A trio of high-profile UW-Madison professors went public Wednesday with concerns about President Barack Obama's planned Thursday campaign rally, saying students who want to attend are unfairly being required to supply a phone number and email address to the campaign, even having to click "I'm In" to get a free ticket at the campaign's website.
"If you want to go to this hugely important and interesting event you have to register with the campaign," said political science professor Donald Downs. "That raises questions."
Downs was joined by law professor Ann Althouse and political science professor Ken Mayer in raising concerns. Mayer sent a letter outlining four concerns to university administrators on Wednesday. Althouse later shared it with instapundit.com, a conservative-leaning blog run by a Texas law professor.
Vince Sweeney, vice chancellor for university relations, said the university takes the concerns seriously and will respond formally but hadn't done so as of Wednesday night. In linking to the Obama campaign's registration site on the university's website, the university sought to provide as much information as possible to interested attendees, he said.
"We don't manage the (Obama) link, we're not collecting that information, and ultimately if it's a problem for those wishing to attend, it's an individual decision" whether or not to provide an email address and phone number, he said.
Sweeney said the campaign approached the university about holding the event at Bascom Hill, and the university decided it could make the site work, noting there are advantages for the university in showcasing a central attraction on campus. Obama also visited campus in 2010, that time holding a campaign rally across the street at Library Mall.
Obama's campaign will pay UW-Madison $15,000 for Thursday's rally, an increase of $4,500 from the president's last campaign stop at the university, Sweeney said. The university also will bill the campaign for other expenses related to the visit such as setup and equipment. For Obama's last visit, those expenses came to about $2,000, Sweeney said.
Police and other public safety costs will be borne by taxpayers. For the 2010 visit, those costs added up to about $260,000.
In his letter, Mayer criticized the location.
"It hardly seems appropriate to shut the central campus down for an entire day, closing offices and seriously disrupting our mission," he wrote. "I have several colleagues who had scheduled exams for Thursday. Surely there were other venues that would pose less disturbance."
University staffers in buildings shut down by Thursday's event were encouraged by administrators to take a vacation or personal day, rearrange their hours before and after Thursday to make up for lost hours or work from home or a different location, Sweeney said.
"This is what pushed me into the seriously annoyed category," Mayer wrote. "The UW is penalizing staff (or, at a minimum, dramatically inconveniencing them) for an event that they had no say in organizing or scheduling."