Unanswered Questions: UW-Madison Students Protest CEO Report on Racial and Ethnic Preferences in Admissions

Roger Clegg

"Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe that the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found." (Taken from a report of the Board of Regents in 1894)
Memorial, Class of 1910.


This is an account of the September 13, 2011 visit to Madison Wisconsin by Roger Clegg, President and General Counsel of the Washington DC based Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO). Clegg came to Madison to unveil at an 11 a.m. press conference in the off-campus DoubleTree Hotel the results of two new CEO studies that document “severe discrimination” in undergraduate and law school admissions at UW-Madison. A group of more than 100 protesting students who objected to the findings of these studies mobilized outside the hotel, burst into the hotel lobby, invaded the meeting room, interrupted the press conference as it was winding down

At 7 p.m. that evening Clegg took part in a Federalist Society-sponsored on-campus debate on “Affirmative Action” with UW-Madison Law Professor Larry Church. University officials after learning about the morning protest at the DoubleTree Hotel moved the debate from the Law School to a much larger room in Union South to accommodate the crowd of more than 850 students who attended the debate. The campus administration provided massive police security for this event. Though Clegg’s presentation was often greeted with hisses and boos, the debate proceeded without incident.

This first part of this essay provides a detailed account of the events of Tuesday, September 13, 2011. The second offers my assessment of the DoubleTree Hotel protest, an assessment that differs markedly from those of two faculty members who attended the press conference and later observed what happened from the hotel lobby. The final section raises a series of questions about the day’s events, with particular attention to the roles played by UW-Madison officials in stimulating the protest and later justifying the actions of the protesters at the DoubleTree Hotel.

Part 1: The Events of September 13, 2011


The Washington D.C. based Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO), believing that everyone should be treated equally without regard to race, ethnicity, or national origin, has a long record of documenting the use of affirmative action in college and university admissions. It has done this by obtaining admission data from the institutions and analyzing the data to assess the extent of discrimination against and in favor of particular minority groups. These studies, conducted at several dozen major public universities, have revealed strong evidence of admission preferences that favor Blacks and Hispanics and disadvantage Asians and Whites.

Efforts to obtain the admissions data for UW-Madison began in 1998 when the Wisconsin Association of Scholars (WAS) along with CEO initiated an Open Records Request for such data. Because the data were not forthcoming, the WAS filed a lawsuit seeking the data. The lawsuit went all the way to the Wisconsin State Supreme Court which ruled that the university had to honor the request and provide the requested data. The data finally obtained by CEO covered two entering cohorts of students in Fall 2007 and Fall 2008.The analysis in these two studies in quite similar. Following presentation of descriptive data showing differences in the average values of key variables such as test scores and high school class rank, the study expresses its results in terms of odds ratios. These ratios indicate, after controlling for academic preparation (e.g., SAT/ACT scores and high school class rank) and other variables, the odds of a minority applicant–Black, Hispanic, or Asian—being admitted relative to a white applicant. The odds ratios using SAT scores are more than 500 to 1 for both Blacks and Hispanics; using ACT scores, the odds ratios are more than 1,300 to 1 for both Blacks and Hispanics.The CEO concludes that its results reveal “severe discrimination based on race and ethnicity in undergraduate and law school admissions at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with African Americans and Latinos given preference over whites and Asians.”

Doubletree Hotel Protest

The night before the CEO press conference I received several disturbing email messages. The first asked what I knew about the CEO and a report being releasing at midnight. It also mentioned that Damon Williams, Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate, had called an emergency meeting at 8 p.m. in the Red Gym’s Multicultural Center. A follow up email message described the CEO as a “right-wing think tank.” It appeared that the emergency meeting’s goal was to develop a response to the CEO report. About 11 p.m. a friend forwarded me a Facebook message from the “Facebook Team” announcing a “Double Protest to Defend Diversity.” The first protest was scheduled for the 11 a.m. CEO press conference the following morning at the nearby off-campus DoubleTree Hotel; the second was scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. that evening in front of Bascom Hall near the site of the 7 p.m. evening debate. Before retiring that night, I knew trouble was brewing.

When I met Clegg for breakfast that morning, he said he became aware of possible protests when he arrived at the hotel the night before. The morning paper, the Wisconsin State Journal, confirmed that information with its two front page articles, one announcing the schedule of protests against the CEO and its study and the other summarizing the key findings of the CEO study . Before departing from the DoubleTree Hotel, I asked the desk clerk for something identifying me as a guest of the hotel; in case of any trouble, I wanted to be sure I could reenter the hotel for the press conference.

On the way home I picked up copies of the two student newspapers, the Badger Herald and the Daily Cardinal, hoping to learn more about what might be scheduled to happen that day. The Herald reported on the emergency meeting held Monday evening at the Red Gym. At that meeting Williams criticized the CEO study and reaffirmed the campus commitment to its holistic admissions process. He also, as quoted in the Herald, “stressed the need for students to mobilize.” As the Herald report went on to point out, “the students present did not seem to need any convincing.” A further Herald quote said even more about Williams role. “ ‘Don’t wait for us to show the way,’ Williams said to students who were already assembling poster board to make signs against the CEO president’s report and visit.”

