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CU Denver blames article for “racist attacks,” threats against professor

The University of Colorado Denver says one of its professors was the subject of “racist attacks and violent threats” following the publication earlier this year of an article titled “‘American Political Thought’ course at CU Denver removes all white men from curriculum.”

A building on the University of ...

Denver Post file

The University of Colorado Denver campus.

The article was published in March by The College Fix, an outlet that carries conservative news and commentary reported by students at schools across the country. It was written by then-student Ahnaf Kalam, who graduated from CU Denver in the spring.

“The contents of the article were reproduced locally and nationally by other right-wing and white supremacist media outlets,” CU Denver’s Department of Political Science said in a statement defending assistant professor Chad Shomura’s academic freedom.

“The personal attacks and death threats against Dr. Shomura, that were incited directly by this defamatory article, are a violation of his fundamental human rights, and violated the basic principles of academic freedom for professors and for the departments in which they hold faculty appointments.”

Shomura could not be reached for comment Thursday.

In his article, Kalam said he took Shomura’s “American Political Thought” class and was shocked to find it focused on marginalized American voices without including readings from the Founding Fathers, U.S. political leaders or any “Western Enlightenment thinkers.”

“Instead of coming away understanding the influence of, say, federalism and mercantilism in the American political system, students are endlessly reminded of the alleged racism, sexism and ethnocentrism that apparently runs rampant in American society,” Kalam wrote. “To pretend that this repackaged social justice class will equip students with those necessary foundations is a deep disservice to students and to the department.”

In an email briefing CU’s Board of Regents on the matter in March, university spokesman Ken McConnellogue explained the course was taught for decades with assigned readings emphasizing the “white, male canonical figures” such as James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Locke, Ronald Reagan and others.

In 2018, McConnellogue said, Shomura decided to teach it from the perspective of “traditionally more ignored thinkers,” including people of color, women and LGBTQ figures.

In its statement issued late last month, the CU Denver political science department said Kalam’s article prompted threats against Shomura.

“The attacks constitute another episode in a national and international campaign against educators, which is aimed at stifling public debate and curtailing academic freedom on university campuses,” CU Denver officials said. “Individuals engaging in racist attacks, and institutions allowing them in the interest of profit or ideology, ought to be held in contempt and resisted by all persons of integrity. They put the personal safety and the intellectual freedom of all of us, at risk.”

CU leadership has been grappling with how to address a nationwide nosedive in the favorability of higher education — particularly among conservatives.

Thirty-six percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said colleges and universities had a positive effect on the way things are going in the country, with 58% saying higher education had a negative impact on the nation, according to a 2017 Pew Research study. The Republicans’ support for higher education dropped 18 points in the past two years.

Among Democrats and those who lean left, 72% viewed universities as having a positive impact on the U.S., with 19% thinking the opposite.

Kalam responded to CU Denver’s statement Thursday in a Medium post, calling the “hideous, racist and threatening messages” Shomura received “unfortunate.” Kalam said the department’s claim that his article was an incitement to threats and harassment is “unequivocally and categorically false.”

“I demand an apology for such a serious charge,” Kalam wrote. “Receiving abuse and harassment on the internet as a public individual is part and parcel of today’s world. People literally get death threats on the internet because of their musical preferences or mode of dress these days. Hardly a solid foundation upon which you can play the victim in order to shield yourself from the criticisms stemming from the consequences of your own actions and ideologies — least not ideologies you wish to sell off to pragmatic, tuition-paying students as ‘American Political Thought.’ ”

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