Yesterday, at the University of Wisconsin, the Committee for Academic Freedom and Rights released a statement on the recent imbroglio at the Law School over a professor’s provocative statements about the Hmong people. The Committee said that it was following the affair “with deepening concern” and that it was worried about the consequences for academic freedom.
There is a distinct possibility that the emotion and pressures surrounding this case—especially after the public meeting at the law school the evening of March 1—will have a chilling effect on honest and good faith discussion of racial and cultural issues in class and on campus.
The Committee also emphasized that Professor Kaplan made the statements with an educational aim in mind, and that such “provocative arguments” should be distinguished from statements that have no purpose other than to offend: “We fear … that the crucial distinction between gratuitous offense and provocative argument has been lost in the public furor over the Kaplan case.”
Finally, the Committee took the administration to task for its public statements so far:
We are dismayed at the Law School’s public response to this dispute, as it has addressed only the school’s commitment to sensitivity and diversity, while saying nothing about that institution’s fiduciary obligation to train minds to grapple with various sides of controversial and difficult issues.
It’s great to see that UW really means the “for” in Committee for Academic Freedom and Rights. It’s great to see, too, that the Committee is willing to criticize the administration’s behavior even as events are still unfolding. That’s vigorous institutional oversight!
Hat tip: Ann Althouse, who is a member of the Committee and who signed the statement.