Conservative Voices Drowned Out On UW-Madison Campus

July 9, 2015

By M.D. Kittle at

MADISON, Wisconsin — When administrators at the University of Wisconsin-Madison held their sky-is-falling hearings earlier this year on proposed budget cuts, it was no easy feat for young conservatives to make their voices heard through the din of left-wing passion at one of the most liberal campuses in the country.

But the College Republicans of UW-Madison turned out attempting to remind their left-leaning peers and professors that Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal came with another two-year tuition freeze.

You would think the university’s student government would be jumping for joy at the possibility of holding the line on the exploding cost of higher education. The average UW-Madison undergraduate degree carries a debt load of $27,711, according to the university.

Anthony Birch, chairman of the College Republicans of UW-Madison, said Walker’s tuition freeze proposal, just like the one enacted two years before, was met with silence from theAssociated Students of Madison.

“We had a member testify from our organization saying, ‘You claim to be a nonpartisan student advocacy group, but when something comes along that was maybe proposed by someone with an ‘R’ next to their name instead of a ‘D’ and is actually good for students and freezes the cost of college and is actually making an impact on my pocketbook and everybody else’s pocketbook in the state you say nothing,’” Birch told Wisconsin Watchdog on the Vicki McKenna Show on NewsTalk 1130 WISN in Milwaukee on Tuesday.

“That’s what we’re dealing with from an organization that claims to be the student voice but not necessarily is,” the student GOP leader added.

ASM, of course, was concerned with Walker’s original plan to trim $300 million out of the University of Wisconsin System budget, a reduction that has since been scaled back to $250 million by the Legislature’s Republican-led budget-writing committee.

Omitted from the student government’s talking points, however, were the hundreds of millions of dollars in cash balances the system failed to fully disclose. The money was found through the scrutiny of the Legislature’s CPA caucus, a group of Republican lawmakers who come from an accounting background.

These days, as the Republican-led budget process closes, ASM is sending urgent appeals to students asking them to “Call or email the governor to ask him to preserve students’ rights to self-governance with his veto pen.”

Wisconsin is one of the few states that codifies shared governance and faculty tenure directly into state law. That changes under the budget bill.

Students and faculty will still have a say, at least in an advisory capacity, but proponents of the limitations assert the decisions that impact taxpayers should be in the hands of university administrators.

ASM does make an interesting point. Student fees are essentially a tax. Taking away a students’ right to vote for the people who set those fees, the organization argues, is like “taxation without representation.”

Not everyone agrees with the student government’s positions. Birch said that makes little difference on a campus where the left is always right.

“It’s a shame. Anything that is going to be brought up by Republicans … it’s attacked and chewed up and spit out and it’s just worthless because” it’s a right-of-center position, he said.

The UW-Madison Republicans point to ASM’s strained argument that students are losing their voice in shared governance changes. The decisions made by ASM in the name of students are the domain of 10 people who were elected with 7 percent turnout, or a “popularity contest,” as the student GOP calls it.

“In theory, it sounds nice to say that you represent the student body voice. In reality, students are NOT involved in ASM’s decisions,” the College Republicans state in a press release.  “Maybe more students would be involved in their decision making process if they did more meaningful things besides raise the cost of college by increasing student segregated fees.”

They note that the ASM chairwoman, Madison Laning, is the daughter of the recently elected chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, Martha Laning.

Being a conservative on most U.S. college campuses is kind of like being a maitre d on Mars. It can be a lonely experience, particularly at the bastion of progressivism that is UW-Madison.

Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, asserts living on the right side of the argument is becoming increasingly challenging in higher education.

“Take any hot topic in America today, and I can point you to examples of students and faculty members getting in trouble for being on the conservative side of the issue,”Lukianoff said during a debate earlier this year on whether “Liberals are stifling intellectual diversity on campus” at George Washington University.

At the same debate, USA Today columnist Kirsten Powers pointed to Marquette University’s suspension of respected conservative Professor John McAdams for writing a blog criticizing a student teacher for telling one of her students that debating gay marriage in class was “homophobic” and “not appropriate.”

“Our opponents are telling you that liberals are not stifling intellectual diversity on campuses,” Powers said. “Sadly, this could not be further from the truth.”

Birch measures his organization’s success in small victories. During the last gubernatorial election, the campus Republicans almost won a ward, something that has not happened at the university in a long time.

“It’s small steps. Explaining our side of the story. That’s our goal. That’s all we can hope to do, little by little,” he said.


Schools: University of Wisconsin – Madison