A Student of History

July 22, 2006

Testing the limits of academic free speech…

Filed under: The Academy — John Maass @ 8:31 pm

A teacher at the Univ. of Wisconsion-Madison is now under some scrutiny with the state assembly of Wisconsin for what he has said.  According to a CNN story, Kevin Barrett is set to teach a course this fall on Islam, but assemblymen are outraged that he has publicly stated his assertions that the US was behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

U.W.-Madison Provost Pat Farrell launched a review after Barrett spoke last month on a talk show about his views that the terrorist attacks were the result of a government conspiracy to spark war in the Middle East. After the review, Farrell said Barrett was a qualified instructor who can present his views as one perspective on the attacks.

Barrett says he thinks Vice President Dick Chenney was behind the orchestration of the attacks.  As is often the case, the legislatores are saying that this kind kind of thing is not to be tolerated at a school paid for by tax dollars.  But is this the line in the sand, whether or not state money is involved?  Does this mean that if Barrett said this at a private college he would be OK, according to the state government?  I think Barrett’s idea is preposterous, but should he be fired for it?

Sounds like the case of Ward Churchill, who wrote that the people killed at the WTC on 9/11 were little Eichmanns, a key planner of the Holocaust during WWII.  But, Churchill’s job security is under fire due to credentials problems which surfaced after he came under intense media scrutiny in the wake of his remarks, not for the remarks themselves.  Here, in Wisc., Barrett seems to be under a barrage of legistlative criticism due to the content of his words.  It is a difference to be sure…I prefer to err on the side of letting people say what they want to, as academics, unless there’s a compelling reason to take a stand otherwise–like issues of safety, for instance. Or when the statements are so egregiously wrong and designed to be inflamatory, such as deniers of the Holocaust. 

At HNN, there are a number of columns/articles written by professors with an astounding lack of objectivity, opinion pieces masquarading as knowledgeable conclusions of an historical bent without any real pretense of the historians having sifted through evidence carefully, presenting all of it, and making a painstaking analysis.  (One particularly absurd example is here.) I say, let them show their inability to do objective, accurate historical analysis in full view of the public, so that readers may see what they are doing.  But don;t prevent them from doing it…..

1 Comment »

  1. I would say that if one were dealing with an informed, rational public, then by all means let such individuals have their ‘say’ and allow the people to make a judgment on the matter. But, alas, gone are the days when most (if not all) of the public are in fact informed and rational.

    Many people believe what they see and hear on the mass media or, as my mother used to opine, it has to be true because it was printed/broadcast etc. on a public forum. As well, the judgment would be made by many who are impressed by such things, that the individual is a ‘professor’ and therefore MUST know what he’s talking about! People who would immediately discount internet blogs and letters to the editor are more than willing to accept something blatantly insane if it appears in the Harvard Review or the New York Times no matter how baseless.

    The state of academia in this country is past awful. It is said – with validity – that the only place in which Marxist-Leninist philosophy still holds sway is the American University (and possibly the academic ivory towers of other nations as well). And while the cost of ‘education’ goes up and up, the results seem to continue to go down and down while our tax dollars supporting not only these institutions but college loans and various grants pay for the likes of the above ‘scholar’ whose reasoning powers are probably considerably below that of many young people unfortunate enough to fall into his incompetent hands.

    Freedom of expression – including speech – is guaranteed by the Constitution. However, there is NOTHING in the Constitution demanding that those who are ‘expressing themselves’ have a right to feed at the public trough – that is, be paid by our tax dollars. Furthermore, the administration of the school in which this individual ‘teaches’ – if one can use that word for this kind of mindless demogoguery – are failing their students, the parents and the taxpayers of Wisconsin. In fact, the greater blame is theirs for putting up with this garbage. I don’t think that the same ‘objectivity’ and ‘tolerance’ would be extended to a ‘professor’ who taught that blacks were inferior to whites, do you?

    Comment by Valerie Protopapas — January 16, 2007 @ 10:22 pm | Reply

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