March 3, 2007

MSM finally tries to get the Kaplan story straight.

Megan Twohey -- in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel -- is -- I think -- the first mainstream reporter to really get somewhere reporting the other side of the Wisconsin Law School story that has gotten so much press lately. She quotes me quoting Professor Kaplan at Friday's faculty meeting:
"The law school is my home," Leonard Kaplan told law school colleagues at a weekly meeting, which was recorded by Ann Althouse, a fellow professor. "I'm going to fight to make it stay my home."

While not offering a detailed explanation, Kaplan said: "I didn't say what was attributed to me. But I think I know why it was misinterpreted."

Kaplan said he was crafting a written statement to be released later that "was compassionate but a response from a lawyer."
Twohey refers to the "tumultuous" meeting at the law school on Thursday (which she witnessed and we talked about here yesterday) and reports that "other students" who were in the class said his words were "misconstrued and taken out of context." The quotes that have appeared in the press and that have gotten so many people exercised were -- according to Twohey -- compiled by a student who was not in the class but who spoke with two students who were. There is no indication whether those two students wrote verbatim quotes down while they were in class, and no one seems to have an audio recording, but the student who wrote the inflammatory email did put quotes around words:
[Name deleted] told the standing-room-only crowd Thursday that the allegations she made in her e-mail were "not well informed," but insisted that what Kaplan said was hurtful and damaging....

The offended students said they were upset with the way their complaint had been handled. They said that Kaplan, in a private meeting, had apologized for hurting their feelings but stood by his statements.

Kaplan did not attend the forum. He said in a statement that was read by another professor that he did not want to draw attention from the educational purpose of the forum - an apparent reference to some speakers who had been invited to talk to the group about Hmong culture.

Davis, the dean, did attend the forum, and he praised Kaplan's accusers for the way they had handled their concerns and promised to provide cultural awareness programming next month.
I hope that phrase "cultural awareness programming" means that there will be programs and not that we are about to be programmed -- like a computer or a brainwashing victim.
Althouse said Friday that Davis should have "demonstrated a concern for finding out what was true."

"What happened to the truth?" she said. "It seems to me that before you design remedies for problems, you should find out what the problem is. I don't think it's the interest of people who care about race to see this minefield where your quotes are taken out of context."
A law school, especially, should set the example of what it means to care scrupulously about the truth, to follow due process when a person's reputation is on the line, and to show that remedies should be tailored to real problems, not based on one-sided accusations. These are principles fundamental to law. We are a law school. What are we teaching? You may well have some questions about what Kaplan taught his class. But our actions these past two weeks have taught something to our students and to the rest of the world. That is what I am questioning.

Twohey, unlike some of the other reporters who splashed this story into the news, does some digging for the truth:
[Names deleted], students who were in Kaplan's class, said Friday that [name deleted's] e-mail misquoted Kaplan.

"I think the comments were taken out of context," said [name deleted], a Latino undergraduate in the class.

They said the focus of the class was how American law can sometimes conflict with the values of different cultures, and that Kaplan was using the Hmong experience in Wisconsin as an example. They said Kaplan did touch on issues of rape, dowries and crime within the Hmong community, but had been misquoted in [name deleted's] e-mail.
Misquoted. That is an important word.
"If anything, he was critiquing what a bad job Wisconsin was doing in providing job opportunities to the Hmong, that that's why they end up in gangs," said [name deleted], who is Vietnamese.

[Name deleted], who is white, said Kaplan talked about Hmong women thriving because they had skills such as needlework.

"He was saying that Hmong men aren't thriving as much because they don't have skills that have transferred as well," she said.

The students said they could see how [names deleted] could have been offended by the comments, and [name deleted] acknowledging that Kaplan had used Hmong stereotypes that made him feel uncomfortable at times.

But the students insisted Kaplan did not strike them as racist or bigoted. They said they were upset by the fallout from the incident.

