For months now, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire professor Kent Syverson has been a stalwart FIRE ally. He has brought several examples of repression to our attention and has been truly amazing with disseminating news articles, updates, and other key information about the ongoing scandal of UWEC’s crackdown on its resident assistants’ First Amendment rights.
As many FIRE fans no doubt know, UWEC’s “Bible study ban” is currently suspended while a new (and hopefully better) policy for the entire UW system is drawn up. All of us were very pleased to see Kent weigh in on the situation with an op-ed in Madison’s Capital Times. Here is how it begins:
I am a professor at UW-Eau Claire committed to the constitutional guarantee of freedom for all speech, popular or unpopular, religious or anti-religious. I am alarmed when ideas are restricted in the university.
Recently interim Chancellor Vicki Lord Larson announced that UW-EC is no longer enforcing its unwritten ban on religious, ideological and political activities by an off-duty resident assistant in his/her dorm. I applaud this decision!
UW-EC was attempting to avoid coercion and “unapproachable” RAs. Could these issues be solved by prohibitions? Consider an RA who asks a resident to join a fantasy football league hosted in the RA’s room. The resident declines, so the RA pressures the resident to change. When that fails, the RA ignores the resident and only associates with fantasy football participants. The resident feels uncomfortable approaching the RA. Should fantasy football be banned in all RA rooms? Of course not!
Coercion by RAs, wherever it is found, must be dealt with appropriately by university housing officials. However, the university made an unfounded assertion when it claimed that RAs with ideological commitments would necessarily foist them on their residents. Now the UW System advisory committee must develop a legal, written policy that respects the civil liberties of its RAs, one that clearly defines “on duty” and “on call” times for RAs. A simple disclaimer policy would prevent residents from confusing private versus dorm-sponsored events.
The whole thing is worth a read, and Kent deserves the thanks of all friends of liberty for his incredible efforts.