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Syllabus that calls Trump ‘catastrophically unfit’ will have ‘chilling effect’ in class, lawmaker says

Students who support Trump ‘will be encouraged to parrot liberal views’

State Rep. Dave Murphy, chair of the Wisconsin Assembly’s committee on colleges and universities, says he wants to protect the academic freedom of not only faculty, but also students.

That’s why he criticized a University of Wisconsin-Madison syllabus for a class on “The American Presidency,” which elaborates at length on how President Trump is “a spectacularly unqualified and catastrophically unfit egomaniac who poses an overt threat to the Republic.”

In a letter to Prof. Kenneth Mayer that he copied to at least 58 others, according to the Wisconsin State Journal, Murphy wrote that he was “appalled by your politically polarized characterization of the Trump presidency”:

I am a fierce advocate for academic freedom and it is your right to include such statements in your course syllabi; however, your choice to include such a statement cannot go without criticism and including it is a disservice to your students and the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Placing hyper-partisan value judgements [sic] on contemporary actions of the president, as an introduction to a course in a syllabus, has a chilling effect on any future class discourse. Students who identify as Trump supporters will be encouraged to parrot liberal views that you clearly sympathize with or remain silent in an attempt to mask their conservative opinions. Equally disappointing, students who may oppose President Trump will simply be affirmed in their beliefs and not encouraged to academically grow by examining current events through a new lens.

Mayer should not have narrowly focused on the Trump presidency in a course with a much broader title, the lawmaker continued, calling it a “bait and switch” that may lead students to drop the course.

He questioned the “academic rigor” of the course as described in the syllabus, comparing Mayer’s focus to teaching a class “during the Watergate scandal” that lacked “any of the historical record and perspective” on the presidency. Murphy encouraged Mayer to invite a Trump administration official to address his class as a “good faith effort to promote a healthy academic exchange of views on campus.”

The letter was copied to UW System President Ray Cross, UW-Madison Chancellor Rebeccca Blank, the full board of regents, Murphy’s Assembly committee, its parallel Senate committee and the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance, “which plays a key role in allocating money to public universities,” the Journal said.

The newspaper notes that even though Mayer alternately attributed views of Trump to “his supporters” and “to others,” he gave two lines for the former and 11 lines for the latter, suggesting where his sympathies lie.

MORE: Murphy says ‘Problem of Whiteness’ instructor condones anti-cop violence

In addition to praise from UW-Madison, which said Mayer adeptly navigates “a time of perhaps unprecedented political polarization” in his teaching, the professor received support from an unexpected source.

The College Republicans at UW-Madison released a statement defending Mayer, calling him “an intellectually engaging professor that treats conservatives fairly”:

In the past, Professor Mayer has openly criticized how the University of Wisconsin – Madison handled President Obama’s visit to campus due to its political nature and ties to the Obama campaign.

Our members have been exposed to university professors and courses where conservative viewpoints are discouraged and even unacceptable. Some students have even altered their viewpoints on assignments to better align with those of the professor to ensure higher grades in the course.

Even if Mayer’s syllabus conveys “a political opinion,” which would be wrong, “we believe that such criticism of professors should be reserved for cases in which students are clearly discriminated against for their political beliefs,” the club wrote: “Based on personal experiences with him, we do not believe Professor Mayer is such a professor.”

h/t The Chronicle of Higher Education

MORE: Presidency class syllabus calls Trump ‘catastrophically unfit egomaniac’

IMAGE: Evan El-Amin/Shutterstock

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