Letter to the Editor: Academic Freedom on Campus
Professor McAdams,We are delighted to hear from a former student, and entirely agree with his observations.
First, though I doubt you would remember me, I am a 1990 graduate of Marquette’s Political Science Program. . . . Since then I taught for Milwaukee Public Schools as a Middle School teacher for 6 years, but because I went through Army ROTC while at Marquette I was able to switch professions in 1998 to Active Duty. Sadly, the reason for changing was that the day I stepped out of the classroom and into a uniform I doubled my income (though that is a different topic of conversation). To make a long story short, I have since then taught ROTC at UW-Madison (where I received a Masters Degree in Public Affairs) for three years, and am now the Commander of the UW-Stevens Point ROTC Department.
It is for this reason that I am responding to your blog. Having been a student and an Assistant Professor of Military Science at UW-Madison, I was continually struck by the open hostility to ROTC at Madison. I still remember when Donna Shalala was the Chancellor at Madison and brought the entire faculty together to vote on ROTC remaining on campus, fully knowing that as a land grant institution she was mandated to keep ROTC.
The vote was 63% for shutting the ROTC programs at Madison. When I was teaching there, it was not “healthy?” to wear my uniform across campus because of the response I would receive. Additionally, when we tried to put either letters to the editor or advertising in the Cardinal or other campus papers we were always denied access. Then, I would hear back from the cadets that if they wore the uniform to class, other students would make comments on why anyone would ever want to “learn to kill people for a living?”
It was my experience there that the faculty actively educates the underclassmen on how to think about specific subjects, and though this is not universal across the campus, there is no one who would be able to say that the education is not biased. This fact was a steady topic of conversation among our cadets. It is important to note here that my experience was not based solely on hearsay. I personally had faculty approach me and ask derisively “What are you doing here?”
I would like to compare/contrast this to my experience at Marquette and now at UW-Stevens Point. At Marquette, though there were individual students who would on occasion make negative comments, I always felt that the faculty as a whole was either neutral or supportive to cadets in ROTC. At Stevens Point, I have noted a similar attitude.
The reason I wish to bring out this contrast is that your article seems to point towards a certain universal oppression of free speech at Universities, but I would argue that the most damaging incidents occur by the indoctrination of students while they are still forming their outlook on the world by professors whom they trust at specific institutions.
When ideas from any side are dismissed without real debate or analysis because they originate from a suspect source (the government, the Right, ROTC...) then the development of students analytical capacity is stunted. I know that UW-Madison’s leadership believes that it is a bastion for free thought, and that it teaches personal responsibility for the information one accepts as real, the reality may be very different because they do not really see what is going on in the liberal arts classrooms forming the central curriculum of the University. What I saw was the campus wide results. It would be hard to convince me that these students arrived on campus with a predisposition to hating their Army and towards Officership and military service in it. Those ideas are learned and taught.
My conclusion is simple, oppression of free speech is not universal on campuses around the country, but is often most prominent in those places where people would most like to think they are free. UW-Madison is one example of this.
Thank you for the education that you helped to give me at Marquette, and I will continue to read your blog as a fine source of thought provoking informative editorials.
Lieutenant Colonel US Army
Professor of Military Science UW-Stevens Point
When we blog about intolerance and censorship in academia nationally, and about cases at Marquette, we don’t mean to imply that Marquette is worse than other institutions. Indeed, since Marquette is more conservative than lots of other universities, it’s also more tolerant and open to diverse points of view.
Of course, there are places on campus where politically correct intolerance prevails, but they are pretty much the places (humanities departments, education, victim studies programs) where intolerance prevails throughout academia generally.
Where ROTC is concerned, we have blogged about how anti-ROTC protests have been poorly attended and failed to find a sympathetic audience among administrators or even the usual suspects among student activists.
So while Marquette could be better, it could be worse too.