March 8, 2007

"Prof pays price for causing offense: Sensitivities take precedence over truth and academic freedom."

That's the striking headline in Isthmus, as Jason Shepard covers the Kaplan story. Read the whole thing. It is very strongly critical of the way this incident was handled here:
[I]t appears that both students and the UW administration were too quick to act without all the facts. The students cried racism based on questionable information, then got carried away by the politics of group victimhood. UW officials, meanwhile, saw student offense as all the proof they needed to immediately and unequivocally apologize. (Opined Law School Dean Kenneth Davis to the Wisconsin State Journal, “I think a number of our students were entirely justified in being deeply offended.”)...

Hundreds attended a campus forum on March 1 organized by seven Asian women who’ve led the attacks on Kaplan. Many came expecting a fair airing of views at what was billed as an “open forum.” Instead, they witnessed further condemnation of Kaplan at what professor Howard Schweber afterward called a “political rally.”

At the forum, Moua acknowledged that her initial e-mail was misinformed as to precisely what Kaplan had said. Nonetheless, scores of speakers drew from it over the next two hours to peg Kaplan as racist and ignorant.

Two women in the class, who’ve since transferred out, described their shocked reactions to Kaplan’s comments. Mai Der Yang, a first-year student who missed class that day, said the real harm came in a meeting days later when Kaplan gave “insult after insult.” Among those insults, Yang said, was that Kaplan “believed his statements to be true.”

Nancy Vu, another organizer, stressed the women’s collective victimization, saying they’ve felt “so intensely alone” and “at every corner have been dismissed” by faculty and students. “You have made us feel alienated.”

Additional speakers from student and community groups accused university leaders of not doing enough to promote diversity and sensitivity. Madison school board member Shwaw Vang, who is Hmong, said Kaplan’s speech “degrades and dehumanizes me.” Activist Peng Her drew parallels between the seven women and Rosa Parks and the civil rights marchers in Selma, Ala. And the women were called the “Magnificent Seven” to great applause.

Near the end, Dean Davis again apologized to students, saying they’ve exhibited a “remarkable thoughtfulness and grace that makes me proud.” He did not bother to put in a good word for the idea of academic freedom.

The Kaplan case, as it’s played out so far, represents a low point in UW-Madison’s storied history of defending academic freedom, dating back more than a century to a case that generated the famed “sifting and winnowing” plaque on Bascom Hall. It shows that the fad of political correctness that rose in the early 1990s, giving rise to student and faculty speech codes, still has great power....

“The rush to judgment in this case has been extremely unsettling,” says professor Donald Downs, author of Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus. “How can you make a valid assessment about whether a line was crossed in this case unless you seriously consider the academic freedom issue? That hasn’t been part of the discussion that’s come out of the law school.”....

“It’s not just a question of whether faculty members — or students, for that matter — are punished for expressing the ‘wrong’ views,” says [Professor Howard] Schweber. “It’s whether the university is a place where people feel free to explore controversial topics and express unpopular arguments.”

This is a very tough article, which is sure to send (another) shock wave through the school.

46 comments:

Jeff said...

How can one feel “so intensely alone” speaking at a rally attended by "hundreds"?

Is there some constitutional right not to feel "alone"?

Balfegor said...

What I am, honestly, most surprised by is that there is evidently a sizeable population of Hmong at your university. Either that, or many of the Asian students ("group victimhood" it says) are experiencing a vicarious victimisation through the Hmong whose culture (or whose parents' and ancestors' culture) was alleged to have been denigrated.

Yachira said...

"And the women were called the “Magnificent Seven” to great applause."

If there were any justice, fairness, or concern for Madison's reputation (not to mention academia's future), the "Magnificent Seven" would be expelled.

From Inwood said...

Prof A

Ah, but to be fair you will also post Armanda M's take on this if she writes about what she'll no doubt refer to as "this [expletive deleted]Profesor Kaplan, who can [expletive deleted] both himself & Professor Althouse, that [expletive deleted]!" won't you?

qwerty said...

Am I right that the Magnificent Seven was adapted from Kurosawa's Seven Samurai?


I smell a culturally insensitive comment disguised as praise.

XWL said...

