A Professor Wants to Teach ‘the Problems of Whiteness.’ A Lawmaker Calls the Class ‘Garbage.’

Cleve R. Wootson Jr., Washington Post, December 28, 2016

Every Wednesday next semester, the students in Damon Sajnani’s class will meet to discuss, in depth, the problems caused by white people.

But the title of the course — “The Problem of Whiteness” — and its description has the University of Wisconsin at Madison mired in controversy before students have cracked open a book or peeked at a syllabus.

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The class has injected the university into a decades-old debate about whether taxpayer-funded educational institutions have an obligation to tackle the important issues of the day — or to stay out of them altogether.

The class is taught in the African Studies Department of a university where 2 percent of the student population identifies as black and more than 75 percent are white.

The most vocal opponent of the course is David Murphy, a Wisconsin state assemblyman who expressed outrage last week that taxpayers “are expected to pay for this garbage.”

The legislator, who chairs the assembly’s committee on colleges and universities, took issue with what he calls the underlying premise of the class: “that white people are racist.”

His criticism comes with a not-so-veiled threat: “UW-Madison must discontinue this class. If UW-Madison stands with this professor, I don’t know how the University can expect the taxpayers to stand with UW-Madison.”

In a statement emailed to The Washington Post, Murphy (R) said the decision to approve the class makes him question the judgment of university leaders.

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Gov. Scott Walker (R) told the Wisconsin State Journal that he didn’t agree with Murphy’s call to withhold funding from the university if it doesn’t drop the class.

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Murphy takes issue not just with the class, but with Sajnani’s vocal public opinions. “Even more troubling, the course is taught by a self-described ‘international radical’ professor whose views are a slap in the face to the taxpayers.”

Murphy included copies of some of Sajnani’s tweets in his news release.

One tweet is a picture of a CNN breaking news report about police officers being shot in Dallas. “Is the uprising finally starting?” Sajnani said. “Is this style of protest gonna go viral?”

Another, from a few weeks later, is in response to former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder: “No @EricHolder it is not true that an attack on a police officer anywhere is an attack on all of us, since they DO NOT equally protect us all.”

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In a statement, the university defended the course and stressed that it was elective, not required, and that it was “not designed to offend individuals or single out an ethnic group.”

“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 university’s statement said. “The course is a challenge and response to racism of all kinds.”

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