University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor's Response to State Representative

Updated: Mar 15, 2020

Wisconsin State Rep. Dave Murphy recently published a letter to Kenneth R. Mayer, Professor of American Politics at University of Wisconsin-Madison, in which Murphy stated he was "appalled by [Mayer's] politically polarized characterization of the Trump presidency." The letter was referring to Mayer's syllabus on a 400-level Political Science course titled "The American Presidency."

The Chronicle of Higher Education then reported University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor, Rebecca Blank's response, in which she stood by Mayer: "Universities’ greatest value to society is that they are places where any idea is thinkable and debatable ... Ideas should be dismissed only after research and debate proves them inadequate, rather than being dismissed out of hand because they challenge perceived wisdom or offend current beliefs." The campus asserted that Mayer, "leaves his political opinions at the classroom door and asks his students to do the same."

Chancellor Blank's response is exemplary insofar as she insists on academic freedom in the face of attacks by legislators. But she does not go far enough. Academic freedom means respecting the integrity of the scholar, not applying a political test to their positions, which necessarily interpret the material at hand. Presenting one’s interpretations is not indoctrination, but a way of opening students to critical thinking.

Read further analysis from Donald Moynihan and Heterodox Academy here.

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