Her point raised howls among the conservative blogasphere and media; when confronted with this, her boss, UW-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow, publicly reprimanded her for expressing a factually based opinion to her class. In my view, it was his job to back her--not to agree with her opinion, but rather to defend her right to express it.
The irony is that Wisconsin is the very state that in many ways laid the foundation for academic freedom in state supported universities. When Richard Ely was attacked more than 100 years ago for advocating in his classes on behalf of labor unions, the Regents of the University of Wisconsin rose to defend him. As the Wisconsin Historical Society writes:
In 1894 Ely was teaching economics at Madison, including the various socialist and communist economic theories gaining popularity at the time. When this was discovered by Oliver E. Wells, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Ely was attacked in the press not just for teaching left-wing theories to Wisconsin's youth but also for supposedly advising radical activists who were organizing a strike in Madison. When his dismissal was demanded, the university regents investigated his activities.
After a series of witnesses had testified, the regents found no cause to fire Ely. Instead, they issued a famous statement defending the importance of academic freedom in a democracy. "Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere," they wrote, "we believe the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found." That statement has become one of the foundation stones of intellectual freedom in America, and a hallmark of the University of Wisconsin.One wonders what Chancellor Gow would have done with Ely.
Full disclosure: this is personal for me. I was on the faculty at Wisconsin for 12 years (after getting my Ph.D. there), and was always proud to teach there, in part because of the plaque on Bascom Hill that memorialized sifting and winnowing. It just made me feel good to walk by it, because I believed that the place I worked believed it.
But even more important, my mother taught at Wisconsin-La Crosse for decades, serving as chair of the English Department there for many years. She also began the Women's Studies program there--surely, a controversial thing to do at the time she did it. I can't help but wonder whether Chancellor Gow would have had the vision and the fortitude to support her important work.