University of Wisconsin faculty members weighed the possible implications of the governor’s proposed budget repair bill on free speech and the future of academics at the university on Wednesday.
Law School Associate Dean Heinz Klug moderated the discussion along with six other professors from various departments on campus. Topics ranged from constitutional issues to labor laws to free speech and similar conflicts throughout history.
The event was dubbed a “teach-in” and more than 200 were in attendance for the professors’ presentations on the legal, political and historical perspectives of Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed bill.
An overflow room, outfitted with a broadcast system, was employed to accommodate the gathered group of students and community members at the law school.
Klug said organizers decided to engage a number of prominent UW experts on the important social conflict garnering both national and international press.
He said the issues surrounding the bill needed to be discussed in an academic setting in order to provide students with the information necessary to form an opinion.
“The forum was not about rallying for one side or another as much as it was about utilizing intellectual discussion,” he said.
UW law professor Donald Downs presented on the possible implications of the bill on free speech.
He said the current political debate is a defining moment in which significant controversy should be discussed in a public forum, and people need to make themselves aware and informed.
Downs, an adviser for The Badger Herald Board of Directors, added the controversy surrounding the bill will have the ability to change the public perception on issues such as the rights of workers, solving labor disputes, the future of free speech and the division between the public and private sector.
The event was an effort to fulfill the need to further public understanding of the issue on both sides for such a potentially historic event. The forum approached the much-disputed bill from a strictly academic viewpoint.
The focus of the forum was to judge the controversial bill in terms of the challenges of modern democracy.
When asked about the future of the protests, Klug said, “The simple thing is who wants to negotiate and who wants to continue conflict and what implications will it have.”
UW law graduate student Peter Rickman of the Teaching Assistants Association said discussions like this need to be happening all over campus and he was happy to see the school of law getting involved.
“I know that the higher education here in Wisconsin is being threatened by this bill,” Rickman said. “Lawyers and law students are trained to be watch dogs for democracy and democracy needs intelligent informed discussion in order to work.”
Due to a reporting error, the initial draft of this story included a paragraph saying Downs alluded to possible negative long term effects of the budget repair bill on taxes and the cost of higher education. Downs did not make any such claims. We regret the error.