March 7, 2007

"Notably restrained and reflective for a man who has been pilloried for a week."

Inside Higher Education picks up the UW Law School story:
Kaplan’s letter — while firm in denying that he said the hateful things attributed to him — is also notably restrained and reflective for a man who has been pilloried for a week. A lawyer who also has a Ph.D. in psychology, Kaplan has focused on both law and mental health, and his reply begins by talking about all he has learned in the last week or so about Hmong culture and the challenges the Hmong have encountered....
This article quotes the statement of the Committee for Academic Freedom and Rights and continues:
Jonathan Knight, who directs the program in academic freedom and tenure for the American Association of University Professors, said that disputes like the one at Wisconsin do have the potential to raise issues of academic freedom — especially if there is a rush to judgment. “Plainly administrators should take seriously what students complain about, and see if there is merit about it,” he said. But “restraint in public statements” is ideal, even given the pressure to speak out against statements viewed as racist or sexist, he said.

Certain kinds of statements “trigger fast reactions,” Knight said. “There have been occasions when the reactions were well founded,” he said. “But there have been others that were not well founded or were somehow in between, so a dose of prudence and caution is always useful.”

Knight said he was not bothered by administrators acknowledging the pain felt by those offended by something alleged to have been said — the pain being real even if the person never said the words in question. But Knight said he worried about holding forums for people to express their pain when the facts were still being gathered, as happened at Wisconsin. “That can create its own dynamics, which is a problem,” he said. “In creating a forum, inevitably that will suggest that there is a real problem. The forum is not being held to discuss a perception, but what seems to be a reality i.e. that someone has said something that is racist or sexist or vilely offensive.”

He added that while it is “laudable for administrators to pay heed to community sentiments, that can come at a quick and high cost to the sense of freedom necessary for faculty to teach controversial and sensitive subjects.”

(To read all my posts on this incident, click the label "Kaplan story," just below.)

ADDED: The Badger Herald has a good editorial:
[I]nstead of fighting fire with fire, Mr. Kaplan’s letter is the mark of a compassionate man who, as he writes, “regret[s] the part that [his] own limitations played in contributing to” the controversy. To be sure, he does not apologize, and if his account — which has been effectively corroborated by other students in his class — is accurate, even the aforementioned statement of regret is not necessary.

We were delighted to see the professor describe, in tedious detail, exactly the points he was trying to illustrate in discussing the Hmong community....
It's nice of the student editors to be delighted by a professor's "tedious detail"! We have much more tedious detail to delight you with, you know.
When a Badger Herald reporter sought comment Monday from the students who have led the charge against Mr. Kaplan, UW student [name deleted], who was present at the Feb. 15 lecture, responded with just a six-word e-mail, saying, “We are disappointed in his response.”

Meanwhile, UW student [name deleted], who first circulated the complaints via e-mail but was not in Mr. Kaplan’s lecture, declined comment altogether.
Well, Kaplan took a long silence and didn't respond to press reports. If it takes them a while to think through what they want to say, it's understandable.

The Badger Herald editors go on to say "it's the classic 'he said, she said' scenario" but "we believe Mr. Kaplan." The editors opine that the students acted "irresponsibly," but not "maliciously," and suggest that they "seriously consider issuing a public apology to Mr. Kaplan." They praise CAFAR:
[W]hile a disturbing number of individuals exhibited a galling willingness to reach hasty, damning conclusions, UW’s Committee for Academic Freedom and Rights released an articulate, well-reasoned defense of academic freedom, a value under continual threat here at UW and other campuses across the country.
And they express hope that "Kaplan’s letter will be the start of the end to this sordid affair, so we can all move on with a renewed understanding of what can happen when we throw to the wayside values we ought to cherish."

NOTE: I've deleted the student names that originally appeared here. I didn't like using the students' names, and only had them because they were in the newspaper article I was commenting on. Obviously, the names are still available in the linked newspaper articles.

19 comments:

Richard Fagin said...

