By Wyoming Tribune Eagle editorial board
— This Wyoming Tribune Eagle editorial was originally published on Sept. 13, and is republished with permission — Ed.
The issue: A recent news report told a tale of fear and paranoia at the University of Wyoming in the wake of legislative meddling.
We believe: Lawmakers are selling the school’s academic freedom to the energy industry. They need to back off.
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What is the value of academic freedom? That’s the question all Wyomingites should be asking themselves. To state lawmakers, it is a commodity that can be bought and sold, like coal or oil.
What legislators can’t seem to grasp is that without academic freedom, an institute of higher learning ceases to flourish. Students and their professors fail to discover new technologies, or find better and cheaper ways to do things, or make breakthroughs in science or engineering.
Without free thought, a university begins to degrade. Soon, the brightest minds move on, which is what has been happening at the University of Wyoming over the last few years.
What was once non-negotiable at UW now has a price tag on it. Lawmakers have sold the school to the highest bidder – the energy industry – and in the process, academic freedom has been discarded. The more legislators meddle in UW’s affairs, the more the school loses its purpose, which is to open up young minds to exploration and discovery.
In WyoFile’s recent analysis of the distrust that persists at UW, the calm that was supposed to come with UW President Dick McGinity’s appointment after Robert Sternberg resigned last November has never arrived. In fact, several members of UW’s faculty refused to be interviewed for the article, fearing repercussions.
And can you blame them? When lawmakers like state Rep. Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette, threaten to cut funding to UW for allowing a sculpture on campus critical of the energy industry, the faculty gets the message: Speak up and it could be you next time.
Unfortunately, UW trustees and administrators have refused to stand up to bully lawmakers like Mr. Lubnau – and to stand up for academic freedom. Previous President Tom Buchanan folded like a blanket under pressure to remove the “Carbon Sink” sculpture that caused such a stir.
But the blame for UW’s woes lies with legislators. These same lawmakers would fight to the death to protect the Second Amendment or against intrusion from the federal government, but they have no problem eroding academic freedom. Their micromanaging has not produced a better school; it has created only uncertainty and paranoia.
Even after sending Mr. Buchanan scurrying, lawmakers didn’t stop. They demanded that UW’s trustees approve all art on campus to make sure nothing controversial appeared there. So much for a free exchange of ideas.
Enter Mr. Sternberg, hired in secret. After cleaning house, he was forced out. That whole brouhaha created even more distrust. Then lawmakers began making demands to meet with the trustees and other school officials. None of that is their job.
Legislators need to reset their moral compasses. They are destroying free expression at the state’s only university in the name of the almighty dollar. They are degrading the quality of UW, and they are preventing the sort of innovation that could, in the end, save the very energy industry they are protecting. They need to back off and let UW do its job, free of fear and retaliation.
We think Wyomingites want a university that they can be proud of. That won’t happen if the Legislature continues to meddle in school affairs. It’s time to start asking questions and demanding answers from our elected representatives.
— Read the original publication at the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.
— Read University of Wyoming President Dick McGinity’s response.
— Read the WyoFile feature, “University of Wyoming attempts to rebuild after Sternberg shakeup,” September 2, 2014.
— Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer at email@example.com.