"I think this is really out of control," [name deleted] said.
On the subject of why Kaplan has not comprehensively refuted the accusations, Twohey quotes Professor Downs:
Donald Downs, a political science professor who is a friend of Kaplan's, said Friday that Kaplan had an attorney who had advised him not to talk about the incident publicly because of the potential for a harassment lawsuit.

"He's all lawyered up," Downs said.

Downs, who heads the university's committee for academic freedom and rights, said some professors have come away from the controversy fearful of discussing race in class.
This is also a point I make in my NYT column today:
Your colleagues may sympathize with you in private, but most likely they'll be rethinking this idea -- heartily promoted in law schools since the 1980s -- that they ought to actively incorporate delicate issues of race into their courses.
One of the many ironies of this story is that both Kaplan's style of teaching and the Dean's student-appeasing efforts at climate-control come from the same well-meaning liberal idea that law schools ought to take account of race.

I'm on that committee with Downs and a number of other UW professors. It's called CAFAR (Committee for Academic Freedom and Rights). (The same group supported that 9/11 conspiracy theorist last fall and was critical of the "Think. Respect" program. Downs wrote this book about free speech on campus.) Twohey notes that CAFAR has a statement on the Kaplan affair, and I will publish that statement in full when it's through with the final edit (which will be very soon).

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.


Joe Giles said...

At least the Reichstag Fire had a Reichstag and a fire.

ilia said...

I'm glad the voices of reason are emerging from this situation. Diversity of students should not destroy diversity of opinions and academic discourse. The problem is that the law school dean reacted to student complaints without any effort to determine the truth of the incident. Many of us read the comments by Kashia Moua (who admits her email was not well informed), the comments of students in the course who claim Kaplan was not engaging in racist stereotypes, and the statements of Professor Kaplan to the effect he was completely misinterpreted. This allows reasonable individuals to conclude that the law school dean acted in a reckless manner that is harmful to the learning environment. Administrators in the law school established a troubling norm. When students are offended, the administration will accept the complaints as factual without attempting to engage in any fact-finding. Students who are offended will be given the opportunity to use the resources of the law school to set up a forum to discuss bias in society without actually demonstrating that there was racism in initial event that triggered the protest. Along the way the students shall have the option of claiming that the forum is not about what happened but the larger problem of ignorance in society. This is about academic freedom because this norm will make risk-averse scholars less willing to discuss important issues of race in the classroom. The offended students need to step back and recognize that they also made mistakes in how they handled this situation and the dean needs to take academic freedom seriously.

CB said...

The quotes that have appeared in the press and that have gotten so many people exercised were -- according to Twohey -- compiled by a student who was not in the class but who spoke with two students who were.

Do you not teach the hearsay rule at UW Law?

I hope that phrase "cultural awareness programming" means that there will be programs and not that we are about to be programmed -- like a computer or a brainwashing victim.

I suspect the latter.

George M. Spencer said...

A witch hunt, nothing more nothing less.

And global warming is the secular equivalent of the Rapture.

Ann Althouse said...

"Do you not teach the hearsay rule at UW Law?"

It was an "excited utterance."

ilia: We don't know how much the Dean tried to ascertain the truth for himself behind the scenes. That's just one of the things we don't know. I'm commenting on what's in the public record, especially the descriptions of the Thursday meeting.

CB said...

"It was an "excited utterance."

One layer down, one to go... ;)

KCFleming said...

Totalitarianism is so much easier once the subjects learn to self-censor.

Terrence Berres said...

"We don't know how much the Dean tried to ascertain the truth for himself behind the scenes."

Wouldn't that be Dean Wormer, not Dean Davis?

CB said...

Oops, it isn't double hearsay, because Kaplan's words were not offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted.

Fen said...

Your colleagues may sympathize with you in private, but most likely they'll be rethinking this idea -- heartily promoted in law schools since the 1980s -- that they ought to actively incorporate delicate issues of race into their courses

Reminds me of the Summer's incident at Harvard. He was asked to stimulate conversation about the lack of women in the sciences, and was stabbed in the back because of it.

ilia said...