Prof. Kaplan's case is the most recent and widely publicized in a long string of egregious assaults on free speech going back, in my view, to the adoption of "hostile environment" harassment law. However well intentioned it was to try to reshape the workplace to be more friendly (less hostile?) to women, the result was adoption of conduct codes at most private employers that have the effect of banning even innocuous comments by any white male under 40, on threat of termination of employment. I don't really blame employers. Who wants to get sued? It's easier to fire first and ask questions later.

Once speech alone became actionable in the private workplace, extension of the harassment doctrine to speech about race or culture was all but inevitable. Every subgroup of people that can make any claim to racial or ethnic minority status, or can make some claim of historical victimhood seems to want to be a beneficiary of the change in the work environment.

What happened to Prof. Kaplan is really unfortunate, but was entirely predictable. Until and unless free speech is defended on campus, this type of incident will continue, to no one's benefit.

Ann Althouse said...

Believe it or not, I've got at least one colleague saying my blogging about the story is creating a hostile environment!

ShadyCharacter said...

Ann, a couple of questions:

1) Hostile to whom? I see a few options:
a) Your Hmong readership;
b) Your "rushed to judgment too quickly and now feeling bad about it" readership;
c) Your "rushed to judgment too quickly and still feeling fine about doing so" readership (like the Gang of 88 professors down at Duke who stand by the letter condemning the players before any facts were in); or
d)your law school community, faculty and students.

2) What environment?
a) the law school?
b) Wisconsin?
c) the internet (and by extension the world)?

peter hoh said...

I like the approach that keeps the focus on the ability of teachers to teach effectively.

Ann, if your blogging about this incident is creating a hostile environment, then the marketplace of ideas is going to have empty shelves pretty soon.

P. Rich said...

All the furor is to be expected, I suppose. Nowadays with so-called "hate speech" codes common on campuses, if Little Mary gets her feelings hurt, there has been a transgression pretty much no matter what was said. It's all about the universe with Little Mary at the center, probably a logical outcome of both vicyim politics and the self-esteem movement in K-12.

I don't know if these particular students were exposed to the particulars, but they have obviously been affected by the climate those particulars have created. And all the approved accusatory rhetoric is being used, one good indication that the incident probably lacks substance.

drew said...

I echo in part the comments by Mr. (or Ms.?) Character above, particularly in respect of the parallels to the goings on at Duke.

In both cases, it appears to me that University administrators rushed into actions and statements based on a "need" to appear to be "sufficiently" politically correct, without first determining just what the facts are/were.

The result is a ready-fire-aim situation, in which the intended target is mis-identified, but the "shooter" insists that they took the proper steps all along. Of course, admitting such an error as not determining the actual facts in the case would be deemed to be "fatal" in many academic and government circles (i.e., the DA in Durham); thus, the ultimate stonewalling that is the inevitable outcome of this type of situation.

The net result is damage to more than one personal and instititutional reputation, and a serious case of institutional hangover. Students come to believe that the administration is (at least in part) the "enemy", and that the need for academic rigor appears to apply only to the studdents - the faculty and administration seem to be able to run their collective mouths full blast without repurcussions.

cokaygne said...

The administrator who held the "forum" cannot lose by doing so.

The job of the administrator who did nothing about the charges would surely be lost.

If the administrator had said, "These are serious charges, we'll look into them.", he or she would open up the institution to weeks or months of adverse publicity whilst students cry "coverup" or "stonewalling", Kaplan would have been suspended for the duration, and the rest of the faculty look over their shoulders and self-censor. Journallists would prowl the campus looking for juicy quotes from all and sundry. Legislators, alumni, and trustees would be muttering about what the hell is going on there and why hasn't the administration done something about it. Even if the administrator had kept his or her job, it would be no picnic to show up every day and deal with this mess. No matter how an inquiry turned out, someone would be unhappy, and this after weeks of uncertainty.

Not condoning the actions, but I could see the administrator thinking, "We'll have a forum. Let everybody blow off steam. Give Kaplan some time to reflect on what he said and make an appropriate statement. In two weeks time no one will know this ever happened, and I can go back to schmoozing some more bucks out of the state legislature or thinking up artful ways to tell Mr./Ms. influential alumnus that their child is a lazy dunce who deserved to flunk out."

