Student Association meets to discuss First Amendment rights and chalking around Hoeschler Tower


Student Association logo. Image obtained from the UWL Student Association Facebook Page.

Anna Fischer, Social Justice Reporter

Wednesday, May 4, marked the final Student Association (SA) senate meeting of the semester. The meeting began with a historical Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signing, by Chancellor Joe Gow, showing support of the Green Fund Grant to approve a new sustainability program manager. The signed document detailed the university’s commitment to funding this position partially for three years, along with the SA’s commitment to also fund them for three years. 

“It is a wonderful collaboration that we are doing, and a model, I think, for some future things that we can do,” said Gow, “I know that many students have wanted this position for a long time.” 

The room was also packed with those waiting to hear from Gow about the chalk-writing statements done by the Hoeschler Tower last week regarding the School of Education (SOE) issues. 

 “I am a very staunch advocate of the First Amendment and would hate to be perceived as an opponent against free speech,” said Gow, “but I have never really thought about chalking before because we don’t really have a policy on it. I am hoping to form one here tonight with the Senate.”  

 The Chancellor said he is mainly concerned with certain lines containing “the f-bomb” and other profanity but wanted to make clear that, “the university has no interest in punishing anyone.”  

 After Gow left for a prior engagement, outgoing senate Vice President, Jared Zwettler gave his opinion on the matter: 

 “I worked with a number of people on this issue, and I don’t think it’s right that the university is censoring profanity. There is case law that does support use of profanity and that it cannot be regulated in many situations…I think that Chancellor Gow’s arguments do not hold a lot of weight and I strongly disagree with his position and his stance, and I want to make that known here today.” 

 The SA further discussed this issue by way of SA2122-054: Resolution in Support of Student Free Speech Rights, written up by Senator Carter Drost. 

 James Szymalak, Assistant Professor of Political Science & Public Administration, was called on multiple times during Wednesday’s meeting. He teaches many courses of this nature, including legal studies and ethics in government. Before coming to UWL, Szymalak served as a senior Pentagon personnel policy legal advisor within the Department of the Army. The SA called on him to give legal advice about the free speech resolution, and asked for his opinion regarding the chalking: 

“I am an actual attorney and a First Amendment scholar, and the law is really clear that profanity is not obscenity. The decision to chalk out f-bombs is a policy decision; I am here to talk about legal decisions, and the legal decision is clear. It doesn’t matter that it is chalk or a ballpoint pen, the First Amendment is the First Amendment. Using ‘dirty’ language is not unsettled and it’s not a recent development. Just because eighth-graders are around it does not change the law.” 

Szymalak said the university’s decision to strike out “offensive” wording is “a clear violation of the Constitution.” He also said the SOE chalking is “not vandalism because the campus created it as a designated public forum, on this and many other campus-related events, issues, etc. which overrides the vandalism rule.” 

Earlier, Chancellor Gow spoke about various faculty members’ issues with their names being a part of the chalking. Szymalak cleared this up saying, “This is also not defamation; the individuals that were named, as far as I know, are public figures. Public employees are public figures, and this idea that they are delicate geniuses that can’t be talked about is crazy.” 

Addressing the senate, he also stated to his fellow faculty, “I am disappointed in the university, but I am even more disappointed in my colleagues. How many of your professors have talked about this with you in class?” To which no one raised their hand.

He said that he is here to support the students of the SOE. “To the university, when are you going to draw the line and say no? No one has stood up and done a thing. Why isn’t anyone else standing up for this? It’s school event stuff now, but what’s next?”