This month the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents voted unanimously to name Jennifer Mnookin the next chancellor of UW-Madison. Leading Wisconsin Republicans immediately lashed out at the selection. Their criticisms were leveled before any of them had even spoken with the incoming chancellor, and smack of the divisive rhetoric central to the culture war Republicans are seeking to exploit for partisan advantage in this year’s midterm elections.
The Board of Regents, a bipartisan group charged with overseeing the 13 colleges within the University of Wisconsin system, undertook an exhaustive search for the next head of the UW System’s flagship university after current Chancellor Rebecca Blank announced last year that she would be leaving UW-Madison for Northwestern. Mnookin will join UW-Madison from the University of California, Los Angeles, where she has served as Dean of the Law School since 2015.
Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson were among those quick to criticize Mnookin for reasons that only appear to make any sense at all to heavy consumers of FOX “News,” among them:
- That she’s from California! Thompson used the old ‘left coast’ stereotype to try and “other” the incoming Chancellor simply because she has been working at a California institute of higher education.
- That she makes political donations! Mnookin has been a donor to politicians who, notably, did not try to overthrow a presidential election, including such dignitaries as Barack Obama. Of course, the outgoing UW-Madison Chancellor served in the Obama Administration and Thompson served in the George W. Bush Administration.
- That she believes in academic freedom and critical thinking! Vos and his Republican colleagues claim to be champions of free speech on college campuses, but they only actually demonstrate concern for conservative speech, criticizing Mnookin for a course on systemic racism taught at the Law School during her time as Dean.
- That she believes in science! Republicans also seem displeased with Mnookin’s apparent belief in the COVID-19 vaccine.
None of these criticisms are serious concerns about her ability to lead UW-Madison, of course.
They are simply more cannon fodder for a culture war Republicans are desperate to wage in the name of short term political advantage.
The problem with that thinking is that the absurdity of criticisms like these only undermines their argument that they should be entrusted with even more power over our state. Wisconsinites come from all over the place, have wide-ranging political points of view, believe in the freedom of speech and validity of science, all at the same time.
So, it would appear, does Mnookin. Wisconsin Republicans may not like that, but they’re going to have to live with it following her unanimous, bipartisan appointment.
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