The Disrupted Press Conference

I drove back to the campus, arriving about 10:30 a.m. and parked in the nearby Francis Street Ramp before walking the three blocks to the DoubleTree Hotel. On the way I noticed a number of students heading for the hotel. Many carried placards. Some wore bright yellow t-shirts with the word "scholar" printed down the sleeves while others wore traditional Badger Red t-shirts. Approaching the hotel I spotted a group of perhaps 40 students on the sidewalk outside the hotel entrance. I ignored them, entered the hotel, and was waved in by hotel staff members who recognized me from my earlier visit that morning.

Clegg was already in the press conference room; so were at least a half dozen TV cameras and their operators, plus 25 to 30 people including several reporters, at least two faculty members I knew, several academic staff members (including at least one person I recognized from the Diversity and Climate office), and some students. More people entered the room as the press conference began, including former UW System Board of Regents member, Fred Mohs.

Shortly after the press conference began, I noticed standing just inside the press conference room Vice Provost Williams and two other colleagues, one of them I subsequently learned is the newly appointed assistant to Damon Williams, a man by the name of Eric Williams; I did not know the identity of the third person. The three of them stood together throughout the press conference though at one point, after the volume of protester chanting from the hotel lobby increased dramatically, I remember seeing Vice-Provost Williams briefly stick his head out the door. Why he did this was not apparent from my vantage point.

Promptly at 11:00 a.m. Clegg opened the press conference. He described the work of his organization and the rationale for what the organization does. He then summarized the two studies on racial and ethnic preferences at UW-Madison, one on undergraduate admissions and the other on law school admissions. At about 11:20 a.m. he opened up the session for questions, asking that reporters and media people be given the first chance to ask questions. Others soon joined in, including Emeritus Professor Michael Olneck and Associate Professor Sara Goldrick-Rab.

Several questions were asked by academic staff members, followed by questions from several students. A number of those who spoke questioned the CEO’s political motives, the timing of the release of these reports, the divisiveness of the findings, and so on. Then a young woman spoke up emphasizing the harm a report like this inflicts on minority students, many of whom worked hard in high school and deserve to be here at UW-Madison. Clegg's answer was respectful but unapologetic. In trying to reply the young woman apparently began to break up in tears and quickly left the room.

A few minutes before this happened, we had become aware of the chanting of the protesters now occupying the adjacent hotel lobby. We found out later the protesters had broken into the hotel and were now protesting loudly. Like most of us, Clegg looked toward the door when he heard the yelling and chanting but turned back quickly and continued answering questions. In a short while some people began to leave the room, and as they went out the door the noise level rose. Other people wanting to leave were directed by staff members to a service door exit at the opposite end of the room. Soon it became apparent the staff people were unable to fully close the door which intensified the noise level. By this time, Clegg had stepped away from the podium so that he could more easily hear the questions. He soon had to give up because he could neither hear nor be heard.

Events took a dramatic turn as Clegg continued trying to talk to two students. I heard a loud chorus of shouting voices. Looking up, I saw that the room’s doors had been pushed open, and the mob of protesters was surging into the room. They quickly filled the room, chanting and yelling and in some cases sticking their placards near our faces. Realizing what was happening but having no knowledge about the protesters’ intentions, I moved quickly to the podium to gather up Clegg’s papers and notes as well as the extra copies of his reports. I also grabbed his briefcase before it could be hauled off by one of the protesters. I told Clegg we should get out of there before we became trapped by the protesters. After we loaded everything into his briefcase, I told him to follow me.

We headed along the front wall where there were fewer protesters—by this time there may have been a hundred protesters in the room. We then snaked along the side wall of the room toward the exit door in the back corner of the room. As we approached the door to the lobby protesters were still streaming in. Suddenly, a protester coming into the room shoved against me. I shoved back. The protester said, "Don't touch me." I replied, "Don't you touch me, we're just trying to get out of here." As I tried to move around that protester, another protester who was also in the doorway said, "Don't touch me." I replied "I have no intention of touching you." I tried to move around this second protester. During this brief episode Clegg was right behind me. Suddenly, thanks to the hotel staff and several protesters, the way was cleared so we could move through the doorway and out into the lobby.

Afterwards I realized that I had reacted instinctively to the student invasion of the press conference room, being concerned about what might happen next. Recalling my own experiences and those of other faculty members during the student protests of the late 1960s and early 1970s, my first concern was to protect Clegg and get him out into the lobby rather than being hemmed in the room and compelled to listen to the protesters. It is worth noting that the protesters gave no indication of wanting to sit down with Clegg and talk about the CEO report and their reactions to it; indeed, nobody approached him with such a request. Fortunately, we were able to leave the press conference room before the protesters had a chance to organize so as to more directly attempt to intimidate or isolate us.

Several hotel staffers immediately called us to follow them to the elevator which was about 50 feet away around the corner in the hotel’s central hallway. We hurried along to the elevator, followed by chanting protesters. More protesters crowded around us. After what seemed like a long time, the elevator doors opened and we got in quickly. Some protesters tried to follow us into the elevator but two staffers prevented them from doing so. I pressed the button to close the elevator doors but had to pry a hand or two off the rubber safety bumper along the elevator door before the doors could close. The two hotel staffers, a man and a woman, then pushed the protesters back and away from the elevator. The doors closed and we ascended to Clegg’s room on the third floor. At this point, we wondered what could have been the motive of the protesters to board the elevator except to intimidate us.

