Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials
The Capital Times, Madison, Aug. 19
Blank made the right decision to reinstate Cephus
UW-Madison chancellor Rebecca Blank made the appropriate decision when she readmitted Quintez Cephus to the coming school year.
This was not an easy, or casual choice. Blank and the university were pulled in different directions by sincere Wisconsinites with profoundly different thoughts on what the chancellor should decide about the Badger wide receiver’s future. But Blank chose to act in the interest of fairness and respect for the rule of law, and we applaud her for that.
Cephus was expelled from the university last semester after he was accused by two women of sexual assault. The expulsion was appropriate at the time. But, earlier this month, Cephus was acquitted of those charges by a Dane County jury in less than 45 minutes and he then petitioned to be allowed to return to the university.
That put Blank in a difficult position. She is a savvy chancellor who is in touch with the concerns of students and the broader community.
She understood that if she allowed the 21-year-old football player back in school, she would raise concerns among sexual assault victims and advocates who argue, correctly, that women have for too long been victimized by a culture that has been too quick to challenge and dismiss those who report attacks.
This is one of the reasons why the federal government strengthened Title 9, directing colleges to promptly investigate sex harassment and assault complaints and immediately take disciplinary action against the alleged perpetrators. That’s what happened to Cephus last year, after the two women said he attacked them while they were intoxicated.
Because charges of second- and third-degree assault were filed against him by the Dane County District Attorney’s Office while the UW’s investigation was underway, Cephus’ lawyers told him not to respond to the UW inquiry for fear that cooperating with that probe would jeopardize his defense in the upcoming criminal case. Based on the information it had, the university found probable cause that the football player had indeed raped the women and Blank threw him out of school.
But then Cephus had his day in court.
Juror Kelly Engsberg explained to Channel 3 that the members of the jury took their responsibilities seriously. “Every single person was thoughtful, taking notes, listening intently all week long,” she said.
“I am a 100 percent supporter of #Me Too,” added the juror, who explained that, “It’s our job as a society, my job as a juror, to really dig deep and look for the truth and to try to figure out truly if a crime occurred.”
When all was said and done, Engsberg recalled, “It was quick and it was unanimous right off the bat. There was little to no question of whether or not we were all on the same page.”
The takeaway was that a Dane County jury had determined that Cephus is not guilty. With the verdict in hand, Cephus had every right to argue that he should be allowed to return to school. He was joined in making this argument by many leading figures in Madison’s African American community. In a letter to Blank, a number of pastors, the CEO of the Urban League and civil rights leaders made the case for reinstating this African American student. They suggested that if the now innocent Cephus was not reinstated, Blank would send yet another signal that African American students are not afforded equal treatment by UW-Madison. This was a serious matter for a university that has often fallen short when it comes to attracting and retaining a student body that reflects the diversity of Wisconsin.
UW football coach Paul Chryst and members of the team weighed in as well, indicating that they would welcome Cephus back.
Blank had a lot of information to process. But there was an essential detail that could not be avoided: the fact that, if Cephus was not allowed to re-enroll, then he would wind up expelled for something that our justice system says he did not do.
A jury has found this man innocent. That decision had to be respected.
We understand that there will be some Wisconsinites who worry that the decision to reinstate Cephus will deal a blow to the gains that have been made in pursuit of equitable treatment for the victims of sexual assault. The concern is sincere, and we should all be mindful of the need to maintain the progress that has been made toward greater transparency and greater respect for those who report attacks. We especially appreciate the voice of Erin Thornley Parisi, the executive director of the Rape Crisis Center of Dane County, who explained to the Wisconsin State Journal that ongoing efforts should be made to examine how the criminal justice system fails both African Americans and sexual assault victims.
Women who call out sexual harassment and report assaults are courageous. They must be heard. Institutions such as the university must take appropriate steps to address reports of assault, and so, too, must the criminal justice system. Everyone has a right to a day in court. When a judge or a jury decides a case, however, that is a defining moment. In this case, a jury has determined that Quintez Cephus is innocent. As such, Chancellor Blank was right to allow his return to the university.
The Journal Times of Racine, Aug. 19
Artwork on public buses is not the place for political activism
Artwork covering a Milwaukee County Transit System bus is causing quite a stir in the community.
The images on the bus show individuals being arrested by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, includes the message “Stop ICE” and lists what people should do if ICE agents come to their door.
