Sen. Johnson Condemns Cancellation of Anti-DEI Speaker at Medical School

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has denounced the cancellation of a researcher on diversity, equity, and inclusion, John Sailer, by the Medical College of Wisconsin.

“Students should be able to freely explore different concepts, ideas, and worldviews so they are equipped to lead successful lives inside a free and open society. Instead, higher education has increasingly devolved into institutions of intolerance, conformist bullying, and intellectual tyranny,” he said in a statement to The Epoch Times on May 10.

“Fortunately, another venue was found,” Johnson added.

Yet, Johnson was less specific about the concrete steps to prevent cancellations and penalize institutions that fold to anti-speech pressure.

“Hopefully, I will be able to meet with the leadership of MCW [Medical College of Wisconsin] to discuss why they felt they could not host the event and what that says about academic freedom and diversity of thought on their campus and other institutions of higher education,” he said.

A Johnson staffer told The Epoch Times that the lawmaker was hoping to hold such a meeting on the afternoon of May 12. They confirmed on May 12 that the meeting was scheduled.

Sailer, a senior fellow at the National Association of Scholars, has conducted high-profile research on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into higher education.

Sailer and Johnson were among those slated to speak at the Wisconsin Association of Scholars’ Spring Symposium at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

Epoch Times Photo
A view of Milwaukee, location of the Medical College of Wisconsin. (Jill Dutton for American Essence)

But a May 4 letter from the institution’s president, Dr. John Raymond, informed the organizers that its campus was no longer available to them.

“A fundamental purpose of a university is to facilitate the exchange of ideas, even when those ideas challenge our cherished values or are offensive to members of our university community. However, the exchange of ideas should not disrupt the core functions of a university or jeopardize the safety of our MCW community,” Raymond’s letter reads.

“While I have decided to rescind the use of our facilities for the symposium, I am retaining the possibility to allow the symposium or a similar event to be held at MCW in the future under less disruptive conditions. To be clear, the rescission is not due to the topic or the viewpoints of the speakers,” it continues.

In a Twitter thread, Sailer offered a backstory: “Students and faculty organized a petition to have the event booted from campus.”

Images in the thread show a letter to Raymond condemning the gathering as “pseudo-academic and potentially harmful.”

Raymond’s letter doesn’t mention the petition. However, it states that “discussions (both internal and external) about the purpose of the WAS [Wisconsin Association of Scholars] symposium have become unacceptably disruptive.”

The Epoch Times was unable to confirm the existence of the petition independently. A link to it on the institution’s website no longer works.

As Johnson told The Epoch Times, the symposium was moved to Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, as a partly remote event. The conversation could continue in one form or another.

Yet, the damage had been done.

“President Raymond canceled the event. A textbook [heckler’s] veto,” Sailer wrote on Twitter.

Free speech advocates agreed.

“The choice to rescind permission for this event sends a message that the exchange of ideas at the Medical College of Wisconsin is not truly free and must pass through an ideological litmus test,” said Jeremy C. Young, the Freedom to Learn program director at PEN America, in a May 8 release.

“It is the essence of a heckler’s veto: denying someone the opportunity to speak because of the reactions it might incite,” he added.

A May 8 letter from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) to Raymond demands the institution “publicly reverse course and recommit to meeting its binding academic freedom obligations in the future.”

The Medical College of Wisconsin is a private nonprofit, not a public institution. However, it is a major beneficiary of federal research funding.

Its website notes it is Wisconsin’s second-largest recipient of funding from the National Institutes of Health.

It also gets millions from the state for medical student tuition assistance and a family medicine residency program.

The Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. (Carol M. Highsmith via Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

The Medical College of Wisconsin did not respond to questions from The Epoch Times by press time.

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