It was now 12:15 pm, the scheduled time for a small the lunch to begin at the on-campus University Club several blocks away. The question was how to get there without encountering the protesters downstairs. I called the front desk and a young male staffer came to our room to guide us out of the hotel. He took us down a back stairway that ended near the ground level pool on the first floor. The stairway was the kind that allows people to exit from it but prevents anyone from entering from the outside. The hotel staffer paged the hotel’s van driver, telling him to come around and pick us up. In short order, he arrived, we hopped aboard, and he drove us out onto Dayton Street thereby avoiding any protesters who might have been stationed outside the hotel’s front entrance. After a short ride, we got off the van on the Park Street side of the Humanities Building and walked to the nearby University Club. After an uneventful lunch, Clegg went off for several interviews.

I returned home and checked my email. There I found a 9:52 a.m. UW-Madison press release, “UW-Madison responds to attacks on diversity efforts.” The press release reaffirmed the UW-Madison’s “commitment to enrolling a highly diverse student body.” It went on to say that the CEO “attacked the University of Wisconsin-Madison for its diversity efforts.” This struck me as a complete misreading of the CEO press release which simply reported its findings of “severe discrimination” in undergraduate and law school admissions decisions at UW-Madison.

In that press release Interim Chancellor David Ward repeated UW-Madison’s standard defense: “Any student who is accepted at UW-Madison is here because he or she has the potential and capacity to succeed. No matter what a student’s class rank or test scores were, students who are accepted qualify for a spot at this university. No one is admitted solely because of race or ethnicity.”

Interim Chancellor Ward’s statement was followed by supporting comments from Admissions Director Adele Brumfield, Vice-Provost Damon Williams, and Allie Gardner, chair of the Associated Students of Madison. Williams in effect admitted discrimination in admissions but justified it in the interests of creating a diverse campus, adding that the “commentary offered by CEO fails to recognize this point and that the presence of social diversity enhances the excellence of our institutions in so many ways.”

What surprised me was the failure of the Interim Chancellor who must have been informed about the protest of the CEO scheduled for 11 a.m. to caution students about appropriate behavior in any protest and particularly in a protest taking place at an off-campus site.

The Evening Debate on Affirmative Action

I told Clegg I would pick him up at 6 p.m. and drive to the parking lot behind the Law School Building where the debate was to be held; the organizers wanted Clegg there before 6:30 p.m. to go over the plans for the evening. When I arrived in Clegg’s hotel room, he said the venue had been changed to Union South. A call came from one of the sponsors explaining where to go once we arrived. We were told to park in the underground public parking lot and then take the elevator to the second floor where we would be met. We did and were met by a Union South official as well as two plainclothesmen. I noticed that arrangements had already been made to handle the crowd and keep it moving forward with the help of airline queue management barriers. I also recall seeing a table with a sign on it saying that backpacks would be inspected; numerous campus police officers were present. All of this security surprised me.

We then walked through the large room called Varsity Hall where the debate was scheduled to take place. We were told the room contained 1,000 seats. I remarked that the room seemed more than ample for the crowd of perhaps 100 who might attend; little did I realize how big the crowd would be. We were then taken into a service hallway that ran along the back Varsity Hall. From there we were escorted to a small meeting room and told to stay there until the program began. That seemed rather strange until we spotted several uniformed police officers spaced strategically along that service hallway.

This led me to ask the Union South official and the plainclothesman who seemed to be in charge why so much security was in evidence. They explained that a meeting had been convened in Bascom Hall early that afternoon, bringing together the Law School Dean, campus police, Union South officials, and other unnamed individuals. There a decision was made to shift the 7 p.m. debate to Union South, both to accommodate a much larger crowd and to provide better security for those involved in the evening debate. Although these two officials did not offer any further explanation, I couldn’t help but assume that Bascom Hall officials wanted to avoid any repeat of what happened at the DoubleTree Hotel that morning.

As Clegg remarked to me, after what happened in the morning, some colleges and universities would probably have cancelled the evening debate. Clegg said it is to the UW-Madison’s credit that it did not cancel the debate. Rather, it took measures to accommodate a larger crowd, an expected result of the well publicized call for a 6 p.m. protest rally in front of Bascom Hall. It also decided to beef up security to maintain order before, during, and after the debate.

While waiting in our “safe” room, I said I needed to go to the men’s room. I was escorted out of this secure area to the men’s room and back. En route, I noticed further activity in the open area outside Varsity Hall; a thin line of students was already lining up and even more uniformed officers were in place. In returning to our secure room, I also noticed an increased police presence in the service hallway separating our room from the exit doors of Varsity Hall.

While waiting, I strolled over to the window overlooking West Johnson Street. Initially, I wondered why traffic was backed up as far as Randall Street. Looking down Johnson Street toward the Capitol, I noticed several blocks away two police cars with their lights flashing, blocking east-bound traffic on West Johnson Street. Looking more closely, I saw a long line of people crossing Johnson Street, probably at Mills Street, moving from the campus side of West Johnson toward Dayton Street. I realized they were students, some wearing yellow t-shirts and others Badger-Red t-shirts similar to what I had seen at the DoubleTree Hotel that morning. Many of the marchers appeared to be carrying placards similar to those I had seen earlier. It was at this point I realized what led to the change in venue, and I concluded that the debate might well attract a full house. At the same time, the reason for the massive security deployed in Union South became clear. It was a large crowd that no doubt included many of the morning protesters.

