The Problem of Whiteness meets the Problem with the Witless

It seems that Rep. David Murphy, who chairs the state’s committee on colleges and universities despite never having graduated from one, came out swinging against a course titled “The Problem of Whiteness.” This class is taught at UW-Madison, is an elective and is taught by professor Damon Sajnani, who has a Ph.D. in African-American studies from Northwestern. Murphy found the class – an elective, mind you – to be so disturbing he called for the entire UW System’s funding request to be yanked unless the class was cancelled:

 Murphy, who is chairman of the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities, said he and his staff looked at “The Problem of Whiteness” course description for the spring semester, as well as the background of its teacher, Assistant Professor Damon Sajnani. He concluded: “We are adding to the polarization of the races in our state.”




Murphy said he had been “trying to talk up” to fellow lawmakers increased funding for the UW System in the next state budget but was now having doubts.

“If UW-Madison stands with this professor,” Murphy wrote, “I don’t know how the university can expect the taxpayers to stand with UW-Madison.”


This is the textbook definition of bullying and a shakedown. The university system contains 26 campuses, 180,000 students, 40,000 faculty and contributes nearly $6 billion annually to the state and Murphy wants to hold it hostage over ONE COURSE. He has also demanded that Sajnani be “dismissed.” Keep in mind, he never took the course, never read the texts associated with the course and never received a complaint about the course. He just basically decided to screw with the university because he can. We’re about a millimeter away from Murphy saying, “Nice budget you gots here… Shame if somethin’ were to happen to it…”


Murphy didn’t stop with just this one course, however, noting that he was going to have his staff check into ALL classes at UW-Madison to make sure “they’re legit.”

Asked what he and his staff would be looking for in courses, Murphy said they would not need to look at disciplines like chemistry or business, but “we’ll be looking at the humanities. I realize college is a place to discuss ideas that aren’t necessarily everybody’s idea of how things ought to be, but I want to make sure there’s legitimate education going on.”


This would be hysterical if it Murphy didn’t have actual power over state resources. Let’s review a few things:

  1. Murphy never graduated from college. He couldn’t even finish a degree at UW-Fox Valley, a two-year school in the system. He spent his life in agri-business and as a real estate guy. How, exactly, would he know if the courses were “legit” or not? What level of expertise does he bring to the table that would indicate his life and educational experience will allow him to sniff out all these potentially illegitimate courses? That would be like me walking around the surgical wing at the Mayo Clinic and checking up on all those brain surgeries to make sure they’re being done right.
  2. The professor he attacked at this point is an international scholar. Sajnani hails from Canada, where he not only received a bachelor’s and master’s degree, but he also is an accomplished member of the hip-hop community. For all the shit legislators give people about not getting “real world” experience in an area of interest, this guy has walked the walk in various aspects of life. His Ph.D. comes from Northwestern and he’s been a fellow at Harvard based on his research. So exactly how would he be unqualified a) teach this course and b) contribute to this university?
  3. Does Murphy realize he just backed the state into a corner with his stupidity? Let’s say for the sake of argument, the state wants to fund some, but not all of this UW System request. Anyone with a good PR person (read: anyone but Murphy) would immediately pounce on this and say, “Look, we got cut because Dave Murphy is trying to undermine academic freedom at our flagship university!” Regardless of how often he denies it, the case can be made that he threatened the budget if the course wasn’t cut, the U has not (and will not) cut the course and now the budget got cut.


This isn’t the first time the state has threatened the system’s budget. A few years back it was Steve Nass, who holds two degrees from UW-Whitewater and somehow thinks he made it in life despite that, took on the system over courses. He and several other Republicans killed a budget request when it created an overblown shit fit about an alleged $1 billion systemwide surplus.

Usually what happens is, the regents ask for money for faculty raises or improved facilities and the Republicans find something to get outraged about. It’s not a case of actual outrage, but they do a good job of making people really upset about these greedy, liberal (probably all gay drug using) professors in their ivory towers who don’t understand reality. Thus, they cut the budget, hold it out as a pride point and continue to divide the state between the “haves” and “have nots,” all as they do very little for either group.

4 thoughts on “The Problem of Whiteness meets the Problem with the Witless

  1. And I would agree with you completely, if you would similarly defend a course (just one elective course!) entitled “The Problem of Blackness.”

    1. You comment is a pretty good example of exactly what Doc is talking about. YOu are obviously completely ignorant of the fact that “The Problem of Blackness” is precisely the same course as “The Problem of Whiteness”.

      You are speaking out of ignorance of the purpose of the course and judging the content of the class with only how you interpret the course title. The problem of Whiteness is that it only exists to contrast with Blackness, Brownness, or any other racial or ethnic construct you can hold up. If you want a more detailed dive into the Problem of Blackness I recommend the entire course of scholarship devoted to Black Studies, Or, if you are daunted by the millions of volumes dedicated to that topic, try the real-time updates on the “Problem of Blackness” you get from turning on the news.

      I know this comment is shouting into the wind: a person willing to say something so revealing of their ignorance and anti-intellectualism will not even understand what I am saying here (HA!! Them libruls will never be able to respond to my clever counter argument that there be classes about Blacks being a problem!). I will encourage you, however, to really set your mind to puzzling out exactly why persons like Murphy and yourself think that a class that discusses the advantages of passing as authentically White is such a problem. Who knows, maybe you will develop a sense of empathy.

      1. Hey! “Both sides do it!!” And this brain-dead meme is why this country is where it is right now …facts/truth have become a scarce commodity. Wingers want to take us back to the 1890’s, and it would appear we are on course.

  2. Republicans probably see any decrease in state funding for state universities as a win (Shouldn’t education all be done by private enterprise? Charter schools and private colleges? And paid for by the student?)
    Let’s hope the UW regents and leadership won’t cave in to this blatant effort at censorship undermining academic freedom.

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