Good news from Madison: Governor Scott Walker used his line-item veto power for good late last month and struck a provision that would have evicted the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism from the UW-Madison campus and prohibited journalism faculty from working with it.
Slipped into the state budget in the dead of night by an anonymous Republican lawmaker and the subject of national controversy, Walker killed the item because he didn’t feel it was appropriate to single out one particular group in such a way. Instead, he is asking the UW Board of Regents to review its policies on campus facilities-sharing with outside groups.
There’s little chance that the Regents will overhaul these policies in any radical fashion, much less oust the Center. Executive director Andy Hall was pleased with the outcome: "Some in power are unhappy with our nonpartisan efforts, which aim to protect the vulnerable, expose wrongdoing and seek solutions," he wrote. "Their actions tell us we are doing something right and need to do more of it."
Greg Downey, director of the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication, has penned an excellent retrospective about weathering the crisis. "In the end," however, "I worry that we still have a situation where one or more unnamed, unaccountable legislators can try to nullify a university project of research, teaching, and service at any time, for no reason, with no notification and with no public debate," writes Downey.
Between the legislative approval of the state budget and Walker’s veto, some contingency planning examined the notion of a court challenge, which would have gotten complicated in a hurry. How does a state agency sue the state itself? Who, exactly, would the plaintiff be: the Center, School, campus, or System? On what grounds?
Fortunately, common sense kicked in before such a campaign was necessary. But Downey does worry that this ordeal may nonetheless have "a ‘chilling effect,’ making us less bold, less innovative, less creative, and more risk-averse in our research, teaching, and service than we might otherwise be. That’s what is really at stake in battles like these. And that is why we must be ready for the next one."