Last week's contretemps over proposed legislation forbidding the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism lead to a disagreement - somewhat overstated as a smack down or cage match - between Charlie Sykes and Mark Belling with the latter being for the proposal and the latter rather strenuously opposed.
My own reaction was to use it as an example of the perils of the UW"s indifference to intellectual diversity. When you set up yourself up - not as a place where all ideas are explored and many views are free to contend - but as a collection of faculty and institutions that are ideologically homogeneous and with a culture that is repressively conformist, this type of payback is what you get. You get it even if , as may be the case here, the target leans only (by UW standards, at least) moderately to the left. You get it even when, as may be the case here, the attack is politically foolhardy.
Of course, I may be ascribing motives to the legislature that it did not have - it being suggested that the whole affair was the product of a single legislator who didn't like a particular story written by the WCIJ.
Belling, as I understand it, suggests that an entity like WCIJ has no place on campus. I don't think that's right. Nor do I agree with suggestions that a group like WCIJ ought to have no ideological or philosophical perspective.
An organization or scholar can have certain preconceptions about the world - how things work and how competing values are to be weighed - and yet do quality work of high integrity. Indeed, if you spend any significant amount of time studying law, politics, economics, etc., you are almost certainly likely to migrate to a particular set of positions. Indeed, not having a stance may be more probative of a lack of qualifications than an assurance of integrity or quality.
In light of that, Sykes may be right in suggesting that going after the WCIJ is unfair and politically tone deaf. My guess, in nay event, is that there is no way this provision will stay in the budget.
But, in discussing this issue, I prefer to acknowledge the elephant in the room. If the UW wants respect for academic freedom and the respect that ought to be accorded an institution that fosters the pursuit and consideration of ideas, then it must deliver the goods. In the social sciences and the law, it has a long way to go.
Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin