Eeek–it's Professor Strange!
You're 18, and you've just graduated from high school in Wisconsin–near the top of your class, actually, because you got into the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the premier campus in your state's public system. So you jubilantly announce your new affiliation on Twitter. Then, a while later, you get a weird tweet–directed at you, personally–from a UW-Madison professor you've never heard of who's a lot older than you. She hints that you might want to pick another school–since Wisconsin Gov. (and GOP presidential candidate) Scott Walker signed a budget making it easier to lay off tenured public-university professors. When you brush off this odd behavior with a reply tweet, this professor who's a lot older than you won't stop bothering you on Twitter.
How did she find out about you, since you're one of thousands of brand-new high school students all over the state? Oh, she combed Twitter looking for future Badgers just like you.
Well, it helps to know that the professor in question is Sara Goldrick-Rab, a UW-Madison sociology professor who's "a big name in sociology and education research circles," according to Inside Higher Education. And she's an even bigger name because of a July 1 tweet of hers (not directed at incoming freshman, fortunately) that said: "My grandfather, a psychologist, just walked me through similarities between Walker and Hitler. There are so many- it's terrifying.'
I don't know what Goldrick-Rab's granddad said (wouldn't you love to have him as your shrink?), but the tweet did get me thinking: The names "Walker" and "Hitler" both end in "er." And both were heads of governments in places with really cold winters. Oh, and neither man had a college degree!
Here's the Milwaukee Sentinel on Goldrick-Rab's interractions with those hapless incoming freshmen, which occurred on June 6:
It all started with a photo that a future Badger posted May 31 on Twitter of himself and his friends in their high school graduation caps and gowns, smiling and forming the Wisconsin "W" with their hands.
"On (to) Wisconsin!" the tweet exclaimed. It was tagged @UWMadison #FutureBadgers, and mentioned Twitter handles of the five other students in the photo.
Six days later, Goldrick-Rab reached out to all six students on Twitter: "I hate to bring bad news but," her tweet began. She then linked to an opinion piece published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel with the headline: "Threats to shared governance and tenure put mission of UW at risk."
"No one cares sara," one of the students replied.
"Oh good. I thought you want a degree of value. Too bad," Goldrick-Rab responded."Who are you lol" another student replied.
One student in his reply alluded to a hot-button statement earlier this year by Walker, a Republican presidential candidate: "thanks for sharing, but isn't it better if professors to (sic) teach more classes? Cuts seem pretty tame w/political environment" the student tweeted.
Goldrick-Rab replied: "It isn't the cuts. If this goes through, we are all leaving. No joke."
While Godrick-Rab's promise to be "leaving" UW-Madison in the near future was undoubtedly cheery news, another student alerted the campus's College Republicans. On July 15 the group issued a press release calling for the university to address "the harassment of these future Badgers on Twitter who were doing nothing but showing their excitement for attending this university." The release characterized Goldrick-Rab's Twitter campaign as "disgusting and repulsive."
And on July 16 UW-Madison's University Committee issued this statement:
As faculty members of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, we support support free speech and diversity of opinion, as has been our tradition. Such freedom requires responsible behavior and in this respect we are deeply dismayed with the actions Professor Sara Goldrick-Rab has taken toward students and faculty on Twitter in recent weeks to discourage them from coming here. While claiming to stand for academic freedom, she has in fact damaged that principle and our institution with inaccurate statements and misrepresentations. We stand with our fellow faculty, staff, and students who have devoted themselves to maintaining and building on our university’s extraordinary and distinguished record of teaching, research, and service to the people of Wisconsin and beyond.
That's undoubtedly the end of that matter. But I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for Goldrick-Rab to make good on that promise to be "leaving" anytime soon.