Tag Archives: Wisconsin

Want to Hear Obama? Just Say You Support Him

Many people are miffed at the way the University of
Wisconsin is handling President Obama’s visit to our campus today. Concerns are
not with the visit per se–most of us think the event is something very
compelling, a bit of history entering through our gates. The location of the
speech in the heart of the campus is one problem–it requires the cancellation
of some classes. A far bigger one  is
that to get tickets to the event, students are required by the University to go to the Obama campaign website, provide
contact information, and then click on a button that says ‘I’m In!’.

A faculty colleague,
Ken Mayer, sent around an email of protest. He wrote: “Having a president visit as an
educational public event is one thing. Forcing students to declare their
support for a presidential candidate in order to attend the event on campus is
quite another. Should we be in the business of helping a campaign farm
thousands of email addresses?”

Mayer’s point is very well taken. The University is
making itself a partner in a campaign operation that will take extensive
student information and use it for campaign purposes. I cannot imagine this
procedure being employed for a typical public speech on this campus.

In addition, this procedure raises questions of
“compelled association.” Under the First Amendment, no one can be compelled to
associate with or support ideas or causes with which that person disagrees or
does not care to associate. A long line of cases support this principle: the
right not to speak or associate is the flip side of the right to speak or

It is very likely
that principled students–those on both sides of the political spectrum as well
as many students who have taken my First Amendment class–will refuse to so
associate. Interestingly, many pro-Obama faculty members I have spoken with have
expressed deep concerns about the procedure for obtaining a ticket. Mayer and I
have expressed our problems with the handling of this event to campus
authorities, but at least I have not heard back as of this writing.

Is this an example of a partisan university bending over
to accommodate the progressive hero? I do not know. I think the more likely
explanation is that decisions were hurried, and that it simply may not have
occurred to anyone that the registration procedures in this case posed serious
problems for the principles of an open university. By delegating this plan to
the campaign itself, we have forsaken our commitment to an open university at
the same time that we are striving to affirm those principles by holding this
extraordinary event. This is not something of which we should be proud.

Can’t Talk–Faculty Are Nearby

We sometimes Google our contributors to see how they are doing. That’s how we noticed that Professor Donald A. Downs of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, delivered a talk on free speech at another branch of the University of Wisconsin (River Falls) and added these words in a letter to the student paper praising its coverage:

Continue reading Can’t Talk–Faculty Are Nearby

An Outbreak of Equality in Wisconsin

When last we heard from Wisconsin, Roger Clegg, the mild-mannered, scholarly president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity, had provoked a riot of pro-racial preference liberals there by visiting the state to discuss CEO’s studies demonstrating massive racial discrimination by the University of Wisconsin. He must have put something in the water (or beer) while there, since now even a  Democrat there has surprised, shocked, and angered her party colleagues by introducing a measure in the legislature to eliminate race or ethnicity as factors in awarding state education grants.

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The News about the Wisconsin Mob Gets Out

The occasionally violent mob protests at the University of Wisconsin, and the role of a university administrator in egging on the disrupters, have barely raised a ripple in the mainstream press. But commentary here by Robert Weissberg, KC Johnson and Roger Clegg, has circulated widely on the Internet. Today Donald Downs, a professor at the university and a regular contributor to MTC, discusses the “How dare you even think that” tone of the protesters’ reaction to facts in the two reports presented by Clegg and his group, the Center for Equal Opportunity. Both reports demonstrate the astonishing extent of racial and ethnic preferences in UW admissions. We also recommend Peter Wood’s masterful account of the events on his regular Innovations blog for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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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.

Continue reading What the Madison Confrontation Reveals

Notes on the Diversity Uprising in Wisconsin

I thank KC Johnson for his thoughtful post below.  Here is a link to the studies we released on the severe and unjustified admission preferences at the University of Wisconsin, Madison,and to the press release that summarized them and announced the press conference:  http://www.ceousa.org/content/view/929/119/.

Since I was there, I thought I would also add a few observations. The mob’s protest took place in stages:  The protestors began by chanting outside the hotel; then they broke into the lobby, where they chanted some more; then they insisted on opening the door to the room where the press conference was being held, which of course made their chanting more audible; and finally they physically broke into the room.