Ann, I don't see how the Dean's actions are consistent with searching for the truth. Perhaps the dean spoke with a great deal of students in the course (such as the non-Hmong students quoted in the paper today) rather than simply meeting with a subset of students who were offended by the comments. In any event I believe that an administration committed to seeking out the truth would have provided more guidance in the forum and created an environment conducive to hearing all sides on the issue. The law school lent support to a forum that really had no bearing on searching for the truth of what happened and the event in no way could have provided Professor Kaplan or other students in the course an opportunity to discuss what happened.

I believe that the reporting in the paper today was a more serious effort at finding the truth than the effort by the law school administration because the reporting actually considered the context of the events, which is something Davis might have ascertained on his own investigation but certainly did not convey in any of his emails describing this event. For that reason I assume he was not all that concerned with finding the truth but was rather allowing Kaplan's image to be destroyed in order to preserve an image of diversity.

Even if Davis did investigate like he should have, I have not seen anything in the emails Davis sent out that point to any consideration of academic freedom issues.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

I notice that the article had to cite the race of each of the students defending the professor.

Multiculturalism and identity politics are inherently racist and perpetuate the meme of putting race before all others aspects of identity.

Unknown said...

I'm curious if there are consequences to baseless charges. What if, for instance, a student who skipped classes and may be struggling in their grades realizes the best way to move forward is to raise a ruckus.

They can incite a massive inquiry, get the administration on their side by saying all the right things, and then they can get the professor in trouble, who then will be under a significant amount of pressure to treat the complainer more lightly. Anyone who gives a bad grade. Anyone who gives a hard test. Anytime a student doesn't study they can cry foul, and they are given a pass.

This seems a very dangerous situation, not only for free speech but also for every aspect of teaching. The students now have power over the professors. This is a very sad state of affairs for learning, because all it takes is one or two discontents to throw off the education for a whole class, and get a creative, vibrant professor to tone down into mediocrity.

Chip Ahoy said...

Oh honestly, please shut up. Look Kids, this is our way of impressing upon you rubrics like "magnificient seven" don't work very well in America, a good thing to know if you want to get on.

William Tyroler said...

The Dean has recently sought support from Milwaukee-area alumni: tell me again why I should give money to an administration so utterly gutless?

Wm. Tyroler '75

Fritz said...
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Fritz said...

I'm surprised that the liberal establishment of UW would back the Hmong, since they were our allies against the communists in SE Asia. Having read some of the background of this culture in America, I'm surprised the feminists at UW are not up in arms.

Bissage said...

Let’s assume Joan is standing in the hallway. Sally bursts out of the classroom and exclaims: “Professor Kaplan just said, ‘All Hmong men are killers.’”

To prove what Professor Kaplan said, Joan can testify as to what Sally said under the excited utterance exception to the general prohibition against hearsay. See also Verbal act; res gestae.

Zeb Quinn said...

If it hasn't already, racial divisiveness is reaching social gridlock in the US. An aspect of that is that whites are not permitted to comment on matters of race --or talk about other races-- unless they do it in narrowly prescribed and preordained ways, and any variances from that will be punished. I imagine whites are thusly encumbered because of their history, a history of racism and the power to effect racist policies. But meanwhile, the ball will not be advanced on the issue of race until the subject is available to thorough and open discussion and hashing in the fresh air and sunlight, with all sides being free and feeling free to fully participate. It seems that there are factions who are happy with the ball not being advanced. Who are they and what motivates them?

clairedm said...

I am so happy to see a newspaper presenting us with a bigger picture. I hope that everyone can learn from this and move on in a constuctive way that does not include "programming."

I am also concerned that the Dean acted in disregard of the truth, since as this was all beginning to come out I wrote to him to explain that I disagreed with the characterizations of Kaplan's comments. The Dean did little to find out more about it. I mean, there were like 15 of us in the class. How hard would it have been to ask us all what happened?

