December 21, 2007

The continuing travails over talking about race in the classroom.

Here's the latest news story about my colleague Leonard Kaplan, who — you'll remember if you're a regular reader — offended students in the course of teaching his Legal Process class by saying something that was taken as insulting to the Hmong people:
The UW-Madison rejected a complaint by Law School students who asked for discipline against Professor Leonard Kaplan for remarks allegedly insulting the Hmong, according to a document obtained by The Capital Times from an open records request....

"My clients are entitled to a learning environment in which they are not subjected to hostility for defending their beliefs, cultural heritage and desire for a truly diverse academic classroom environment," attorney Daniel Ye said in the complaint....

Even if Kaplan's views of the Hmong were wrong, ill-informed or hurtful, they were not properly a subject for disciplinary action under the rules of the university, [Provost Patrick] Farrell wrote, adding that Kaplan's statements were delivered as part of a regular class lecture in his Law School course, and they appear to have been germane to the topic covered that day.

23 comments:

PatCA said...

Their attorney's overarching statements about various "rights" is too vague to even begin to analyze, and I think that's the point. Just denounce, denounce, and see what sticks.

ricpic said...

If a Hmong says ahumana-humana-humana, is that showing insensitivity to Ralph Kramden Americans?

rdkraus said...

ric

You got it in one.

LutherM said...

The spirit of Fighting Bob Lafollette is content today.
Free speech and academic freedom still lives at The University of Wisconsin!!!

Kirby Olson said...

There's almost nothing you can say that isn't insulting to somebody. That's why freedom of speech has to be respected, or else no one will be able to say anything for fear of somebody going to court. I'm glad that for once the first amendment prevailed.

tnv said...

In life there are people who are lactose tolerance and then those that are allergy to peanut even though the rest of us go through life never have to worry about either one; some will over time built enough tolerance to overcome such threat/illness. But can such thing as prejudice/discrimination be treated?

When you are being discriminated and prejudged in every aspect of your existence since the dawn of written history where every attempts of your life had been trying to avoid of such pressures with others by living in your own secluded and homogeneous villages.
This is not to say that the Hmong is excused or that we should use this historical fear and struggle as an excuse, but to have been through of what we have for so long it doesn't really take much to trigger such fear as those faced by Professor Kaplan's students.

The differences between prejudice/discrimination back in Asia and here in America is that we no longer have a village to retrieve to here. We are now apart of the community that either feel enriched by or threaten by our existence just as much as we have of theirs.

As a professor of many fine law students who are now preparing to become or have become successful lawyers in their respective practices representing Americans of all backgrounds and as an higher learning institution, U of W-Madison should have initiated a more meaningful and proactive response to the students, their families, and the Hmong community. What was said by the professor was not representative of the reality of the Hmong and the reaction or lack there of by the university was too much of a reactive response. The Hmong are no longer a refugee community relying on public assistances with no voice. We have learn to carry our own voice by participating in exercising our rights as laid out by the Bills of Rights. We have been proactive in electing governmental official as well as participating in the learning curve by participating and electing officials of Hmong descents to various governmental posts. I believe that we have continuously trying to be apart of a vibrant fabric of the American diverse communities. We are attending and sending our children to such higher learning institution such as the U of W-Madison.

To me the issue now then is not so much of what has been said, but that of how the professor and the university reacted and responded and the time that it took.

We know that their were many Americans in the past and even now, starting with the Natives to the many Europeans, Africans all of the way to the East Asians and the Pacific Islanders that have struggled and suffered much worst in the past in paving the American dream for us new arrivals, but that does not mean that prejudice and discrimination felt by Professor Kaplan's law students is less legitimate. How soon can we forget? It seems like it was only yesterday that ethnic immigrant groups such as the Chinese, Irish, Italian, Japanese and others were being treated harshly.

Education, time and patience seem to be our best remedies. Hopefully with due time the Hmong will hear of such comments, but will not cut so deep and sharp into the core of our souls. Thus keep that in mind as we press forward in forging our American dream together.

Respectfully submitted,

-Tzianeng,
Twin Cities, MN

Middle Class Guy said...

Be still my heart. I do not beleive this. A University sides with a professor over diverso-multi-culti calp trap? Un beleiveable.

Academics are ususally fired or their careers ruined for less than this. UW should be praised for their courage.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

If the Hmong were a a tribe from Africa, the UW-Madison administration would have folded faster than Superman on laundry day!

former law student said...

There's almost nothing you can say that isn't insulting to somebody. That's why freedom of speech has to be respected, or else no one will be able to say anything for fear of somebody going to court. I'm glad that for once the first amendment prevailed.

Right. Besides everybody knows that Jews are tactless and inconsiderate -- it's ingrained in their culture. Kaplan simply couldn't help himself. (insert smiley-face here).

former law student said...

I should point out that my comment had a pedagogical purpose and was germane to the topic of unthinkingly embracing cultural stereotypes in front of an audience who may find them hurtful.

jeff said...

Former law student: But isn't that kind of the point? As long as offensive speech is still free, then all other kinds of speech will remain free. Once the inroads are made against "hate" speech, then where does it end?

SGT Ted said...

This is just offended dignity via tort.

These kids aren't ready for college. They might not ever be ready. They aren't showing any ability to reason whatsoever. They need to grow up a bit more before they re-apply.

joated said...

The whiners and complainers in this case need to get a little scar tissue on that boo-boo of hurt feelings. Sensitivity like this will get them no where in the real world.

PatCA said...

