History of the Center
Like many other
universities, the University of Wisconsin has experienced its share of free
speech and academic battles in the past two decades. Some faculty members have
suffered under the reign of a speech code, conservative speakers have sometimes
met disruption in the public forum, and the student newspaper, the Badger
Herald, has encountered confrontations because of its conservative views.
Recently, however, the University has made major strides in protecting
intellectual freedom largely because of the concerted efforts of an independent
group of faculty members, the Committee for Academic Freedom and Rights and
their student allies. Founded in 1996 to oppose the direction the University
was heading, CAFAR has enjoyed several major successes on the freedom front.
Its first success was leading the movement that led to the abolition of the
faculty speech code in 1999. Several other successes have followed in the wake
of this signal event that made the University of Wisconsin the first university
in America to abolish a code on its own volition. The rise and exploits of
CAFAR are documented by Donald Downs in his book, Restoring Free Speech and
Liberty on Campus.
But the problem of
intellectual diversity remains. It is for this reason that some members of CAFAR
have established the Wisconsin Center for the Study of Liberal Democracy. The
purposes of the Center are twofold. First, to promote understanding and
critical appreciation of the cardinal principles, institutions, and practices
of liberal democratic polities, The Center presents programs dealing with such
topics as religious and political freedom; the free market; educational reform;
limited government; constitutionalism and the rule of law; the promotion of
liberal democracy in the world; the relationship between liberty and equality;
and national security and the battle against terrorism. In order to responsibly
address the challenges presented to free societies and institutions in the
twenty-first century, we must first understand what liberal democracy is about,
and what is at stake.
The second purpose of
the Center is to promote intellectual diversity on the campus. The Center
performs this task by providing speakers, forums, and programs that present
different points of view, especially points of view that challenge reigning
campus orthodoxies. Thus, the Center promotes intellectual diversity by virtue
of the programs it presents and the example it sets.
The Director and one of
the founders of the Wisconsin Center for Liberal Democracy is Donald Downs a
CAFAR leader who has played a key role in the Wisconsin free speech and
academic freedom movement.
The Center was launched
with $67,000 "seed money" from the Lynde and Harry Bradley
A History of Actions by
The Committee for Academic
Freedom and Rights has been involved in several controversies regarding
academic freedom, free speech, and due process at the University of Wisconsin
and other institutions since its inception in 1996. In today's academic
environment threats to academic freedom emanate from across the political
spectrum, calling for due vigilance that only organized and conscientious
opposition can counter. We would like to take this opportunity to remind the
University community of our presence, and to introduce ourselves to those of
you who have not heard about us. We would also like to welcome you to join us
in our endeavors.
CAFAR is a non-partisan
group of faculty members who teach in a variety of fields. Though we have often
worked in conjunction with other university entities (including the University
Committee, the administration, student newspapers, and others), we remain
staunchly independent of the institution, and have often acted on our own in
opposition to university policy and actions that have violated or threatened
principles of freedom in the academic setting. Over the years, we have rallied
to the support of faculty members, staff, students, and the student newspapers.
Over the years we have
taken on several individual cases and led many political efforts on behalf of
freedom and fairness on campus. We have had success in defending faculty
members, students, and staff whose rights have been violated or threatened
If you have a credible
belief that you have experienced a violation of your academic freedom, free
speech, or procedural rights, or if you are interested in joining us, please
contact one of our officers: Donald Downs (President: firstname.lastname@example.org); Stan Payne
(Secretary: email@example.com); or Jane Hutchison (Treasurer: firstname.lastname@example.org)
For your information, we provide a brief history of CAFAR's major involvements
A Sampling of
mission has been to provide legal and moral support to individuals of the
university community who raise plausible claims that their rights have been
violated by a university body. We have taken on several individual cases over
the years, usually enjoying success. A list of our most prominent cases
• In 1997, CAFAR came
to the defense of a 74-year-old professor who was taken out of class,
questioned in the presence of an armed guard, and charged with violating the
then-existing faculty speech code. The University eventually dropped its major
• In 1998, CAFR
contacted the chair of a department head after he had issued an order
prohibiting a faculty member from placing certain articles on his/her bulletin
board that discussed certain scientific matters that a colleague found
offensive. The department rescinded the order.
• From 1997 to 1999,
CAFR provided legal assistance to a researcher who was denied all access to her
computer files, which contained virtually all the data relevant to her
research. The University also refused to renew her contract. Her claims
included due process, libel, sexual harassment, and the loss of professional
identity. The University eventually prevailed in this case.
• In 1997 CAFR provided
financial and legal support to the class action case of University personnel
who had been demoted due to a new interpretation of state law involving
qualifications. In this case, CAFR and the University were in agreement that
the employees' equal protection rights had been violated.
• From the early 2000's
to the present, CAFAR has legally and politically supported the claims of a
tenured UW-Superior professor who was terminated by the Board of Regents on the
basis of what the faculty senates in the UW System proclaimed improper
procedures and standards. In this matter, CAFAR has interacted with the
University Committee, the Faculty Senate, and representatives the American
Federation of Teachers. We also sought to intervene in the professor's legal
case, but were denied by the court. The case is still pending.