"This is a very tough article, which is sure to send (another) shock wave through the school."

I have my doubts. When fake or exaggerated offenses against PC dogma happen, rarely does that lead to a moment of quiet self reflection and a realization that the dogmatist are more or less engaging in spurious 'witch hunts'.

Prof. Kaplan will forever be looked at sideways be some He would be one in a million if this doesn't alter his approach to classrooms and cause him to avoid matters of race or ethnicity whenever possible.

Open and active discourse would seem to be the primary 'victim' I see here.

Frank_Nerdster said...

As a UWLS student, and good friends with someone in the class that day, I'm convinced that what happened was a reactionary attempt to retribute misinterpretation with, frankly, an email that borders on misquoted defamation. One of the "contexts" that people outside the law school aren't aware of is that Kaplan is known for hitting intricate arguments with proverbial sledgehammers. That isn't in criticism: I'm sick of professors who won't dare to speak of an issue, especally in law school where theoretically one needs to be able to take any side at any time, because it's too "sensitive".

Kaplan was making a metaphor about a difficult conflict of laws point: How do you respond when people from another culture, with other norms and practices, come to a country like the US with a bright-line legal system? If anything, he was pointing to the callousness of American law in dealing with other ways of life, and not vice versa.

In any event, I agree with Ann to the extent that if you're pissed off about what a professor says in class, you stick your hand in the air and you hash it out. This is professional school, not third grade. You're training to function in a career in which you're alone sometimes in charge of protecting someone else's interests. What happens when you're at trial and the other lawyer says something that is both offensive to you and objectionable to your client? Hold your tongue until you can tell the newspapers about it? I'm sure your client will appreciate that.

To speak personally, there has been a professor who's been, in my opinion, a real numbskull this whole semester about a variety of issues, and I take it upon myself to do the reading closely and come prepped out to hammer on him. If you want to call the whambulance everytime someone pisses you off, hey, go for it, but remember that being offended is a choice. Quoth Dr. Seuss: Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

It's particularly heartening to see this coming from the Isthmus, Madison's "alternative" weekly and long a voice for progressivism both reasonable and unreasonable.

Paul said...

Well, Dean Davis certainly comes across as a pathetic individual.

MadisonMan said...

I think the school comes off looking okay. The Dean looks like someone far too quick to throw a colleague under the bus to maintain still waters, however. I would think that if anyone is getting sideways glances into the future, it'll be the Dean, not Prof. Kaplan. Watch your backs, Law School Profs, 'cause the Dean won't.

From Inwood said...

XWL

Let me repeat something I said to an earlier post on this.

"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…."

Shock wave, Si. Resolution....

This incident reminds me more of Kurosawa's "Rashomon", where there's four different versions of what happened in the woods that fateful day.... But then how well-qualified am I, a White Male, to judge films made by an Asian?

Internet Ronin said...

As Richard said, good to see who/what is the source of this article.

I've seen something quite similar to this comment before, and am somewhat puzzled by it:

Among those insults, Yang said, was that Kaplan “believed his statements to be true.”

An insult?

Revenant said...

It still amuses me that of all the years of my life, the time when my speech and opinions were LEAST free was the four years I spent in college.

I encountered a much wider range of ideas and philosophies after I graduated than I was ever allowed to experience in a classroom setting.

From Inwood said...

Good grief a law student says that

"Among [Kaplan's] insults", was that Kaplan “believed his statements to be true.”

Believing that you uttered a truth is an insult? Orwell, anyone?

BTW, wouldn't she be more insulted if Prof Kaplan "believed his statements to be untrue" but said them anyway?

From Inwood said...

Internet Robin

I posted my "insult" comment before I had read yours.

Can't type as fast as some. It's my culture. When I grew up I had others do it for me!

Y.G. Brown said...

Ann, have you either organized a forum on the subject of academic freedom at the law school or otherwise engaged your community directly on this subject? You certainly appear to care deeply about it, and I am curious about how your convictions have translated into actions.

Fen said...

