Or, as Charles Pierce calls it, the wholly owned subsidiary of the Koch brothers formerly known as the state of Wisconsin. They’re arguing over a neutrality bill in their legislature that would require the University of Wisconsin system to be neutral on “controversies of the day”, whatever those are.
That each institution shall strive to remain neutral, as an institution, on the public policy controversies of the day, and may not take action, as an institution, on the public policy controversies of the day in such a way as to require students or faculty to publically[sic] express a given view of social policy.
It’s weird. It’s kind of the reverse of the “teach the controversy” tactic creationists have taken in the past — now conservatives (this is a Republican bill) are demanding that criticisms be silenced, because they’re discovering that college campuses tend to get rather ferocious in those criticisms. It’s really about sheltering conservative positions from debate.
In an introduction to the legislation on its website, the Goldwater Institute paints the recent flurry of protests against conservative speakers on college campuses as a clear and present danger to democracy.
“As both a deeply held commitment and a living tradition, freedom of speech is dying on our college campuses, and is increasingly imperiled in society at large,” it reads.
The spread of campus free speech legislation across the country will open a national debate that will influence the broader culture, it predicts.
As evidence of the peril in Wisconsin, lawmakers supporting the bill pointed repeatedly to the November 2016 appearance of conservative commentator Ben Shapiro at UW-Madison. Students opposed to Shapiro’s mocking of a push for “safe spaces” on campus interrupted his talk, shouting him down for about 20 minutes. Police then escorted protesters out and Shapiro resumed his talk.
Vos, who has complained about the dearth of conservative guest speakers on UW campuses, said that without a law requiring the university to remain neutral, chancellors can block speakers whose views they don’t see as legitimate.
Wait. So Shapiro got to speak, but because many students used their right to speak freely to vocally oppose him, Republican congressmen want to shut down the students’ free speech in the name of free speech. Got it.
A few obvious concerns have been raised. Here’s one:
Rep. Terese Berceau, a Madison Democrat, was quizzing Rep. Jesse Kremer, her Republican colleague from Kewaskum, at a hearing for his proposed Campus Free Speech Act before the state Assembly’s Committee on Colleges and Universities recently.
Berceau wondered what would happen under the bill — which requires University of Wisconsin System institutions to be neutral on “controversies of the day” — if a student in a geology class argued the Biblical theory that the earth is only 6,000 years old.
“Is it okay for the professor to tell them they’re wrong?” Berceau asked during the lengthy session on May 11.
The earth is 6,000 years old,Kremer offered.That’s a fact.
Who gets to decide what is controversial? The age of the earth is actually not a controversial fact at all, and no, it’s far older than 6,000 years. Does this bill demand that the geologists and biologists and physicists on the UW campuses are not allowed to disagree with Kremer? That the students aren’t allowed to argue with their professors? I’m also not sure how this is going to work. Is the UW going to have to hire political officers to monitor and police speech on campus, to be sure that no faculty representative expresses an opinion not approved by the Koch brothers? Oh. Actually, this is in the bill.
Yet Kremer immediately speculated that students who felt intimidated from expressing their opinions in class could bring their complaints to the Council on Free Expression, an oversight board created in the bill. So the law could potentially cover things that happen in the classroom, he suggested.
This doesn’t sound like any kind of free speech as I understand it. I see the Republicans retain their superpower of hyper-ironic naming: the
Council on Free Expression is going to make sure your professors don’t say anything a conservative might disagree with!
And what about genuinely controversial issues?
“The bill gags the university,” said Matt Rothschild, executive director of the advocacy group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. In his argument, Rothschild referenced political controversy over stem cell research, something UW-Madison lobbied vigorously to protect from prohibitive legislation in 2015.
“So the university stem cell researchers, and the deans of the departments where they work, would not be allowed to take a position on the importance of stem cell research to cure diseases?” Rothschild asked. Would the chancellor be prohibited from weighing in on such issues as student debt or whether higher education should be free of charge, he queried in his written testimony.
“You are saying that UW institutions should remain neutral on the question of Darwin and natural selection versus creationism,” Rothschild said. “This is ludicrous and hidebound.”
Or how about this “controversy”?
Probably the biggest debate is global warming,Vos said.A lot of people think it’s settled science and an awful lot of people think it isn’t. I think both sides should be brought to campus and let students decide.
Here we go again. “Both sides”. Sometimes the two sides are “truth” and “lies”. I think it’s part of a university’s mission to always favor “truth”.
For instance, if a speaker shows up to say
The earth is 6,000 years old. That’s a fact., I think it’s perfectly fair for a thousand students to show up and shout him down and tell him that he’s an idiot who shouldn’t be holding public office. But I guess Representative Kremer just wants to legislate a safe space for himself.