[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.