MacIver News Service | Oct. 6, 2017
By M.D. Kittle
[Madison, Wis...] Two University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty members have stepped up to assist a young conservative organization deliver right-of-center thought to students and the general public.
John Sharpless, a professor in the Department of History, and Richard Avramenko, an associate professor of political science, have agreed to meet the university's demand that the UW chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) secure sponsorship from a faculty department member to bring conservative journalist Katie Pavlich to a wider audience.
As MacIver News reported Thursday, YAF members were notified by the UW Police Department that faculty sponsorship was required if the organization wanted to open up the event to the general public. The news arrived just five days before Pavlich was scheduled to speak on campus.
"I am ridiculously grateful at this moment. Now we can have people from the public come to our event," Abby Streu, chairwoman of the Madison YAF, told MacIver News Friday morning.
"I'm glad people like them exist," the 19-year-old sophomore added.
MacIver News could not immediately reach the professors for comment.
Avramenko and Sharpless are co-directors of the university's Center for the Study of Liberal Democracy. "Our main objective is to probe the nature and prospects of liberal democracy and its core principles, practices, and institutions," the organization's website states. "We promote the investigation of arguments for and against liberal principles and institutions, as well as the study of texts written by exponents and critics of the liberal tradition."
In order to do all that, it would seem the organization recognizes the critical role free and open speech plays in the furtherance of a strong democratic republic. That's a notion that has been lost on many modern-day liberals, who have abandoned such principles in the name of "safe spaces" and shaming, even criminalizing speech they don't agree with.
UW spokesman John Lucas told MacIver News Thursday evening that the university is expecting YAF's event with Pavlich to go on as scheduled. But he pointed to the requirement.
"Registered Student Organizations at UW-Madison have the ability to reserve space and hold events that are open to the university community of students, faculty and staff," he wrote in an email.
"For events to be opened to the general public, they require sponsorship by a department. This long-standing policy is shared with organizations every year," Lucas continued, including a link to the policy in his email.
"Should the organizers of this event wish to open it to the public, they may still seek an additional sponsor ahead of the event."
But that's easier said than done for a conservative organization on a very liberal campus.
Upon learning of the professors' apparent willingness to sponsor the conservative group, Pavlich tweeted, "Great news! Hopefully they already have tenure..."
Great news! Hopefully they already have tenure https://t.co/9OHJ8tHTwy— Katie Pavlich (@KatiePavlich) October 6, 2017
The comment would not be lost on conservative professors who have feared reprisal for expressing their political beliefs at left-wing universities. Professors like Marquette University's John McAdams, who remains in professional limbo because he wrote a blog outing a student teacher who refused to allow a conservative student to express his views on same-sex marriage.
And Young Americans for Freedom didn't seem to need a sponsor for previous events, including last November's speech by conservative columnist Ben Shapiro. That event turned chaotic when a group of left-wing protesters tried to shut Shapiro down. Some of the demonstrators called Shapiro a Nazi, a peculiar epithet aimed at a Jewish man. Protesters stormed the stage decrying the talk as nothing more than hate speech.
It's all curious timing as the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents takes up free speech reforms on Wisconsin's public university campuses. A proposal being considered calls for the expulsion of students who disrupt "the expressive rights of others." The students who disrupted the Shapiro event would fall into that category. The proposal sets up a kind of three-strikes-your-out discipline structure.
Republicans in the Legislature passed a similar speech protection bill. The Senate has yet to take up the measure.
The Regents on Friday nearly unanimously approved new policies to protect the right of speakers to be heard on campus. The lone "No" vote was cast by Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Tony Evers.
Streu said she will work to end the university's policy of faculty department sponsorship for student events.
"I don't think it's a good policy. It doesn't just affect my group or conservatives. It affects all students on campus who may not be able to get faculty to back them up," the journalism major said. "Having faculty supervisors sponsor us while we're adults planning events, it's kind of a drag, and it's not necessary."
Streu said taxpayers, too, should have every right to attend events at the universities they help fund - with or without faculty sponsorship.