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Proposed by political science professor Donald Downs, legislation approved by the Faculty Senate Monday will ensure faculty are not disciplined for voicing their opinions as employees.[/media-credit]

Professors’ right to speak freely without fear of penalization by the University of Wisconsin is now protected by university policy after the Faculty Senate approved an amendment to Faculty Policy and Procedures Monday.

Due to a 2006 United States Supreme Court decision that held government employees are not protected by the First Amendment from being disciplined for statements made as public employees, faculty at UW decided they wanted clear and codified rules on what was and was not defined as protected speech. The FPP amendment makes it clear a professor can come to scholarly opinions and conclusions and state them publicly without fear of being penalized by UW.

Some members of the senate had concerns about the second paragraph of the change, which said professors should make it clear when they are speaking on their own behalf and not on that of UW.

Professor of engineering Ian Dobson said he worried that with this paragraph in FPP, speech he makes as a private citizen may not be protected.

UW Chancellor Biddy Martin said she read the paragraph as a clarification between when a professor is speaking for UW and when he or she is speaking as a member of the faculty.

After three amendments were made altering or removing the paragraph, the amendment was passed in its original form.

Senators also passed an amendment that will allow researchers at the Morgridge Institute for Research, the private sector of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, to become faculty at UW.

Physics professor Peter Timbie said he is worried those who fund the salaries of the researchers will then have an influence over the way they teach their students.

“I’m a little worried about the independence of the university,” Timbie said.

University Committee Chair William Tracy said the positions would be funded by grants and federal funding, so corporate interests affecting UW curriculum is not likely. He added once the researchers’ relationship with Morgridge ends, UW can decide to hire them as full-time professors.

UW music professor William Farlow said he did not want these professors to be hired without a national search to give other applicants a chance. Tracy said that is an issue to take up on a departmental level.

The amendment was passed with only a few opposing votes.