In Defense of Sara Goldrick-Rab

Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor of educational policy and sociology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, is under fire for tweeting to some incoming freshman an article about the budget cuts and attacks on tenure at her institution. The campus College Republicans started a campaign denouncing her tweets as “disgusting and repulsive” and declared, “The College Republicans of UW-Madison call on the University of Wisconsin-Madison to address the harassment of these future Badgers on Twitter.”

This is a disturbing reaction: engaging in a conversation or political debate on Twitter is not even remotely close to harassment. The fact that the College Republicans describe it as “harassment” (they replace this with the term “out-of-line actions” in their formal press release) indicates that they think it is deserving of punishment. We need to reject the very stupid notion that being exposed to an idea you disagree with is a form of “harassment.”

The notion that professors should be banned or discouraged from engaging in conversations on substantive issues with students is anathema to the basic ideals of intellectual engagement at a university. Goldrick-Rab declared, “I was very frustrated with the university not being forthcoming. Nobody’s communicating with them. So I looked for prospective students on Twitter and sent them information….I’m not trying to say to them, ‘Don’t come here.’” But even if she was discouraging students from attending her university, that is absolutely protected by academic freedom. It is not a professor’s job to be a cheerleader for their institution.

Even worse, the executive committee of Madison’s Faculty Senate declared in a statement. “As faculty members of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, we support free speech and diversity of opinion, as has been our tradition. Such freedom requires responsible behavior and in this respect we are deeply dismayed with the actions Professor Sara Goldrick-Rab has taken toward students and faculty on Twitter in recent weeks to discourage them from coming here. While claiming to stand for academic freedom, she has in fact damaged that principle and our institution with inaccurate statements and misrepresentations.”

The executive committee of the Faculty Senate, not Goldrick-Rab, is guilty of irresponsible and unprofessional behavior, and of damaging the principle of academic freedom. First, the assertion that academic freedom “requires responsible behavior” is absolutely wrong. The purpose of academic freedom, in part, is to protect professors even when they make comments that some people think are irresponsible. This is especially true when comes to extramural utterances, such as Goldrick-Rab’s tweets, which are given the strongest protection.

The University of Wisconsin policies on academic freedom declare that it “includes the right to speak or write-as a private citizen or within the context of one’s activities as an employee of the university-without institutional discipline or restraint on matters of public concern as well as on matters related to professional duties, the functioning of the university, and university positions and policies.” In other words, it protects exactly what Goldrick-Rab did in her tweets. By contrast, the section of the policy on academic responsibility requires “the faithful performance of professional duties and obligations,” not “responsible behavior” in one’s personal comments on public policy. The policy clearly declares that when a professor is “speaking on matters of public interest or concern,” the only requirement is that a professor makes it clear “one is speaking on behalf of oneself, not the institution.” Since no one has accused Goldrick-Rab of pretending to be an official spokesperson for the university, there is no violation at all of the university’s policies.

Also included in those policies is an important statement on academic freedom by the Regents: “in serving a free society the scholar must himself be free….The concept of intellectual freedom is based upon confidence in man’s capacity for growth in comprehending the universe and on faith in unshackled intelligence.” Apparently the Faculty Senate executive committee has its lost faith in unshackled intelligence, and now wants professors to keep quiet about uncomfortable topics such as the recent damage to the university caused by the actions of politicians.

The College Republicans responded, “We want to thank the Faculty Senate for standing up with us for not only free speech, but also individual responsibility.” I can understand why some poorly educated students don’t know what free speech and individual responsibility are, although I’m baffled at how they can imagine that a collective campaign to stifle an individual professor’s free speech is a defense of free speech and individual responsibility.

But the actions by the Faculty Senate are inexcusable. At any time, it is unprofessional for a Faculty Senate to tell a professor to shut up. But in the midst of a public campaign to have the professor punished for her comments, such a statement is highly unethical and threatens academic freedom.

52 thoughts on “In Defense of Sara Goldrick-Rab

  1. Pingback: “Je Tweet…!” | The Academe Blog

  2. You’ve hit the nail squarely on the head, John. Thanks. The only thing to add is that the Senate Executive Committee’s hasty and shameful statement not only runs counter to the principles of academic freedom, but also undermines the basic principles of shared governance. Even if Goldrick-Rab’s tweets did violate professional norms (and I’m not saying they did), she would be entitled to due process protections and a hearing before her peers. But the senate statement would undermine any pretense of fairness in such a process and undermine the whole structure of shared governance, already under assault by the Wisconsin Legislature, since it is the senate that should oversee such procedures in some manner. If any statement was inappropriate and unprofessional here it was the statement by the Senate leaders.

