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Robin Vos

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester

When a young man or woman goes off to college, it’s in society’s best interests for him or her to be encouraged in development of critical thinking, to be expected to use research and investigation to examine points of view and beliefs.

One of the ways in which that critical thinking is developed outside the classroom setting is in listening to, and engaging in dialogue with, those who accept invitations to speak on campus. Lately, in the University of Wisconsin System, there appears to be a shortage of speakers challenging liberal points of view.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, is calling on UW System to invite more conservative guest speakers to its campuses. In a commentary for the website Right Wisconsin A Free Speech Challenge to the UW System, Vos praises the UW Board of Regents for passing a resolution affirming “its commitment to the principle of freedom of expression.” The resolution, approved by regents in December, followed intense public debates on other campuses about how to handle discussion of sensitive topics.

But a look at who is invited to speak on UW campuses contradicts the System’s call for protecting diverse views, Vos said. He said data obtained by his office from UW System shows conservatives are “noticeably absent” from a list of top-paid recent guest speakers at UW campuses. ...

Vos said his office obtained records on speakers at four-year UW System schools in 2015 who were paid with taxpayer dollars.

The largest amount paid for a single speaker was at UW-Platteville, Vos said. The speaker was Kathy Ober, a former professor at University of Massachusetts-Amherst and co-founder of the Social Justice Training Institute — who reportedly spoke three times for a total of $45,000. Michael Sam, the first openly gay player in the NFL, spoke at UW-La Crosse in December and also was one of the highest paid speakers, according to Vos.

It’s not surprising Vos would want more conservative speakers on UW System campuses. But he’s not wrong in wanting more ideological balance with regard to who is being invited.

College is where your preconceived notions, what you’ve learned and been taught in the first 18 years of your life, should be challenged. That’s not happening on UW campuses if only left-leaning high-profile speakers are being invited.

Especially within UW System, funded by Wisconsin taxpayers, we should all want those who graduate from System schools to be able to think critically. Whatever the topic or the point of view of the speaker — or the listener, for that matter — college students should be expected to accept a challenge to their points of view.

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