On Monday, University of Wisconsin law professor Leonard Kaplan finally broke his public silence. He issued a statement, in the form of a three-page letter to Law School Dean Ken Davis, refuting allegations that he went on a racist tirade during his legal process course.
It is high time Mr. Kaplan is heard from in this affair, and we are pleased with the content of his letter. If his account of the now-infamous Feb. 15 lecture is accurate — which we think it is — Mr. Kaplan has every reason to be upset, even infuriated, with the public outcry over his alleged remarks.
But instead of fighting fire with fire, Mr. Kaplan's letter is the mark of a compassionate man who, as he writes, "regret[s] the part that [his] own limitations played in contributing to" the controversy. To be sure, he does not apologize, and if his account — which has been effectively corroborated by other students in his class — is accurate, even the aforementioned statement of regret is not necessary.
We were delighted to see the professor describe, in tedious detail, exactly the points he was trying to illustrate in discussing the Hmong community. For example, he denied saying "Hmong men have no skills other than killing" and attributed the root of that misquotation to an observation that "Hmong men suffered from a loss of meaning as a result of their changed status in the United States." Although Mr. Kaplan said he did refer to Hmong men as "warriors," he claimed to have used that term to "express the status they held in Southeast Asia, not to suggest any inherent violent proclivities."
The past two weeks, Mr. Kaplan wrote, have been a "very painful" time for him, and understandably so. While we think it would have been in both the public's and Mr. Kaplan's best interest to release this letter much sooner, his delay has provided us all with an interesting glimpse into how quickly allegations — which now appear to be unsubstantiated — can be blown out of proportion when a few opportunistic people see a chance to push their own agenda.
When a Badger Herald reporter sought comment Monday from the students who have led the charge against Mr. Kaplan, UW student Kanha Vuong, who was present at the Feb. 15 lecture, responded with just a six-word e-mail, saying, "We are disappointed in his response." Meanwhile, UW student KaShia Moua, who first circulated the complaints via e-mail but was not in Mr. Kaplan's lecture, declined comment altogether.
As we wrote last week, it is incredibly difficult for anyone who was not in attendance at Mr. Kaplan's Feb. 15 lecture to find the truth; it's the classic "he said, she said" scenario. That being said, we believe Mr. Kaplan. That is not to suggest these students acted maliciously — only irresponsibly.
If we are right, Ms. Vuong's statement is woefully insufficient — not to mention inherently ironic — and if she and her fellow detractors want to do the right thing, they should meet and seriously consider issuing a public apology to Mr. Kaplan. Such an apology seems particularly appropriate for those students, most notably Ms. Moua, who acted only on second-hand information.
Regardless of the outcome, we do take solace in the fact Mr. Kaplan's employment was never seriously called into question. Additionally, while a disturbing number of individuals exhibited a galling willingness to reach hasty, damning conclusions, UW's Committee for Academic Freedom and Rights released an articulate, well-reasoned defense of academic freedom, a value under continual threat here at UW and other campuses across the country.
So, while Mr. Kaplan's account must be taken for what it is — an account — it does seem exceedingly plausible, given the context of the situation. Hopefully, Kaplan's letter will be the start of the end to this sordid affair, so we can all move on with a renewed understanding of what can happen when we throw to the wayside values we ought to cherish.