By The Associated Press

Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. April 7, 2022.

Editorial: Free speech fumbles

What to make of the current University of Wisconsin System brouhaha over a free speech survey? It sure doesn’t feel like all the facts are known yet.

A handful of details are clear. The system planned to send students a survey asking their thoughts on how free speech rights are handled on campus. Jim Henderson, the former interim chancellor at UW-Whitewater, resigned over the plan. Thursday, the day on which the survey was apparently scheduled to be sent out, it was put on hold.

Henderson told the Wisconsin State Journal his resignation followed an about-face on the issue by Michael Falbo, the system’s interim president. Falbo, in turn, said concerns from the system’s chancellors led him to decide against the survey.

That stance was reversed after Falbo said Tim Shiell, director of the Menard Center (which was tasked with carrying out the survey) blamed those concerns on incomplete information. And it was Shiell, apparently, who on Wednesday sent Falbo an email delaying the survey until next fall “given current circumstances.”

There are local ties to the story beyond the fact local communities host UW-Eau Claire and UW-Stout. The Menard Center is at UW-Stout in Menomonie. It was founded after a grant from the Charles Koch Foundation, a well-known backer of conservative causes. The name changed after the Menard family, also major donors to conservative causes, gifted it $2.26 million.

We see several things worth untangling here. Let’s start with that last paragraph.

We know the very name Koch is like waving a red flag in front of the political left in much the same way the name Soros is to the right. But there’s a difference between donations and control. None of the coverage we’ve seen indicates the Menard Center or Shiell are stepping outside the bounds of academic activities.

It is true that the question of whether students with conservative views are punished on campus has long been a conservative talking point. There have also been a handful of cases in which such accusations seem credible.

It seems Falbo has mishandled the situation. When you reverse decisions multiple times within a short time span, people rightly begin to question why. At minimum, it appears Falbo failed to communicate with the chancellors effectively. A statement he released said some chancellors “were disappointed” in his decision to proceed with the survey. It’s a curious choice of phrasing, one that suggests ire directed at him specifically as much as the decision.

But the overriding issue here is what free speech means and how it is handled. That’s nothing new to college campuses, though it often seems those involved fail to understand the fundamental concepts involved.

Speech has comparatively few restrictions, as befits a right laid out in the First Amendment. Slander and fighting words aren’t protected, nor is the oft-cited example of yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. The exercise of free speech does not, however, ensure avoidance of consequences or counterspeech. Protests fall within protected speech as surely as the speech being protested.

People often forget that freedom of speech does not extend to every time and place. Private businesses can restrict the distribution of leaflets on their property, for example, despite that being a form of speech. And college campuses can take steps to protect order on their campuses when protests interfere with functions. A protester being asked to leave an auditorium after disrupting a guest speaker’s address is not a violation of their rights.

Recent years have seen a series of incidents nationally in which a failure to understand what freedom of speech is resulted in conflicts on campus. It has occasionally been improperly wielded as a cudgel to silence people whom others simply do not wish to hear, with targets spanning the range of political and social views.

Free speech is not a guarantee your views will be embraced. Nor does it give license to act in a way that others cannot be heard. And, like all rights, it assumes a degree of responsibility in its use. Ideally, the concept of campus free speech would simply be a given rather than being used as a political football. But we don’t live in a world of ideals.

It’s still not too much to expect, though, that those at the head of Wisconsin’s universities would be able to deal with free speech without fumbling this badly.


Wisconsin State Journal. April 7, 2022.

Editorial: Run, Tommy, run: The GOP field for governor is inexperienced and conspiracy driven

The Republican field for governor is thin on experience and appeal.

Tommy Thompson could quickly change that.

Still indefatigable at 80, Thompson would bring some much-needed accomplishment and purpose to the Republican primary for governor, should he run. We hope he does, with a decision expected this month.

This isn’t an endorsement of Thompson for governor. We won’t make that recommendation until the fall. And the last time around, our editorial board recommended Democrat Tony Evers for governor. Evers has been an important check on the excesses of one-party rule, which the Republican Party had enjoyed for eight years.

Still, Thompson’s infectious optimism for getting things done would be a welcome improvement to a GOP gubernatorial primary that, so far, has fixated on divisive priorities and conspiracy myths.

Thompson would give Republican voters a much better choice — assuming he doesn’t kowtow to former President Donald Trump, whom he visited at Trump’s resort in Florida last week. Trump’s self-absorbed fixation on the past isn’t a winning message for the future.

The three main candidates for the Republican nomination are wanting.

Rebecca Kleefisch served in the do-little job of lieutenant governor for eight years under former Gov. Scott Walker. To her credit, she led state efforts to address homelessness and hosted some business forums. But not much else.

Kevin Nicholson, a former Marine with financial backing from an Illinois billionaire, wants to fight the Republican establishment — a narrow mission. Nicholson lost the GOP primary for U.S. Senate four years ago and has never served in public office.

Rep. Timothy Ramthun of Campbellsport is only in his second term as a state assemblyman and seems obsessed with wild claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election. Recounts, election reviews, audits and court rulings have proven his suspicions false.

Thompson would bring a strong record and broader vision to the race, having served as governor longer than anyone in state history from 1987 to 2001. Thompson also led the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. More recently, Thompson proved effective as president of the University of Wisconsin System, rising above petty politics and pulling state residents together around the value of higher education.

It’s possible Thompson may be too reasonable and professional to survive in today’s Trump-worshipping Republican Party. But if he runs as himself, not as a Trump apologist, anything is possible.

Thompson’s legacy has been built on innovation, consensus and hard work. Thompson likes to be decisive, but he also knows how to listen and cut deals to satisfy most people.

Working with others to fix problems might seem quaint in today’s us-versus-them politics. But a healthy dose of Tommy’s old magic might be just what the Republican Party in Wisconsin needs.


Racine Journal Times. April 8, 2022.

Editorial: A new gem rising on Madison’s Capitol Square

The State Capitol in Madison has long been the crown jewel of Wisconsin, drawing thousands of visitors to its ornate halls, soaring rotunda and Senate, Assembly and state Supreme Court rooms.

Soon it will be joined by another gem on Capitol Square, a modern, glassy and classy four-story Wisconsin Historical Society Museum.

Preliminary plans for the structure show a glass-sheathed façade facing Capitol Square at 30 N. Carroll St., next door to the Overture Center, and an award-winning design firm, the SmithGroup has been enlisted to join the design team for the history center.

“This is a pivotal moment in bringing our vision to life and for the future of history,” said Christian Overland, director and CEO of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Indeed it is.

SmithGroup will partner with Milwaukee-based Continuum Architects and Planners on the design phase this summer. Continuum has won an award for tis design of the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison and SmithGroup has a portfolio of working on some top museums, including the National Museum of African History and Culture in Washington, D.C. and Alumni Park on the UW-Madison campus.

The vision calls for a 100,000-square-foot museum, which will double the current museum’s exhibition space. For the past forty years the museum has been housed in an old, former Wollf Kubly hardware store on the Square which was not adequate for the Historical Society’s large collection of historical assets. That structure will be demolished.

According to news reports, the Wisconsin Historical Society has secure $100 million for the new museum through government funding and private donations. That puts it within shouting distance of the $120 million projected cost to make it reality.

If all goes well, construction of the stylish new home for Wisconsin’s history could begin in early 2024. We look forward to the opening and for the chance for state residents to visit the new museum and enjoy the sweeping views of the Capitol from the museum’s rooftop deck.

We hope it will be the gem that is envisioned. It will be good company for our grand Capitol.


This roundup has been corrected to add seven paragraphs that were cut from the bottom of the first editorial by the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram.