INDIANAPOLIS — A private college in Vice President Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana is facing backlash after offering a “Trumpism & U.S. Democracy” course that described the president in class materials as a purveyor of “sexism, white supremacy, xenophobia, nationalism, nativism and imperialism.”
Now officials at Butler University in Indianapolis are doing damage control after conservative news outlets picked up on the description of the fall class, which also indicated students would discuss and “potentially engage” in “strategies for resistance” to President Donald Trump.
“As a result of the recent media coverage, the University has been the recipient of numerous concerns about the course,” Butler Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Kathryn Morris wrote in a letter posted to the school’s website. “Just as I support this course, I would support a course that is complimentary of the President. Butler offers a variety of courses that tackle controversial topics. Like any University, Butler should — and does — promote an environment of critical inquiry and engagement on controversial and unpopular topics.”
Campuses have been a hotbed of activism since Trump’s election. That includes efforts to block speeches by provocative figures tied to the alt-right, a fringe movement that helped propel Trump into office and uses internet memes, message boards and social media to spread a hodgepodge of racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny and xenophobia.
But Indiana has been comparatively placid. While students at Butler first started registering for fall classes last month, the course description – which has since been edited to remove the incendiary verbiage — received more attention after former Indiana state Sen. Carlin Yoder, a Republican, tweeted a photo of it Tuesday.
By Thursday, the university was receiving considerable criticism, including social media posts revealing a phone number and photos of the course’s instructor, Professor Ann Savage.
Savage did not reply to a request for comment. School officials said their remarks would be limited to statements posted on Butler’s website.
Conservatives suggest the course is yet another example of a perceived left-wing bias in academia, but some students apparently didn’t have the same concern: School records show the class is enrolled to capacity.
Hunter Butterworth, vice president of Butler’s College Republicans, called the class “ridiculous” and questioned whether school officials would have offered a similar course focused on resistance to former President Barack Obama. That said, Butterworth said he supports free speech and the school’s right to offer the class.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Butterworth, who will be a junior next year. “Obviously, most college campuses are known to have a left-wing or liberal bias.”
Butler is also not the first to offer a course examining Trump’s improbable rise. Prior to the election, Savannah State University in Georgia offered a Trump-focused class last summer that included studying Trump’s biography, reading excerpts from his best-seller “The Art of the Deal” and dissecting some of his more controversial proposals.
But that course did not emphasize resistance to Trump’s efforts.
Morris clarified in her letter that Butler, which has about 5,000 enrolled students, would not make it mandatory for any student “to participate in activism” if they enroll in the class.
“The professor has been very transparent about the goals of the course and has provided additional context that clarifies students in the class will not be required to participate in a particular form of activism,” she wrote. “They will be asked to engage with classic and contemporary readings — including a text by President Trump_and evaluate the rise of the President as a political and social phenomenon.”
But she added that students could “potentially attend, as participant observers, campus and community events to witness and analyze ongoing responses to Trump’s presidency and campaign.”