Law or Freedom? Wisconsin Tries to Strike Again


According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Republican state legislators in Wisconsin “are threatening to pull any hope of more state funding unless a new course at UW-Madison called ‘The Problem of Whiteness’ is canceled.”

This, from a movement that claims to want more freedom and less law.

One legislator wants to go a step further, scouring “other university course offerings to make sure ‘they’re legit.'” He also wants the professor of the Whiteness course, Damon Sajnani, fired.

This is crazy, as my grandmother might say, ‘sixteen ways to Sunday.’ But I’m not going to address how this contravenes basic conservative tenets of ‘hands-off’ governance or that the legislator behind this seems to have been sparked to action by tweets concerning shootings of police. Nor will I address the academic value of the course, other than to say that, from my perspective as a student of American culture, it seems pretty solid.

I’m not even going to write about this as another sign of the corporate, neoliberal mindset that now controls most American universities. Shared governance is quickly disappearing and this is simply one more example of those who have power believing they are the best suited to wield it. Nor am I going to rant about how this, even simply broached, is a frontal attack on academic freedom.

Instead, I want to point out something Representative Dave Murphy said in relation to this matter, that he wants “to make sure there’s legitimate education going on” (emphasis mine).

And ask a question.

A graduate of the Wisconsin system, Murphy has been in the State Assembly since 2012 and is owner of the Inches Away Fitness Center. He has no background or experience as an educator.

How is he, as the owner of a gym and a legislator, in a position to pass on the legitimacy of any educational endeavor?  How have we gotten to the point where anyone and everyone seems to see themselves as arbiters of what education actually is?

7 thoughts on “Law or Freedom? Wisconsin Tries to Strike Again

  1. What ‘legitimates’ education is an interesting question. Is it decided by professional consensus. the judgment of individual professionals, or what the government chooses to measure?

  2. As a graduate student in the late 1960s, I had serious qualms about tenure — and then I got to watch the Illinois General Assembly in session and in full cry during “The US Troubles” of 1970. Colleges and universities, and especially high-profile “flag-ship” state universities need insulation from State government (sometimes desperately).

  3. Mr Barlow,
    You are just a simple journalist. What gives you any basis for opining on the matter of what is either good or bad for education? Your story is simply one more example of people who have no experience in educating defending an educational system teaching worthless drivel to students who don’t need it in order to make their way in life after graduating. And since it is tax dollars we are talking about, don’t the taxpayers, through their representatives, have a right to disagree with how their tax dollars are being spent? This “whiteness” class is just stupid. It allows moronic “professors” who apparently have nothing better to do because they are unable to do anything more than dress up their bizarre thinking with lexiconical blazons in order to convince the gullible and credulous and ingenuous that there is something worth learning when in actual fact the truth is the exact opposite. The whiteness course is a waste of time and your story is a waste of effort. Welcome to the new world.

    • Well, let’s see… I’ve taught 9th through 12th grades, undergraduates and graduate students… for a total of more than 20 years. My rank is Full Professor and teaching is my primary job.

      As to taxpayer rights, well, do you want taxpayer representatives deciding which operations can be performed at a public hospital?

      Finally, about the course: It raises questions that students can address as part of the process of learning to think and argue critically. It has room for research that is more than simply regurgitating what others have said on a topic. In other words, it is an excellent vehicle for student progress toward education.

      A note: calling a course “stupid” and a professor “moronic” says more about you than it does about your putative topic. It makes me think that you know no more about the class and the professor than you did about me when you wrote your comment.

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