MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Scott Walker says a University of Wisconsin-Madison calls titled “The Problem is Whiteness,” is “goofy” and “unusual,” but he’s stopping short of saying it should put UW’s funding in jeopardy.
Walker’s comments came after two Republican state lawmakers threatened to pull funding for UW if the class wasn’’t canceled. Rep. Dave Murphy, of Greenville, and frequent UW critic Sen. Steve Nass, of Whitewater, said offering the class in the spring 2017 semester was inappropriate and a waste of taxpayer money.
The African Cultural Studies department was offering the class by assistant professor Damon Sajnani. The online course description says the class “aims to understand how whiteness is socially constructed and experienced in order to help dismantle white supremacy.”
Murphy, who chairs the Assembly’s Committee on Colleges and Universities, said in a statement that he was concerned that UW-Madison finds it appropriate to offer a class “with the premise that White people are racist.”
He said the university must drop the class and called for Murphy to be fired.
“If UW-Madison stands with this professor, I don’t know how the university can expect the taxpayers to stand with UW-Madison,” Murphy said.
Walker, when asked Wednesday if the university should drop the class, said “That’s up to them.” Walker said he did not think “the governor should be telling people what classes they should or should’’t have.”
He also refused to endorse the lawmakers’ call to cut university funding if it keeps the class, saying he’s focused on tying its state aid to performance.
Sajnani did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Wednesday. But on Twitter, in reaction to the news stories about the course, he tweeted, “White supremacist backlash claiming no need for my course proves the need for my course.”
Murphy on Tuesday cited Twitter messages by Sajnani posted after five Dallas police officers were killed by a sniper on July 7. In one message, Sajnani included a photo of the news coverage and wrote “Is the uprising finally starting? Is this style of protest gonna go viral?”
In another that same night, Sajnani tweeted a link to a song called “Officer Down” and wrote, “Watching CNN, this is the song I am currently enjoying in my head.”
UW-Madison Provost Sarah Mangelsdorf issued a statement Tuesday saying the university “supports the First Amendment rights of its students, faculty and staff, including their use of social media tools to express their views on race, politics or other topics, in their capacity as private citizens.”
She also said that inciting violence is not consistent with UW-Madison’s values, and called for all community members “to elevate their level of discourse and engage in civil and respectful discussion that promotes greater understanding and respect for all.”
UW-Madison spokeswoman Meredith McGlone said Wednesday that UW had no further comment at this point.