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An Affirmative Action Mob in Madison

The Center for Equal Opportunity’s Roger Clegg convened a press conference in Madison, Wisconsin. The gathering intended to discuss findings from the CEO’s disturbing study of how the University of Wisconsin has misused and abused the school’s racial preferences admissions scheme. Using internal data obtained, in part, through a lawsuit against the university, the study revealed the existence of “severe” discrimination, based on race and ethnicity, in admissions at the Madison campus, and at the UW Law School.

Clegg’s press conference occurred at the Madison DoubleTree. As he fielded questions from the media, and some hostile ones from UW students and faculty, chants of “Power to the People!” erupted from outside the hall.  The hotel’s general manager reported that “when threats were made by the protesters to rush the hotel, we secured all entrances to the property . . . Unfortunately when escorting meeting attendees out of the hotel through a private entrance, staff were then rushed by a mob of protesters, throwing employees to the ground.” The mob eventually broke into the conference room and rushed over to Clegg, who was then chatting with reporters. Here’s how the Capital Times (hardly a conservative paper) described the resulting scene: “Some were getting in Clegg’s face and chanting,” forcing him to “make his way through the throng.”

Continue reading An Affirmative Action Mob in Madison

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?


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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The GOP Was Wrong–So Was the Historical Association

By now, most people who follow either politics or higher education know the story of William Cronon. The University of Wisconsin professor published a lengthy post critiquing the policies of Governor Scott Walker, and a week later penned a New York Times op-ed raising similar themes. In between the dates of the two essays, the Wisconsin Republican Party filed an open records request demanding any and all e-mails from Cronon’s university account that mentioned Republicans, several public employee unions, and the GOP state senators targeted for recall. When Cronon publicized the Open Records Law request, the state GOP received reams of criticism, both nationally and within Wisconsin; it seemed as if the Republicans’ chief motive was to intimidate–or at least badly inconvenience–a state employee who had criticized them publicly.

In the end, the Wisconsin Republicans got what they deserved. They hoped that what amounted to a bad-faith act would serve them well politically, and instead their decision backfired. If anyone will be deterred from future actions based on this event, it’s likely to be the Wisconsin GOP, not Governor Walker’s critics in the academy. To paraphrase Brandeis, sunlight–in this instance, Cronon’s publicizing the GOP’s Open Records Law filing–proved the best disinfectant.

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No Longer Academic: When Activism Is on the Curriculum

howard_zinn.jpgHoward Zinn, the late self-described “socialist anarchist” history professor and mentor to the New Left, would have been proud of the way the Wisconsin protests rolled along.  The weeks-long sit-in of the Wisconsin state capitol building–heavily populated by teachers and students–exemplified the kind of “participatory democracy” his associate Tom Hayden promoted in the Port Huron Statement, the manifesto of the SDS.  For Zinn, education was a key component of  “guerilla warfare with the system,” as he wrote in SNCC: The New Abolitionists in 1964.  In 2009, he told students at the University of Wisconsin, “the best kind of education you can get is when you’re involved in social struggles for a cause.”  Zinn himself acted as provocateur to his students at Spelman and Boston University, encouraging them to act as subversives to the U.S. government and to their school’s administration.
Much of the public may want to leave the New Left to ancient history and simply cast their work in the humanities as the activities of eccentrics with little impact on day-to-day life.  Politicians and citizen groups leave curriculum development to the credentialed.  But behind ivy-covered walls changes instituted in the intervening decades were played out in Madison.  The standards of scholarship have been overturned, with overt political agendas replacing scholarly academic subjects, and “direct action” replacing scholarly modes of inquiry.  As a result, students today feel they are on a moral mission; they follow the lead of activist professors who flatter them with the idea that they are “critical thinkers,” while they guide them into mandatory “civic engagement” activities.  The new pedagogy of foundationless (anarchic) “critical thinking” and (democratic) “collaborative learning” make disrupting the legislative process seem like part of the school day.   
A guest post titled “From the Occupied Capitol,” by University of Illinois-Champagne graduate student Michael Verderame, in the Chronicle of Higher Education provided an apt example of the New Left’s influence.  Verderame joined a hundred other Illinois Graduate Employees Unions members in Wisconsin.  His post from inside the capitol resonated with the self-righteousness and self-congratulation of memoirs of 1960s veterans, especially Bill Ayers in Fugitive Days. “We went there in support not just of public workers in Wisconsin, but of the very idea of collective bargaining,” Verderame wrote.  He and fellow protestors wanted to “build on [the] energy” already in the occupied capitol, to support “union brothers’ and sisters’ rights.”  They formed a human chain around the capitol building.  He had scrawled a contact number on his arm in case of arrest, “a surreal experience for someone who’s never had a speeding ticket.”  At the end of the protest day, some protestors choose to leave, but several stay inside, “understanding that they were risking their own liberty to do so.”  Starvation was averted: “we were heartened to see food and supplies go in, as well as additional press.”  Word came at 7:00 p.m. that no one would be arrested–another close call.  Such melodrama reflected protest signs in Wisconsin as well as those I’ve seen in Atlanta, likening Governor Scott Walker to Mubarak and Hitler. 

