12.7.06

OWNING HOCKEY IS GOOD. Owning a reputation for hiring moonbat faculty that distresses the editorial board of the (shall I take a play from the New York Times and describe it as the ultraliberal?) Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is not good.

Kevin Barrett should not be allowed to teach at the University of Wisconsin-Madison - and it's not because a large swath of the population finds his contention on who authored the 9-11 terrorist attacks odious.

He should be barred because academic freedom doesn't mean teachers get to teach fiction as fact - even in a university.

For that, please see the blogosphere or subscribe to Conspiracy Theory Monthly. In a classroom,
particularly one funded with tax dollars, the public should have a reasonable expectation that what's taught has fact and truth as foundation.

The snark at the competition notwithstanding, the editorial recognizes a fundamental difference between academic work, including teaching, and posting on a weblog. It's called peer review. The editors get it. Mr Barrett is doing for Middle Eastern Studies what Ward Churchill has been doing for Native American Studies.

The view that Americans - or Israel, for that matter - perpetrated the 9-11 attacks is very real in the Muslim world. A Pew Global Attitudes Project survey this year found Muslims believe that Arabs didn't carry out the attacks. Knowing this has value.

What doesn't have value is teaching something as patently false as the idea that the Bush administration purposely killed the 9-11 victims - even if it is taught with the word "probably" acting as convenient caveat. This is tantamount to teaching gravity probably doesn't exist or that up probably is down.

[Wisconsin provost Patrick] Farrell said, "We cannot allow political pressure from critics of unpopular ideas to inhibit the free exchange of ideas."

Agreed. But Farrell apparently failed to recognize the fundamental issue: standards - for what's taught and who's teaching.

The concluding paragraphs suggest they are particularly distressed both with the hire and the university's defense of the hire.

Not only should Barrett, after review, have not been allowed to teach this course, he shouldn't have been hired to do it in the first place. No freedom, including academic freedom, is absolute. There are limits.

We have many problems with how President Bush led this nation to war in Iraq, but making the leap that his administration murdered on 9-11 crosses a line.

Ouch. More evidence that the editors are angry takes the form of a guest column from an attorney who holds an adjunct appointment at Marquette.

Kevin Barrett, a University of Wisconsin-Madison lecturer who believes that the U.S. government carried out the 9-11 attacks, will get to include his "unconventional" theory as part of a class on
Islam.

Provost Patrick Farrell explains that this is all part of the "continual and fearless sifting and winnowing of ideas." Board of Regents President David Walsh lauded the decision, and Barrett called it "a great day for academic freedom and freedom of speech."

It is a new day, indeed, on campus. I look forward to the UW biology department hiring scholars who support the scientific claims of the intelligent design movement and former Harvard President Larry Summers' views (more accurately, suggestions) regarding the innate differences in mathematical ability between men and women.

The column is not tightly written; it manages to get in all sorts of digs at all sorts of people (including some Da Vinci Code references of which I hope to add more in the form of some book reviews.) That the editors chose to run it as a guest column rather than a letter to the editor suggests some generalized discontent with developments in Madison.

The continuing curricular follies at Wisconsin are not likely to provide even a curriculum that the women's and men's hockey teams can take pride in (to adapt a bit of sarcasm some of my Southern colleagues have applied to their sometimes state flagship campuses.)

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