Soon two law students from the sponsoring Federalist Society joined us, Jennifer Johnson and Randy Melchert. Clegg and I had an interesting time chatting with them. Meanwhile, the noise from the auditorium gradually increased as the audience assembled. A look into the service hallway showed a further increase in the number of security personnel. As 7 p.m. approached, we were briefed by the student organizers. When the time came to begin the program, Johnson, acting as the debate moderator, would exit from the service hallway into Varsity Hall, walk onto the stage, and explain the ground rules for the debate and how it would be organized. Each speaker would have 10 minutes to speak, followed by 10 minutes for the other speaker, and then each speaker would have another 10 minutes to respond to the other speaker. Not being a part of the program, I entered the hall and sat in the front row. As I entered I could see that the room was filled with students, many of them minority students. Johnson then announced Professor Church who came on stage; then she announced Clegg who also came onto the stage. As they stood at their respective podiums, Johnson introduced them, described their backgrounds and accomplishments, and indicated the positions they would take in the debate.

Clegg, in leading off the debate, set out a framework for thinking about affirmative action. It called for defining what the term means, assessing the benefits of affirmative action, determining the costs of affirmative action, and then comparing the costs and benefits. Church emphasized the importance of affirmative action as the United States becomes an increasingly multi-racial society. Clegg and then Church responded to each other’s comments. Clegg handled himself well despite the crowd’s hostility toward what he had to say. There were occasional boos and other outbursts, but all in all the behavior of the crowd, though often loud and impolite, was not disruptive; at times members of the audience tried to shush those who were more vocal in their responses. Church’s views were favorably received. After the two rounds of comments were completed, the question period began under the direction of the other Federalist Society member, Melchert. The questions ranged widely, touching on the right-wing characterization of the CEO, the timing of the release of the CEO reports, the need for affirmative action to rectify past discrimination, and so on. Most of the questions were directed to Clegg.

Johnson, the moderator, explained at the beginning of the debate that it would end promptly at 8:30 p.m. When that time arrived, she announced that the event was over. At that moment, Clegg walked across the stage and shook hands with Church to indicate the debate had indeed ended. A number of students indicated they were not entirely happy about this, but Johnson was firm and soon members of the audience began standing up to leave. I did not know what happened in Varsity Hall after that because the plainclothesman told us earlier to return to our “safe” room immediately after the event ended, which we did; throughout the debate the head plainclothes man stood next to an exit door we had entered through and just to the right of the stage. Once back in our “safe” room, the plainclothesman as a precaution instructed us to remain in the room until it became clear we could leave. That was fine with us. Church left immediately because he was not the subject of possible concern by the protesters.

After some time, probably 15 minutes, the plainclothesman said we could leave. He asked Clegg where he wanted to go. Clegg said he wanted to return to the DoubleTree Hotel. He was then told that the security people had a black SUV parked at the Union South’s underground loading dock that exits onto Randall Street. He would be taken down a back stairway to the SUV and driven to the hotel. Clegg and I spoke briefly, shook hands, and off he went with the security people. I was asked where I wanted to go. I explained that my car was parked in the underground garage. Another one of the plainclothesmen said he would escort me to my car, and off we went. As we exited from our “safe” area, students were still leaving Varsity Hall even though some apparently remained to talk about the debate.

Outside I ran into a long-time friend, Political Science Professor Don Downs. He had been unable to attend the press conference or lunch because of a meeting in Milwaukee. We talked briefly about the DoubleTree protest and whether it involved any First Amendment issues. I replied that were some issues we should discuss. We agreed to continue the conversation the next day. I was taken to my car.

As I drove home, I was struck by the irony of our being put in a “safe” and well-guarded room before and after the evening debate. The room happened to be named the “Sifting and Winnowing Room.” Painted on the wall in easily read letters is the text of the “sifting and winnowing” statement that appears on the plaque at the front of Bascom Hall; that statement is reproduced at the beginning of this essay. It seemed so odd that we had to be protected when the debate conducted by the two speakers represented the best in the tradition of “sifting and winnowing.”

But, as the DoubleTree Hotel incident forcefully demonstrated, and as the debate demonstrated to a lesser degree, many students came with their minds already made up. They seemed to be unwilling to listen carefully to the exchange of ideas and to engage in the search for truth embodied in the “sifting and winnowing” statement. Unfortunately, the example set for them by university leaders—the Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate and the Dean of Students at their Monday evening “emergency” meeting, and the UW-Madison’s Tuesday morning press release—assumes the truth is known and that any questioning of the benefits of the “holistic” admissions process is out of bounds. How sad.

End of the Day

So, that was the day, Tuesday, September 13, 2011. After arriving home I read more carefully the Wisconsin State Journal articles mentioned earlier. I also reread the copies of the Daily Cardinal and Badger Herald I had picked up in the morning. I found email messages from various friends and colleagues, several of which included photographs from the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. local TV news programs. One showed me with Clegg loading up his briefcase as the protesters surrounded us. Another showed me running interference for Clegg as we headed for the lobby after the protesters invaded the press conference room. Still another showed the two of us in the elevator, and the protesters crowded in front of the elevator.

