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March 04, 2007
HERE'S A STATEMENT ON FREE SPEECH AT WISCONSIN:
The Committee for Academic Freedom and Rights at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has followed with deepening concern the process and news coverage surrounding the accusations by some students against Professor Leonard Kaplan of the Law School. Given that Professor Kaplan has not publicly commented on what he said in class, we refrain from commenting on any other details of the case at this time. That said, it is important to comment on a fundamental principle that is at the heart of the controversy. Namely, academic freedom.
There is a distinct possibility that the emotion and pressures surrounding this case—especially after the public meeting at the law school the evening of March 1—will have a chilling effect on honest and good faith discussion of racial and cultural issues in class and on campus. While good teaching requires that students be treated with respect, undue sensitivity and fear of accusations can cause professors and instructors to steer clear of controversy or uncomfortable truths that need to be discussed and faced if we are to improve as a society. Such pursuit of truth is the university's special charter and reason for existence. . . . There is a fundamental distinction between causing offense gratuitously and invidiously, and causing offense as the by-product of the fair-minded pursuit of truth or constructive criticism. A university of the caliber of UW-Madison, with its long history and tradition of protecting academic freedom in the "fearless sifting and winnowing of ideas" for the pursuit of truth, must take this distinction seriously.
Follow the link for the full statement.