Defending free expression in the classroom and criticizing the backlash against University of Wisconsin law professor Leonard Kaplan, Chancellor John Wiley and senior faculty members of the UW Law School weighed in Saturday on the ongoing controversy surrounding the racist comments attributed to Kaplan by some of his students.

In separate statements released this weekend on the official UW news website, Wiley and 49 members of the UW Law School faculty, including Kaplan and Dean Ken Davis, expressed their dissatisfaction with the fallout from the controversy.

"The caricature of this incident as a beleaguered professor's right to free speech and a group of oversensitive students and their 'politically correct' allies is an insulting disservice to all involved," Wiley wrote in his statement. "Similarly it is insulting to say that this is an insensitive professor abusing his position by intimidating defenseless students."

The controversy erupted more than two weeks ago when several Hmong students circulated an e-mail accusing Kaplan of using "racist and inappropriate" remarks during a Feb. 15 lecture. The e-mail, obtained by The Badger Herald, quoted Kaplan as saying, "Hmong men have no talent other than to kill," and "All second-generation Hmong end up in gangs and other criminal activity," among other comments about Hmong men and women.

The controversy reached a peak during a March 1 forum on Hmong culture, where several students and Madison community members lashed out against Kaplan, who chose not to attend.

Kaplan has since sent a letter to Davis explaining his comments, writing, "The statements attributed to me … do not correctly reflect the statements I did make or my purposes in making them."

He went on to write that had he made the "hateful comments wrongly attributed" to him, he would have "repudiated them without hesitation."

"I did not make them," Kaplan wrote.

Calling free expression the "cornerstone of the University of Wisconsin-Madison," Wiley wrote the university would not act in a way to "chill" classroom discussion.

"[I]ntellectual integrity demands that we challenge ideas," Wiley wrote. "In a society where aspects of race and ethnicity are often misunderstood, we will not chill the honest discussion of these often-volatile issues, and others."

In their public statement, released the same day as Wiley's, the senior faculty of the UW Law School expressed their support for Kaplan, as well as their Hmong students, and criticized the backlash directed at the two parties at the center of the controversy.

"We believe in our Hmong students, and trust their sincerity and integrity. We also know our faculty colleague well, and trust in his integrity and good intentions," the statement read. "As senior members of the faculty, we are deeply saddened by the reputational damage done both to our students and to a respected member of our faculty."

Both Wiley and the senior faculty members criticized the "mass media and groups outside [the UW] community" for escalating the controversy.

"In this age of blogging, instant messaging, e-mail and talk radio, it's easy for isolated incidents to morph into international subjects of discussion for people who have limited knowledge of specific events or issues," Wiley wrote. "Although I appreciate legitimate public concerns over free speech and cultural understanding, uninformed accusations do not address real issues."

Neither Wiley nor the students who initially sent out the e-mail accusing Kaplan of making the remarks responded to interview requests with The Badger Herald as of press time.

However, in his statement, Wiley did note that he and Provost Patrick Farrell had met with "some of the Hmong students concerned about Kaplan's class."