More than once we have fretted that UW-Madison is losing sight of the intellectual freedom and commitment to free speech that is the foundation of learning. But at least UW-Madison officials have not gone as far as their counterparts at UW-Whitewater, where administrators have formally declared such fundamental principles an impediment to the university.
Last week, Whitewater’s chancellor was forced to temporarily rescind a “free speech code,” which the school snuck in during winter break. The code, among other restrictions, designated “free speech” areas for demonstrations and allowed demonstrations only if those demonstrating gave a 24-hour notification and obtained a permit; disallowed the discussion of candidates or issues on all university property including residence halls; and disallowed the distribution of political literature including newspapers.
In justifying the policy, the assistant chancellor of student affairs all but called the freedom of speech a necessary evil.
“It’s an effort on the part of the university to encourage the free expression of ideas but at the same time, putting into place policies that are going to prevent the obstruction of the university’s primary mission of instruction and research,” she said.
The assistant chancellor could not be more wrong.
Universities are about learning, not indoctrination. Learning depends on free expression; indoctrination on limiting that expression for the purpose of “instruction.” The freedom to protest is only the most visible manifestation of the debate that undergirds a true education. Yet Whitewater would end even the quietest debate in a dorm room.
Whitewater’s chancellor wants students and faculty members to work on a new policy by the end of a week. He should spare them the effort. Whitewater already has a policy, one that has worked pretty well for over 200 years. It’s called the First Amendment, and an administration truly committed to learning would make sure it is enforced on the entire campus.