That is the way the world works.

Richard Dolan said...

From his letter, Prof. Kaplan sounds like a very decent, a very nice, man -- a Mister Rogers type, almost. The kerfuffle about his non-comments and how they were understood by students seems mostly to have convinced all of the various players of the rightness of their pre-existing views. From what I can tell, the students -- especially those who weren't at the class -- believe strongly they they were "disrespected" and want a critical legal studies program established to institutionalize the feelings and perception of victimhood that they see as the operative social reality here (and oddly that Prof. Kaplan seems to share); the university administration wants to pretend that the whole thing was a "teaching moment" and, now that the teaching is done, it's time to move on; and Prof. Kaplan's supporters think he was badly abused by being pilloried for doing his job in his usual conscientious and highly respectful way.

In all, it's a not-very-funny comedy of manners. The moral of the tale is that good intentions often go badly awry when feelings rather than realities become the main focus of things.

UW Law 3L said...

I've been following this controversy closely, and as far as I know, not a single faculty member or administrator other than yourself has come forward to publicly defend Kaplan, free speech, and the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

It's ironic. Professors demand their students to engage in debate and grapple with these principles in the classroom. They instill in us strong convictions about these principles. But when these principles were shred apart during the last couple of weeks, the faculty silently watched -- and sometimes, complied with the destruction.

I'm still waiting for the Dean and other faculty members to come forward with statements reaffirming their support for principles they espouse in our classrooms.

Cream City said...

UW Law Three-El (sounds like someone from Superman's planet), reread more carefully to see the statement from the UW committee, which represents all faculty.

Ms. Althouse, it certainly is not you creating a hostile environment -- in part, thanks to your work on the committee noted above -- that would make any applicant for a position on your school's faculty think twice and even thrice about working under your administration.

It created that environment -- not a "teaching moment" for teachers in your classrooms but certainly a "learning moment" for them. As for what students have learned from this in that environment, it apparently would be that one need not go to class to presume what a professor said.

As to how that would translate to the practice of law, the concept of "hearsay," that certainly ought to be cause for concern about what the administration is teaching.

2LMD said...

I join Claire, my fellow classmate in the class, who had a thoughtful letter to the editor published on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

I remain reluctant to acknowledge that this is about academic freedom, though, as if Prof. Kaplan has a right to express unpopular views, and as if he said something offensive that he should nonetheless be able to say. The big lesson has been that he was, in large part, misquoted and taken out of context by the local newspapers. Once that is remedied, his comments no longer look so unpopular or controversial.

Take those who want to censor Mark Twain's works, who used the n word in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." It's like saying Mark Twain has a right to express unpopular (i.e., racist) views and use that word. Such a framing of his work distorts his message, which, if actually understood, probably in fact aligns more closely with critics who decry racism.

Academic freedom should be valued, but I think in this situation it detracts from the fact that maybe Prof. Kaplan's comments were not so "radical" after all, once you actually find out what he said.

Mike said...

Ann said: "Believe it or not, I've got at least one colleague saying my blogging about the story is creating a hostile environment!"

While I certainly don't agree with your colleague, I do have a hard time believing this surprises you. You're not that naive.

Audrey_speaks99 said...

It seems to me that the law students were actually challenging Kaplan about the information he taught in his class. They asserted that he was misinforming the class about the Hmong. From what I understand, the students held a private meeting with him, and it resulted in a negative and unsatisfactory outcome. Furthermore, he challenged them to cite resources and references if they had a problem with what he said. Personally, I think that at the private meeting tempers flared and Kaplan’s ego got a little threatened. To me, it sounds like they were doing exactly what he told them to do. These law students were smart enough to critically think through the issues and brave enough to go up against a figure of authority. They accepted and rose to the challenge. They organized a forum to correct the misinformation taught by Kaplan. They brought in well-known authors on the Hmong to re-educate Kaplan (who did not show up to the public forum) and the law school community. If anything, they are admirable for their spirit and intellect. They are doing exactly what students should be doing; they are questioning these “facts” that are being presented to them. These students have not repressed Kaplan for his right to free speech. If anything, the media has just distorted things to cause tension and make a good story sell. This country was built on the ideals of democracy and capitalism, right?

