Gov. Tony Evers
Op Ed

UW Regents Vote 16-1 Against Free Speech

Expelling college students for protesting? I voted no.

By - Oct 13th, 2017 11:30 am

Bascom Hall on the University of Wisconsin campus. Photo by Rosina Peixoto (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Bascom Hall on the University of Wisconsin campus. Photo by Rosina Peixoto (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

They always say that one is the loneliest number. As State Superintendent for Wisconsin’s public schools and one of only two non-Scott Walker appointments on the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents, I know it all too well.


Last week, every single one of my fellow Regents attending our most recent meeting voted to approve a dangerous anti-free speech proposal that will, without question, chill speech at college campuses across Wisconsin. Under the proposal, which mirrors legislation drafted by conservative think tanks and is being advanced by conservatives in the Wisconsin Legislature, students would be expelled if found “disrupting the free speech of others.” The term “disrupt” itself is overly broad and gives the university the means to expel a student for participating in any sort of protest.

Expulsion is a serious matter – a punishment that UW System does not currently require for serious crimes like rape and sexual assault – and yet, Walker now wants to expel students for protesting. The proposal passed by the Regents does not even provide a definition for the word “disrupt.”

One of the reasons I voted “No” is because this policy goes against the University’s fundamental mission, “to serve and stimulate society by developing in students heightened intellectual, cultural, and humane sensitivities, scientific, professional and technological expertise, and a sense of purpose.”

Proponents of this anti-free speech legislation argue liberal biases have overwhelmed our college campuses, but they cannot provide one single example of a conservative speaker being unable to complete their remarks at any college or university in Wisconsin. Not. One.

College campuses across Wisconsin, like the rest of the country, are confronting real, critical issues like racism and racial inequality, sexual assault, and gun safety. These debates are hard, but we must engage. They’re complicated, and developing solutions requires an on-going, at times uncomfortable, dialogue between students, faculty, staff and the overall community.

The only political problem we have on our UW campuses is the politicians themselves. Some of my own colleagues on the Board of Regents even acknowledged this in their own remarks on this proposal, hoping that passage of this resolution would strengthen the Board of Regents relationship with the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature have had an ax to grind with UW System since assuming power in 2011. They have cut hundreds of millions in funding from higher education, while at the same time spent millions of tax dollars to create a conservative “research” institution on UW-Madison’s campus. They eliminated tenure for faculty — making it easier to fire professors who step out of line. Now that they’ve succeeded in muzzling professors, they are going after the students.

As a proud alum of UW-Madison, I take this personally. I credit my UW education with giving me a sense of purpose – one that has guided me through a 40-year career in education. I am sick and tired of watching ideologues systematically dismantle an institution that has created tens of thousands of jobs and improved the lives of countless Wisconsinites.

As both an educator and a parent, I have always empowered kids to use their voice. In the classroom, we teach our kids to stand up for themselves. We want them to ask the tough questions and learn about who they are and what they believe in. This is rooted in respect and civility. Something Scott Walker, knows very little about.

Since the vote I’ve spoken with dozens of college kids from campuses across Wisconsin. Many feel like they’ve been sold out, used, or simply not heard. While I may have just been the only one at that table who voted “No” – I am proud I was able to be that one.

Tony Evers is the Superintendent of Public Instruction of Wisconsin and a Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate.

Categories: Education, Politics

12 thoughts on “Op Ed: UW Regents Vote 16-1 Against Free Speech”

  1. David Ciepluch says:

    This is what happens when the fascists take over. Political propaganda becomes their facts.

  2. will says:

    This is just a unamerican cowardly move that should be stop at every corner of our state. This a direct attack on American values. My family did not go to war and die or injured for life for these cowardly acts of treason.

  3. will says:

    What do we do with Scott lying Walker? During rhe peaceful protest of 100,000 people a day during act 10, good old Walker was caught saying he thinking about putting in gangs to disrupt the peaceful protest to make old scooter look like the good guy. He should thrown in jail for this. Wisconsin has been sold to big corporations by the GOP. He’ll is waiting for you.

  4. Katrina says:

    Thanks for speaking out Superintendent. Your voice is important.

  5. Virginia says:

    Another way Walker & Company are permanently hobbling Wisconsin’s prospects for economic survival.

    This squelching of free speech will be far more destructive than anything Walker has yet foisted upon the UW system. Yes, it will put all students at risk for arbitrary expulsion.

    Long-term, it will make prospective students think twice about going to any UW institution. And faculty will go elsewhere, to places were freedom of speech and academic freedom are still protected.

    Kudos to Supt. Evers and someone should “educate” the Regents about the U.S. Constitution.

  6. tom bamberger says:

    Hold on… Doesn’t free speech require letting others speak?

  7. Virginia says:

    As Mr. Evers noted, this proposed law is absurdly vague and does not even define “disrupt.” And it allows for permanent expulsion, possibly for heckling.

    Laws already exist to maintain order in public-forum spaces. There have been few major protests on UW campuses in recent years. This seems designed by Walker-appointed regents to ensure there are no protests. And that’s In places that purport to be devoted to the free exploration of ideas.

    With our ever-shrinking media will such expulsions etc. even be reported?

  8. Timothy says:

    So stop heckling and seeking to stop and/or disrupt the speech of others you may disagree with. That’s all this new rule does. The hyperbole in the article and the comments is ridiculous.

  9. Maximus300 says:

    Dear Mr. Evers, Let’s start with some history considering Donna Shalala imposing strict student and faculty speech codes during her time running the UW system. Next, Ben Shapiro in November, 2016 spoke at UW and was met with protests including attempts to shout down and interrupt his attempt. Only when threatened with arrest did the protestors leave. If police would have arrested students it would have shut down Shapiro’s talk. This measure would provide an alternative means to enforce freedom of speech without having to shut down an event due to police action. This past week Katie Pavlich was able to speak at UW-Madison without being interrupted like Shapiro was specifically because of this new policy. Protestors were still able to protest outside the venue and have their voices heard as people entered and exited the venue but more importantly, the speaker was able to get her message out uninterrupted to people who wished to hear it. The policy looks like a win to me except for those who prefer to stop the speaker from having a forum.

  10. Vincent Hanna says:

    Free speech is awesome say conservatives. Unless you’re a professional athlete (fire them!). Or you’re part of a student group who opposes what the Attorney General stands for (Sessions banned several student groups from attending his speech on free speech; irony is great). There’s a whole lot of hypocrisy on this matter.

  11. Maximus300 says:

    Hanna – I agree there is a lot of hypocrisy on free speech. Especially by those left-wing agitators claiming to be anti-fascist while physically assaulting conservative speakers and their supporters. Let us not forget those who just want to disrupt speaking events because they disagree with the speakers viewpoint who also generally are democrats and left-wing types. They are the fascists.

  12. Vincent Hanna says:

    A dead woman in Virginia begs to differ Maximus300. Typical right-wing selective outrage.

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