Continue reading No Longer Academic: When Activism Is on the Curriculum

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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Higher-Ed Unions and the Shortcomings of Public Employee Organizations

The activities of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker have brought unusually high public attention to the status of public employee unions. Few, if any, public employee unions could withstand intense media focus less han those representing higher education: too often these unions provide a caricature of the critics’ vision—organizations that seek to use the public dime to fund mediocrity. A good example comes in a recent dispute, profiled in Inside Higher Ed, in Washington state. The basics: the state’s academic union had championed a bill to regularize the funding stream for raises–guaranteed annual raises– for full-time faculty members. Such a move seemed like a normal activity for an academic union, though I suspect that most taxpayers could respond with a reasonable question: why should a tenured professor who hasn’t published anything recently, and whose teaching is mediocre, receive the same raise as a tenured professor hired the same year who had just published a major monograph and whose teaching is first-rate? For union official Jack Longmate, however, this one-size-fits-all approach didn’t go far enough, and he testified against the bill. Longmate, an adjunct at Olympic College, demanded that the state also guarantee seniority-based raises for adjuncts; otherwise, he argued, the bill should be rejected altogether, since adjuncts do the same teaching as full-time faculty. This line of reasoning makes perfect sense from a hard-line union perspective: qualifications of instructors are irrelevant, and everyone should make the same salary. But given that by any definable measurement—they’re not hired through national searches, they have no expectation of scholarship—adjuncts are less qualified than full-time faculty, it’s hard to see how such a viewpoint is politically or financially defensible. Continue reading Higher-Ed Unions and the Shortcomings of Public Employee Organizations

Why Faculty Unions Could Destroy Our Universities

After decades of trying, the Democrat-controlled Wisconsin legislature, with the encouragement of the union-backed governor, passed a statute allowing unionization of faculty in the University of Wisconsin system. Recently the first campus, Superior, voted to unionize their faculty by a 75-5 vote. I believe that ultimately faculty unions will seriously damage public universities in Wisconsin and elsewhere, particularly at “flagship” campuses that produce and require serious faculty research.
I do not say this out of hostility to unions. I have been an advocate for organized labor and taught and directed organizations connected to the movement. I was the last director of the Industrial Relations Research Institute and also worked with the university School for Workers, which has a long history of training union stewards, organizers, leaders of locals. In my book, Democracy, Authority, and Alienation in Work (University of Chicago Press, 1980), I argued that for industrial democracy to work in practice, a union was required as an ultimate protection for workers.
But those connections were to blue-collar workers, in the trades, in manufacturing, or in service positions. They did not include “professional unions,” the largest being kindergarten to twelfth-grade teachers, but also including other professions and of course faculty unions. Blue-collar unions were and are necessary to both counteract very asymmetric power relationships with management and to establish decent and living wages and benefits. The great era of American unions from the 1930s to the 1970s did that and the result was a burgeoning middle class that aided the prosperity of the nation through jobs that fathers and mothers held with pride.

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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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Due Process Fades In Wisconsin

The Board of Regents and officials of the University of Wisconsin system have recently proposed two sweeping changes to the system’s student misconduct codes. The first change is a new code covering student misconduct outside of university property (UWS 18). The second involves some major changes in the present Student Nonacademic Disciplinary Code, UWS 17.
There is nothing inherently wrong with periodic revisions of codes, for institutions need to adapt their rules to deal with changes in their environment. And no one argues that universities must abide by the same rigorous procedural standards as the criminal justice system. As the Supreme Court has consistently maintained over the years, the extent of due process depends upon the institutional setting.
That said, critics have raised some points that merit serious attention, especially about UWS 17. These concerns address both specific provisions in the reforms as well as broader questions about the state of universities today. Let me address just three of the specific concerns first.

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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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