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Cancel culture strikes again. Last week, the president of the Medical College of Wisconsin rescinded the use of campus facilities for a symposium that was supposed to take place on May 12th. U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R), State Representative Dave Murphy (R), and John Sailer, an official with the National Association of Scholars, were scheduled to discuss the impact of diversity, equity, and inclusion policies on higher education experiences and outcomes. Only a week prior to the event, the guest speakers were informed that their panel was no longer welcome on the MCW campus. No explanation was given as to why.
In his statement, MCW President John R. Raymond, Sr., M.D., woefully contradicted himself by writing, “A fundamental purpose of a university is to facilitate the exchange of ideas, even when those ideas challenge our cherished values or are offensive to members of our university community. However, the exchange of ideas should not disrupt the core functions of a university or jeopardize the safety of our MCW community.” Is MCW leadership implying that conservative speakers and elected officials somehow “jeopardize safety”? How so? Or is this yet another case of a respected institution fearfully caving to the demands and threats of the woke mob?
Ironically, Rep. Murphy, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities, has been hosting a series of informational hearings across the state focused on campus free speech over the past several weeks. Underscored by the results of a 2022 UW system-wide student survey about freedom of expression on campuses, committee members have engaged in powerful dialogue with an ideologically diverse group of academics and contributors to the survey. Many of those who testified at the Colleges and Universities Information Hearing are seriously concerned that a third of the over 10,500 respondents have had classroom exposure to the First Amendment. In addition, over 30% of participants indicated that university administrators should disinvite speakers if some students feel the speaker’s message is “offensive”. Is that what happened at MCW?
President Raymond indicated that he would consider hosting the symposium at a future date under “less disruptive conditions” at the time of his statement. In a phone call with Chairman Murphy, however, President Raymond indicated that he was not aware of any specific threats of disruption that would jeopardize anyone’s safety. Without a detailed explanation for disinviting the panel members, how can we not assume that the meanings of “safety” and “offensive” have been so surgically altered by complainants that merely having an (R) behind your name somehow causes harm to others?
Last week, on the same day President Raymond cancelled the symposium, the Republican-led Joint Finance Committee voted to allocate $7 million to the Medical College of Wisconsin in the upcoming budget for their psychiatry residency program in support of expanding statewide access to mental health services. Is this what he found to be jeopardizing safety? Offensive? Disruptive?
The trend of growing monolithic viewpoints and group-think on college campuses has dangerously undermined public trust in academia. Increasing restrictions on campus free speech – either under threats of litigation or fear of hurting someone’s feelings – have grossly mutated student and faculty perception and interpretation of the First Amendment. Would a symposium at a medical college have involved speech that made credible threats or incited violence? Would it have met the legal definition of harassment? Doubtful, but we’ll never know for sure… because cancel culture won again.
What’s next for MCW? Conservative patients are no longer welcome there, either?
Engaging in civil discourse is a skill that is essential to growth, creativity, and innovation – and to democracy. The legitimacy of higher education depends on intellectual and ideological diversity. If it’s now “hate speech” to question our values and test our theories, what is the purpose of higher education anymore? What message is the Medical College of Wisconsin sending about their regard for free speech and the open exchange of ideas that are foundational to higher learning? Without a credible explanation, the message is clear. Not all are welcome. So much for diversity, equity, and inclusion.
–Nedweski, R-Pleasant Prairie, represents the 61st Assembly District and is vice chair of the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities.