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Reversal of Fortune By: Roberta Leguizamon
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, June 02, 2003


On the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the once hushed conservative population is breaking the silence.

For decades, the faculty and student body of the University of Wisconsin in Madison has been one of the cornerstones of campus liberalism. Some of the most memorable moments in the anti-war movement during Vietnam occurred on its soil. "Conservative" was a dirty word, and "Republican" was akin to "Racist Bigot." The voice of socialism was unsullied by the evil, selfish and heartless Right. For leftists around the world, the University of Wisconsin-Madison was Paradise.

Not anymore.

Much to the dismay of the overwhelmingly left-wing faculty and student body, conservatives are beginning to make their presence known. Incidents of free speech are becoming more common in classrooms, rallies and newspapers. While it's clear that liberalism still has a stronghold in Madison, the walls have been breached.

How did this happen?

To be sure, and the conservative resurrgence is partial and faltering. Leftism remains deeply ingrained at all levels of campus life.  Student organizations and media outlets push the Left's agenda.  Three campus newspapers (The Spectator, The Badger Herald and The Daily Cardinal) have run articles rabidly opposing the war in Iraq, condemning Bush as a tyrant in search of oil and defense contracts. Other editorials accusing Israel of “stealing Palestinian culture” (!) and blaming Israel for Palestinian terrorism in the Middle East have appeared in each paper.

The International Socialist Organization is one of the most vocal and active groups on campus. In the last three months they have helped organize and participate in anti-war marches, teach-ins, and other forums denouncing the war in Iraq as a war of aggression and quest for oil.

The faculty is also predictably a hotbed of liberal elites. In recent months several media outlets have featured articles and editorials from several well-known UW-Madison professors, offering up leftist ideals and criticism regarding foreign policy, taxes, education and even fast food in Japan.

On March 13, 2003, Political Science Professor Michael Barnett told the Baltimore Sun, “The world's remaining superpower refuses to play by international rules, broadcasts that it has adopted a policy of 'pre-emption' -- a willingness to wage war against countries that it believes might do it harm in the future -- and dreams aloud of remaking countries and regions in its own image."

However, the professors' leftist agenda hardly stops at foreign policy.  Education professor Gloria Ladson-Billings has criticized efforts to improve public education through privatization at the American Educational Research Association conference in New Orleans. Sociology Professor Erik Olin Wright has made statements opposing tax cuts on NPR’s “Morning Edition.”  Law Professor Michael E. Smith suggested to the New York Times that DNA should be taken from every American at birth to help deter crime, despite the enormous violation of privacy that would entail. Anthropology Professor Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney even told the San Antonio Express that McDonalds and other exported fatty foods are to blame for increasing waistlines among Japanese citizens. There are many more examples.

The college's course catalogue also testifies to just how deeply leftist principles are rooted at UW-Madison. The university has offered courses such as "Green Politics: Global Experience, American Prospects,” "Marxism and the Black Experience” and "Daytime Serials: Family and Social Roles."

The university encourages leftwing courses, lectures and rallies, which it holds up as prime examples of free speech. Yet speech was anything but free at UW-Madison when the university passed a faculty speech code barring “unprotected expressive behavior" - that is, the use of any words that could be considered politically incorrect in their classrooms or any other university-sponsored event. Those who broke the code risked being censured or worse.

Then, in 1998, something surprising happened- small group of faculty members of the university joined together to speak out against the speech code. After debating the measure for a year and a half, it was abolished in 1999. 

Two years later the political atmosphere of UW-Madison was rocked by what is now termed "The Horowitz Controversy.” On Feb. 28, 2001, when Herald decided to publish David Horowitz's article against reparations for slavery in the US, about 100 students took to the steps of the Herald, screaming racism and demanding the resignation of it's editor, Julie Bosman. But no apology was forthcoming, nor were any resignations. And things haven’t been the same on campus since.

In a letter written in the Herald in 2002 by editor Alexander Conant one year after the Horowitz Controversy, Conant credited the incident with making the paper "better than ever before." Conant also stated that many of the students who had protested the advertisement not only stopped boycotting free speech on campus, but now regularly engage conservatives as contributors to the Herald's editorial page.

Other evidence of a broadening conservative ideology at UW-Madison appears in an article from The Daily Cardinal on May 7, 2003. Danielle Szulczewski wrote the enthusiasm of activism on UW-Madison’s campus is waning.

Offices of campus activist groups are more often closed than open. Protests for peace, which had began (sic.) in earnest after Sept. 11, are few and far between only nine months later, in a community whose aging activist body prided themselves (sic.) on beginning the rallies for peace in the '60s,” she said.

Even David Horowitz received a civil, if not particularly friendly, reception when he visited the university in December of 2001. The next day, in an article headed “Horowitz visit proves UW's free-speech maturity,” the editors at Herald proclaimed, “With flying colors, UW-Madison passed last night's First Amendment test.”

The leftists at the university were further dismayed by the April 29, 2003, appearance of Daniel Pipes, whose controversial statements regarding fundamental Islam have garnered criticism from liberals across the country. The activists protested, but still Pipes was given the floor, and over 1000 people attended the event.

Evidence demonstrates that the campus Left is worried in Madison. In fact, the Multicultural Student Coalition is taking action, engaging the intellectual debate for possibly the first time in campus history. According to Michelle Orris in the April 29 edition of the Herald students have begun "piecing together an alternative student news source," the Observer. The paper's founders, Orris wrote, are dissatisfied with the amount of coverage of a Books Not Bombs rally in March and other protests. “The Observer's writers have covered a range of topics, including the Lisa Link Peace Park renovations, the history of U.S. intervention in Iraq, the proposed campus power plant and the Patriot Act,” Orris wrote.  At least today, their voice is not the exclusive viewpoint represented in the campus media.

Perhaps the most promising sign of hope for free speech at the UW-Madison comes from Chancellor Wiley himself. During the war against Iraq, Wiley was pressured to make a statement concerning the University’s stance during the war. The faculty senate followed his lead, voting down a resolution opposing the war by a vote of 58-41.

Wiley supported the senate:

“I support unambiguously the right of individuals to express their personal and political views on the premises of UW-Madison, as long as the manner of that expression does not impede the rights of others to live, work and study. Open debate, particularly about matters of great societal concern - like war - has long been a hallmark of this campus. This is a place where free expression and differences of opinion matter."

Other universities haven’t had such qualms with passing anti-war resolutions, despite conservative-minded faculty, staff and students that may attend their institutions. The faculty senates of several universities, including the University of Massachusetts, Mt. Holyoke, Hampshire College, Williams College and San Francisco State University passed resolutions against war in Iraq, as have the student governments of the University of Texas and the University of Michigan.

“I welcome all voices and opinions, and encourage others to do likewise,” he added. “I have no right to suggest publicly that everyone associated with this university has a single viewpoint. We are a community with many voices, and I will not discourage debate or free expression by any action that would suggest that there is a fundamental inequality in the value of some of those voices as opposed to others.”

Coming from the top man himself, it appears there’s a new hope for diversity of ideology at UW-Madison.


Roberta Leguizamon earned a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Ohio University and is a Contributing Editor to Frontpage Magazine.


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