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A wise former chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse once told me that if you can’t host a controversial speaker on a college campus, then where?

Rusty Cunningham mug

Rusty Cunningham

Of all places, a campus should be a safe haven for free speech, regardless of topic or speaker — even when the speaker is a former porn star.

Are you uncomfortable with the topic? Don’t attend.

Nationwide, I think liberals have horribly misplayed campus protests of conservative speakers. It doesn’t make sense to provide more publicity through protest.

In Wisconsin, I think the conservative Board of Regents has overreacted by protecting conservative voices on campus.

Regardless, let’s not get too far down the road of celebrating free speech without understanding that freedom has costs and consequences.

UW-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow has received a letter of reprimand for not informing his boss of the Nina Hartley visit and faces the possible loss of a pay raise and an audit of the fund originally designated to fund the visit (which Gow later said he would pay for).

Here’s the real question: Is the issue truly free speech? Or is this more about not telling your boss while protesting UW policies involving speakers on campus?

I can understand why UW President Ray Cross wouldn’t want to find out from the newspaper that one of his chancellors (the longest-serving current chancellor in the UW System) had invited a former porn star to campus, her legitimate academic credentials notwithstanding.

And I can understand why Cross might be caught off guard reading that university funds would pay her $5,000 fee, especially if he’s told Gow before that he doesn’t want to be surprised by what he reads in the newspaper.

Is that truly a matter of free speech — or of respecting the wishes of your supervisor?

There was almost no publicity before the Hartley visit, and that was because he wanted to avoid controversy.

That didn’t worked out too well — for the chancellor or the campus.

If you’re going to hold a controversial forum, own it. Why not host a panel from multiple sides of the issue? Why not use the time leading up to the event to educate about free speech?

Don’t keep it under wraps and tell campus leaders and communicators not to communicate about the porn star’s forum.

Secrecy didn’t work. It never does.

Ray Cross: Gow reprimand about judgment, leadership

Later this week, Gow and UW-L will host Cross and the UW Board of Regents, which includes Gov.-elect Tony Evers (an ex-officio regent as state superintendent of public instruction).

My worry is that we won’t be able to get their attention away from the controversy and focused on our terrific campus, its many strengths and the challenges it faces.

Our campus has so many important things to share with university leaders, and Gow has been a passionate advocate for UW-L’s students and its growing campus.

I hope that’s not at risk.

I’m sure campus leadership team will tell the regents about UW-L’s record enrollment this fall and its largest freshman class in nearly 40 years.

I’m sure they’ll discuss the difficulty UW-L is having recruiting top-flight faculty because our campus pays far less than comparable universities.

They’ll show off the new $82 million science lab and research facility — and emphasize the need for the $83 million Phase II of the project, part of more than $200 million that the regents previously authorized for campus construction projects, pending legislative approval.

Certainly, the regents will hear about our excellent students who face stringent, competitive entrance requirements. UW-L students have provided nearly 10,000 volunteer hours to our community. Student-athletes have a cumulative 3.2 grade-point average. We have more undergraduate physics students than UW-Madison.

I’m confident a lot of those things will be said.

I just hope the regents listen.

In my previous role as publisher, I had the honor of serving on the search-and-screen committee that eventually recommended Gow to the UW System for consideration as chancellor.

So I’ve known and liked him for just about as long as anyone in town.

Our friendship certainly hasn’t kept the campus’s challenges or his challenges off the front page.

And it shouldn’t.

It hasn’t prevented me from writing a column about it, either.

That’s part of free speech, too.

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(20) comments


Again, this issue has little to do with free speech. That's the Question Gow and all the Gow fanboys and fangirls want you to ask- because of course First Amendment rights cover Hartley's presentation. What this issue IS about is judgement and appearance, and like it or not those things matter when you're the public face of a public university. Gow did something that is very likely to jeopardize university funding given the makeup of the State Legislature. Maybe it should , maybe it shouldn't but it will regardless of one's position. Now, there ARE times when such a decision would be appropriate, but in this case, the cost-benefit analysis just doesn't work out. All the University got from this was 75 or so people at a speech, and an absolute media $hitshow afterwards. It's not the speech, and it's not really even the money. It's the ham-fisted "management" of the University by a Chancellor who (and the Gow fanboys won't like this) has a history of questionable judgement.


ok localobserver, you bring up Gow and his history of questionable judgement. Well spell it out. Give us details and facts on Gow's history of questionable judgement. Don't just talk in general terms without proof of what you are saying, anyone with half a brain can do that. We are all waiting anxiously for your detailed proof of this ham- fisted management you rail against. The popcorn is ready, are you?


the matter of questionable judgement is in the letter of reprimand written by Ray Cross (try reading it). LocalObserver didnt just make it up.