Several friends who saw the photos remarked about the expression on my face, described by one of them as “anxious” and by another as “concerned.” That may have been the way I looked. I accounted for it by my focus on getting Clegg safely out of a difficult and potentially dangerous situation. At no time, however, did I fear for our immediate safety. My principal concern was making certain we did not become trapped in the press conference room and be forced to endure more of the protesters’ chanting.

Part 2: Some Reflections

The next two sections offer my reflections on two topics. One concerns the appropriateness of the DoubleTree Hotel General Manager’s characterization of the protesters as a “mob.” Two faculty members I know objected to this characterization based on their observations of the protest from the lobby. As one who was still inside the press conference room, my view of what happened differed, and the characterization of the protesters as a “mob” seemed to be appropriate.

The other focuses on the attention given by the campus administration, notably the Vice-Provost and the Dean of Students, to the CEO report and what followed from their actions. This section asks the “What If . . .?” question, namely what would have happened if UW-Madison officials had ignored the CEO report?

A “Mob” or “Not a Mob”

What is the appropriate characterization of the protesters’ actions at the height of the protest in the DoubleTree Hotel that morning? Accounts differ dramatically depending on the vantage point of those who described these actions. These differences are revealed by the four documents that follow: (1) the DoubleTree Hotel press release from the Hotel’s General Manager, Tom Ziarnik, issued on Tuesday afternoon shortly after the protest ended, (2) the Education Optimist blog statement “Boycott the Madison Doubletree Hotel” posted by Associate Professor Sara Goldrick-Rab on September 14, 2011, (3) Emeritus Professor Michael Olneck’s Letter to the Editor, “Student protesters wrongly called a ‘mob,’" published by the Wisconsin State Journal on September 19, 2011, based on his draft letter posted on Goldrick-Rab’s web page on September 14, 2011, and (4) my Letter to the Editor published by the Wisconsin State Journal on September 16, 2011 based on my account of what happened as described in this essay.

The different vantage points can be summarized as follows. The DoubleTree General Manager Ziarnik and his staff witnessed from the lobby the gathering of the protesters outside the hotel, their bursting into the hotel lobby, their invasion of the press conference room, and their attempt to enter the elevator taking Clegg and me to Clegg’s room. Goldrick-Rab and Olneck attended the press conference but left before the protesters invaded the press conference room. It appears that initially they observed the protesters from the vantage point of the hotel lobby before the protesters stood up and then surged into the press conference room. What Goldrick-Rab and Olneck could see as the protesters made their way into the press conference is unclear; the pileup of protesters trying to enter the press conference room seems likely to have obscured details of what happened inside. Meanwhile, I was with Clegg in the press conference room, witnessed the surge of protesters into the press conference room, escorted Clegg out of that room, and remained with Clegg as the two of us proceeded to and then entered the elevator followed by a group of chanting protesters several of whom tried to board the elevator.

In summary, Goldrick-Rab and Olneck view the behavior of the protesters as benign and above reproach perhaps because they were observing the protesters, many of whom sat on the lobby floor, before the protesters pushed their way into the press conference room. In contrast, Ziarnik and his staff observed the disruptive behavior of the protesters in the hotel lobby, in the press conference room in the hallway leading to the elevator, and at the entrance to the elevator. I witnessed the same events except for the protests in the hotel lobby.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011 Tom Ziarnik, General Manager
(608) 251-5511

DoubleTree by Hilton Response about Protesters at Press Conference
Statement from Tom Ziarnik, General Manager of DoubleTree by Hilton Madison:

First and foremost, it is our job to protect the guests of our hotel.

When threats were made by the protesters to rush the hotel, we secured all entrances to the property. Many protesters were telling us to “call the police” and “we want to be arrested.” Unfortunately, when escorting meeting attendees out of the hotel through a private entrance, staff were then rushed by a mob of protesters, throwing employees to the ground.

The mob became increasingly physically violent when forcing themselves into the meeting room where the press conference had already ended, filling it over fire code capacity. Madison police arrived on the scene after the protesters had stormed the hotel.

These protesters were not guests of the hotel and were repeatedly informed that they were trespassing on private property and needed to leave, per Madison General Ordinance Sec 23.07.

We are extremely grateful that no one was seriously injured and no property was damaged.


Yesterday's student activism in response to the Center for Equal Opportunity's "study" on affirmative action practices at UW-Madison was awe-inspiring. Students were articulate, passionate, and poised. They made their voices heard in powerful ways. They brought me to tears.

On the other hand, some observers of their actions were downright racist. Most notable among them was the DoubleTree Hotel, site of the morning's press conference. By evening, Madison newspapers were reporting that a DoubleTree press release called the students a "mob." Yes, a group of UW-Madison students, mostly students of color, was labeled by hotel management with a word meaning "disorderly and intent on causing trouble or violence."

Nothing could be further from the truth. I was standing in the hotel lobby when the action began. The students were organized-not disorderly--and most definitely not intent on causing trouble or violence. They came to speak with Roger Clegg, who organized a public press conference, and let him hear the faces and voices students whom he claimed were admitted to Madison without proper qualifications.

There was no "mob" at the DoubleTree Hotel yesterday. This local hotel, so often patronized by those associated with UW-Madison, should be ashamed of its employees who used such slander in describing Madison students. They witnessed vocal, spirited students of color and were afraid. That is appalling.

