This is an open letter by Scott Wittkopf and Kirstie K. Danielson regarding the defunding of high education and the threats to academic freedom by undercutting tenure protections.
Wittkopf and Danielson write:
UW Budget Proposal Jeopardizes Freedom for Everyone
The following is revised from a letter submitted to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, UW Board of Regents, Wisconsin State Senate and Assembly leadership, UW System President Ray Cross, and UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank.
It is significant that the State and University of Wisconsin were both founded in 1848, because the people’s prosperity is directly linked to the prosperity of both public institutions. The UW System budget amendments proposed by the conservative-controlled Joint Finance Committee are ideologically driven and a misguided attempt to cripple essential relationships between the State, the University, and the People. This ideology will systemically destroy the University and each Wisconsin citizen’s future potential to prosper and enjoy the opportunities provided by educational freedom.
As alumni of the University and life-long Wisconsin residents, we are alarmed by betrayal of public trust at the highest levels of state and UW System leadership. Our current leaders are charged by Wisconsin citizens with the responsibility to empower people through knowledge, and protect basic educational freedoms. Yet they intentionally neglect that responsibility for political expedience. If the proposed UW budget is approved, no longer will Wisconsin citizens, students and faculty benefit from the freedom to inquire, teach, explore, and dream all that is possible.
Since the UW System impacts each person in the state, it is the responsibility of each citizen in the state to speak out in support of democratic public institutions that uphold essential educational freedoms providing opportunity for all. The proposed destructive amendments to the UW budget include weakening our public investment in higher education; eliminating critical tenure protections for faculty and students to research and teach emerging and cutting-edge topics; and silencing shared governance which ensures the democratic voice of those who teach and practice “The Wisconsin Idea.”
Embodying “The Wisconsin Idea,” the people of the state and the University have always worked together tirelessly to improve the quality of health, life, land and water, and gastronomical pleasures (e.g., Babcock Ice Cream) for everyone. It is all of us, through our investment and responsibility to future generations, who have provided citizens with life changing discoveries from vitamins A, B & D, to Warfarin, land conservation, stem cells, computer science, transplant surgery, and the list can go on and on. The current proposal weakening our investment in the future will inevitably hinder breakthroughs and discoveries that would otherwise benefit and bring hope to the people of Wisconsin. This is why the rest of the developed world is accelerating their investment in public education.
The guarantee of academic freedom at UW pre-dates “The Wisconsin Idea.” In 1894, the Board of Regents adopted a statement which has become part of Wisconsin culture. The critical section to tenure and shared governance protection reads, “…the great State University of Wisconsin shall ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth may be found.” Tenure and shared governance have historically guaranteed necessary protection and empowerment to fearlessly pursue truth. Without which we as a state may return to the days of academic persecution, especially under the current political climate. History is rife with examples of individuals who were punished for thinking freely and challenging the intellectual status quo, even as history has shown their discoveries to be true, be it Galileo, Einstein, Turing, or Cecilia Payne (astrophysicist). Is Wisconsin at the dawn of a new era of witch hunts in academia? Already, politicians and corporate powers are pursuing greed, power and profit over freedom of thought and speech. We must protect the Public from undemocratic private rule dictated by one political figure – the governor.
We call on our public leaders to uphold their moral responsibility to protect freedom of thought and speech, and empower the citizens of Wisconsin with opportunity to pursue knowledge. Expand investments, and protect tenure and shared governance for the UW System to fulfill our promise and commitment to future generations of Wisconsin. Our future prosperity as a people depends on it.
Kirstie K. Danielson, PhD & Scott Wittkopf
About the authors:
Kirstie K Danielson received her PhD from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and is currently an Assistant Professor in the Division of Transplant Surgery at the University of Illinois – Chicago. She still maintains her permanent residence in Madison, Wisconsin due to her love for the Badger State.
Scott Wittkopf attended the University of Wisconsin – Madison and is a political communications consultant and co-founder of Forward Institute, a public policy think tank in Wisconsin.