Wisconsin Public Radio

GOP Legislators Plan Hearings on UW System’s Lack of ‘Intellectual Diversity’

Rep. Dave Murphy accuses universities of 'indoctrinating' students.

By , Wisconsin Public Radio - Mar 30th, 2023 10:04 am
Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Dave Reid.

Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Dave Reid.

A Republican legislator who has accused colleges of “indoctrinating students” will hold hearings next month on whether a lack of what he calls “intellectual diversity” at UW System campuses is hurting the quality of education. The push follows a campus free speech survey that found some conservative students reported self-censoring views in class.

During a press conference Tuesday, state Rep. Dave Murphy, R-Greenville, said the Assembly’s Colleges and Universities Committee will hold two hearings in April to explore the issue. The first hearing on April 6 will be held in Madison and will feature testimony from business leaders.

“We will look at how the lack of intellectual diversity affects graduates and employers in the business world,” Murphy said. He said the UW System has three constituent groups: students, taxpayers and businesses.

While Murphy didn’t define what intellectual diversity means, he’s been critical of how UW System campuses respond to conservative speakers.

In October, nationally known conservative Matt Walsh spoke at UW-Madison during his “What is a Woman” tour, which is highly critical of policies supporting transgender individuals and gender-reassignment surgeries. Around 100 students protested the event outside the campus’s student union, but Walsh’s speech wasn’t disrupted.

January press release from Murphy named a graduate student who was accused of ripping down flyers promoting the event and claimed it was “another example of the University indoctrinating students, not educating them.”

During the Tuesday press conference, Murphy, who has supported bills to punish universities for violating free speech, was asked whether he might introduce legislation governing intellectual diversity on campus.

“I have no preconceived notions of where that’s going right now,” Murphy said. “We’ll wait and see what the experts are telling us and then go from there.”

State Rep. Amanda Nedweski, R-Pleasant Prairie, told reporters at the press conference that there were “growing ideological tensions on UW Campuses that may have a negative impact on the quality of education being delivered.”

“Is there a correlation between the level of intellectual diversity on our campuses and our ability to attract the best and brightest students and faculty?” Nedweski said. “How can we measure the impact of ideological tensions on students’ development of critical thinking skills that Wisconsin employers require from our workforce?”

The announcement of the hearings comes a month after the UW System released results of a privately funded campus free speech survey of students that found some who identify as conservative felt pressure to agree with political or ideological viewpoints expressed in class.

State Rep. Jodi Emerson, D-Eau Claire, serves on the Colleges and Universities Committee with Murphy. She said Republicans have cherry-picked results from the survey and Murphy’s hearings will only feature his invited guests.

Emerson said there’s a difference between withholding views because others might find them offensive and free speech being stifled by the government.

“There’s some education that needs to happen about free speech and civil dialogue, not only in our colleges and universities settings with the students, but I’d go as far as to say within the Legislature itself,” Emerson said.

State Rep. Jimmy Anderson, D-Fitchburg, also serves on the committee and told WPR he finds it “highly ironic” and “a little hypocritical” for Murphy and other Republicans to claim they want diversity of thought when they’ve supported legislation aimed at limiting how schools teach things like diversity or perspectives on race and disability.

“It almost feels like that my conservative colleagues want 100 percent pure safe spaces in order for their speakers or their ideas to be aired out without any degree of either protest or criticism or any of that,” Anderson said. “And I think that that’s not how free speech works in a free society.”

Listen to the WPR report here.

Republican lawmakers to hold hearings on what they call lack of ‘intellectual diversity’ at UW campuses was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.

4 thoughts on “GOP Legislators Plan Hearings on UW System’s Lack of ‘Intellectual Diversity’”

  1. joerossm says:

    Why is the *Chair* of the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities a man whose post-high-school academic credentials (from his own Legislature bio) are “attended the University of Wisconsin – Fox Valley for two years and then enrolled in the Wisconsin School of Real Estate and received his Real Estate Broker’s license”? Did he learn anything about intellectual diversity during that brief stint in higher ed? Don’t think so.

    Murphy is yet another example of the Dunning-Kruger effect — people with low ability, expertise, or experience regarding a certain type of task or area of knowledge tending to overestimate their ability or knowledge. That, plus what he heard from John Menard’s sketchy survey.

  2. Once again, a gerrymandered legislature in Wisconsin threatens one of our great institutions–this time, the University of Wisconsin System. The “sifting and winnowing” of the Wisconsin college experience should challenge students and also give them methods to find the truth. In this process, free speech and free thought are sacred, but no sacred cows exist: someone encountering this process with ignorance of science, fact, or history should feel uncomfortable. Likewise, those with ideas and thoughts based solely only on ideology will face challenges as they struggle to justify their position. There is no guarantee that all ideologies referenced in the survey will or should find equal comfort in the face of a close examination. Some students will face discomfort, part of the search for truth. The GOP needs to examine why in its fold are those with ignorance of science and historical fact–of vaccines and elections, of the foundations of representative democracy, and the lessons of history. These hearings should have all the shame now associated with the McCarthy hearings.

  3. Mingus says:

    Another definition of the Dunning-Kruger effect is that a person is too dumb to realize that he or she is ignorant. The Dunning-Kruger effect is more prevalent than we realize especially with politicians.

  4. mkwagner says:

    How ironic that Republicans complain about the impact on teaching critical thinking when what they want is an uncritical forum to present their ideology. That is the opposite of critical thinking and free speech. If your ideology cannot withstand the rigors of inquiry it’s time to rethink your ideology.

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