• In 2002-2004, CAFAR
acted on behalf of a graduate student whose school sanctioned him without due
process on the basis of an overly broad school-wide professional conduct code.
After meeting with CAFAR representatives, the school rescinded the problematic
sections of the code and lowered the sanction against the student to a
reprimand, which did not appear on the student's record.
• In 2006, CAFAR
supported a professor whose career was threatened because of remarks he made in
class that were germane to the subject matter of the course. A CAFAR
representative met with the Chancellor, and our group wrote an op-ed in the
State Journal about the case. The matter was resolved in a non-optimal manner,
but in a manner acceptable to the professor.
• In 2011 CAFAR
assisted a professor who was falsely accused of misconduct by a graduate
student. The case was dropped.
• In 2011-12, CAFAR has
provided legal assistance to a professor at UW-River Falls who has been
terminated by his department for political reasons. The professor found a
better job and the non-renewal was dropped from his record.
In addition to being
involved in several individual cases, CAFAR has also entered the political fray
on campus to provide support for individuals and groups involved in civil
liberty and free speech battles, and to present its own position in prominent
issues. The most important examples include:
• CAFAR was the major
group that led the opposition to the faculty speech code, which was adopted by
the Faculty Senate in 1988. Initiated in 1996, the project led to the Faculty
Senate's abolition of the faculty speech code in the classroom in 1999. After
this action, CAFAR helped prevent questionable due process reforms from being
adopted in FP&P.
• In the fall of 2000,
CAFAR led a resistance movement that led to the dismantling of a
university-wide anonymous complaint system (MARC, or "Make a Respectful
Campus"), replete with boxes for informants to deposit complaints. The
system had Orwellian implications that had to be countered. In the fall of
2007, CAFAR intervened again to reform an on-line offshoot of the MARC program,
"Think Respect." Working with us, the administration reform Think
Respect to be in conformity with basic civil liberty principles.
• In the fall of 2000,
the editor of the Badger Herald editorial page came to the president of CAFR
and asked if the committee was willing to stand behind him after he had
received several threats from angry student groups over articles he had
published dealing with controversial issues. CAFAR told the editor that it
would stand by him 100%, giving him even more courage to continue publishing
important, controversial articles.
• The actions of fall
2000 set the stage for the Herald's and CAFAR's reaction to the tumult caused
by the Herald's publication of David Horowitz's article against reparations for
slavery in March 2001. After making the decision to stand up for its First
Amendment right to publish what it sees fit, the Herald's editor-in-chief came
to CAFAR and asked for support and advice. Once again, CAFR gave her
unqualified support, and offered advice on how to proceed. CAFAR then placed an
ad in both student papers defending the Herald. In the end, the Herald won a
national reputation for standing strong in the face of forces bent on
censorship and preventing a true diversity of discourse. It's editorial on this
matter also won major awards.
• In the fall of 2002,
CAFAR spearheaded a response to the development of a new type of student speech
code on campus, codes based on "professional conduct." Working with
the administration and a school that had adopted such a measure, CAFAR succeeded
in revising the codes to be consistent with academic freedom and due process
• In 2006-7, CAFAR
assisted a student leader in persuading the Dorm Council to amend it dorm
conduct code to protect freedom of speech. The new code is consistent with the
ACLU's model harassment code.
• In 2010, CAFAR
president Donald Downs led the Faculty Senate in amending Faculty Policies and
Procedures (Chapter 8) to explicitly define and protect academic freedom. The
amendment also provided explicit protection to faculty members who criticize
(publicly or privately) University policies, procedures, and actions. The
amendments were designed to provide protection in the wake of a Supreme Court
case that withdrew such protection (Garcetti v. Ceballos).
• In 2013, CAFAR has
been working with the national Foundation for Individual Rights in Education
and the Regents to revise Regents Policy 14-6, which recommends that UW
campuses adopt policies consistent with the old student speech code that was
declared unconstitutional by a federal court in 1991. As of September, the
Regents had drafted a new version of 14-6 that is consistent with First
• In 2013, Donald Downs
joined FIRE and six other professors nation-wide to protest the U.S. Department
of Education's proposed "blue print" for harassment, which represents
a severe attack on freedom of thought on campus. This matter is still pending.
CAFAR has also been in
constant contact with other civil liberty campus groups around the country,
including the campus ACLU at Brown, and the nationally-oriented group FIRE
(Foundation for Individual Rights in Education). The leading academic freedom
and campus rights organization in the country, FIRE was established in 1999 and
was partly inspired by CAFAR's victory over the faculty speech code at
Wisconsin that year. We are working to make ourselves part of a national
movement. In a March 24 article on campus newspapers' reactions to the Horowitz
controversy, National Journal columnist Jonathan Rauch compared the free speech
environment at Wisconsin to that at Berkeley: "The Herald's community is
not the same as the Daily Cal's community. At Wisconsin, an energetic
free-speech faction has emerged in the last few years. In 1999, the Wisconsin
faculty rose up to abolish their own speech code, an apparently unprecedented
event in American academe. When the Badger Herald came under fire this month,
an aggressive free-speech group, called the Faculty Committee for Academic
Freedom and Rights, immediately offered the paper its full support. Hernandez
and The Daily Cal, by contrast, dangled in the wind."