Yes:

"Signed by members of the Committee for Academic Freedom and Rights, UW-Madison

Ann Althouse, Mary Anderson, Anatole Beck, Michael Chamberlain, Donald Downs (President), Michael Fox, Robert Frykenberg, Lee Hansen, Lester Hunt, Larry Kahan, Anatoly Khazanov, Kenneth Mayer, Marshall Onellion, Dietram Scheufele, Howard Schweber, John Sharpless, Kenneth Thomas, Steven Underwood (Legal Counsel)"

More here:

http://althouse.blogspot.com/2007/03/we-fear-that-crucial-distinction.html#comments

JohnAnnArbor said...

Think.
Respect.
(Then, distort to fit your agenda and defame at will.)

BarrySanders20 said...

This is the Oprah-ization of our society. Feelings and emotions trump all ideas, facts, rights. If you feel it, it is true and must be validated, however absurd. Woe to those who trigger bad feelings. You are to be punished for your pain-causing behavior.

Absolutely agree that the most stifling environment to the free flow of ideas was three years in law school in the mid-90's.

dearieme said...

Just as well that Kaplan doesn't play lacrosse, eh?

Elizabeth said...

I hope, if UW is like the university where I teach, the Dean's performance is reviewed by his faculty, and that when the Dean comes up for review, the law faculty remember exactly how well he stood for their interests.

Balfegor said...

Believing that you uttered a truth is an insult? Orwell, anyone?

BTW, wouldn't she be more insulted if Prof Kaplan "believed his statements to be untrue" but said them anyway?

That would be the "I made those statements as an illustrative example" defense. It might be insensitive, but probably not all that insulting.

Revenant said...

That would be the "I made those statements as an illustrative example" defense.

The implication of her being especially insulted by the professor supposedly "believing those statements to be true", though, is that she would have been insulted even if he hadn't -- i.e., that she'd have taken offense even if the statements had been uttered purely as an *example* of racism.

Which suggests that she's got ridiculously thin skin, really.

Ann Althouse said...

Y.G. Brown said..."Ann, have you either organized a forum on the subject of academic freedom at the law school or otherwise engaged your community directly on this subject?"

Actually, we are working on that now. Also, I consider this blog to be functioning right now as a forum on academic freedom. I will leave it to you to imagine how much my colleagues appreciate it.

Donald Douglas said...

Great post! Sometimes, in my intro to U.S. gov't course, when I lecture on Samuel Huntington's "Who Are We," which argues that Hispanic immigrants threaten America's foundational Anglo-Protestant national identity, I get the meanest looks from some of my Hispanic students, who likely take the argument personally rather than analytically. I can see why some Wisconsin professors worry that they'll be next.

Burkean Reflections

Y.G. Brown said...

Actually, we are working on that now. Also, I consider this blog to be functioning right now as a forum on academic freedom. I will leave it to you to imagine how much my colleagues appreciate it.

I'm eager to see when (and how) you engage directly with youe students, peers, and other community members.

Your blogging on the subject is at least once removed from your community, and it will likely have little impact beyond those colleagues who read your blog. While better than nothing, it is also a far cry from trying to directly teach something to your students.

Internet Ronin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Internet Ronin said...

That reminds me, Ann, I meant to compliment you on the influence you have have attained in the general community there through your writing here. That a senior editor of the daily newspaper felt compelled to personally write comments on the blog in response to your own commentary demonstrates that your reach has broadened beyond the often-alleged coterie present here. While I am sure that some will argue that this is not a good thing, I believe it is.

Internet Ronin said...

balfegor:Just in case you didn't know, there is a very large Hmong population in Wisconsin. I believe that only Minnesota and California have larger numbers.

Y.G. Brown said...

Good to know that "Internet Ronin" has spent a lifetime dealing with the likes of me. Pray tell, IR, what that's like. Are we good dancers?

I will indeed continue to enjoy my day. Thanks for the ever-so-kind thought.

Internet Ronin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tiggeril said...

How do people go through life being so incredibly sensitive without hurling themselves off bridges in grade school?

Wade_Garrett said...

Yachira,

Why in the world would they be expelled?

From Inwood said...

Balfegor & Ravenant (sounds like a rejected draft of Hamlet!):

I meant "untrue" when I referred to Prof Kaplan’s statements in my question:

"BTW, wouldn't she [the insulted student] be more insulted if Prof Kaplan ‘believed his statements to be untrue’ but said them anyway?"

