Protest fist (Imram Kadir photography)
White nationalism is on the rise and the University of Wisconsin System is poised to do something about it–by threatening to expel students who protest purveyors of hate, racism, misogyny and xenophobia on campus.
Next week, the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents will hold a public hearing on August 13 on a “Nonacademic Student Misconduct” plan, the first step to enshrining into the state administrative code a UW policy established in 2017. (The board is also accepting written comments through August 20, 2019.)
Under the proposed rule, students would be subjected to investigation if they are accused of “disrupting the free speech rights of others,” broadly defined as “violent or other disorderly misconduct that materially and substantially disrupted the free expression of others.” The rule further subjects students to mandatory penalties for violations, including suspension for at least one semester for two violations and expulsion for a third.
The first hearing on the UW Regents’ move will occur in Madison in mid-August, weeks before students return for the Fall semester. It sends a clear message to incoming students that the university intends to silence students and to make campuses into unchallenged safe spaces for right-wing ideology.
The effort to enact a University of Wisconsin anti-free speech code started with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who drafting records indicate personally oversaw the writing of a bill in the 2017 session of the legislature.
When Vos’ effort to enact speech restrictions into law faltered, the UW Board of Regents picked up the plan and ran with it as part of their right-wing appeasement strategy. When adopting the Vos plan as UW policy, Board of Regents President John Behling, an appointee of former Gov. Scott Walker, was not subtle, saying the action and intent showed “… a responsiveness to what’s going on in the Capitol, which helps build relationships.”
Vos’ plan and the acquiescence of the UW System were not isolated incidents. In fact, they are just the tip of the iceberg.
Milwaukee-based right-wing mega-funder the Bradley Foundation is at the forefront of an effort to reshape higher education to its liking and its approach is, as always, comprehensive. Internal Revenue Service tax filings for 2005 through 2016 analyzed by One Wisconsin Institute found over $154 million of Bradley Foundation funding went to organizations participating in advocacy campaigns targeting higher education and to direct support for higher education institutions, including nearly $5.5 million for the University of Wisconsin.
The money that went directly to universities supported academic chairs and professors and funded think tanks that use professors to give right-wing propaganda a veneer of academic credibility. Funds also underwrote efforts to silence opponents of right-wing ideologues and provocateurs by promoting campus speech restrictions.
Funded organizations worked to create a media narrative around a false crisis, claiming that conservative views could not be heard on college campuses and then orchestrated legislation to suppress liberal dissenting voices.
When right-wing provocateur Ben Shapiro made an appearance on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus there were a reported 20 protesters who spoke out during his talk. The interruption lasted mere minutes and, after taking a moment to write “morons” on a chalkboard in the lecture hall and make an obscene gesture to the crowd, Shapiro delivered the entirety of his remarks.
Despite these facts, the right-wing outrage machine went into overdrive, providing the excuse to deploy Vos’ plan to crack down on campus speech, based on recommendations produced by the Goldwater Institute, an Arizona-based think tank whose operations are subsidized by some of the nation’s largest right-wing funders including Bradley.
The Bradley Foundation also financially supports professors who support Bradley’s ideology. Examples include funding a project at the University of Wisconsin Madison run by a professor who sought a job with Gov. Walker’s presidential campaign.
Other examples of academics benefitting from Bradley’s largesse include Charles Murray, author of the racist tome, The Bell Curve, advocating for public policies based on the premise that race is a determining factor in intelligence. In 2016 Murray was the recipient of a $250,000 Bradley Prize. According to then-foundation head Michael Grebe, the award is given to “recognize distinguished conservatives that we feel have made outstanding achievements that are consistent with our mission.”
Make no mistake. There is a crisis in our country. But that crisis involves the rise of violent white nationalism. Imposing a university system wide policy silencing students, codifying an ideological agenda and creating campus safe spaces for right-wing provocateurs to engage in racist, misogynistic and xenophobic speech is not the solution.
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