Ward letter on Joint Finance WCIJ action

June 14, 2013

Below is a letter from Interim Chancellor David Ward delivered to Wisconsin legislative leadership on Friday, June 14.

June 14, 2013

To: Scott Fitzgerald, Senate Majority Leader

Robin Vos, Speaker of the Assembly

Chris Larson, Senate Minority Leader

Peter Barca, Assembly Minority Leader

From: David Ward, Interim Chancellor

I am writing in reference to a budget amendment approved by the Joint Committee on Finance that would prohibit the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (WCIJ) from utilizing space on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus as well as prohibit UW employees from doing any work related to the center as part of their official duties.

When the Joint Finance Committee inserted Motion 999 into the state budget I was out of the country and my colleague Gary Sandefur took the lead in responding for the campus on this critical issue. As dean of the College of Letters & Science, Sandefur is the administrator whose affiliated faculty, staff and students would be most negatively affected by the committee’s action. He and others have made clear how the collaboration between the WCIJ – a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization – and UW-Madison has been important to the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Students receive paid investigative reporting internships that provide unparalleled experience in their field, and journalism students and staff benefit greatly from the close proximity of the WCIJ, sharing expertise with veteran journalists who set rigorous standards.

However, of greater concern than the impact this provision would have on the university’s ability to interact with the WCIJ is the broader notion of the Legislature mandating with which organizations university faculty and staff can and cannot partner and collaborate. The best and brightest researchers – and entrepreneurs, and families, and investors in Wisconsin’s economy – cannot function when a government body holds more sway over their decisions than years of careful experience. The famed “sifting and winnowing” quote, immortalized in a plaque on the front of Bascom Hall, is a thoroughly Wisconsin statement, referencing the hard work of our heritage at the same time it deftly defends the values of academic freedom:

“Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe that the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.”

--Taken from a report of the Board of Regents in 1894

This commitment has guided the university for more than 100 years, and contributes greatly to our ability to attract and retain faculty and staff of the highest caliber who promote the application of teaching and research to issues of importance to the state, the nation, and the world. We must do everything we can to maintain this commitment, and I encourage you to remove the provision related to the WCIJ from the 2013-15 budget bill.