System officials double-down on Free Speech bill

Jack Tierney, Editor in Chief

The UW System president and Board of Regents president confirmed their faith in the Campus Free Speech Act, supported marginalized students, talked about getting hired and asserted that Wisconsin is a water state during a stop at UW Oshkosh on Oct. 22.

UW System President Ray Cross and UW Board of Regents President Andrew S. Peterson made their fifth stop on their All in Wisconsin tour at UWO.

UWO faculty and staff had the chance to ask them questions at a 45-minute open forum.

Director of Residence Life Robert Babcock asked about the system-approved Campus Free Speech Bill. The bill allows students three opportunities to disruptively demonstrate against speakers on a UW System campus before being expelled from the university.

Peterson said the UW System knows they have done their job as a governing body “whether Gov. Evers signs the bill or not.”

The bill was introduced to Gov. Evers ahead of the 2020 Democratic National Convention being held in Milwaukee. The convention will bring politicians to campuses around the state from both sides of the aisle.

The bill reflects a 2017 introduced bill that gave UW System chancellors the option to punish students who engaged in “violent or other disorderly misconduct that materially and substantially” disrupted the free expression of others.

If a politician rents a time to speak on a campus, they have the right not to be interrupted, Cross said.

But that does not mean students cannot hold signs that disagree with the message of the politicians. They’re just censored from speaking.

Under the proposed bill, the chancellor holds the power to issue strikes to students who speak out at a campus rally. The first strike is a warning, the second a suspension and the third is expulsion.
Evers was the only regent in 2017 to vote against the bill that was similar to the one the board is trying to pass now.

Evers told Wisconsin Public Radio he was against the bill then, and he is against the bill now.

The regents also spoke about water in response to a question about sustainability.

“Wisconsin is a water state before it is a dairy state,” Cross said. He said protecting our waters and ensuring sustainable water treatment is key to the state’s social and economic well-being.

Program adviser of diversity and inclusion programs Lee Stovall asked about marginalized students, citing the news out of UW Madison last week that students were posting flyers around campus that read “UW 4 Whites Only.”
Peterson said they think about marginalized students often and that protecting them is protecting the economy and the institution.

When students feel attacked on campus, they leave, and when they leave, they stop contributing to the economic investment that is the UW System, he said.

The economic investment sees $23 for every $1 invested. PolitiFact, a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others on its Truth-O-Meter, checked that assertion and rated it true.

The first question asked at the forum was asked by historian and College of Letters and Science professor Stephen Kercher. He asked, “Why should a hiring manager employ a student with a liberal arts degree when the employer wants someone who is skilled or trade oriented?”

Cross responded, “because they have more logic.”

Liberal arts degrees teach students to be well-rounded in all areas of education, STEM and the arts.

Cross said liberal arts students have communication skills that are unmatched to technical skills and to the ever-improving skills of artificial intelligence. Peterson cited two interns who worked for him and how their communication skills gave his company new ideas and validity on social media.

Chancellor Andrew Leavitt hosted the presidents and Board of Regent members José Delgado and Becky Levzow, among student, community and business leaders, for that day’s events that started with a breakfast.

Leavitt then led a tour of UWO’s Student Managed Endowment Fund Lab within the College of Business. SMEF is the first in the state to provide a learning environment where students manage an institutional investment fund, UWO communications said.

Since 2000, more than 350 students have participated in SMEF, which has funded more than $193,000 in student scholarships.

The presidents commended the UWO faculty for turning out, saying it was by far the best attendance they have had at any of their tour stops.