alarming advertising request for its online edition. The request to the Badger Herald came a few weeks ago from an agent for Bradley R. Smith, a notorious denier of the Holocaust and founder of the loopy fringe group, Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust. Unlike ads in the Herald’s paper edition, online ads linger for a month, providing more opportunity for mischief.
Like some other controversies involving the Herald in recent years, this episode began, essentially, as an accident. The process involved in the placing of ads did not fully vet Smith’s advertisement, which announced his mission and provided an Internet link to his group and other materials. The ad remained on line unnoticed for five days before persons at Hillel, the Jewish center, noticed it and urged the Herald to withdraw it
Many Jewish students had already felt aggrieved by the Herald because of another incident a few weeks before Smith’s ad appeared. Anonymous sources had published threatening anti-Semitic remarks in the “Comments” sections that accompanied the paper’s stories of incidents relating to a party at a Jewish fraternity. Alarmed, the Herald expunged these comments, but only after the damage was done.
Made aware of Smith’s ad, the Herald’s board had to decide what to do. The board of nine students votes independently, but the students consider advice given by faculty members who do not have voting power. Advisors (I am one) provide advice in a manner that is designed to preserve the independence of the board. At a meeting the board voted to do two things: keep the ad up, and produce an editorial, written by editor in chief Jason Smathers, making clear that Holocaust denial is a pernicious fraud that lies outside the bounds of rational debate. I supported these decisions as an advisor. The editorial was a sign that the board knew Smith’s ad was different from the usual controversial ads.

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Card Check Comes To Campus

Labor unions have suffered a number of defeats in recent years, but they hope to regain momentum by gaining passage of the so-called Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier to secure votes for unionization, mainly through a mechanism called “card check.” Card check would replace the traditional method of unionization by eliminating secret ballots when employees vote for or against unionization. “Card check” would allow the signing of cards without the benefit of secrecy, perhaps even in the presence of pro-union activists. Will employees actually make free, unfettered choices in the face of union organizers who present them with cards? Or is the “Free Choice Act” but the latest historical incarnation of Newspeak?
Card check is in some trouble in Washington, but similar policies are having more success at the state level. A prominent example is Wisconsin, which has recently enacted such legislation regarding the University of Wisconsin. The policy is part of a larger pro-union package in the state.
Recently Governor Jim Doyle signed the state’s 2009-2011 biennial budget, which includes a provision that gives collective bargaining rights to over 20,000 UW System faculty, academic staff, and research assistants. As of this writing, the faculty members of all UW System schools except UW-Madison have passed resolutions favoring the right to decide on unionization. Madison will no doubt deal with this issue in the fall; but even if Madison faculty members vote to have the right to decide, it is not evident that they will ultimately vote to unionize, for reasoned arguments exist on both sides of this question.

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The Battle Over Student Fees

The stage is now set for wide debate over mandatory student fees These are the fees that educational institutions or student governments assess students above and beyond the monies that pertain to tuition, housing, dining, and similar goods. Some of these additional fees typically fund extracurricular activities or needs such as medical services, crime victim services, transportation services, and the like. The more controversial fees cover students’ expressive and associational activities.
At my school, the University of Wisconsin at Madison—a hotbed of such activity that is a model for other schools—mandatory fees currently amount to about $750 per semester. After an activist group abolished student government here in the early 1990s, students organized to establish a new form of student government in 1994-5, primarily to enable activist groups to gain access to student fees.
Objections to fees that support student expressive groups take three tracks.

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