A professor at the University of Wisconsion - Madison has been targeted in a letter from state lawmakers for his statements regarding 9/11. Professor Kevin Barrett, who is slated to teach a class on Islam this fall, apparently claimed on a talk show that 9/11 was a conspiracy by the U.S. government to justify war in the Middle East. The university provost, Pat Farrell, placed Barrett's Islam course under review after he made these statements, but ultimately found that Barrett was "a qualified instructor who can present his views as one perspective on the attacks" and that "his plan for the course appears to offer a sound learning experience for students interested in gaining a better understanding of Islam."
The Wisconsion legislature is not happy with the review, and has sent a letter signed by 61 lawmakers condemning the university's decision to let Barrett teach a class on Islam in the fall. The letter called Barrett's views "academically dishonest" and seems to be an attempt to strongarm the university into making certain decisions about its academic program.
My first response to this story is that this whole issue is SO not legislative business. Sure, it is a state school, but if you are going to send letters that to some extent threaten the university to do what you want, I think you need to get the judicial system behind it, not the legislature. At least the Assembly refused to take up a resolution calling on the university to fire Barrett - because again, not their call.
My second response to this story is why the hell do we keep going through this type of thing again and again? At this point we are talking about a college education, and every college professor I've ever known has held a position that was disputed by students and discussed at length - sometimes just to get kids to start thinking about their arguments and different ideas. As Farrell said in his review:
"We cannot allow political pressure from critics of unpopular ideas to inhibit the free exchange of ideas. That classroom interaction is central to this university's mission and to the expansion of knowledge. Silencing that exchange now would only open the door to more onerous and sweeping restrictions."
Bravo to the University of Wisconsion for making a sound, well thought out decision in an era of witch hunting and attempts to silence ideas that do not march with the status quo. Bravo.