It states: Do not open doors, remain silent, report the raid, fight back, organize resources, do not sign anything without talking to an attorney.
The artwork was created by a group of Milwaukee-area high school students as part of a project sponsored by the Milwaukee Art Museum.
The students were allowed to choose their project and then express themselves as they deemed fit.
The artwork is powerful. The problem is with the placement on the county buses, which are operated with taxpayer money. Lots of it.
Granted, the Art Museum did pay for the artwork to go on the buses. But the Transit System has to use some discretion. What if the young artists had chosen the opposite view, saying all illegal immigrants should be arrested? Would that have been allowed?
This reminds us of the incident in June, when Gov. Tony Evers flew an LGBT pride flag over the state Capitol and at other state facilities.
The issue is not with the message. The issue is with the placement.
Flying a partisan flag on state property, or allowing an overtly political message on a public bus, makes that message government-sponsored speech.
It opens a Pandora’s box for any and all sorts of political causes to demand their ads run on the side of buses.
Yazmillie Reyes, a student artist involved with the project, said the goal of the project was to encourage more understanding.
An Art Museum spokeswoman said in a statement: “All the content, including the written content, was created or sourced through research by the teens as they explored the topic and created the artwork. We hope the attention around this artwork can lead to conversations about how art can foster important conversations, and bring people together around tough issues in a constructive, positive way.”
The students should be commended for their work. Their work has generated a good discussion about art.
However, Milwaukee County Transit System officials shouldn’t have allowed it go to on public buses.
The outside of public buses shouldn’t be politicized.
The Transit System must revisit and revise its policy to exclude political messages.
Wisconsin State Journal, Aug. 25
Credit the PSC for pushing clean energy
The bipartisan push for more clean energy in Wisconsin got another boost last week when the Public Service Commission approved a power line that will carry increasing amounts of renewable energy to consumers here.
At the same time, Wisconsin’s first big solar project broke ground in Two Creeks, about 150 miles northeast of Madison in Manitowoc County. The project will generate 150 megawatts of energy from a half-million solar panels across some 800 acres. It will eventually produce enough electricity to power 33,000 homes, according to Wisconsin Public Service, which is partnering with Madison Gas and Electric on the welcome effort.
The PSC, which regulates Wisconsin’s utilities, previously approved an estimated 1.2 million solar panels on more than 2,000 acres in rural Iowa County. That project will generate electricity for an estimated 77,000 customers.
More good news came from Gov. Tony Evers this month when he signed an executive order creating an Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy. The office will be responsible for working with other state agencies and utilities to achieve carbon-free electricity in Wisconsin by 2050. The directive dovetails nicely with MGE’s similar target for carbon neutrality.
Wisconsin is making real progress at transitioning away from its heavy reliance on imported coal. When burned, coal releases enormous amounts of greenhouse gasses that contribute to a warming planet.
State leaders are addressing the challenge of climate change with bipartisan support. The PSC includes two appointees of former Republican Gov. Scott Walker, and one appointee of Evers. The entire commission agreed last week to move forward with the Cardinal-Hickory Creek high-voltage transmission line between Middleton and Dubuque, Iowa. It will cost about $492 million but save Wisconsin ratepayers over time by providing access to cheap and clean wind energy from states to the west, the commissioners agreed.
“The economic and reliability benefits outweigh the costs,” said Commissioner Mike Huebsch, a former GOP Assembly speaker.
The line will be “a cornerstone” to transitioning from fossil fuels to a clean energy grid, said PSC Chairwoman Rebecca Valcq, who is Gov. Evers’ designee.
Clean power has to move from where it’s produced to where it is needed, which the Cardinal-Hickory Creek line will help foster. And ratepayers in a dozen states will help cover the cost, reducing Wisconsin’s contribution to about 15 percent of the total price.
Wind and solar developers strongly backed the project, saying it will alleviate congestion that limits the output of existing wind farms. It also will enable more wind farms in states to the west, which have some of the best wind resources in the country.
Critics describe the 100-mile line as “monstrous towers ruining the views” of scenic southwest Wisconsin. But most of its path will be along existing highways.
Some environmental concerns along the route are legitimate. But the greater good of delivering renewable power where it needs to go must take priority.
Approving the line and continuing to expand Wisconsin’s solar and wind generation are key to achieving the governor’s strong goal for a carbon-free future.