"The overall lack of judgment and awareness of his role is why Joe Gow deserved a reprimand..." . Awareness of his role after his years of experience huh? Baloney. I don't believe that constitutes "a history of questionable judgement". Really? He has an axe to grind and this is his way of doing it.


OK Martian I'll bite- how about this: When your new head of international ed hires his own wife to an administrative position, runs off a long time and highly respected university employee after mocking and ridiculing him, then runs the department into the ground, do nothing... UNTIL said employee sues in court and wins, then backtrack on everything. But when someone gets the vapors because a redneck somewhere on campus has a confederate flag decal on his truck, freak out publicly. Or, when another university employee is "caught" making pro-Trump statements (disclosure: I don't like Trump either but that's not the point) fire said employee... UNTIL said employee wins in court, then offer her job back with an official apology. Or, how about refusing to make any important decision in the face of a crisis, real or perceived... in stead, just hire another administrator to handle the perceived problem. Or, hire the faculty member who was in charge of hiring you to a made up administrative position. Or, go completely nuts because a campus group places a 9/11 memorial that is in the shape of a cross... ironic now given Gow's new role as supreme defended of free speech on campus. I'm guessing a memorial to adult film stars who have fallen in the line of duty would be ok, though. But hey, he's a great Chancellor because he was in a BAND!!!!!!!!!


Baloney. It seems to me like YOU have an axe to grind too.


LocalObserver, I am with slider, you certainly have an ax to grind. Much of what you said is about employees not acting in a professional or orderly manner, it is not Gow's fault, its the fault the said employee. And not every personal manner is handled by the University Chancellor. "Refusing to make any important decision in the face of a crisis, real or perceived", well that is just ridiculous. You can't make important decisions about a crisis that isn't real, now you are just going way off course. As far as religious symbols being place on public grounds such as a University, well anyone knows you are itching for a court battle then. And how much tax payer money will you want to spend defending that? I doubt anyone went completely nuts over that either. I am not saying Gow is perfect in his profession, no one ever is. but these ticky tack allegations you made against him seem exaggerated and without any real merit. Sounds like you are a disgruntled ex employee of the university. A man admits his mistake and reimburses the University, I think that takes more integrity than you are willing to give him.


Or martian2, it could be that LocalObserver didn't have a pleasant time at UW-L and wants to blame Gow for that too.


When Rusty comes out to defend Joe, it means Joe is in trouble. It’s about time for some rumor that Joe Gow has his resume out on the market and we can all beg him to stay!!


That a boy slider, keep those rumors going! How dare Gow try to look else where to take advantage of opportunities for better employment. Why that can't be the American way!


Awesome diversion!!! Troll Grade B+ You could have raised that by insulting me.


no I don't go after anyone personally slider, you should know that by now. I am just waiting for this redwall character to honestly answer some of my questions, but all I hear is crickets getting louder. So far he/she is batting a zero for not answering questions brought before them.


Slider, Gow's resume is almost ALWAYS out on the market, as is the case for 90% of the university administrators in the country. The reason Gow has been here so long is that no other university has liked him well enough to hire him away from UW-L.


Or just maybe localobserver, Gow has had other offers but turned them down for various reasons, including maybe the pay or benefits or location.


Lol... yeah he "turns down the offer" right before someone else is announced as getting the job. That's called "saving face."


"LocalObserver" - you have an unpleasant time at UWL?


To surmise, when it comes to conservative views and speakers the Tribune takes the position..."I think liberals have horribly misplayed campus protests of conservative speakers. It doesn’t make sense to provide [the speakers] more publicity through protest." A really deplorable statement from a community newspaper, its not that protest is overplayed, its that the protest gives conservatives publicity.

But when it comes to promoting liberal causes and agendas, the Tribune takes the opposite position "If you’re going to hold a controversial forum, own it. Why not host a panel from multiple sides of the issue? Why not use the time leading up to the event to educate about free speech?"

One set of rules for conservatives, a different (lower and more supportive) set of rules for progressives.


where do you get that this speaker was a progressive or liberal speaker. The talk was about sexuality in its many forms. Something many a republican got caught doing nefarious sexual exploits themselves. It would of been a good idea for many of those righteous holier than thou type of conservatives to attend a few of these talks, maybe they wouldn't be running around on their wives or sexually assaulting women by grabbing them by the p*ssy. Yes this is only a liberal problem till another right winger gets caught with his pants down.

Rick Czeczok

Really, you thought that you had to print that.
Merry Christmas anyway.


It took all the way to the 4th sentence for the esteemed editor to mention the word "conservative." He was setting up the conservative-liberal dichotomy. Get with it.

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