GREEN BAY — Recent challenges to free speech on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus should remind us of the importance of free speech to a great university, UW System Board of Regents President San Orr Jr. said Friday.

The impromptu discussion followed two recent incidents on the UW-Madison campus and subsequent University Committee public concern over the heckling of speakers invited to the campus.

“The Board takes careful note of important issues affecting UW System campuses,” Orr said. “I, as do other Regents, believe Wisconsin’s tradition of open and free inquiry for all should not be damaged by the actions of a few.”

In an open-discussion period as the Board concluded its two-day agenda while meeting at UW-Green Bay, Regent Jonathon Barry noted:

“Recently we had an invited public speaker at one of our campuses who found it impossible to proceed with his speech. We’ve had cases like this over the years not confined to one campus, and it’s a regrettable lapse or lack of respect for the rights of the invited speaker and the greater UW community.”

He concluded: “I note that the chancellor in Madison and the faculty are discussing and addressing this, and I just wanted to say that I, for one, as a regent, am following that with interest and urge that we honor our plaque on Bascom Hall about not ‘limiting inquiry.’ ”

Barry was joined in his remarks by Regent Fred Mohs who noted: “I am hoping that our faculty and our administration will consider this not just from the point of view of free speech and decorum, but from the standpoint of some of our students who are really quite unsure … and need some leadership on how to act and be an effective citizen in this democratic society.”

UW System President Katharine C. Lyall termed the current environment “a teachable moment.”

“It’s a situation in which we may be able to get people to revisit the meaning of free speech, to rethink how important that is to our campuses and the learning environment,” Lyall said. “We need to seize that opportunity and lead that effort.”


Peter D. Fox
(608) 262-6448