    • “engaging in conversations” Let me go all professor on you here teach- (Conversation)- informal interchange of thoughts, information, etc., by spoken words; oral communication between persons; talk; colloquy. Can you tell me Hank how much of a “conversation” does one expect to engage when equating your counterpart with Adolf Hitler? While I agree she has the right to free speech and certain protections within academia can we not agree that her speech was inappropriate?

  3. Yeah, except that when she used the hashtag #FutureBadgers, she was not tweeting for herself but rather injecting herself into another conversation into which she was not invited – thereby creating valid ground for someone to tell her to shut up.

    Now, apparently in one of her own tweets, she asserts there are ” ‘terrifying’ psychological similarities between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Nazi leader and mass murderer Adolf Hitler.”
    .. and then someone from the #FutureBadgers thread noticed that and brought it to wider attention.

    “Professor” Goldrick-Rab richly deserves all the negative blowback she’s getting.

    • So communicating with students in a public forum (Twitter) about problems at one’s university is not protected both as free speech and the exercise of academic freedom? I we can’t compare our political leaders to Hitler and Stalin without getting fired, we can kiss freedom goodbye. Criticizing government is essential to democracy.

    • People can debate Twitter etiquette for days, but even if her comments (on an open forum, related to a major topic of shared interest) constituted “injecting herself into another conversation,” that is far from “harassment.”

      For the College Republicans to call her tweets “harassment” is crass (but predictable) opportunism in pursuit of their political agenda. For the Faculty Senate to pile on is astounding and shameful.

    • Your assertion that she wasn’t invited is weak. Twitter is not an invitation-only medium. Thats why they have hashtags such as #FutureBadgers. It’s an entirely public medium, and the hashtags are not only an invitation to comment, but provide a ready means for others to find your conversation for comment.

  4. “The policy clearly declares that when a professor is “speaking on matters of public interest or concern,” the only requirement is that a professor makes it clear “one is speaking on behalf of oneself, not the institution.” Since no one has accused Goldrick-Rab of pretending to be an official spokesperson for the university, there is no violation at all of the university’s policies.”

    While perhaps no one has accused Goldrick-Rab of pretending to be an official spokesperson for the university, by the same token, none of her initial tweets “[made] it clear ‘[she] is speaking on behalf of [her]self, not the institution.’ ” either.

    Because of this clear lack of disclosure from the get go, her tweets are a violation of the university’s policies.

    • No, no, you are absolutely wrong. By your standard, every single professor in the country has violated the “speaking on behalf” rule. Anyone who has ever written a tweet or a comment or any essay without declaring they are not speaking for the institution would be violating this rule. (And it’s not limited to written work or public pronouncements: if you express an opinion in a personal conversation with anyone, your rule applies as well.) And since no one ever makes this declaration, everybody is guilty. Clearly, the only reasonable interpretation is that we all presume that professors do not speak for their institutions. In reality, this is an archaic rule that no one ever breaks and it should be permanently removed from both AAUP guidelines and university policies, since it protects nothing and can only be enforced by administrators who share this deeply mistaken view of “speaking on behalf” rules.

      • If you look at her twitter bio summary under her handle it reads: “*I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change; I am changing the things I cannot accept.* Professor of ed policy studies & sociology, UW-Madison”. Most academics (and others) express within this space that tweets are their own opinions and do not represent their organizations. I think a case could be made that because it states her academic title/rank and institutional affiliation that she is representing the university. If it there was a disclosure statement than I think the link is not there to make and it is clear her tweets are her own opinion and not officially linked to UW-Madison.

        • I suspect, contrary to your claim, that most professors on twitter don’t include that caveat in their bio. Nor is it the case that any professor who fails to do so can then be fired for their opinions. Professors use their title and affiliation all the time (and have it used by others) without the caveat in all sorts of ways, and it is never acceptable to punish them for it. It is simply irrational to imagine that the words “Professor, UW-Madison” mean “official spokesperson for UW-Madison.” Only the most delusional people imagine that professors run the universities.

