Tuesday, March 6, 2007
There is an unfortunate controversy occurring at the Wisconsin Law School. See here and here. Some students in a class have complained that the professor made offensive statements, including “Hmong men have no talent other than to kill” and “all second-generation Hmong end up in gangs and other criminal activity.” The professor, under advice of counsel, has not responded in detail except to deny making these statements. Some other students in the class also deny that these statements were made.
In the absence of the specific facts, it is hard to comment on this incident. But the issue does raise a more general question as to how a university should treat complaints from students that a professor was racially insensitive, used stereotypes, or said things they found insulting. While one can certainly imagine statements about race that are extreme and improper, the discussion of racially sensitive issues should be an important part of the law school curiculum. In order to foster that discussion, it is necessary that students and professors in the classroom have confidence that they will not be subject to discipline if some in the class find their statements offensive.