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UWEC Cannot Run from Its Record

One of the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire’s (UWEC’s) central contentions is that it has for some time applied a policy that limited the political and ideological speech of its RAs, and thus the Bible study ban is not only nothing new, but also perfectly consistent with past practice. This contention is untrue; it is difficult to see how the university makes the claim with a straight face. UWEC’s office of Housing and Residence Life—the office that hires and supervises RAs on campus—is actually blatantly and officially ideological. The following information comes from a UWEC insider:

UW System General Counsel Patricia Brady has stated the System’s position quite clearly: “UW-Eau Claire has consistently followed a practice of prohibiting these employees [RAs] from leading, organizing or recruiting students for student organizations or activities within the residence halls in which they work. This prohibition is not limited to those organizations or activities that have a religious viewpoint, but applies to all organization [sic] or activities, ranging from partisan political activities to ‘sales party’ events.”

FIRE has keenly pointed out, in print and on the air, that the University has actually praised an RA in the past for producing The Vagina Monologues. I want to draw your attention to an even more striking irony: The UW-Eau Claire office of Housing and Residence Life is currently sponsoring and funding political/ideological activities on campus and in the community, and University administrators are praising them for it.

Please take time to visit the website of UW-Eau Claire’s Housing and Residence Life. If you follow the “Organizations” link on the right-hand side of the page, you will be directed to a list of eight organizations that operate under the umbrella of UWEC Housing and Residence Life. Let me point out some of the activities these organizations engage in:

MOSAIC: This student organization sponsors The Vagina Monologues, The Tunnel of Oppression, and various other diversity forums. You can read about the goals of The Tunnel from one past UWEC organizer here, and about the most recent Tunnel production at UWEC here.

What is more fascinating is that MOSAIC is once again sponsoring The Vagina Monologues this year and the organizer for the event is none other than January Boten, the Hall Director from UWEC’s Putnam Hall who serves as the advisor for MOSAIC. Does this look like the University is following its “longstanding policy” of demanding that its employees refrain from advocating political/ideological causes?

TV10: This “campus cable” station produces a show called “Living on the Edge” each semester where they take up a pressing political topic and invite guests to represent their views on it. Two years ago, I participated in a live debate about gay marriage on this show. This year, I was asked to participate in a discussion on “the morning after pill.” Does it not appear that the office of Housing and Residence Life is trying actively to engage students in political thinking about some very controversial issues?

PDE: If you will take a minute to examine the document attached to this message [“UWEC’s Bid for the GLACURH Commitment to Diversity Award, 2005”], you will have a very good idea of what Peer Diversity Educators do at UWEC and surrounding schools. Basically, this student organization puts on productions like:

The F-Word, where participants are “introduced to feminism as a non-threatening, productive, socially necessary way of thought. The objectives for this lesson are to have participants share their views on feminism, examine their beliefs about feminist thought, and learn the importance of the feminist movement.” (PDF page 7.)

Privilege Walk, an “intense and sometimes emotional program [that] helps people realize just how privileged members of our society are and what they can do to minimize these disparities between people in our society.” (PDF page 7.)

PDE’s programs are primarily geared at jarring students out of their ideological slumber and into a recognition of the oppression all around them. And I thought Patricia Brady had insisted that “university and state employees…[should] provide a welcoming and supportive environment”? I guess this only pertains to some university employees, for I have taken part in one of PDE’s diversity training modules and it was anything but supportive.

If you read closely on page 3 of [the above-linked PDF], you will discover that “Peer Diversity Educators (PDE) are a group of students who are paid through Housing and Residence Life to present programs in the halls, in classrooms and in the community.” The University is actually paying students to advance feminist ideology and political egalitarianism on campus and beyond. And if you read pages 9–10, you'll discover that PDE organized a “Diversity Training Day” for all the RAs at UWEC this year.

In short, there is one class of student-employees (PDE staff) who are being paid to teach politics/ideology to another class of student-employees (RAs) who are told they cannot teach politics/ideology because they are being paid. Welcome to Wonderland.

In reviewing these documents, I hope you will agree with me that UW-Eau Claire has been actively encouraging and practically assisting political/ideological expression for years. The most active support seems to be coming from the very quarter (the office of Housing and Residence Life) that insists it has forbidden such advocacy “for many years.” And the support goes all the way up the administrative chain.

The Interim Chancellor herself has praised “the Housing and Residence Life program” for such activities as the Tunnel of Oppression (and presumably PDE and TV10) because "these initiatives provide [students] with valuable opportunities to develop leadership skills while preparing for their future careers. The programs and services also enhance the campus experience for all of our students and staff.” (See the attached document [“UWEC’s Proposal to Host the GLACURH Conference in 2006”] on PDF page 28.)

Interim Chancellor Larson expressed these views on October 14, 2005—just one month ago. It’s amazing that in the span of only one month, she has unearthed a “longstanding policy” of discouraging political/ideological speech among the University’s staff and student-employees. What is more surprising is that it doesn’t look like the Hall Directors or staff in Housing and Residence Life have ever heard of such a policy.

The Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Service, William Harms, certainly hadn’t when, on October 13, 2005, he praised the “residence life leadership program [which] allows for maximum involvement of our residence hall students [in programs like]...Making Our School An Intercultural Community,...Peer Diversity Educators, [and] a student run television station...[which] afford our campus the maximum channels for all of the many skills of our diverse leaders. It also allows for specialized programming that serves the entire campus, student body, and staff.” (PDF page 27.)

If you will read through the attached documents and aforementioned websites, I think you will agree with me that UW-Eau Claire has had a long and active history of promoting the political/ideological speech it deems acceptable. The current move to obscure the record is only running into one problem—the record.

I am grateful for any work you can do to set the record straight and to ensure that First Amendment rights are upheld for all students in the UW System.

So let me see if I can follow the UWEC reasoning—it is not only acceptable but moreover encouraged for the UWEC Housing and Residence Life office to officially organize, lead, and promote ideologically controversial programs on issues of race, gender, and sexuality, but it is not acceptable for Housing and Residence Life employees to lead Bible studies on their own time and in their own living quarters because, well, those Bible studies might make students feel “judged.”

Welcome to the modern university.

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