      • Mr. Wilson, I not sure it is solely about the disclaimer but use the placement of the UW-Madison within the byline. I am making a legal argument rather than a philosophical one (one that I agree with you on many point around the need to preserve academic freedom).

        To help illustrate: A random selection of scholars listed on EdWeek’s top education scholars and they inclusion of an institutional affiliate or disclaimer:

        Diane Ravitch – No Institutional Affiliation
        Gary Orfleid – No Institutional Affiliation
        David Berline – No Institutional Affiliation
        Eric Hanushek – No Institutional Affiliation
        Marybeth Gausam – Institutional Affiliation no Disclaimer
        Carol Tomlinson – No Institutional Affiliation
        Pedro Noguera – Institutional Affiliation no Disclaimer
        Sue Dynarski – Institutional Affiliation with Disclaimer
        Tom Dee – Institutional Affiliation no Disclaimer

        1/3 have similar bio construction with institutional affiliation and no disclaimer. Must do not list their institution and only provide institutional affiliation and disclaimer. It would have been better (legally) to not have listed her institutional affiliation.

        • So, you looked at ten scholars and one had a disclaimer. I know we live in a litigious society, but at some point we need a revolution of common sense. If twitter feeds by professors are required to have disclaimers, then every syllabus should, too. In fact, maybe we all need to wear giant signs that say, “the views expressed by me are solely my own, and not those of my institution.” Better yet, we could all get face tattoos with that message scrawled on our cheeks, just to play it safe. Or, we could all simply agree that individuals speak for themselves unless stated otherwise. With that in mind, I propose to start a revolution for common sense. To join the revolution, all you have to do is refuse to make silly disclaimers. Since at least 90% of scholars already do this, the revolutionary ranks have immediately swelled to massive numbers. (The AAUP could join the fight by removing the silly disclaimer it puts at the top of every page on this blog.)

  5. What could be more contrary to principles of academic freedom than to admonish a prof for allegedly “inaccurate statements and misleading representations?” It is not the role of any institutionalized committee to assess the veracity of the prof’s statements. If committee members want to enter the conversation they may do so as individuals, as did the prof. Since the ‘budget’ passed I’ve been watching for a handful of UW administrators to launch an offensive on academic freedom as is clearly desired by the legislature and governor. I’m not one who is easily surprised, but it suprised me to see a committee composed of faculty take the lead in this way. Very rough times ahead for this organization.

  6. I have now made almost 1,000 posts to this blog. Below each of those posts is a brief biographical note that begins: “I am a Professor of English at Wright State University, where I have been a faculty member for almost 25 years.” (I just realized that I need to update the note because that 25-year mark is now in the rearview mirror.)

    Nowhere in that bio note do I offer any disclaimer that the posts express my own personal views and are not in any way representative of or institutionally endorsed by my university. Indeed, I am quite certain that if someone were to make such an assertion–or even simply to suggest such a possibility–there would be a rush to the microphones to dismiss it categorically. Moreover, I am quite certain that our administration would be able to identify very precisely who does and does not speak for the university.

    The ironic paradox is, of course, that many of the same people who would like to reduce all faculty to “independent contractors” also want to assert, when it is more convenient for them to do so, that faculty are so intrinsically identified with their institutions that every syllable that they utter defines those institutions.

    The following can be filed under the heading of things seldom if ever heard from any public figure in response to a faculty member’s strongly expressed comments on the issues of the day: “Although I disagree very strongly with the political views expressed by Professor X, I do have to admire the clarity and incisiveness with which he (or she) has expressed those opinions and has thereby contributed to the public discourse on these critically important issues.”

    • You can do a thing for 25 years that does not mean you are doing it right. How exactly to you contribute to the public discourse by equating your counterpoint to Hitler? I would call it detracting.

  7. Anybody who has been watching UW-Madison very closely these past several years (from, say, 2011 onward) is probably already very familiar with Sara Goldrick-Rab and her tendency to, well, flame people she disagrees with through online social media.

    She does, and continues to do, incredibly important scholarship on the maintaining and strengthening of access to public higher ed, and is leading light in the growing movement to make public university free. However, in my observation, she is not the type of scholar to take disagreement either lightly or gracefully.

