Anti-Hmong Comments Set Off a Law School

Wisconsin dean apologizes for pain caused by professor's remarks, but says that intent was not to hurt.
February 26, 2007

The law school dean the University of Wisconsin at Madison sent an e-mail message to students and faculty members last week apologizing for the hurt caused by a professor's anti-Hmong comnents during a class lecture, while also saying that no harm had been intended by them.

"All of us in the Law School administration deeply regret this unfortunate course of events," wrote Kenneth Davis, the dean. He added that the professor involved, Leonard Kaplan, "feels deeply sorry that his classroom remarks have caused so much pain for some of his students." Of the law school more broadly, the dean said: "I can assure you that the school takes very seriously the professional conduct of our faculty, both in and out of the classroom. The Law School also takes very seriously our long-held core values of diversity, fairness, and respect for all."

“I want to be clear that this is not about dealing with controversial material because we do that all the time as a law school,” Davis wrote.  “We want to deal with that controversy critically and see if the students can make their own conclusions for it.”  

Kaplan's comments were made in a Legal Process course, in lecture on "legal formalism and its potential for adverse consequences to various ethnic minorities” according to the dean. (Kaplan declined to comment.)

According to e-mails circulating in the law school that officials have not contested, in the course of his lecture, Kaplan made comments such as "Hmong women are better off now that Hmong men are dying off in this country” and “all Hmong men purchase their wives, so if he wants to have sex with his wife and she doesn’t consent, you and I call it rape, but the Hmong guy is thinking, ‘man, I paid too much for her.” Kashia Moua, a law student who was present during the lecture, sent out an e-mail report about the class and that e-mail then spread, leading to a forum last week.

Moua’s e-mail called the professor's comments "incredibly offensive and racist" and urged the student body to "proceed in holding Kaplan and our administration accountable for these comments.”

Davis, the dean, noted in his e-mail that none of the students he had spoken with who had attended the lecture believed that the remarks "were motivated by animus or ill will toward any particular racial group.”  However, students agreed that “uniformed and disparaging racial stereotypes” resulted.

Donald Downs, political science professor and the president of the Committee for Academic Freedom and Rights at UW, is a colleague and friend of Kaplan’s and said that "based on what I know of him, I don’t think he would intentionally try to offend students on those types of categories -- he was just trying to portray a point of view.”


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