Ann Althouse said...

Audrey: "Furthermore, he challenged them to cite resources and references if they had a problem with what he said."

If he was using sociological information in his teaching and they asserted it was wrong, why would it be bad for him to ask them to show him the evidence of what they were saying? Should students not have to back up their statements, or should teachers be barred from presenting sociological information if it would upset students? We are a law school. Shouldn't we be developing analytical thinking and respect for the truth? Why should they be outraged at being asked to substantiate their assertion that he got it wrong (if that's what happened)? And why is it such a big deal? The teacher may have gotten something wrong and he's open to correction. It seems the problem is more that regardless of whether it's right or wrong, it's upsetting.

"Personally, I think that at the private meeting tempers flared and Kaplan’s ego got a little threatened. To me, it sounds like they were doing exactly what he told them to do. These law students were smart enough to critically think through the issues and brave enough to go up against a figure of authority. They accepted and rose to the challenge."

What about the challenging of explaining how he got it wrong? You accuse him of arrogance, but maybe he was trying to be a teacher and engage them in the search for the truth.

"They organized a forum to correct the misinformation taught by Kaplan. They brought in well-known authors on the Hmong to re-educate Kaplan (who did not show up to the public forum) and the law school community. If anything, they are admirable for their spirit and intellect. They are doing exactly what students should be doing; they are questioning these “facts” that are being presented to them."

Well, that part is fine, but that doesn't describe what ended up happening at the meeting. I know the students couldn't control everything that went on.

"These students have not repressed Kaplan for his right to free speech."

But did they misreport what he said? That's a very damaging thing to do.

"If anything, the media has just distorted things to cause tension and make a good story sell. This country was built on the ideals of democracy and capitalism, right?"

What's the point of that final question? The media covered a huge public event. Not all the coverage was great, and the Cap Times in particular was badly sensationalistic, but the event itself brought the coverage.

qwerty said...

"This country was built on the ideals of democracy and capitalism, right?"

So when the students misreprented Kaplan's remarks and publicly accused him of racism, was that democracy or capitalism?

From Inwood said...

Prof A

You say you’ve “got at least one colleague saying [your] blogging about the story is creating a hostile environment!" We are not surprised considering the almost universal unthought we hear among Academia re matters PC.

Your clever colleague seems to be making an attempt to fit your efforts into some procrustean bed of non-academic hostile-workplace environment claims collected in Overlawyered or WSJ Online. Watch yourself!

I, admittedly being a non-expert in employee law & admittedly lazily quoting throughout here from Overlawyered, don’t pretend to be able to act as your lawyer here re your work environment & “hostility”. I’m commenting because this challenge gets to your earlier comment re “talking” about race.

So, let’s talk amongst ourselves about the learning environment.

The purpose of non academic workplaces is to manufacture & sell widgets in a non-threatening environment. Apparently even innocent expressions of “statements considered to be offensive” interfere with this.

But the purpose of universities is to foster thought via free expression. Thus, even thought considered offensive is not necessarily hostile to this purpose (though don’t tell ribald/racist jokes in the faculty lounge).

And we should also note that the concept of “environment” has been, er, nuanced by courts in distinguishing student hijinx, since they’ve held that to show a hostile environment, victims must “show that harassment was severe and pervasive enough to interfere with access to an education.”

Assume then that, in a sociology class, Prof A is seriously discussing “racial” matters, without condoning stereotypes, by using facts or supposed facts, in an honest attempt at scholarly inquiry, & to provide “access to an education” (albeit in a Socratic way, which some students find per se hegemony), & not sidebarring into superficial, uninformed racist “talk”. (Mark Twain’s use of the “N” word would be a good example.)