I was not considering what you refer to as the "illustrative example" but, more important Prof Kaplan was not using that defense, for example, when he defended his statement to the effect that “mountain folk are, ipso facto, not suited for North Wisconsin”, which seems to have been a sore point on the part of his listeners.

Anyway, the “illustrative example” defense is worth discussing, so go for it, but BTW, Balfegor, if any such example is insensitive, then it is also insulting.

But the issue is why Prof. Kaplan needs to be defending himself in public against “pot bangers”. As Revenant notes, this witness has “ridiculously thin skin”. In my experience, in too many instances where the perps’ statements were either alleged to have been per se racist or sexist, or as having caused the more nebulous evil of “hostile environments” (resulting, in either case, in the same remedy), the victims seem to have extremely sharp antennae for insults & to be easily insulted by what the Law before the PC Era would call “de minimis” (Latin for “get a life”). As tiggeril wryly comments “How do people go through life being so incredibly sensitive without hurling themselves off bridges in grade school?”As I’m sure you’re aware, such people are referred to as “injustice collectors” & I’ve been condemning them in all the posts in regard to Prof. Kaplan.

In short:

If Prof Kaplan thought that what he said was true, the listeners were insulted & QED, he’s wrong.

If Prof Kaplan thought that what he said was untrue, the listeners were insulted & QED, he’s wrong.

If Prof Kaplan thought that what he said was an illustrative example of a truth, the listeners were insulted & QED, he’s wrong.

If Prof Kaplan thought that what he said was an illustrative example of an untruth, the listeners were insulted & QED, he’s wrong.

Since he’s always wrong, he needs to apologize (accomplished here) & submit to diversity training, a/k/a brainwashing, whereby people, mostly White, mostly Male, mostly over 30, far over 30, will inform him that he is too insensitive because he doesn’t know what it is like to be a minority, a woman, & a student. They will also tell him to make no more racist or sexist statements and will then, George Carlin like, set forth seven (a magic number, a Kurosawa number) words or so which can never be uttered, except in diversity training. Even though he seems to be a “loner”, they will show him why a grouping of White Males, whether it’s a result of conscious parallelism or unconscious parallelism, is a per se hostile environment.

Got it? The injustice collectors have!

Bissage said...

[T]iggeril asked: “How do people go through life being so incredibly sensitive without hurling themselves off bridges in grade school?”

Bissage answers: Pretty much the same way skittish puppies are cared for enough that they grow up to become skittish guard dogs.

From Inwood said...

Wade Garrett

Perhaps a better question would be why, knowing what we know now, further “attention must be paid” to these jejune students.

Pogo said...

So many references come to mind; warnings mostly.

Orwell, Bradbury, Whittaker Chambers, Hayek, Solzhenitsyn, Charles Fried, Tom Wolfe, Russell Kirk, and others.

But what's the point? Within a single generation, these young women have repudiated these important lessons of liberty, and replaced them with the pathetic bleating of a child enraged at getting the smaller slice of cake.

Entitled and infantile, dependent and destructive, they entered a profession once known by its tenacity for truth. Well, not anymore. They find the world too hard for them, and want the administrator mommy to make it all better.

It's just so damn sad and disheartening to see a culture fall apart before your very eyes, to see the virtues of freedom become bastardized into an enforced freedom from every discomfort.

What a colossal failure.

David said...

said it before - Isthmus is the only paper worth reading in Madison

kettle said...

I know this isn't the proper place for this but...

The NYTimes recently included a short summary web article on the new Forbes magazine World's Richest:
http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/business/AP-Forbes-Billionaires.html

However they cannot seem to be bothered about linking to the Forbes site where the original content is published for all to see.

http://www.forbes.com/2007/03/07/billionaires-worlds-richest_07billionaires_cz_lk_af_0308billie_land.html

I know they are competing to a certain extent with Forbes, and furthermore that, although they've gotten better about this lately, they generally tend not to link to the outside websites they 'report' on. However this particular case strikes me as a blatant breach of web etiquette.

No proper blogger would do something like this, and if an improper one did they would be quickly and roundly criticized for such an act.