"To me the issue now then is not so much of what has been said, but that of how the professor and the university reacted and responded and the time that it took."

Sadly, most people feel that what was actually said is entirely the issue. I mean it with great respect when I say that I am sorry for the hardships of immigrants, but a hasty and possibly unjust punishment for Kaplan's alleged insult would not have served your interests at all.

Ann Althouse said...

Middle Class Guy, I want you to know that here at the University of Wisconsin, we have an organization of professors -- led by Donald Downs -- that is vigilant about academic freedom. I'm honored to be a member of this group. It's no fluke here. We are organized, alert, and strong.

That said, the students are strong too. They stood up for themselves, and they had reason to think the University had promised them a comfortable climate.

It's a complex clash, and I hope we've learned something from it.

matthew said...

As I recall, in this case the students who were complaining were not in Prof. Kaplan's class (or at least not present in the classroom on that day).

While it's true that "There's almost nothing you can say that isn't insulting to somebody," it makes it academic freedom even more difficult if one could be punished by proxy. Kudos to Prof. Kaplan, who took the high road, not attacking anyone, but not really making a senseless (and meaningless) apology.

I'm not sure I agree that this was a 'complex clash.' The student protesters came off to me either as crying wolf or as an eggshell plaintiff. And I don't think much 'learning' can go on in that atmosphere...

Duscany said...

I don't believe that students should be afforded a "comfortable climate" when they go to university. The purpose of an education is to have one's biases and prejudices confronted, not praised and soothed. In my freshman orientation lecture at Columbia in 1959 history professor James Shenton told us that if we weren't "insulted, hurt and confused" by the end of the first semesters then "we professors aren't doing our jobs." Now 50 years later when students find themselves confronted by a new or uncomfortable idea they run to the administration in tears.

former law student said...

The whiners and complainers in this case need to get a little scar tissue on that boo-boo of hurt feelings. Sensitivity like this will get them no where in the real world.

If that were true, Sen. George "Macaca" Allen would be leading in the Iowa caucuses.

former law student said...

Now 50 years later when students find themselves confronted by a new or uncomfortable idea they run to the administration in tears.

"Your culture is primitive and inferior" quoth the authority figure and dispenser of knowledge. "In our society, your marriage rituals are considered to be rape, for example. To us, you are like tiny monkey people. Too bad we whites did not prepare tree homes for you." And the students thanked him for his contribution to their learning.

former law student said...

First day of class at UWLS:
Law Professor Kaplan: If you ladies leave my island, if you survive Legal Process training... you will be a weapon, you will be a minister of death, praying for war. But until that day you are pukes! You're the lowest form of life on Earth. You are not even human fucking beings! You are nothing but unorganized grabasstic pieces of amphibian shit! Because I am hard, you will not like me. But the more you hate me, the more you will learn. I am hard, but I am fair! There is no racial bigotry here! I do not look down on niggers, kikes, wops, gooks, or greasers. Here you are all equally worthless! And my orders are to weed out all non-hackers who do not pack the gear to serve my beloved Law! Do you maggots understand that?

Law Professor Kaplan: What's your excuse?
Madison Law Student: Sir, excuse for what, sir?
Law Professor Kaplan: I'm asking the fucking questions here, Student. Do you understand?!
Madison Law Student: Sir, yes, sir.
Law Professor Kaplan: Well thank you very much! Can I be in charge for a while?
Madison Law Student: Sir, yes, sir!
Law Professor Kaplan: Are you shook up? Are you nervous?
Madison Law Student: Sir, I am, sir!
Law Professor Kaplan: Do I make you nervous?
Madison Law Student: Sir!
Law Professor Kaplan: Sir, what? Were you about to call me an asshole?!
Madison Law Student: Sir, no, sir!
Law Professor Kaplan: How tall are you, Student?
Madison Law Student: Sir, five foot nine, sir!
Law Professor Kaplan: Five foot nine? I didn't know they stacked shit that high! You trying to squeeze an inch in on me somewhere, huh?
Madison Law Student: Sir, no, sir!
Law Professor Kaplan: Bullshit! It looks to me like the best part of you ran down the crack of your momma's ass and ended up as a brown stain on the mattress! I think you've been cheated! Where in hell are you from anyway, Student?
Madison Law Student: Sir, Texas, sir!
Law Professor Kaplan: Holy dogshit! Texas! Only steers and queers come from Texas, Law Student! And you don't look much like a steer to me, so that kinda narrows it down! Do you suck dicks?
Madison Law Student: Sir, no, sir!
Law Professor Kaplan: Are you a peter-puffer?
Madison Law Student: Sir, no, sir!
Law Professor Kaplan: I'll bet you're the kind of guy that would fuck a person in the ass and not even have the goddamn common courtesy to give him a reach-around! I'll be watching you!

[Class ends]

Full Metal Redweld - 2007

Kev said...

There's almost nothing you can say that isn't insulting to somebody. That's why freedom of speech has to be respected, or else no one will be able to say anything for fear of somebody going to court. I'm glad that for once the first amendment prevailed.

Yes, it would be good for everyone to remember that there's no Constitutional right in this country to not have one's feelings hurt--nor should there be.

Duscany said...

"And the students thanked him for his contribution to their learning."

Well they did until he turned his back. Then they ran to the administration saying "he looks at our breasts during class and he makes us read real hard books without any pictures."

Duscany said...

"And the students thanked him for his contribution to their learning."

Well they did until he turned his back. Then they ran to the administration saying "he looks at our breasts during class and he makes us read real hard books without any pictures."