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UW student alleging bias in political science prof's syllabus now expects class to be objective

UW student alleging bias in political science prof's syllabus now expects class to be objective

Ken Mayer


A University of Wisconsin-Madison student whose Facebook post alleging liberal bias by a political science professor went viral this week said that after attending two lectures, she doesn’t think the class will be slanted.

“I’m not concerned with the course itself being biased,” McKenna Collins told the Daily Cardinal on Thursday. "(Professor Ken Mayer) reassured me that my viewpoints, regardless of what they are, will be welcomed in the class.”

Collins' Facebook post Monday unleashed a national backlash against Mayer and landed her a spot on Fox News on Wednesday to air her complaint. 

Collins posted the first page of the syllabus for "The American Presidency," a class taught by Mayer, a well-respected instructor. In the syllabus, Mayer states that the presidency of Donald Trump offers a good opportunity to study the office “with a president who gleefully flouts the norm of governing and presidential behavior that have structured the office since George Washington.”

He adds: “To his supporters, this is not a bug, but a feature, and they rejoice in his contempt for what they insist is a corrupt D.C. establishment. If elites are against it, Trump’s supporters are for it.”

He devotes more words to Trump’s critics and the controversies clouding the presidency.

“To others, he is a spectacularly unqualified and catastrophically unfit egomaniac who poses an overt threat to the Republic,” Mayor writes, going on to describe Russian operatives working to help Trump’s campaign, several Trump campaign officials pleading guilty to “lying to the FBI or to other crimes,” Trump allegedly directing his attorney, Michael Cohen, to buy silence from women who said they had affairs with Trump, and Cohen’s lies over efforts during the campaign to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

“Other shoes are almost certain to drop, and evidence continues to emerge of ongoing contacts and engagement between Trump Campaign officials and Russian intelligence assets and government officials,” he writes.

He says he plans to teach the class, in part, in real time, leaving space in the schedule in case the report on Russian campaign interference from special counsel Robert Mueller is released during the semester.

McKenna Collins


In her Facebook post, Collins, a conservative student and former Miss Wisconsin, complained: “He didn’t even try to offer an opposing argument in favor of the President or explain why the President’s supporters actually support him.”

On Wednesday, Collins appeared on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, telling a national audience that she felt she would suffer repercussions for taking Mayer to task for what she perceived as his liberal bias.

“I’m sure that I would be penalized for that,” she said.

She also contended that a liberal bias permeates the university, forcing her and other students to compromise their views to achieve good grades.

“Students have messaged me and said that they have had to change their opinions just to get an A in a class,” she said, “so I’m certainly not the first person that this has happened to.”

The post also prompted a letter to Mayer Wednesday from state Rep. Dave Murphy, R-Greenville, chairman of the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities, in which Murphy said he was “appalled by your politically polarized characterization of the Trump presidency.”

“Placing hyper-partisan value judgments on contemporary actions of the president, as an introduction to a course in a syllabus, has a chilling effect on any future class discourse,” he wrote.

He called the course description a “slap in the face to the sort of academic rigor that should be a central focus at an institution such as UW-Madison.”

Murphy has previously taken the university to task for what he and other Republicans say is a liberal bias, blasting a course entitled “The Problem of Whiteness” and vowing to hunt for other course offerings that might be inappropriate, and pushing legislation to punish students who disrupt campus speakers, a response to disruptive protests of controversial conservative speakers.

Mayer didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.

On Friday, contact information for Mayer was removed from his profile on the political science department's website and he was removed from the UW Experts Database, which is often used by reporters seeking comment on specific subjects.

John Lucas, assistant vice chancellor for communications, said faculty listings are removed by request when media coverage can invite “angry or harassing, including vulgar or threatening language.”

He did not say whether Mayer was the target of such messages.

Crystal Potts, the university’s director of state relations, sent a response to Murphy’s office on Thursday defending Mayer.

“Ken Mayer is an award-winning instructor and presidential scholar who leaves his political opinions at the classroom door and asks his students to do the same,” she wrote. “At a time of perhaps unprecedented political polarization, he presents his students with the latest scholarly work on and contemporary readings about the presidency, seeks to provide students with the skills to put both conservative and liberal views into context, and encourages students to draw their own conclusions based on evidence and thoughtful debate.”

In a statement, the College Republicans of UW-Madison supported Mayer.

“Many of our executive board members have taken classes taught by Professor Mayer, and have found him to be an intellectually engaging professor that treats conservatives fairly,” reads the statement.

Although the statement claimed that some members of the group have encountered professors that discourage conservative viewpoints, “we do not believe Professor Mayer is such a professor.”

In an email to The Cap Times, Collins said that she thinks Mayer will conduct an unbiased class.

“While it is my expectation that the professor will practice the same objectivity he asks of his students this semester,” she said, “that does not excuse the fact that the language he used in the syllabus was biased and unprofessional.”

She said since she posted the syllabus, “Democrats and Republicans alike began reaching out to me with their support, rebuking the professor for the language he used.”

Collins has previously spoken out against what she sees as a liberal bias on campus, posting a Facebook Live talk in October in which she railed against the campus climate and complained about “evil glares” she got when she pulled out her laptop festooned with Trump stickers.

Collins, who is Catholic, also claimed to have “been offended more times than I can count on this campus because of my politics and my religion.”

Collins, whose resume includes an internship with former House Speaker Paul Ryan and a job as a reporter with WKOW TV, is a communications major who plans to eventually get a law degree. 

She said that her college and intern experience "has made it clear that my passion lies in communicating on behalf of those who feel their voices aren't being heard." 

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Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.

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