UW-Madison can choose to whom it gives University business. Until this issue is resolved to the satisfaction of the campus community, in my opinion it should boycott the Doubletree.


The press release from the Doubletree’s General Manager Tom Ziarnik describes the large group of students protesting the Center for Equal Opportunity’s report attacking the UW-Madison’s admission practices as a “mob” that “became increasingly physically violent when forcing themselves into the meeting room where the press conference had already ended.” And, it alleges that “staff were then rushed by a mob of protesters, throwing employees to the ground.”

I attended the press conference, and was in the main lobby afterward. There was no “mob” that was “physically violent.” There was an organized group whose loud chanting forced an end to the press conference, and which attempted to enter the conference room after the doors were open.

Two hotel employees attempted to physically prevent the group from entering the room, and the group pushed through them. Members of the group attempted to confront Mr. Clegg and made his exit difficult. Some followed him.

While this experience was clearly unfamiliar and unnerving to Doubletree staff, for the manager to depict what occurred as the actions of a “mob” is egregious. While the protest may have broken decorum, its well-motivated participants do not deserve to be characterized as a “mob.” The Doubletree management should apologize for the wording of its press release.

IV. TEXT OF W. LEE HANSEN LETTER TO THE EDITOR, WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL, “FROM THE INSIDE, PROTESTERS WERE ‘MOB’” SEPTEMBER 21, 2011 (A response to the Olneck Letter to the Editor published on September 19, 2011)

A different picture of the escalating Doubletree Hotel student protest last week emerged from my vantage point inside the press conference room compared to Michael Olneck’s view from the lobby.

The loud chanting and yelling coming from the lobby made it impossible for Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity to continue responding to questions, effectively shutting down the press conference. After protesters overcame hotel staff trying to prevent their entry into the press conference room, they surged in chanting and yelling and quickly surrounded me and Roger Clegg. We headed for the exit only to find protesters blocking the exit. After hotel staff cleared the way, we exited into the lobby. Instructed to go to the elevator, we were followed by chanting protesters. Several tried to enter the elevator after us but were blocked by two hotel staff members. When that failed the protesters tried to prevent the doors from closing. Finally, with a superhuman effort the hotel staff members pushed the protesters back so the elevator doors could close.

To describe the protesters as having “broken decorum” is a gross and misleading understatement. To describe their actions as “well-intentioned” is at odds with what should have been obvious to anyone in the lobby. The best single-word description of the protesters is that they were a “mob” and acted like a “mob.”

What If?

Insights about the Doubletree Hotel protest can be gained by asking the simple question: “What if . . .?” What if UW-Madison officials, notably Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate Damon Williams and Dean of Students Lori Berquam had decided to ignore the Center for Equal Opportunity study and its conclusion that racial and ethnic preferences play a strong role in undergraduate admissions at UW-Madison?

Two arguments might justify doing so. Why direct extra attention to the CEO study—that is exactly what the CEO wanted? Why respond to a report issued by a “right wing think tank” whose studies are viewed as biased?

The CEO study results summarized in its Monday press release apparently spurred Vice Provost Williams and Dean of Students Berquam into action. Williams called on students to attend a Monday night emergency meeting at the Red Gym. There the CEO study was condemned. Students were told that CEO was preparing to launch an attack on campus diversity efforts. The Badger Herald (9/13/11) reported that, “Williams stressed the need for students to mobilize.” He reportedly said, “Don’t wait for us to show the way.”

Three days later the Badger Herald editorial “In defense of diversity” (Thursday September 15 2011) characterized the Monday evening behavior of these two administration officials as follows: “The roles of organizer and agitator assumed by officials early on was inappropriate.” and “University officials should continue to defend policy and practice without assuming the greater role of agitator and spurring students to action.”

We all know what this led to. The next morning more than one hundred students staged a protest at the Doubletree Hotel, broke into the lobby, interfered with the press conference by their loud chanting and yelling, and then surged into the room closing down the press conference.

What if Williams and Berquam had decided to ignore the CEO report? Most students would not have known about the report and its findings, the emergency meeting would not have been needed, the CEO press conference would have been less well attended, the protest at the DoubleTree would not have occurred, attendance at the evening debate would have been smaller than the 850 students who attended, and the massive and costly security on display at the Union South debate would not have been required.

What was gained by the protest? No doubt many protesters and their supporters felt good about what they did. Whether other students who were not among the protesters felt the same way is not yet clear but seems unlikely. If anything, the protests may have heightened suspicion among many students that racial and ethnic preferences do play an important role in admissions decisions.

Did the UW-Madison press release defending its admissions policies, issued shortly before the 11 a.m. protest, try to do anything to dampen that protest? It did not. Did the undocumented assertions by Interim Chancellor David Ward and supporting statements from Admissions Director Adele Brumfield and Vice-Provost Williams allay concerns about the extent to which race and ethnicity play into admissions decisions? Probably not.

What UW-Madison administrative officials Williams and Berquam did through their actions was to promote a protest. In doing so, they neglected their obligation to encourage discussion rather than protest and to create a climate that reinforces UW-Madison’s historic commitment to “encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.”

Part 3: Unanswered Questions

The events of September 13, 2011 raise important issues not touched on in this narrative. As I learned more about what happened Monday night and Tuesday morning, the following questions took shape.

