ACADEMIC FREEDOM

White lawmakers want to pull funding from a college teaching “The Problem of Whiteness”

Of the factors contributing to Donald Trump’s presidential win, one particularly stands out: his fervent support from white America. Academics and political analysts have spent the weeks since Nov. 8 trying to pinpoint exactly how—and why—racial divides played such a significant role in this year’s US election.

Damon Sajnani, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has framed a semester-long course around those divides. He’s slated to teach a class next spring called “The Problem of Whiteness” that will explore “how race is experienced by white people” and how they “consciously and unconsciously perpetuate institutional racism.”

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Screenshot/UW-Madison

Despite not even having begun, the class—which is listed under the university’s African cultural studies department—is already steeped in controversy, with some taking issue with the implication that white people are racist.

Wisconsin Republican assemblyman David Murphy called it “garbage” that the state is funding Sajnani’s course at the public university. “UW-Madison must discontinue this class,” he said. “If UW-Madison stands with this professor, I don’t know how the University can expect the taxpayers to stand with UW-Madison.” Wisconsin state senator Steve Nass—who, like Murphy, is white—also demanded the school cancel the course and urged his fellow Republicans to use their budgetary control to “reform” the university.

The Republican state governor, Scott Walker, has not supported the calls to de-fund the university. “I could certainly as a citizen or as a father who pays part of my kids’ tuition roll my eyes and raise concerns about some of the classes,” Walker told the Wisconsin State Journal. “But our focus in the budget should be on overall performance and not individual classes.”

Some Wisconsinites have expressed support for the course: “Far too many white people believe they automatically deserve respect while they harbor a lack of respect for non-whites,” wrote in one Madison resident, who described himself as an “old white guy,” in a letter to a local newspaper. “Courses like this force people to think about what kind of humans they are.”

Democratic Wisconsin assemblyman Dana Wachs said the state “should be embracing that we have students and professors who are taking a hard look at the issues affecting our world.”

It’s likely the course will take place in the spring semester as scheduled. It’s equally likely the appropriateness of teaching such topics in US schools will continue to be challenged.

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