Yesterday, in a victory for academic freedom, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker issued a line-item veto to strike an unconstitutional ban on faculty speech and research from the Wisconsin state budget. A late addition to the budget proposal, the broad, vague ban would have prohibited University of Wisconsin faculty “from doing any work related to” the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization.
[T]he Joint Finance Committee’s proposed prohibition is extreme in its breadth, preventing faculty from performing any number of academic functions. For example, under the ban, faculty would be unable to read or discuss articles published by the WCIJ, to comment to WCIJ reporters on issues related to their scholarship or on matters of public concern, to assign WCIJ articles to students, or to cite WCIJ work in their research. The ban’s vagueness is similarly problematic, as it forces faculty to guess at the precise boundaries of the ban on “any work related to the Center,” no matter how seemingly remote. Laboring under the chilling effect engendered by such uncertainty, many faculty will rationally choose to self-censor—a deeply depressing outcome that contradicts the necessary function of our nation’s public universities. For these reasons, the ban is flatly unconstitutional and must be rescinded.
We are pleased that Governor Walker has vetoed the provision.