Is this the same as a group of males in the corporate lunchroom (or faculty lounge, for that matter) telling “N” jokes in front of one Black or Male-dominant sex jokes in front of one Female? Or similar to workplace lunchroom ribbing, or possibly hurtful political or religious expression?

Will Prof A’s good faith exercise be trumped by the “fact” that some listeners, aided & abetted by K. C. Johnson’s “pot bangers” “felt” that it amounted to just race talk? Or worse, constituted “harassment…severe and pervasive enough to interfere with access to an education”?

Do we have res ipsa loquitur if Prof A is known to hold un-PC ideas in general, or, on the other hand, if Prof A’s ideas are always PC, does he/she receive a “get out of trouble” card no matter what some students feel?

Is any non-PC presentation of race relations in academia to be per se forbidden?

Will administrators hide their heads in the sand if a media circus occurs? Or will they sanction a committee report splitting the baby; e.g. “on the one hand, Prof A…& on the other hand his students…so that it seems impossible to determine the exact facts in this instance at this time….

Will other Profs say smugly “couldn’t happen to me”; “I always thought that, of all Profs, Prof A would go too far one day”; or “Prof A just doesn’t know how minorities think or what it’s like to be a member of a minority group”?

Will Prof A then have to grovel & acknowledge that he/she “has come to a new awareness of how” his/her comments were received on an emotional level, as Prof Kaplan apparently had to in his apology/apologia letter?

Bonus Question:

Most teachers & textbooks have WW II beginning 9/1/39. Now comes Harvard Prof, Niall Ferguson, who says (The War Of The World, at p. 306):
“The usual answer [as to when WW II began] is September 1, 1939, when the Germans invaded Poland. But that is a European answer. The real answer is July 7, 1937, when full-blown war broke out between Japan and China.

Q: Will Professors now have to grovel & acknowledge that they “understand” how their 1939 Euro-centric comments were received on an emotional level, by students who are not of European descent?

Where will this madness end?

Answer: When a critical mass of Liberal Academics has had enough of apologizing to injustice collectors for presenting basic truths with civility. Or never. Developing….

From Inwood said...

Point of order:

When I said in my last post:

“The purpose of non academic workplaces is to manufacture & sell widgets in a non-threatening environment. Apparently even innocent expressions of 'statements considered to be offensive” interfere with this.' ”

I meant that that was how courts see the workplace through rose colored glasses. I agree with R Fagin that “however well intentioned it was to try to reshape the workplace to be more friendly (less hostile?) to women…”, we have gone far beyond the boss who seeks favors before he will give Female underling a raise to meting out draconian punishing to some poor guy for being a boor according to some overly sensitive complainant or to some poor zshlub who blurts out some fairly obvious comment about there being some immaterial differences between men & women, such comment not intended to be denigrating. (Now come the e-mails saying “Inwood just doesn’t get it.” Right.) We have lost simply sight of the principle of proportionality in these matters. Now, through nanny judges & sanctimonious legislators & regulators, in the workplace, de minimis curat Lex. I would suggest that zero tolerance on de minimis things creates a hostile environment by itself.

PatCA said...

Audrey,
I have to respectfully disagree with you that these students have some sort of right to an apology or admission from Kaplan, or attendance at a forum designed to "reeducate" him.

The forum was either an educational forum or it was a show trial (to reeducate Kaplan); it can't be both. Why on earth would a man of his experience show up to be denounced and found guilty in the court of public PC opinion?

Of course he waited until the students made their case, and then he provided his. The students are now silent. Why, because public opinion, which they courted, is split against them? That's life! Let them file a suit if there has been a wrong. The law, not emotional hysteria, should be the forum.

Audrey_speaks99 said...

qwerty...I have to say that the email that was circulated was probably intended for private eyes...however, the media somehow got it and it became public. But also, they never said, "Kaplan is a racist." They said that he made racist remarks. There's a difference. Also from what I heard, these students did go through protocol, and they submitted a letter to the dean stating Kaplan's exact remarks in class. The dean showed the letter to Kaplan and he didn't deny making the remarks at that time. Although now he has...