Also, I am concerned about the strange bedfellows spawned by a situation like this. People who are advocating reason and truth, and pointing out that a "multicultural" view is often just racism in disguise (as Jeff said) end up on the same side as people I suspect to be biggots and just general haters. It makes me uncomfortable.

Bissage said...


This situation reminds me of a dustup at Rutgers about 10 years ago when President Lawrence (pretty sure) got in hot water for saying the University should do more to help black students since it's harder for them to keep up with the other students.

The similarity is that loud people took a falsifiable statement of fact and treated its very utterance as a transgression, irrespective of whether the utterance was motivated by benevolent intent.

In other words, the thing I keep wondering about this Professor Kaplan controversy is, why didn’t some law student speak up and say something like: “Gee Professor, I don’t think you’ve got your facts right about the Hmong.”

clairedm said...

bissage said:
"[W]hy didn’t some law student speak up and say something like: 'Gee Professor, I don’t think you’ve got your facts right about the Hmong.'"

Some of us in the class did say something. I come from Rochester MN where we have a sizable Hmong population. Another girl and I commented that the Hmong are doing well were we come from. And it was very interesting actually, because in the course of my discussion with Kaplan I realized that it was the women who I had really seen doing well, just as Kaplan had said. And then I remembered that my town had extensive diversity programs (which my mother was very involved in, btw, just to give a shout out), just what Kaplan was suggesting is needed in northern Wisconsin...

Unknown said...

"Multiculturalism and identity politics are inherently racist and perpetuate the meme of putting race before all others aspects of identity."

But multiculturalism is a way to acquire power, and that's why people use it. It is not reconciliation because it is based on a lie -- there is no point to a cultural 'awareness' that declaims the inherent racism of Western civilization and the inherent goodness and victimization of all other cultures, except an imagined transfer of power.

Shame on the dean. I hope the profs boycott his reeducation camp. Are we not capable of a color blind society as MLK envisioned?

Bissage said...

Hey, that gives me an idea!

You know how in property class we talk about "Blackacre?" (Or maybe now it's "Acre of Color.")

Howzabout we invent a hypothetical culture so nobody ever takes any offense at anything, ever again, in perpetuity.

I'll go first and nominate the "Spoo." Next time, to keep his fanny out trouble, Professor Kaplan can say something like: "Okay class, let's suppose for the sake of argument that all Spoo men are killers."

Problem solved!

(If only.)

Unknown said...

It's a mad world.

First the allegations against Prof. Kaplan were implausible to begin with, so implausible that a reasonable person would have insisted on a complete inquiry before going off half cocked.

The subsequent "teach in" was equally absurd, and I think disgusting. Who needs a seminar to know that professors should not display bogotry in class. I see the "seminar" as just an opportunity for preening self righteous fools to congratulate one another on their great racial sensitivity and moral rectitude.

A pox on all of them.

Simon said...

Ann Althouse said...
"[Do you not teach the hearsay rule at UW Law?] It was an 'excited utterance.'"

...And thus, "an 803 exception gets it in." LOL, that still cracks me up.

Am I the only person who heartily supports the Dean's promise of "cultural awareness programming next month"? I think it's entirely appropriate that the students who blew this business so totally out of proportion be sent to a "cultural awareness programming" event. (Sadly, I doubt that's quite what the Dean had in mind.)

vnjagvet said...

Those of us who try racial discrimination cases must discuss these issues in a way juries can understand and relate to them. If we cannot do that, we lose.

That is powerful motivator to learn to discuss these issues in a sensitive but effective manner.

I suggest that Professor Kaplan was trying to teach this reality to his students in an effective way.

Most got it.

A few did not.

Those students who want to handle discrimination matters in the real world will have to understand the truths that Prof. Kaplan was trying to teach, or they will be singularly unsuccessful.

Jan Sobieski said...

Great Post. I'm enjoying comparing the coverage of Kaplan's case to that of Professor Julio Pino at Kent State. He seems to be getting by without even a slap on the wrist and he advocates violent Jihad against Americans.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

For almost 20 years, we have used the term "Tohesian" [first note in the comments section] which is a person of indiscernible ethnic persuasion.

