Letter from Law School Dean Kenneth Davis
March 5, 2007
Note: The following is a February 22 letter written by UW Law School Dean Kenneth Davis to the law school community concerning the controversial classroom comments of law Professor Leonard Kaplan:
To the Law School Community,
By now, many of you may have heard reports of remarks by a professor in a class last Thursday that several of our students found deeply offensive. All of us in the Law School administration deeply regret this unfortunate course of events. I and others in the administration have met with students in the class, and we attended and spoke at a forum organized last night by some of our APALSA-SALSA students. Likewise, the Professor involved, Leonard Kaplan, has met at length with the students, and wants me to inform you that he stands ready to meet with any other students or groups who want to discuss his remarks. I know he feels deeply sorry that his classroom remarks have caused so much pain for some of his students.
It is not appropriate for me, in this message, to get into the details of these remarks or to assess blame. 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 can, however, offer some general comments, so that all of you can better understand what is going on. None of the students I have spoken with believe that Professor Kaplan’s remarks were motivated by animus or ill will toward any particular racial group. His purpose was to illustrate legal formalism and its potential for adverse consequences to various ethnic minorities by citing the Hmong experience in Wisconsin, based on his understanding of the academic research. From the students’ perspective, what resulted were uninformed and disparaging racial stereotypes.
Clearly, these events raise issues that extend beyond any particular professor or class. As present and future lawyers we have a strong voice on important policy discussions in our increasingly diverse society. It behooves all of us to take the time to adequately inform ourselves about the challenges and circumstances facing affected groups before we act or speak on what we might otherwise assume is true. And for those of us on the faculty, there is the challenge of both encouraging our students to think critically, including about beliefs they may hold close to heart – a particularly important skill for prospective lawyers – and assuring each and every student a learning environment in which he or she feels respected and empowered to succeed.
At Wisconsin, all of us – faculty, staff and students – take great pride in our shared sense of community. While there can be no denying that the events of the past week threaten those feelings for many, I am confident that we are strong enough to overcome them and to learn from them. I, for one, came away from last night’s forum full of pride about the thoughtful and sensitive way that our students have dealt with a matter that touched them so deeply.