On Responsibility

1. What if any obligation does the UW-Madison have to make amends to the DoubleTree Hotel and its staff for their efforts to maintain order, permit the press conference to continue, keep the mob of student protesters at bay, and ensure Clegg’s safety?

2. What obligation does the UW-Madison have to explain to the public what happened at the Monday night “emergency meeting” at the Red Gym and the Tuesday morning press conference at the DoubleTree Hotel?

3. What caused the campus leadership in Bascom Hall early Tuesday afternoon to make the responsible decision to change the venue of that evening’s debate on Affirmative Action from the Law School to Union South and to commit massive security resources to monitor this event? Were these changes made in response to threats of some kind received by UW-Madison officials? What were the costs of providing the additional security for the debate?

4. Why was there no visible protest at the Tuesday evening debate? Were the protesters who gathered in front of Bascom Hall an hour before the debate told by UW-Madison officials to “cool it,” meaning they should not duplicate their morning protest against the CEO report and its spokesman? If this is what they were told, who communicated this message?

On Behavior

An even more important set of questions concern the behavior of UW-Madison officials in allegedly encouraging the protest that occurred at the DoubleTree Hotel.

1. What is the perception of the role played by Damon Williams, Vice-Provost for Diversity and Climate, and Lori Berquam, Dean of Students, in promoting the student protest? Two editorials appearing in the Badger Herald on Thursday September 15, 2011 attest to what occurred. The first editorial “In defense of diversity” says that the CEO report “encountered resistence from a well-organized student body backed by a supportive administration.” The editorial goes on to say, “The roles of organizer and agitator assumed by officials early on was inappropriate. Defense of policy and practice ought to be the purview of UW officials, and they’ve shown themselves to be more than capable of doing so.” We need to know more about the meaning of “The roles of organizer and agitator assumed by officials” which appears to be a reference to Williams and Berquam.

The editorial continues: “And while Monday’s meeting in the Red Gym was crucial in making the report known to the student body, we take issue with the conduct of the administration. University officials should continue to defend policy and practice without assuming the greater role of agitator and spurring students to action. This should remain a student-driven movement, as it is students with the most vested interest in seeing diversity flourish at this university.” Again, we need to know more about the “conduct of the administration” and the “greater role of agitator and spurring students to action.”

The second editorial, “Dissent,” written by the Badger Herald Editorial Board Chair, Alexandra Brousseau, reiterates the first editorial’s concern about the role of the administration, saying, “I agree with the editorial board that the University of Wisconsin administration’s reaction to the Center for Equal Opportunity’s report was inappropriate.” Again, we need to know exactly what actions were taken and which of those actions was the subject of this criticism.

This evidence coming from the entire Badger Herald Board and separately the Editorial Board Chair cannot be ignored. Indeed, the statements in these two editorials are damning evidence of the role played by key UW-Madison officials.

2. What happened at the “emergency” meeting Monday night in anticipation of the CEO press conference scheduled for the following morning? Why did Vice Provost Williams call the “emergency” meeting Monday evening at the Red Gym? How many people were invited? Who was invited? How were those invited informed about the meeting? What did Williams say to the assembled students? What did Dean of Students Berquam say to the students? Why were students attending that meeting given copies of a Handout, “Guidelines & Expectations for Protest Attendance and Participation” issued by the Dean of Students Office? In short, to what extent did UW-Madison officials promote the student protest at the DoubleTree Hotel?

This is the Handout distributed to students attending the Monday evening “emergency” meeting at the Red Gym. The content of the Handout which was printed on both sides of a roughly 4 x 5 inch sheet of paper, is reproduced below. Note: The statements in the second panel have been numbered for easy reference.

Guidelines & Expectations for
Protest Attendance and Participation

“...the University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.”

While vigorous discourse and the sharing of ideas is vital to our University, the rights of others to participate in learning, teaching and other campus events and activities must not be infringed upon. The UW System has specific guidelines for protest activities that protect the rights of all members of the University Community. These are found in UWS 18.06(23). Failure to abide by these regulations may result in action by University Police and/or the Dean of Students Office.

Division of Student Life
Student Assistance & Judicial Affairs
75 Bascom Hall (608) 263-5700

1. Keep entrances, hallways and access to recruiters open
2. Threats of violence and the throwing of objects are not tolerated
3. Signs supported by standards or sticks are not allowed in University buildings.
4. Noise interfering with events/activities is inappropriate
5. Sound amplification can only be used with prior permission
6. Demonstrations that obstruct or seriously impair University operations

3. Why did the Dean of Students distribute the “Guidelines and Expectations . . .” handout that clearly applies to on-campus protest behavior when the site of the Tuesday morning protest was the off-campus DoubleTree Hotel located on private property? Shouldn’t the UW-Madison officials at that Monday evening meeting have shown more awareness of the illegality of conducting on private property the kind of protest they might have expected to occur? It should be noted that the protesters violated the first guideline (substitute “hotel guests” for “recruiters”), the fourth guideline, and the sixth guideline (substitute “business” for “University”).

