Dear Chancellor Mone,
I write this open letter to you as an expression of the outrage I share with many members of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee community that Greta van Susteren will be hosting a “town hall event” with Donald Trump for a special edition of “On the Record,” Sunday, April 3, at UWM’s Mainstage Theatre. I urge you to reconsider your decision to lease our public university facilities to Fox News for what is essentially a Trump campaign event.
In making public resources available for an individual political campaign event, you have given the appearance that the university supports one candidate over another. To feel compelled to note, as you do in your Chancellor’s Update about a “Presidential Candidate on Campus April 3,” that “UWM does not endorse or promote any political candidates,” only serves to acknowledge that your decision to host Trump’s Fox News town hall indeed creates that appearance.
Although you might object that no such complaints were raised when you agreed earlier in the year to host a Democratic Presidential Debate, produced by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), certainly you must recognize that hosting such a debate is very different from hosting a “town hall” for a single candidate of either party. For a public university like UWM to be the site of a national party-sanctioned debate, “broadcast” on public television, is to perform a “public service” meant for a nation-wide audience. When the Democratic debate was held on February 11, Wisconsin’s presidential primary election was still nearly two months away.
But as you know, Trump’s Fox appearance Sunday is only two days away from Wisconsin’s primary. As such it is clearly a Trump campaign event. According to the Milwaukee Business Journal, the UWM “town hall” is the first of two Fox-Trump campaign events in Milwaukee: “A second town hall hosted by the Fox News Channel and featuring Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump will be at downtown Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater and facilitated by national conservative talk radio and television host Sean Hannity on April 4 at 5 p.m.”
It is unseemly for a public university, which claims to be committed to building bridges among all of the diverse constituents of the Milwaukee community, to be lending its reputational capital to a presidential campaign devoted to walling out or imprisoning those who would displease, threaten, or oppose it. The racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, and fascist ideas and policies that Trump has expressed during his campaign are antithetical to the cultural and political values on which the University of Wisconsin in general and UW-Milwaukee in particular are founded.
All UWM community members who oppose Trump’s poisonous values have a right to protest him if he comes to campus. But responsibility for Trump’s presence on campus belongs ultimately to you. You try to justify your decision by appealing to your “commitment to free speech and academic freedom.” But your decision to lease public university facilities to host a private political media event has nothing to do with freedom of speech and even less with academic freedom.
Without your approval, Donald Trump would not be coming to University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Sunday. I urge you to act quickly to reverse your decision to lease our public university facilities to decidedly private media and political interests.
Professor of English