A University of Wisconsin law professor is under scrutiny for comments he allegedly made in a Feb. 15 lecture about the Hmong community.
According to an e-mail sent to several law and Hmong students obtained by The Badger Herald, professor Leonard Kaplan spoke for 10 minutes using "racist and inappropriate" comments.
The e-mail quoted Kaplan allegedly saying, "Hmong men have no talent other than to kill" and "All second-generation Hmong end up in gangs and other criminal activity."
Kaplan also allegedly said, "All Hmong men purchase their wives, so if he wants to have sex with his wife and she doesn't consent, you and I call it rape, but the Hmong guy is thinking 'man, I paid too much for her.'"
A group of concerned students held a meeting on campus Wednesday night to discuss the comments. When contacted, organizers of the forum and members of the class declined comment.
Ken Davis, dean of the UW Law School, said he received a letter from the students in the class and has since held meetings with the professor.
"I've talked at some length with Kaplan [and] made it clear to him that [his comments were] inconsistent with my expectations to handle the core values and commitment we have to diversity," Davis said. "I think he gets that message."
Kaplan, a tenured professor who joined the UW Law School faculty in 1974, did not return phone calls seeking comment as of press time.
According to UW pharmacy student Qoua Her, who is Hmong, called Kaplan's comments a "clear symbol" of the cultural and historical ignorance throughout the university.
"Ignorance exists everywhere," she said.
Davis said Kaplan has shown remorse for his comments, which were made during a legal discussion about formalism and minorities.
"I think he's more than remorseful," Davis said. "Once he heard about student complaints, he really apologized and took the initiative and made it very apparent (he would like) to be involved to rectify the anger and pain that has resulted."
In light of the murder of a Hmong hunter in northern Wisconsin earlier this year, Davis said there is a "heightened edginess" surrounding the Hmong community.
"As one of the students said last night, it isn't about race — it's about ignorance," Davis said.
According to UW political science professor Donald Downs, depending on what context the comments were used and if they were pertinent to the class, they may be protected by UW's academic-freedom speech code.
"I would be shocked if he meant these words in a [derogatory] way — he's not that kind of guy," said Downs, the president of the Committee for Academic Freedom and Rights at UW. "Students are free to criticize and challenge, but let the marketplace of ideas handle it."
Downs added Kaplan is a "decent and fair man" and said he is known for his work with social-justice issues on campus.
If students were ever offended with any of his lectures, Downs said he would recommend they come to him personally to work through any issues.
"We have to be very careful. We want professors to speak with what they see as their truths," Downs said. "We're here to push the envelope. … Academic freedom has to be very strong and vibrant."