It gets past race real quickly and goes right to talent, skill, ability, etc.

Bissage said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bissage said...


Right you are! "Tohesian" it is.

But please, I care for your safety so remember that things aren’t always as plain as they seem.

Should you ever be walking alone on a dark street and you see one of these coming toward you, . . ., please, . . ., just cross the street , keep walking and, whatever you do, DON’T MAKE ANY EYE CONTACT!!!

Don’t ask me why. I can’t tell you. Just trust me on this.

But I'm not prejudiced or anything. Some of my best friends are Towhees.


mtrobertsattorney said...

When the cultural education program for UW law faculty begins, let's hope it starts with an objective description of Hmong culture, including those cultural beliefs that the majority culture judges to be negative and destructive.

The moderator should then turn the discussion to the question of whether there are sound reasons to justify the claim that some cultural beliefs are false, seriously dysfunctional and harmful to the development of positive human character traits.

If the consensus of the faculty is that the above is true, then the various Hmong cultural beliefs, including those alleged to have been described by Prof. Kaplan, can be judged by this standard. And should some of these beliefs be judged to be false and dysfunctional, then the role of the law school should be to provide Hmong law students with the analytical and practical tools they will need to convince their cultural leaders to change their negative beliefs.

However, it may well turn out that the post-modern belief that all cultures stand on an equal footing will carry the day and the consensus will be that there can be no objectively "bad" or "false" cultural beliefs. If this happens, those faculty members who, even unintentionly, may have cast doubt on the merits of some cultural belief of the Hmong or some other group should be prepared to confess their error and beg forgiveness from any "offended" students and the administration.

Ultimate_Lawyer said...
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Ultimate_Lawyer said...

I believe that the most significant aspect of this story is the need for Dean Davis to resign, and not merely for his management of this incident. This incident merely exemplifies the utter incompetence and woeful lack of vision for UW Law School that davis has perpetrated during his tenure at UW. The school has consistently slid in various law school rankings, and UW Law School is now rapidly approaching irrelevance. There's no reason that UW Law should be deemed less prestigious than Minnesota or Iowa, but that's what it has become during Davis's term as dean.

I guess this incident constitutes UW Law's just deserts for hiring a dean that graduated from a 3rd-tier law school (Case Western). He has no idea what excellence even looks like.

Even UW Law's purportedly inferior in-state colleague (Marquette Law) can somehow attract a Harvard Law grad who clerked on the Supreme Court.

M. Simon said...

Well I'm not affraid to discuss race:


I throw in some Darwin too. And athletics. And DNA. I didn't forget Jews either. Plus men are standardly more deviant than women. Which makes a big difference on the tail. Statistically speaking.

M. Simon said...

Duke any one?

Angry Studies strikes again.

Jay Currie said...

First, I was as struck as Jeff supra with the reporter's need to provide the racial credentials of her interviewees.

Second, for a Dean to be suggesting the notion of political re-education camp for his faculty on the basis of hearsay - the veracity of which has, apparently, gone unexplored must be awfully embarrassing for the entire faculty.

Part of a legal education is to think like a grown up. A part the Dean obviously cut.

MDIJim said...

I do feel for Profs. Kaplan and Altman and UW's law students, including those who feel that they may have been insulted by a law professor.

However, as a non-lawyer, I do have a certain sense of schadenfreude Is this not what the legal profession is all about: manufactured grievances, words taken out of context, twisted meanings, ad hominem attacks?

Clioman said...

Is it possible that the Dean has drunk from the same cup of cool-aid that the Gang of 88 imbibed from so deeply at Duke?

Yes, it is.

Anonymous said...

Yet another incident symptomatic of a widespread disease in academia. The disease carriers are radical feminists, ultra-liberals, modern socialists/Marxists and class/race/gender parasites masquerading as "professors."

