A top state lawmaker is calling for the University of Wisconsin to bring more conservatives to campus, saying they were “notably absent” in 2015, a year the university system spent $2.7 million on guest speakers and lecturers.
“Intellectual diversity should be an expectation on every college campus in the U.S., not only in Wisconsin,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told Heat Street. “Our universities should not have a rigid ideological filter. Every side of an issue should be present in a discussion and debated openly, and it should include conservative perspectives.”
The top-paid speaker across the 26 schools was Kathy Obear, co-founder of the Social Justice Training Institute, who spoke at the UW-Platteville campus on three separate occasions, earning $45,000. (In comparison, National Review’s Richard Brookhiser was paid $2,500 for his speech at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.)
Much of Obear’s research focuses on “triggering events” and how universities should handle them. “It’s normal to feel deeply triggered,” one of her promotional videos claims.
Various campuses in the UW System also invited Opal Tometi, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, and several environmental activists. Other speakers included a fortune teller, a hypnotist, a sex therapist and a sex-toy store’s educational coordinator.
A UW System spokesperson, Stephanie Marquis, says speakers are often chosen in response to student demand. Furthermore, the university said, Vos’s data was not complete because it did not include unpaid speakers.
Vos said that among the 50 highest-paid speakers, “we identified less than a handful of conservatives.”
“Sure, there could be a plethora of conservatives who refused to accept an honoraria, but I doubt it,” Vos wrote in an op-ed on his research. “The data suggests that when UW System officials look to invest in an invited guest, they’re looking for a liberal-minded individual to disperse information to young, developing minds who pay them thousands for their education.”
Marquis noted that the UW System’s Board of Regents approved a policy statement in December 2015 reaffirming the university’s commitment to free speech on campus.
“We encourage our campuses to share a variety of perspectives and viewpoints, and know they are focused on ensuring all voices—including conservative voices—00are heard and understood based upon a foundation of mutual respect,” Marquis said.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.