    She has been on the warpath against Chancellor Blank before Blank was ever even named Chancellor (apparently, Blank failed to make enough eye contact with her during a faculty meet-and-greet). This is not to absolve Blank of her own shortcomings – she has been, in my view, high-minded to the point of naïve in her dealings with Assembly Republicans – but there is a pattern, going back to 2011, of Goldrick-Rab reading excessively nefarious motives in anyone who disagrees with her – be they faculty, stakeholder, or student. But none of this is really the issue here.

    What she did with respect to #FutureBadgers is TROLLING. It wasn’t simply sharing information of concern to these students but actively telling them (read the tweets if you disagree) that they are wasting their money by attending UW-Madison, this from a tenured member of the faculty of said institution. In any other online setting, by any other person, it would constitute TROLLING. Now, to my knowledge, there’s no discussion yet in public higher ed about where trolling fits with respect to protected faculty speech. But the real flashpoint of faculty speech isn’t simply voicing unpopular opinions in class room or publishing politically charged scholarship, but when faculty (tenured or otherwise) use their position to effectively bully students (undergrads in particular) into agreeing with them. Tenure doesn’t cause this person to behave the way they do, and probably doesn’t contribute to it either. But when you see tenured professors try to effectively goad students into taking the same position as them (or, as Goldrick-Rab has done previously on other issues, publicly shame them for disagreeing with her) it makes the institution of tenure that much more difficult to defend for those of us who believe in it. And that’s where I think the University Committee is coming from here.

    The Walker/Hitler comparison is Godwin’s Law 101, and just plain dumb of her, and I say this as somebody who believes Scott Walker is the very worst thing to have ever happened to the state of Wisconsin.

    • Where does trolling fit with protected faculty speech? It is absolutely protected, like other extramural speech. And that’s partly because there’s no agreed upon definition of trolling. My definition: trolling is maliciously hijacking a conversation in order to discourage intelligent discussion (the troll under the bridge who stops a discussion from moving forward without paying a toll). Clearly, Goldrick-Rab didn’t do that. You can argue that Goldrick-Rab was starting a conversation that these students didn’t want to hear. But that’s not trolling, and often it’s a good thing to do (professors do it all the time). As for bullying, I object to that term being applied to adults because it is a form of infantilization. These students are adults, and there’s nothing intimidating about tweeting your opinions. If anyone is being bullied here, it’s Goldrick-Rab.

      • “Clearly, Goldrick-Rab didn’t do that. You can argue that Goldrick-Rab was starting a conversation that these students didn’t want to hear. But that’s not trolling, and often it’s a good thing to do (professors do it all the time).”

        So inserting yourself into a conversation to bend it towards her preferred opinion on a completely unrelated subject is not trolling simply because she’s faculty? Is that the argument you’re making? If so, it’s not at all clear that’s that what Goldrick-Rab was doing. I agree with you that’s it probably falls under broad protected speech, and I’m sure the Faculty Senate knows that. But on a very fundamental level, it was really very tacky and does not reflect well on her at all.

        Think about it: a Faculty member, angered by recent university policy decisions, perhaps even angry at the university itself, decides to insert herself into a Twitter conversation directed at incoming Freshmen whereby they share what it is they’re looking forward to most about attending said university. Directly addressing students who have used this hashtag, she not only shares information intended to malign the university (which I’m fine with) but even tells these incoming freshman that they’re wasting their money (which I’m not fine with) . This is the equivalent of this faculty member inserting herself into a conversation she overhears in, say, a coffee shop or a bar off campus, and proceeding to hector every participant in that conversation into taking the same point as her. If we’re all adults here, why are we condoning behavior that would seem adolescent and obnoxious in any other social setting?

        I have no doubt that what Goldrick-Rab did was insanctionable. But this recourse to academic freedom in order to explain her behavior is neither adequate nor dispositive and deserves a fuller hearing than what I’m getting on any of these blogs.

        On this we’re going to have to disagree. And these students were incoming freshman. No, they are not children. But in most other instances, they’re not quite adults either.

        • I think the term “trolling” is often overused (there’s no right to have a public discussion where disagreeable ideas are never heard), and the harm of trolling is not very significant and dealt with via criticism, not censorship, and certainly not punishment by a university. Twitter is not a private conversation in a coffeehouse. So, we disagree about whether Goldrick-Rab was trolling, and whether she is tacky. We disagree about whether college students are adults. But we agree that trolling is protected by academic freedom, and that’s what is the key question here.

