UW professors challenge GOP attempts to ban critical race theory on college campuses

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- UW professors challenged Republican lawmakers' attempts to ban critical race theory on college campuses during an informational hearing at the Capitol Wednesday, Sept. 22.  

The Senate Higher Education Committee invited professors and experts from across the U.S. to share their views on the controversy over how race should be discussed in the classroom.  

It comes as Republican lawmakers are attempting to pass legislation to ban critical race theory (CRT) in K-12 schools, UW schools and technical colleges.  

Chris Rufa, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and an avid opponent of CRT, said the lessons are divisive and added it often associates white people as racists by linking them to their ancestors. 

"CRT theorists present their ideas not as one competing perspective as many, not even a truth, but as a political necessity," said Rufa. "Now what you have is many professors inspired by CRT are now treating the academic environment not as protected space to search for truth, but a protected space to push political activism." 

Dr. Frank King Jr., associate professor of ethnic studies at UW-Platteville, stressed to lawmakers lessons that center around critical race theory are rarely ever taught to undergraduate students with exceptions of law or graduate courses.  

"I can truly say CRT is not being taught at the undergraduate level," said King. "This is not because CRT is an idea that's not valid, but rather it is too advance for students at that stage of their academic careers." 

King, who said he teaches a majority of white students, also believes it's important to have conversations about the barriers people of color have faced over the years due to racism.  

"Our students need to have these conversations and develop critical thinking and communication skills, cultural awareness and a better understanding of power dynamics," said King. "I can confirm students' interest in these topics."  

Other UW professors defended the UW System's policies in place to provide oversight on what's being taught in the classroom, including extensive reviews of new courses, observations and reviews of teachers, and avenues where students can raise concerns about the curriculum.  

"When a new course is created it goes through a rigorous review process," said Dr. John Zumbrunnen, vice provost for teaching and learning at UW-Madison. "We value academic freedom and we take that incredibly serious, but we also hold one another to account for our teaching."

State Senator Roger Roth (R-Appleton), who held the informational hearing, said he doesn't expect the Senate to take up legislation to ban CRT when lawmakers return for session next week.  

After the hearing, Roth expressed concerns that the measure could face potential First Amendment challenges for vague terms tied to legislation.  

"What I was hearing in testimony today is there are constitutional issues too, we don't want to do anything to take away academic freedom or to take away First Amendment rights," said Roth. "To me, that was a big warning flag." 

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