UW free speech survey received limited input

MADISON, Wis. — The free speech survey that was supposed to go out Thursday to UW System students but was later postponed to the fall, drew criticism from students on the UW-Madison campus who said they should have received more input.

“We had very very little heads up,” said MGR Govindarajan, legislative affairs chair for Associated Students of Madison. “The UW system didn’t communicate to us about it, it told people and we found out through a middleman basically.”

That frustration was paired with concerns about the survey itself. The survey asks students about free speech issues and the political climate on UW campuses, but Govindarajan said the questions could be misinterpreted.

“The way the questions were laid out, people will see what they want to see and that’s going to lead to faulty results, which lawmakers can use to justify faulty policies,” he said.

Eric Sandgren, chair of UW-Madison’s faculty senate, agreed.

“I like many parts of the survey, some portions were problematic,” he said.

Sandgren said a little discomfort in an academic setting is actually beneficial for students.

“If the purpose of higher education is to expose you to the world, to conflicting points of view, to challenge your own preconceptions, then of course you will feel uncomfortable sometimes,” he said.

“Somebody else is gonna say: ‘Look, they’re uncomfortable all the time. They’re miserable, poor things they need to be protected,'” he added. “Two opposite conclusions, but the same answer [to the survey question].”

Sandgren said he does see value in better understanding free speech issues that arise on campus, but is pushing for a better method to do so.

Rep. Dave Murphy, R-Greenville, said he sees immediate value in the survey as-is.

“I call the customer service survey,” he said.

Murphy chairs the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities, and said he was disappointed by the survey’s delay.

“In the spring term, more students have been on campus for a longer period of time, and so their opinion is more experienced at that point, than when you come in the fall and a lot of the students are new on campus,” he said.

The controversy around the survey caused the interim chancellor of UW-Whitewater to resign in protest on Monday, ahead of the announcement that the survey would be delayed until the fall.