      • “We disagree about whether college students are adults. But we agree that trolling is protected by academic freedom, and that’s what is the key question here.”

        Okay. Why? It’s really not self-evident.

        • Why is trolling protected by academic freedom? Because all extramural utterances are protected: professors should be judged by their academic work, not by their comments on their own time. Otherwise, we would be firing professors for anything they say in their personal lives. We also need to protect trolling because in many cases (such as this) the strong-willed expression of political views is wrongly called “trolling” even when it isn’t. If we punished a professor for “trolling” for criticizing budget cuts, then it would have an incredible chilling effect: professors would be afraid to talk to students because any of their comments could be called “trolling” if the student felt offended.

      • What’s makes you so sure that this is an “extramural utterance?” What makes you so sure that a Twitter exchange between a tenured faculty member and an incoming Freshman, initiated entirely by that faculty member and intended to bend that Freshman’s opinion towards that faculty member’s, is the same thing as if the faculty member had issued an unguarded opinion in her own personal life at, say, a panel off campus?

        Goldrick-Rab’s Twitter isn’t purely a platform for her academic views, but most of the time it is. Without signing on to the other side of this debate (which, believe it or not, is not neoliberal censure of unpopular speech, but radical left policing of any speech deemed problematic), a tenured faculty member has the imprimatur of the entire university and all its institutional power to support every one of their utterances (this is not, btw, to lend any credence to the side bar on “Disclaimers,” which I’ve found completely beside the point and not worthy an entire article on this blog.)

        The same movement that tried to take down Laura Kipnis through a bogus Title IX claim would also argue that faculty members and undergrads do not, in fact, stand as equals in the academic setting, and should not be portrayed as such whenever it is convenient for faculty members and, by extension, the university. And they would be right to say so. Academic Freedom isn’t Academic Freedom simply because Academic Freedom. There’s nothing talismanic about. It’s a value upheld by a system of norms which evolve over time, and change with respect to time, place and manner. Goldrick-Rab tread a very fine and problematic line that I don’t think university or faculty have come up with an adequate response to yet, and this deserves further exploration.

        • It’s an extramural utterance because it is outside of her required teaching and research work. Nor does the occasional mention of academic work mean that none of her tweets are extramural utterances (by that logic, all emails from a professor must be judged by academic standards because some emails are work-related). In extramural utterances, everyone is equal. Goldrick-Rab has no control over these students, and I’m surprised you think the Kipnis case shows that faculty are all-powerful and control students merely by expressing their own opinions.

      • I wasn’t necessarily offering the Left Radical take on Kipnis as something I agree with; it’s an argument I found problematic. But it’s a real and valid one, that I feel informs one aspect of the debate on the contours of academic freedom that goes seldom unexplored, and I see shades of it taking place here. Academic Freedom, like a lot of things that take place in the academy, is largely relational, and this is not a view only I hold:

      • John K. Wilson, I’ve already wrote about how I see this not as an attack on here rights to express controversial ideas, but just admonishment for doing it in an unprofessional way, I hope you will read and respond. But regarding what you said here, do you feel there are any limits to what a tenured faculty member may say if & when the comments are critical of individual students? It seems to me there are. Is it within the realm of protected faculty speech for one to *publicly* question the individual choices of a specific student, be it the way the student dresses, what major they declare, who they choose as a partner (and of what gender/race), what campus organizations they join, etc? Would you agree at least some of these are not under the umbrella of protected faculty speech? Yes many of her tweets were generically critical of the state and UW, but others were along these lines, she told students their choice to come to UW was wrong & they were foolish to “waste their $.” You wrote

        “The University of Wisconsin policies on academic freedom declare that it “includes the right to speak or write-as a private citizen or within the context of one’s activities as an employee of the university-without institutional discipline or restraint on matters of public concern as well as on matters related to professional duties, the functioning of the university, and university positions and policies.” In other words, it protects exactly what Goldrick-Rab did in her tweets.”