Again, I know this isn't the proper place to voice such a comment, but an e-mail to the Times will be meaningless. My motivation in posting here is simply that sometimes write for the Times, and you've occasionally written on this topic.

(again, sorry for the comment-hijacking, this isn't very good etiquette either)

kettle said...

Looks like my links got chopped:
NYTimes on Forbes Richest


Forbes Magazine on Forbes Richest

Kevin Lomax said...

"How do people go through life being so incredibly sensitive without hurling themselves off bridges in grade school?"

Simple answer is they don't. Many of them do hurl themselves off bridges in grade school. This is a growing problem in Wisconsin. Fortunately, we do not have very tall bridges in most areas of the state. Once they have hurled themselves and fallen three or four feet, they land on their bottoms, have a good cry and walk away.

I've been convinced we as a nation have shielded a generation or two far more than we should have. I think, to an extent, it is good for a society for children to suffer scrapes and bruises while they are young and can learn from them. It may even be desirable for some of the weak to not survive.

Perhaps we’ve shielded them emotionally more than we should have too. Anyone who makes it to adulthood and professional school with the sensitivities of an infant as shown by certain individuals throughout this ordeal perhaps should have been emotionally dropped as a child a few more times.

Al Maviva said...

Academic freedom, insofar as college administrations use the term, is one of the fallback arguments supporting racial quotas in admissions. The term is pretty much without meaning, unless uttered by a layman, or a classical liberal along the lines of the good folks at FIRE.

As for the "magnificent seven" - the crux of most of the ginned up victims' rights groups is 1) we are just as good and as tough and smart as all the rest of you; 2) therefore you can't say anything we subjectively perceive as negative about us or it will really hurt our feelings and impair our ability to get an education or a job. Groups supporting people who actually are victimized are quite different, but most of the groups currently making claims on the mantle of the 60's civil rights leadership are bogus, comprised of an unholy combination of those with hair-trigger sensitivity, and those with an insatiable thirst for power.

Balfegor said...

Re: From Inwood

Anyway, the “illustrative example” defense is worth discussing, so go for it

There was a recent kerfluffle at Duke University Law over a partner at Fulbright and Jaworski saying the n-word in an interview. There was lots of outrage, as might be expected, and then the actual story came out. It was an illustrative example.

Re: the fact that the man didn't use the illustrative example defense -- that's quite irrelevant to the point I was making. I was responding to:

BTW, wouldn't she be more insulted if Prof Kaplan "believed his statements to be untrue" but said them anyway?

I'm weighing comparative insulting-ness here -- having someone believe the nasty things he says about you and your folk seems to me to be vastly more insulting than having him utter the same words as an example of this or that.

P. Rich said...

What these children most need is a serious talking-to by a stern adult, not PC apologies and sympathy for their bruised feelings. Clearly they have been recruited by the victim industry and become card-carrying members of their own sad little victim group. And therein lies the real offense.

This puerile melodrama and its many repeat performances across the country have become soooooo hackneyed for everyone except the unsuspecting targets of the angry lynch mob. But perhaps there is some utility in this happening in a law school environment. Maybe some useful precedent can be established here, some adult behavior demonstrated, and finally a refutation of baseless victimhood cant can be effectively declared within an objective framework.

From Inwood said...

Balfegor

Peace.

It's not worth sidebarring like this when I assume that we basically agree with my four scenarios where the perp, er, Prof., is always wrong among the easily insulted.

Regards

Inwood

From Inwood said...

Donald

Your having run a Blog called “Burkean Reflections” would make you per se a hostile environment creator in the eyes of many students (& Profs) if they only had been educated enough to know who Burke was (isn’t she the singer from that cold island in Europe?)

See Overlawyered

"Inviting conservative author = hostile environment?

"Two teachers have sued an elite Seattle private school charging race bias in the terms of employment: 'Among the plaintiffs' complaints was Lakeside's invitation to conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza to speak as part of a distinguished lecture series.' "

I can't wait to see what happens if you comment unfavorably on the economic systems of many Latin-American/South-American countries, or even comment favorably on Chile.

BTW, Don't give your students the Eurocentric view that WW II began on 9/1/39.