It may be too harsh to call it a death spiral, but the University of Wisconsin System is in trouble. Consider what’s happening.

Dave Cieslewicz

Rothman could help by taking meaningful actions, not just renaming the Titanic. For example, he could compromise on DEI, a concept that I have problems with myself. Instead of just absorbing the $30 million cut and refusing to touch DEI positions, he could call for a Legislative Audit Bureau study. DEI is a diverse and complicated animal. Let’s understand how it is really being implemented before we get going slashing away at it. But let’s also admit that if it encompasses the “anti-racist” theories of Ibram X. Kendi or critical race theory, those are unpopular concepts well out of the mainstream and so that’s a problem that should be addressed. 

Rothman could also come down hard in favor of free speech while condemning (but not banning) actions that the broader public finds repulsive, like the pro-Hamas rally on Library Mall where the demonstrators chanted, “Glory to the martyrs.” The damage to the UW done by that incident alone is incalculable. You can’t and shouldn’t stop it, but you can denounce it in the strongest terms and you can do some soul-searching to try to understand how an institution that is supposed to be committed to classical liberal values can produce students who would do something like that. 

Finally, the UW could adopt the Chicago Principles, a simple and strong restatement of dedication to classical liberal ideas, including free speech, reason, merit and respectful and productive disagreement. 

And we can start by just being honest with ourselves. While I strongly disagree with Republican populists defunding and attacking the state’s most powerful economic engine and my own beloved alma mater, they’re not wrong when they see it as a place where leftist views are strong and conservative ideas are, at best, unwelcome. Rothman should do everything he can to promote a true diversity of opinion on his campuses, whether that’s creating a hiring process that doesn’t self-select for liberals or promoting a speaker program that features conservative ideas.