        I disagree, yes this is what Goldrick-Rab did in *some* of her tweets, but not all of them. The committee members’ statement made a distinction, the tweets they were critical of were not “matter of public concern, [etc],” their statement actually explicitly singles out the ones questioning the wisdom and choices of individual students: “… Such freedom requires responsible behavior and in this respect we are deeply dismayed with the actions Professor Sara Goldrick-Rab has taken toward students and faculty on Twitter in recent weeks TO DISCOURAGE THEM FROM COMING HERE…. ” (my emphasis) Put another way, I don’t think the Faculty Senate executive committee censure was for her expressing her criticism of Walker and the changes at the UW, it was a rebuke of her challenging the judgement of individual students, and this is not protected by UW policies AFAIK.

        • What do we punish? What do we admonish? I am particularly worried about the many people who claim that Goldrick-Rab should be fired; and even though you do not, you argue that her comments are not “within the realm of protected faculty speech,” which indicates that she could be punished for it.

          But I also worry about the culture of viciously attacking and demonizing people who express an opinion, because it tends to silence the climate of debate. I’m absolutely not saying that Goldrick-Rab should never be criticized, but the manner of that criticism matters. It is noteworthy that many of Goldrick-Rab’s critics, especially the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, do not merely say, “we disagree with her” but instead claim that she should have shut up and it’s irresponsible and unprofessional for her to communicate publicly with students.

          It would be bizarre for a professor to publicly comment on how a student dresses, but I can imagine such a comment being merited if a student, say, wore a Confederate flag everywhere. Suppose some day a university hires me, and it happens to be a private college that charges $50,000 a year in tuition. And suppose I wrote that I think it’s crazy to spend $50,000 a year on college, and anyone who does this “wastes their $” (and I might write that, because it’s true). Should I be punished for the crime of discouraging students from attending my university? Should I be told by official bodies of the university that expressing my opinions is irresponsible behavior? I don’t think so. And the fact that (unlike what Goldrick-Rab did) I am challenging the judgment of individual students who wear Confederate flags or pay a lot of tuition should not change a university’s commitment to freedom of speech. Instead of condemning and fearing the idea that people challenge each other’s judgments, we need to embrace it as the core of a true university’s soul.

  8. Note to moderator: The most recent comment from “Badger” was not written by me who has posted under this name in previous comments.

    Mr. Wilson: I appreciate your defense of academic freedom. You prior writing on the such make you an expert in this field. While maybe protected, the connections between Hitler and Walker was not only insensitive to many both within and outside of Wisconsin. I agree that the UW’s Faculty Senate did “bully” Dr. Goldrick-Rab with their condemnation of her comments without due process or investigation; however, Dr. Goldrick-Rab does have a history of bully students — see her prior exchange with a graduate student during the tenure vote and her calling her ignorant and uninformed.

    Sure all aspects of her comments are protected under academic freedom; however, that does not mean her comments were responsible or becoming of someone within her position. While she is not THE spokesperson for UW, she is certainly a representative of the university (and continues to be by having that UW affiliation within her bio on Twitter).

    • Badger, you’re very confused if you think that commenting on a Twitter thread is the same as inserting yourself into a private conversation at a coffee bar. The entire point of Twitter is public commentary. Not only is there nothing legally or morally wrong with a professor commenting on a public conversation that a public university is about to begin an historic decline, there nothing unbecoming about it. In fact, it demonstrates the kind of courage and intellect that a college education is all about. I am an alumn of the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and I am telling every prospective student to look elsewhere, to institutions that respect academic freedom, because this is one of the most important decisions of their lives. Why should professors be under a vow of silence in deference to your notion of what is “becoming”? What the Republican-controlled legislature did to this university would be inconceivable at a Harvard or Yale. The “College Republicans” attempts to shame are part and parcel of a purely political plan to instill a “chilling effect” on academic free speech at Madison. Importantly, more than one professor has said that faculty morale is at an all-time low and that everyone is being recruited. There is a significant possibility that the University’s ability to attract and retain talent has been irreparably damaged and that very substantial research contracts might be lost and with them, hundreds of millions of dollars of revenues and substantial prestige. College administrators in fear of their jobs aren’t relating these issues to unsuspecting incoming students, nor are professors in light of the new “chill”. For a single professor to do so on a public forum shows the kind of character that this country is desperate for.

