State Rep. David Murphy, R-Greenville, is the latest in a line of state legislators to get his tighty whities in a bundle over a class going on over at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Murphy, who chairs the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities, is appalled that the UW-Madison is offering a course next semester called The Problem of Whiteness.
Murphy called the class “garbage” and alleged that its underlying premise was “that white people are racist.”
Murphy, who told The Washington Post that he supports academic freedom and free speech, has also said the professor who is to teach the class, Damon Sajnani, should be fired and that either UW should drop the class or the Legislature should reduce its funding.
That’s not exactly how we would define supporting academic freedom. It comes a lot closer, in our view, to supporting state-mandated censorship.
Professor Sajnani, who is a doctoral candidate in Northwestern University’s African American studies department, has published papers on the former president of the NAACP chapter in Spokane, Washington, who was outed as not being black, and has written about Canadian abolition and East African hip-hop, according to news reports.
The course description for The Problem of Whiteness says the course will explore “how race is experienced by white people” and will also examine how white people “consciously and unconsciously perpetuate institutional racism.”
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Murphy suggests the class is teaching racism, but that’s not how the university sees it.
The UW is standing by the course, saying in a statement “we believe this course, which is one of thousands offered at our university, will benefit students who are interested in developing a deeper understanding of race issues. The course is a challenge and response to racism of all kinds.”
That kind of discussion and thoughtful study is probably not a bad idea, given our country’s history of racial difficulties — from the days of slavery to the civil rights movement to recent turmoil over shooting of young black men by police officers in several cities.
Discussion and study can lead to understanding and, perhaps, solutions. That’s highly appropriate for a university to do.
That may be especially true on the UW-Madison campus, where the student body is 75 percent white and only 2 percent black; a campus that has had a spate of racial incidents in the past year; a campus that just had a highly publicized incident at its football stadium when a fan wore a Halloween costume featuring a noose around the neck of President Barack Obama.
Those issues need examination, and a course examining the roots of racism is a step toward finding resolution. Legislative censorship of such classes is not the answer. We would urge Rep. Murphy to reconsider.