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Professors at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee sponsoring an upcoming talk on academic freedom in the Trump era say they saw their promotional poster rejected last week because it was too “partisan.” The university’s public relations arm quickly approved the ad, however, after a faculty member tweeted about the incident.

Tom Luljak, university spokesperson, said that University Relations never told faculty members that their poster couldn’t be used, but that the institution recently adopted a new approval policy for fliers. (That stemmed from an August controversy over a poster for the university’s criminal justice program featuring a black student wrapped in police tape.) The new screening process involves a rotating team of three University Relations specialists -- one of whom worried that the academic freedom event poster was “political,” Luljak said. That concern prompted a marketing manager to notify those who had submitted the poster, he said, but no final decision had been made.

“It was still the beginning of a conversation,” he said. In any case, a faculty member’s tweet about the apparent rejection escalated the matter to Luljak, who then approved the poster for use across various screens on campus.

Members of Milwaukee’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors submitted the ad, which was made by a graphic designer in the College of Letters and Science. According to the AAUP chapter, the ad designer received a message saying that one University Relations reviewer “expressed this public relations consideration: 'I am slightly concerned that the red, the mention of the president's name and the photo illustration with chains, used together, might be perceived as conveying a partisan tone.’” That same email invited the chapter to discuss the matter at a meeting on Feb. 25, one day before the planned event. 

The AAUP chapter disagreed with Luljak's account, or that the issue was simply one of process. It noted that the matter caught the attention of the national AAUP, PEN American and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education before Milwaukee reversed course. (Note: This story has been updated to include the chapter's response to Luljak and the date of the proposed meeting.)

Event speaker Joerg Tiede, senior program officer and researcher at the national AAUP, came up with the title of his talk. He said that he’s given the same speech for several years, and that he’s been asked multiple times when speaking in so-called red states not to use the name “Trump” in the title. In such cases, local faculty members “were concerned that it might attract negative attention in the community.” That was not the case in Milwaukee, however, he said.