      • Let me point out how off mark your comment is. Harvard and Yale are private institutions the government has little control of how the use their money. In fact part of Obama’s proposal to fund free college may be funded by taxing these colleges endowment funds. You like that your president taking money from higher education? What Walker did was removed the statute that makes tenure automatic after a set time and placed it in the discretion of the board of regents. Now that sounds like the same situation at the majority of state colleges throughout the US. Rab stated that she had to tell her kids why they had to leave the place they were born… Walkers going to take my job. Now if you can’t see how intellectually dishonest she is also by telling those students that teachers would leave in droves if that happened well then your just in the bag.

  9. Suppose a worker in private industry tweeted “I can’t recommend our product.”
    Discipline would be in order.
    That situation is similar to Rab’s response to a student who argued back to her.
    Rab said “I thought you want a degree of value. Too bad.”
    Academic freedom should not extend to tearing down your employer.
    (And note the haughty, contemptuous response to a future student. It’s exactly the type of sarcasm displayed by left-wing professors in class.)

    • The analogy is inappropriate. A university is not private industry and faculty are not “workers” in the corporate sense–and there is no “product” resulting that can be adequately defined in commercial terms.

      (As a left-wing professor myself, I am never sarcastic nor contemptuous with my students and I have yet to see a left-wing colleague who is–outside of the movies, that is. I can be direct, as I am in this comment, but that is distinct from sarcasm.)

      • Aaron, A ‘degree of value’ sure sounds like a commodity or product.
        But consider a doctor with hospital privileges that replied to a prospective patient, “I thought you wanted a hospital of value. Too bad.”

        • Yes, let’s imagine that a doctor tweets about massive budget cuts and the harm it does to the quality of the hospital, and a prospective patient writes, “Nobody cares,” and the doctor responds that way. Should that doctor be fired? I say, absolutely not, at any hospital. And at university hospitals with academic freedom protections, I would be appalled if anyone wanted to fire a doctor for discussing on their own time how public policy harms their institution. Universities need free speech in general, but especially when it comes to warning us about the flaws in their own institutions and how they are being undermined.

  10. Pingback: On Disclaimers | The Academe Blog

  11. As an alumni & fellow employee of UW-Madison, with a spouse also a tenured professor in the UW System. I actually share some of Goldrick Rab’s concerns about the future, and see the point that Faculty Senate Executive Committee may be seen as “discouraging” Goldrick-Rab. But frankly, I agree with everything they say. Goldrick-Rab may have had the “right” to do what she did, but it can also be true at the same time that what she did was unprofessional and does not reflect well on the institution which we both should be dedicated to building up, not tearing down.

    She has the right to express her opinions, without a doubt. But that right does not also grant with it immunity to criticism for parachuting into a non-academic conversation, outside her academia area of expertise and amongst individuals who are not yet even part of the academic community, in order to berate them for being excited to be joining that community.

    Again, I can see some basis for concern about what the Faculty Senate executive committee has done (I don’t personally, but I can see how others might). But I can’t see much basis for the title of this blog post, a defense of Goldrick-Rab. Everyone has the “right” to do unprofessional things, but such a right shouldn’t be confused expectation no one should question your professionalism after you do them. There is not threat to Goldrick-Rab’s job that I have heard, and you mention none here (you say she is being “punished,” but do not support that claim, and I see none for it elsewhere … others that have replied to this post are drawing analogies in which a person is fired, such analogies are not applicable here). Tenure is supposed to be protection of the professor’s freedom to express ideas, not a mechanism to deny this freedom to everyone who wishes to respond. Anyway, even if one fully embraces your POV, the members of the executive committee are all presumably tenured faculty as well, so why don’t they also have the right to express their opinions without your censure?

    • M Manville, no one is saying that criticism of the Professor isn’t allowed, as you seem to believe because you argue against that straw man at length. The point is that such criticism is ill-considered, unwise, hypocritical, dangerous, and cowardly, much like your post. You seem to not understand that Twitter is a public square with implied invitation to all to comment and join a line of discourse. Your idea that joiners are “parachuting” into conversations is an invention that I’ve never heard from any experienced user of the medium. And contrary to your claim, she is being punished. That’s the point of the letter from the Executive Committee. And although you may not be aware of it, there have been many calls for her job from organized right wingers, which was the whole point of Scott Walker’s diluting tenure at the University, in addition to the chilling effect he intends it to have on free inquiry and speech.