This collection of aberrants is always skulking about, looking for an excuse to turn a minor event into major support for their particular "victim-group" cause. And the upper reaches of academia by and large function as enablers for their twisted views.

I doubt the situation is better in a law school than it is in any other type of academic institution. It may in fact be worse, considering the emotional baggage that motivates many people to pursue law in the first place.

willis said...

It appears to me that the Dean handled the affair in a rational, effective manner. His primary concern is that of keeping his job. In order to do this, he must appease those on the left who are dedicated to encouraging an atmosphere of victimoloy for minorities. The behaviour of the (naturally) offended minorities in this event is entirely consistent with the behaviour expected of them. For the Dean to take even a neutral position would be to expose himself to the wrath of the preponderance of the MSM and the academic community who comprise the more vocal segment of the left.

From Inwood said...

This Academic Grievance Industry reminds me or the perpetually aggrieved GEICO Caveman, except that it’s not funny at all.

I do not have enough facts to judge fairly either of Prof Althouse’s situations as relayed in her NYTimes article, but I will give my thoughts on what I suspect is afoot here.


If a law firm wants to puff about the fairness and compassion present in its DNA, great. So if its forefathers (and mothers) worked on the Scottsboro Boys cases, Sacco-Vanzetti, and the case of a Holocaust survivor in her dispute with an art collector, go for it.

But if the firm tells its Scottsboro story to Black candidates only, the Sacco story to Italian candidates only, and the Holocaust art story to Jewish candidates only, I think that we have entered the world of selective racist/ethnic pandering, and the firm should not be shocked, shocked, that an intelligent Black, Jew, or Italian calls them on it. This is what Tom Sowell & Shelby Steel have argued: Stop patronizing members of our race under the guise of affirmative action; you’re really saying that we do not match up, but you love us just the same.

I can see members of law firms reacting exactly as Talia Shire’s GEICO shrink by commenting on my analogy to Jews & Italians along the following incredulous lines: “But we wouldn’t tell a Jewish or Italian candidate such a story. Well, we just wouldn’t.” Indeed. QED.


First, why when a minority claims victimization do academics change their absolutist stance on (a) free speech, (b) innocent until proven guilty, & (c) let’s get all the facts straight before we make a judgment?

I know the answer, arising out of political correctness & CYA, as explained by Willis, but can’t we have the perp, er the prof, appear before some official hearing board at the college, under some reasonable procedural rules, including the right to counsel & including especially the presumption of innocence & a conviction only if there were no reasonable doubt? And can’t this board not be run by the “pot bangers” (as K. C. Johnson calls ‘em at Duke)?

At this hearing, the prof, with the advice of counsel, could then repeat what he had said or what he thought he had said based on his notes & best recollection, followed by all the attendees at his lecture relating what they heard him say or what they thought they heard him say. All could be cross examined. If the lecture were recorded, hey, I’ll waive any violation of law & let the recording in for truth’s sake! This college board could then make a determination as to what it thinks was said & render a judgment. The college community & the world could then judge after having made up their own respective alleged minds. (And some can then bang pots, I suppose.)


And no one should judge these race/ethnic grievances selectively. For instance, if an Italian objects to what he sees as a stereotypically derogative presentation of Italians in The Godfather by the Film Course prof, then don’t dismiss his claim while at the same time signing on the petition of a Black student to stop showing Birth of A Nation for parallel reasons.

BTW, there’s that image of Talia/shrink again, now saying “But Italians would not object to a showing of The Godfather!”

Finally, since none of this reasonableness will happen, no college should pretend that it stands for Academic Freedom if it won’t defend all of its reasonable profs. And, yes, the term “reasonable” is difficult to pin down, but that’s why college administrators, including the CEOs, especially the CEOs get the big bucks. The money is for their judgment. Clerks can be hired for much less.

And, yes, college CEOs should even be able to determine the reasonableness of an “excited utterance”.

Mpeterson said...

Maybe this remark is a bit too high context for blogging, but do they not require lawyers to read Gulliver's Travels anymore?