Tuesday, March 13, 2007

jumping to conclusion

The Kaplan story at UW-Madison is mercifully now in its denouement. Statements have been released by UW's chancellor and by almost all of the senior law faculty (including Kaplan himself). These seem like they will be good for helping move the issue out of the news and toward, to use the ubiquitious metaphor for such things, healing tensions at UW. As a social psychologist, the statements are interesting because they invoke the timehonored (and experimentally affirmed) strategy for reducing intergroup conflict--find a common enemy. In this case, the claim of common cause is against the media and other outsiders who are presented as having inflamed or distorted matters.

Meanwhile, the Wisconsin State Journal has published a concluding editorial that is basically consistent with my own opinion:
Exactly what Kaplan said or didn't say remains in dispute. But there is overwhelming evidence, including reports from other students in the class, that he was making a valuable point about how the law can be an obstacle, rather than an aid, to displaced ethnic groups, such as the Hmong in Wisconsin.

His discussion included references to Hmong culture and the effects of being a displaced minority, which offended some students. His criticism, however, was aimed at the failures of government and the law to accommodate Hmong people.

It would be unproductive to tell any students in his class that because Kaplan was well-intentioned, they should not have been offended. They feel what they feel, and their feeling should be respected.

But the rest of us have been called to make a judgment on Kaplan, a public employee at our state university. Is he a bigot? Should he be disciplined?

The answer to both questions ought to be unequivocally "No."

There are lessons in the incident for everyone.

First, the reaction to Kaplan's remarks supports his point. It illustrates the frustration Hmong people feel because the rest of us have failed to give them the accommodation and respect they deserve.

Second, we all ought to consider our freedom to discuss controversial issues, particularly in academia. If our professors become afraid of an inquisition over a phrase taken out of context or a discussion misinterpreted, how shallow will our university be?

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Liberal nonsense.
Less "government", more church groups, community interaction, and private outreach efforts in the places where Hmongs have settled and are being respectfully integrated in northern Wisconsin.

How many immigrants, or displaced ethnic groups wish to be in better places at first? Jamaicans in Wisconsin, farmers working in factories, etc. How does an outsider blaming the government help the Hmong students learn law?

Anonymous said...

"...where Hmongs have settled and are being respectfully integrated in northern Wisconsin."

There are communities where this is successully happening, btw. And those were the ones most hurt by the professor's generalizations, I think.

Matt B said...

"His discussion included references to Hmong culture and the effects of being a displaced minority, which offended some students. It would be unproductive to tell any students in his class that...they should not have been offended. They feel what they feel, and their feeling should be respected."

What the heck does that mean? Are all feelings inherently valid? Is is no longer possible to misinterpret things and arrive at the wrong conclusion?

Kaplan probably feels that he did nothing wrong. Are his feelings equally valid? So we should accept both sets of feelings, even though they might be diametrically opposed. I don't see what that accomplishes.

Anonymous said...

"almost all of the senior law faculty..."

Neither Althouse nor Camic signed. I can think of many benign reasons for this (travel schedules being one), so I'm not inferring anything about their positions on the issue. It just caught my eye.

jeremy said...

Nina is not senior law faculty, by their definition.

jeremy said...

Ann linked to the statement in a way that made clear that she refused to sign, although she didn't explain why she didn't sign. It's not obvious to me given her other statements online what she would object to.

nina said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
nina said...

Too many typos. Let me try again: I did sign and I am actually, remarkably, considered senior faculty, even though I am on a non-tenure track so I do not have the protection the others do. My name did not initially appear because I was traveling and they gave us all of two hours to agree to be on the list. The updated list is posted on the law school website and it has many names that were missed the first time around. Ann did not sign as she did not agree with the language of the letter

jeremy said...

Oops, sorry about the confusion. I'm not sure where it was that I saw something saying that "senior faculty" meant "tenured faculty," but that's why I had thought that was the issue.