Friday, March 02, 2007

Multiculturalism eats its elders

There is quite the dust-up at the University of Wisconsin Law School over remarks by a professor concerning the difficulties of fashioning law in a multicultural society (or, more accurately, in a way that honors the presumptions of political multiculturalism). Professor Leonard Kaplan referred to a series of stereotypes about Hmong people and, although its not clear from news reports precisely what he said, at least one student took his remarks to mean that he believed that the stereotypes were "true" and sent an e-mail around that has brought all manner of grief. Students who were not in his class claim that they cannot go to class and cannot sleep. There has been a bombardment of apologies.

What did the professor really say? What did he mean? If not the sweeping remarks that were reported, did he say anything about cultural differences that was - in any sense - true? None of that matters because, in suggesting - whether he agreed or not - that Hmong culture differs in ways that may not be admirable, he has violated the first principle of campus multiculturalism. You can never remark upon anything that might bear unfavorably on a historically disfavored - and, therefore, now favored - group. If you do, no response on the part of those who have been harmed is too hysterical and no quantum of apology is adequate.

What is ironic is that Kaplan may have felt himself to be acting in accordance with multicultural practice, arguing that cultural differences must be identified and respected, even if they are products of poverty or a lack of education.

But in turning multiculturalism into a faith rather than a reasoned perspective, can we really be surprised that students react emotionally to what they perceive (even incorrectly) as blasphemy?

9 comments:

Whirl-Away said...

According to JS, it's Kaplan not Cohen.

Rick Esenberg said...

And they would be right.I had Leonard Cohen on my i-pod and, apparently, my mind.

Dad29 said...

So exactly how do we reconcile the non-Judaeo/Christian belief-systems with a decidedly Judaeo/Christian legal system?

B-16 appeals to Natural Law (properly understood) in dealing with the Muslims, (who are heretics, but at least have a J/C grounding.)

For Hindus and Buddhists, it's not so easy.

The word "culture" IS derived from "cult," after all. Kaplan may have referred to these divisions, meaning that he's perfectly correct in questioning the viability of establishing common law.

Anonymous said...

"You can never remark upon anything that might bear unfavorably on a historically disfavored - and, therefore, now favored - group".

I've heard the gamut of comments regarding this incident - its about academic freedom, its about people in the land of the perpetually offended, its about students being too sensitive, its about lambasting a poor soul who is simply misunderstood. Now I'll add this rule of multiculralism to the list.

You know, if it makes people understand better I'll make this the rule - ITS ABOUT SENSITIVITY STUPID (all you clinton haters bash away). I don't care if it was about jews, polish people, blacks, gay and lesbians, or dumb people in academia - think about what you're saying. Use your judgment. And for crying out loud, have some awareness of how hurtful your comments are before blabbing away.

In the best light, what happened here was a utterly clumsy use of an academic tool (do we really need to hear the commentary that "hey, I paid too much for her [for not having sex with me, her husband?]. In the worst case, this was a professor who really believed this stuff and spewed it in class. We'll never know the truth of it. All we will know is what consequences it had.

On the affected students, it had a world full of hurt. Theirs wasn't a knee jerk reaction. They discussed it with their "elders" - the law school administration and the professor. However, it wasn't enough as they were looking for an apology and a clarification. No discipline and certainly not the circus they've been enduring.

On Kaplan, its undone a lifetime of scholarship and advocacy. Not something I would wish on him. This has put his name and face in a most unwelcomed light.

Who wins? Neither side really. And why? Because no one gets to tell another person "well i said something ugly about you, your momma, your family, and your identity, but really its all educational so thanks for offering yourself up for discussion".

As lawyers we tell our clients their choices have consequences. You don't drive drunk, kill someone and say, "but i'm a really nice person and would never willing do this so let me off". You don't throw a burning cigarette into a shrub, start a raging fire, and get to just say "oops". You don't play with a loaded gun, end up shooting someone and say "but i didn't kill anyone, the person was just in the way when it went off". So you know what, if you're a professor with the power to teach and influence and hurt with your words, you don't use hurtful words. You use that highly educated brain and highly paid mouth with better judgment and awareness. Isn't that what we expect of our lawyers, our associates and our students?

No one knows the true context of what happened because it was never explained. So lets not stretch for context in hindsight. Lets deal with what happened and learn the lessons from it.

jp said...

If Kaplan really said the things Moua compiled, it really does matter.

Billiam said...

Have we not raised at least one generation to be offended at every little thing? What a bunch of overly sensitive, over reactive sissies.

jp said...

It appears Kaplan’s own lawyer sees a potential harassment situation according to today’s 3-3-7 Journal.

Anonymous said...

Kaplan's lawyer may see a harassment suit (which the students have no plans or thought to filing). And the students see a potential defamation suit over their heads.

Terrence Berres said...

Marc Kornblatt writes in today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel of the Kaplan he knows. "Outspoken, passionate, intellectual and politically correct are words that come to mind when I think of him."