Wisconsin professor under investigation for promoting recall of GOP Senators

Consider the University of Wisconsin officially shocked, shocked! to discover that one of their professors politicized his classroom to encourage the recall of Republican state Senators that backed Gov. Scott Walker’s public-employee union reforms.  Color the rest of us less shocked that the professor in question, Stephen Richards, couldn’t bother to get the details right on the law before instructing his students how to recall those who backed it.  First, Green Bay’s WFRV reports this morning that the university has released details of the investigation that strongly suggest that Richards will face disciplinary action (via Tim R):

So today, university officials released detailed records of their investigation into the professor’s comments.

It outlined other performance concerns… Like missing classes… And spending too much time discussing politics.

The chancellor says those comments were inappropriate but wouldn’t say if Richards is being punished.

It’s a lesson learned for criminal justice professor Stephen Richards.

Richard Wells, UW-Oshkosh Chancellor: “This type of behavior is not acceptable.”

Now university officials are speaking out about his action and its impact in the classroom.

Richard Wells, UW-Oshkosh Chancellor: “Equally important is a students freedom to learn. They should benefit in an unbiased, open-minded classroom where everyone is informed.”

Not everyone on campus is impressed with the investigation.  One student told WFRV that every instructor had pushed their viewpoints on the controversy in the classroom, which means that instead of a Death on the Nile whodunit, UW may be looking more at a Murder on the Orient Express conclusion.  Other students disagreed, saying Richards went out of his way to bully people on the issue in the classroom setting.  Richards denies having done anything inappropriate, saying that budget matters relate directly to his coursework, but “regrets” using classroom time to discuss the recalls.

UW officials might want to look into Richards’ competence as well as his judgment.  According to the audio, Richards materially misrepresented the bill:

And uh, and then there’s gonna be a recall of Governor Walker, uh, which won’t start till next January.

As I understand it, uh, what the law says is that you can’t recall an elected official until they’ve been in office one year.

And the reason you see this on campus a lot is that, um, the effect of the, of Walker’s budget on this university is number one, will be an eight percent pay cut for all faculty and staff, eight percent pay cut.

Um, there’ll be um, there’ll be a legal [inaudible] to be, belong to a union. And you should know that, um all the faculty, janitors, maintenance people secretaries, they all belong to a union, they’re all in a union right now. So there union will be decertified.

Um, that um, and this affects teachers, professors, parole officers, corrections officers, and a lot of police and fire. Police and fire are not exempt from this.

First, the bill didn’t force an 8% pay cut directly; that was the impact of forcing higher contributions for health insurance and pension plans.  That’s an arguable point, but much of this is just flat-out false.  The bill didn’t decertify PEUs at all.  It did require an annual certification vote, but it doesn’t outlaw PEUs.  It only bars them from bargaining on anything other than wages, and removes the closed-shop requirements that had been in place.  It also didn’t include police and fire unions, which were specifically exempt, despite what Richards told his students, which means he was either too incompetent to inform himself properly or flat-out lied to his class.

Furthermore, the university may want to look at the absences a bit more closely, too.  Richards claimed to have been sick on February 16th [incorrect — see Update III], but coincidentally, that was one of the big rally days in Madison.  And given Richards’ incompetence or dishonesty on the facts of the issue, the rally that day looks as though it would have been right up his alley.

Update: The trouble may not be over for Richards, either:

Now a student is telling a Milwaukee radio show host that the professor threatened his class. …

In a letter to Charlie Sykes, the unidentified student said, “Richards then proceeded to tell us that he could have charged those students with some sort of BS crime and had us arrested and kicked out of school.”

So far, the university says it has completed its probe and taken appropriate action.

Update II: The website had an unfortunate misspelling of Charlie Sykes’ last name, which I have corrected.

Update III: Actually, I misread Richards’ response; he states quite clearly that he canceled classes on February 16th to attend the rally. My apologies. In the same vein, a reader sent over a link to an article from the Journal-Sentinel from December 2006 noting that Richards has a felony record, but I believe this story paints him in a pretty good light:

Although he received a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1969, Stephen Richards’ education was interrupted by the lure of marijuana – and a government sting operation.

Instead of a college degree, Richards got a federal prison sentence.

Nearly 20 years after his release, Richards is back in the classroom – and back in prisons.

Now a tenured professor at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Richards leads a national movement of some three dozen ex-convicts with advanced degrees. Through their writing and research, they advocate for change in the criminal justice system. Richards also works in Wisconsin prisons, hoping to convince a new generation of felons that education can save them, the way it saved him.

I’d recommend reading the whole article. It’s a splendid example of redemption, and it’s very clear that Richards has a deep and personal calling to both education and the examination of the criminal justice system. It’s too bad that he hijacked that effort for cheesy political purposes, and he deserves disciplinary action for that (although certainly not for expressing his political values). Having discovered Richards’ background, I’d guess that he would normally present an interesting perspective on his field.