Lawmakers Take Aim at Wisconsin’s ‘Problem of Whiteness’ Course

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By Heat Street Staff | 4:44 pm, December 21, 2016

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has come under fire for offering a spring semester class on the “problem of whiteness.” Now state lawmakers are getting involved.

Wisconsin State Rep. Dave Murphy, a Republican, has called on the university to cancel the class and fire its professor, Damon Sajnani, the author of a series of tweets that critics say amount to an endorsement of anti-police violence. This week, Murphy and fellow Republican Rep. Steve Nass warned that the university’s funding could be targeted as punishment if administrators fail to act.

“The state has a lot of different priorities when it comes to funding things,” Murphy said. “Is funding a course that’s about ‘The Problem of Whiteness’ … a high priority? I’ve got a feeling it’s not.”

University officials have defended the course, saying in a statement that (non-mandatory) class “will benefit students who are interested in developing a deeper understanding of race issues.”

The controversy has grown, however, since Murphy and others have drawn attention to the professor’s tweets. For example, on July 7, the night a shooting attack killed five police officers and injured several others, Sajnani wrote: “Is the uprising finally starting? Is this style of protest gonna go viral?”

That same night, Sajnani tweeted a link to the song “Officer Down,” and wrote: “This is the song I am currently enjoying in my head.”

Rep. Murphy said the university should fire Sajnani for the “vile” tweets, and suggested a failure to do so could result in funding cuts. “If UW-Madison stands with this professor, I don’t know how the university can expect the taxpayers to stand with UW-Madison,” he said.

The university responded to Rep. Murphy’s criticism in a statement, saying the school “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 a private citizen.”