4. Did the actions of the Vice Provost and the Dean of Students go beyond what might be considered the performance of their duties? In the case of the Vice Provost, his duties might be described as those of fostering and encouraging diversity on the UW-Madison campus. Did the threats he expressed about the impact of the CEO report and the motivations for producing the report warrant his “assum[ing] the greater role of agitator and spurring students to action?” If the Vice Provost and the Dean of Students were instrumental in organizing the protest, might they not be charged with aiding and abetting disorderly conduct under Sec. 947.01 Wis. Stats. which reads:

“Disorderly Conduct. Whoever, in a public or private place, engages in violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, unreasonably loud, or otherwise disorderly conduct under circumstances in which the conduct tends to caused or provoke disturbance is guilty of a Class B misdemeanor.”

5. Was Vice Provost Williams, the highest ranking UW-Madison administrator present, under any obligation while at the DoubleTree Hotel to attempt to dissuade the student protesters from entering the press conference room, not to mention disrupting the Hotel’s operations by occupying the lobby and carrying on with their loud chanting? What happened when Williams late in the press conference stuck his head out the door and into the lobby? Was he trying to communicate with the protesters already in the lobby and if so, to what end? Did his later action upon emerging from the press conference room–his broad smile of greeting to the protesters followed by the rapid pumping of his fist up and down—send a message of encouragement to the student protesters? Was Williams in effect endorsing the presence of the protesters in the hotel lobby, their loud yelling and chanting, their mobilization in front of the press conference door, and, what must have been apparent, their intention to push into the press conference room to confront Clegg?

6. Was it not disingenuous of the Vice Provost to excuse what happened at the DoubleTree Hotel in an oral interview he gave following the protest? He spoke of students wanting to have their voices heard. He spoke of the university administration wanting students to have a sense of what was about to happen in the community. He said that many students would see the CEO report as a personal attack, this would lead to pain and tears, and the administration did not want to see students in pain. He concluded by saying, “Students today were very civil, very reserved. They wanted to have their voices heard. Students have comported themselves well.”

7. Were the protesters informed either at the Monday night emergency meeting or by Vice Provost Williams at the DoubleTree Hotel Tuesday morning that their occupation of the hotel lobby and later the press conference room would constitute “unlawful assembly” as defined under Sec. 947.06(2) (2) Wis.Stats. which reads:

“An "unlawful assembly" includes an assembly of persons who assemble for the purpose of blocking or obstructing the lawful use by any other person, or persons of any private or public thoroughfares, property or of any positions of access or exit to or from any private or public building, or dwelling place, or any portion thereof and which assembly does in fact so block or obstruct the lawful use by any other person, or persons of any such private or public thoroughfares, property or any position of access or exit to or from any private or public building, or dwelling place, or any portion thereof.”

8. What are the implications of the actions of these two officials and the protesters for the exercise of free speech rights? First, is there any basis for claiming that Clegg’s free speech rights were infringed upon by the student protesters? One the one hand, the press conference was deliberately disrupted. On the other hand, by the time the protesters invaded the press conference room, the press conference was winding down.” Second, were the actions of the Vice Provost and Dean of Students appropriate in the context of free speech at a public institution? In his September 20, 2011 response to Robert Weissberg’s essay “What the Madison confrontation reveals” in “Minding the Campus,” Clegg poses the free speech question in this way:

“Isn’t it problematic for a state agency to call in private individuals and urge them to take sides in a particular controversy? For example, suppose that the local police department, fearing salary cuts by the town council, started calling up individuals with the police department’s jurisdiction and telling them, “You really ought to go down to the city hall and join in a protest against these cuts.” Is that kind of pressure appropriate—and how does it differ from what the diversicrats at UW did?”

9. Were the actions of the Vice Provost and the Dean of Students consistent with the guiding purpose of a university, and this one in particular, which is to use reason and argument rather than physical protest in addressing controversial issues? Did these two officials violate the spirit of the famous “sifting and winnowing” statement?

"Whatever May Be the Limitations Which Trammel Inquiry Elsewhere, We Believe That the Great State University of Wisconsin Should Ever Encourage That Continual and Fearless Sifting and Winnowing by Which Alone the Truth Can Be Found."

10. Would it not be appropriate to appoint an outside panel to investigate the actions of the Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate and also the Dean of Students in leading up to and in connection with the student protest at the DoubleTree Hotel?

Selected References

See the news stories and op-eds that appeared in the Daily Cardinal and the Badger Herald on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, September 13-15, 2011

See WKOW report on the Monday evening meeting in the Red Gym on “UW-Madison meeting on 'threat to diversity efforts” September 12, 2011.

See UW-Madison Press Release, 9:52 a.m. Tuesday, September 13, 2011 on “UW-Madison Responds to Attacks on Diversity Efforts”

See the account of the DoubleTree Hotel protest: Capital Times Campus Connection: “Protesters storm hotel, shout down head of conservative think tank” Tuesday September 13, 2011.

See http://badgerherald.com/news/2011/09/13/student_turnout_high.php

See pre-debate photos of the Tuesday evening rally and march to Union South; “UW Madison Rally for Diversity” #UWTogether, September 13, 2011.

See an outsider’s account of the DoubleTree Hotel protest, in Linda Chavez interview on the O’Reilly program Friday night, September 16, 2011.

See Peter Wood, “Mobbing for Preferences.” September 29, 2011. 

See http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=X675TIa4N1o

W. Lee Hansen is Professor Emeritus of Economics at UW-Madison.  He can be reached at [email protected].

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