Usually course catalogs are just a way for students to choose their classes, but this week a catalog from Butler University was the topic of a debate about freedom of speech all over the internet.
The private Indianapolis university found itself in the middle of a political firestorm because of a special topics course set for the fall: “Trumpism & U.S. Democracy.”
In the listing for the class, the course promised to discuss “strategies for resistance” and look into Trump’s rhetoric and policies that perpetuate “sexism, white supremacy, xenophobia, nationalism, nativism, and imperialism.” The listing also stated it would explore “how Trump’s rhetoric is contrary to the foundation of the U.S. democracy.”
The class had been in the course catalog for Butler University since April, but the Associated Press reported that a tweet from former Indiana state senator Carlin Yoder propelled a fresh batch of backlash this week.
Right-wing media outlets were quick to demonize the course, its instructor, and the school. One story characterized it as “outrageous” and “anti-Trump.” Many conservatives and Trump supporters sounded off on Twitter, with some alumni vowing to stop donations.
Others though felt that the class was warranted as a study of a political movement.
The school eventually issued a statement Thursday addressing what it saw as two key issues stemming from the course: criticism of Trump and required protesting.
Butler was quick to clarify that, when it comes to criticisms of Trump, the school has academic freedom, and “Butler should, and does, promote an environment of critical inquiry and engagement on controversial and unpopular topics.”
The university also clarified concerns that students would not be forced to join the resistance and that all students have a choice to engage in activism.
But still, because of the backlash, the course description was amended. Instead of listing Trump’s treatment of different minority groups, the descriptions starts with “understanding the rise of Donald Trump as a political and social phenomenon.” Instead of joining the resistance students will “potentially attend, as participant observers, campus and community events to witness ongoing responses to Trump’s presidency and campaign.”
Here’s the full description:
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 Chronicle 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.
And of course students will have to read Trump’s business book from the 1980s, The Art of the Deal, because what else did you expect?