In a grotesque violation of academic freedom, University of Wisconsin at LaCrosse Chancellor Joe Gow has banned faculty from criticizing Republican Party policies. Rachel Slocum, assistant professor of geography, sent an email to her students explaining that they were unable to use the Census Bureau website because of the government shutdown by “Republican/Tea-Party controlled House of Representatives.” Gow called the comment “inappropriate” and “problematic,” said it could make students “uncomfortable,” and said it was a violation of the university policy against using campus resources for political activity.
I can scarcely imagine a greater abuse of power by a chancellor than forcing a professor upon threat of punishment to apologize for speaking the truth. Gow is 100% wrong when he claims that the opinions of a professor related to a political party’s activities violate the university’s policy against using its resources for political activity. Political activity must mean actually aiding a political campaign, and “resources” must mean a real cost imposed on the university, not merely the use of university emails, computers, or facilities. Otherwise, colleges would have to prohibit the use of the words “Republicans” or “Democrats” in any emails or campus halls. Gow is perfectly free to criticize Slocum and express an incorrect opinion about the Republicans’ government shutdown. But he is not free to impose that opinion on the rest of campus. This irresponsible use of policies against political activity is a violation of academic freedom, and a very good reason to overturn such policies to prevent this abuse.