      And on what basis do you claim that part of an academic’s “professionalism” is to be a cheerleader for an institution, to make future joiners of the University excited to come? I attended UW-Madison as well, and I’ve never met anyone who views a professor’s job as doing anything other than sharing his or her intellect and morality in complete unvarnished fashion. What just happened to this formerly great university would never happen at any of the great salt-water institutions, and it doesn’t follow that all professors must bow their heads and follow in lock-step with the wishes of the Republican-controlled state legislature simply because the administration, students, and alumni appear to be sleep-walking through the tragedy. As the University begins its downward spiral, Professor Goldrick-Rab’s statements and Tweets will come to be known as the canary in the coal mine, and any student who takes her advice and goes to an Ivy will be well-served and should eventually thank her for her professionalism.

      • End Game: you managed to called me ill-considered, unwise, hypocritical, dangerous, cowardly, not understanding the point, incapable of understanding Twitter, making things up, stating untruths … all within the first 4 sentences! Why did you even bother to respond to me, if I was so pitifully unworthy, lol? Seriously, if you want to conduct a civil conversation, without all the personal insult, try again, otherwise you’ve gone down a low road here which I will chose not to follow you down..Good day.

        • You’re mistaken. I said that your post – and other comments like it- that propose that no one rocks the boat in order to make incoming students feel “excited” is cowardly. I didn’t say that you were. There is a difference between labeling an argument and labeling a person, and if you don’t understand the difference, you’re going to have a rough time as you venture into public argument. I also said your comments, and the criticism of the Professor, are hypocritical, unwise, and dangerous, and I stand by those comments and reiterate them them here. If you think that that is an insult, then please go back and consult your textbook in Rhetoric 101.

          I notice that you decided not to address any of my specific, point-by-point arguments other than to shout “Untrue”!

          You seem to hold the odd view that critics can spout whatever nonsense they want and that any reply is either out-of-bounds due to some sort of “free speech” shield or is a personal attack on the critic himself and thus rude, both of which are clearly ridiculous.

          And as for anonymity, are we supposed to admire your courage, “M”?

      • p.s. End Truth, and if you do chose to continue attacking me, please stop doing it while hiding behind an anonymous pseudonym. Oh the irony that you are the one who called me a coward.

  12. You can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig. Does anyone here want to hazard a guess how many people have been fired for speaking ill or discouraging people from doing business with their employer. There’s free speech and then there’s hate speech and to equate a person you politically disagree with to the a man that tried to rid the world of Jews is insulting in the extreme. Rab from what I gather is a Jew and for her to say a thing like that implies she believes Walker could seek to have her exterminated. From what I understand she sought out a great number of potential Badger students targeting them solely for her vitriol. Any comment that may be found derogatory or offensive is considered harassment. That’s from a wiki I think since she targeted a specific group and basically repeated the same thing- that thing being both derogatory and offensive represented by the response from a large group of potential students. I think she hurt her reputation and harmed the school as well. If she worked for me I would fire her. Flame away college boys that’s not from academia that’s that’s coming from the intersection of common and sense. Take the political component away ask 100 regular people on the street say you have a person that works for you and you learn they are telling a group of people that are potential customers that your product is not good and there are multiple reasons you should not buy it and that they routinely accuse people they don’t agree with of being a mass murderer. Then ask them if they would keep them or fire them. That’s the real world. And if she did nothing wrong why did she walk it back? I don’t care what any of you think about my post I think this woman is vile and disgusting and she hides behind a shield of self expression to harm others with her sickening diatribe all in the name of her political beliefs.

    • One of your base assumptions is quite flawed: universities are not corporations, nor are they involved, at their base, in commercial enterprises. Your analogy of employer/employee relations and product support makes no sense in an educational environment. University governance is not meant to be top-down and a degree is not something one should be able to buy.

      • Therein lies the problem. People think they can hide behind the shield of academia and say what they please. It is inappropriate for you me and Ms. Rab to equate a sitting governor with Hitler. She tried to cover that by saying they had similar personality traits but the same could be said for any two people. I think we all know she was associating the very worst of Hitler’s traits with Walker. She is correct to disagree with his views and counter those with her own but she went too far. She had no legitimate right to encourage potential students to attend other schools. Wherever you work there are lines and she clearly crossed it.

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