Butler University had to tone down the description of a planned course on “Trumpism and U.S. Democracy” after a recent firestorm. The university also defended the class, which will be offered in the fall of 2017, as something that “falls under the auspices of academic freedom.”
The Washington Post spotlighted the controversy in a Monday write-up, and it says the initial course description was rather blunt. Carlin Yoder, a former Republican state senator in Indiana (where Butler is located), tweeted a picture of the original text on May 2nd:
One of our proud Indiana institution’s offerings. Slightly outrageous pic.twitter.com/nrcEcfcYP8
— Carlin Yoder (@carlinyoder) May 2, 2017
You’ll notice the phrase “strategies for resistance” at the end there.
The conservative Heartland Institute, based in neighboring Illinois, picked up on Yoder’s Twitter post the following day, and boosted the “outrageous” labeling of the planned class.
Two days after Yoder’s Tweet, Butler’s provost, Kathryn Morris, issued a statement on the issue. She acknowledged that “the University has been the recipient of numerous concerns about the course. The concerns have been two-fold: perceptions that it takes a critical approach to the Trump presidency; and perceptions that it requires students to participate in resistance.”
Morris continued by emphasizing that “the former concern—that the course adopts a stance critical of Trump—is one that falls under the auspices of academic freedom. Just as I support this course, I would support a course that is complimentary of the President.”
The Butler provost added that “the latter concern—the perception that students are required to participate in activism—is more problematic.” She then revealed that “the professor has been very transparent about the goals of the course and has provided additional context that clarifies students in the class will not be required to participate in a particular form of activism.”
Morris’s statement also linked to the new course description for the “Trumpism and U.S. Democracy” class. The slanted “perpetuating sexism, white supremacy, xenophobia, nationalism, nativism, and imperialism” language has now been eliminated. This is what it says now:
This course offers a broad historical, political, and critical communication studies approach to understanding the rise of Donald Trump as a political and social phenomenon. The course draws from the widely circulated Trump Syllabi (per the Chronical of Higher Education and Public Books) crowd sourced by some of the nation’s leading scholars in American Political Science and history, demography, cultural studies, sociology, and more. The course will provide context and depth for student citizens as we look to historical and current texts by renowned authors as well as read excerpts from Trump’s own The Art of the Deal. Students will potentially attend, as participant observers, campus and community events to witness ongoing responses to Trump’s presidency and campaign. To instill disciplinary diversity, the course will invite faculty from across campus to guest lecture.
The Post‘s reporting only mentioned in passing that Ann Savage is the instructor for the course. However, it didn’t give anything about the professor’s background.
Back in August 2016, Butler University honored Professor Savage with a distinguished faculty award. A press release about the honor included a brief bio of the academician:
Savage’s dedication to bringing issues of gender and equality into the fore led to the development of the Presidential Commission on Gender Equity, which involves external review and consultant recommendations. In her discipline, she has served as the Director of the Gender Studies program, which grew from one to over 40 minors under her direction. She teaches in Critical Communication & Media Studies. She also led the development of Butler’s major in Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies.
It should come as no surprise, then, that a course being taught by a professor from such a politicized field as “gender studies” would have a bias in a leftward direction.
[image via screengrab]
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