GOP bill would use state money to fund UW free speech office

By: - January 25, 2024 5:29 pm

The Wisconsin Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities held a hearing in April 2023 on campus free speech issues. (Henry Redman | Wisconsin Examiner)

A proposal from two Republican lawmakers would give $500,000 in state funds to the Universities of Wisconsin to boost conservative voices on the state’s college campuses. 

The proposal would boost the funding of the university system’s Institute of Citizenship and Civil Dialogue, which was created in November 2022 by system President Jay Rothman. Announced in conjunction with the results of a survey on student free speech beliefs, the institute is aimed at “promoting civil dialogue” and helps to coordinate similar programs at each of the system’s campuses. 

The proposal, authored by Rep. Scott Johnson (R-Jefferson) and Sen. Rachel Cabral-Guevara (R-Appleton), says that the institute has not been adequately funded. The institute operated with a budget of $250,000 in its first year. 

“Currently, the UW-System does not even provide WICCD with enough money to hire a full time director,” a co-sponsorship memo on the proposal states. 

The free speech survey, which was completed despite pushback from leadership at the system’s campuses, found that student opinions on free speech varied greatly between students with different ideologies, genders and racial identities. 

The survey of more than 10,000 undergraduates found that 64% of “very conservative” students felt pressured to agree with certain political viewpoints in class while only 15% of “very liberal” students felt the same. 

Last year, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) vowed not to provide UW campuses  with more money unless it made cuts to its diversity, equity and inclusion programs. In December, a deal was struck between Vos and Rothman to release previously approved funds. 


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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.