Wisconsin Republicans want to kick investigative journalism center off UW campus

Rep. John Nygen (left) says the center can find housing elsewhere; Andy Hall, the nonprofit's executive director, says he was "blindsided" by the news.
Rep. John Nygen (left) says the center can find housing elsewhere; Andy Hall, the nonprofit's executive director, says he was "blindsided" by the news.

Wisconsin Republicans want to boot a nonpartisan journalism watchdog organization off the UW-Madison campus.

The Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee voted Wednesday to include a budget provision that would remove the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism from its campus office space, according to the Associated Press. It will also bar UW employees from working for the organization.

"We were blindsided by the action," says Andy Hall, the center's executive director, in an interview with City Pages this morning.

The nonprofit currently operates out of a small office in UW's journalism school. The center is run by professionals and trains student journalists to become investigators, often partnering with other news organizations around the state and nation.

Part of the center's focus is on government integrity. Hall wasn't sure if the organization's legislative coverage played into lawmakers' effort to kick them off campus, but says "it's certainly possible."

"In the past, of course, some legislators and other public officials have been made uncomfortable by some of our reporting, but I don't specifically know what might have triggered this action," he says.

Republican Rep. John Nygren, chair of the Joint Committee on Finance, wasn't available for comment this morning, but told the AP that the state shouldn't be providing facilities for the watchdog organization.

The committee added the provision to the budget early Wednesday morning. The final budget will now got to a full floor vote in both chambers.

UPDATE [1:15 p.m.]

Gregory J. Downey, director of UW-Madison's journalism school, published a response on the college's website today publicly opposing the measure. Downey says the first provision -- to remove the watchdog organization from the school's office space -- appears to "arbitrarily" target the center, noting the office is mostly used by student interns.

"There are plenty of other arrangements where outside organizations use UW space for activities, if such uses are deemed to be in the interests of our research, teaching, and/or service mission," writes Downey. "This one was, and still is."

But more troubling, says Downey, is the provision to exclude UW employees from working at the center. He calls it a "direct assault on our academic freedom in research, teaching, and service -- and on the Wisconsin Idea."

Read Downey's full statement here.

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