Provost Review Clears Barrett to Teach Class on Islam
July 10, 2006
Following a thorough review, University of Wisconsin-Madison Provost Patrick Farrell today announced that lecturer Kevin Barrett will teach, as scheduled, a class titled “Islam: Religion and Culture.”
Barrett’s remarks regarding his theories on the events of Sept. 11 recently drew widespread attention and criticism.
As a result, Farrell, along with Gary Sandefur, dean of the College of Letters and Science, and Ellen Rafferty, chair of the department of languages and cultures of Asia, met with Barrett. They reviewed his course syllabus and reading materials and examined his past teaching evaluations.
“There is no question that Mr. Barrett holds personal opinions that many people find unconventional,” Farrell says. “These views are expected to take a small, but significant, role in the class. To the extent that his views are discussed, Mr. Barrett has assured me that students will be free – and encouraged – to challenge his viewpoint.”
Farrell says that Barrett told him that the semester-long course will spend a week examining current issues, including a brief discussion of various views on the war on terror. Barrett told Farrell that he plans to base the discussion on readings from authors representing a variety of viewpoints.
“I am satisfied that Mr. Barrett appreciates his responsibility as an instructor. I also believe that he will attempt to provide students with a classroom experience that respects and welcomes open dialogue on all topics,” Farrell says. “And I fully expect that the vast majority of his teaching will involve aspects of Islamic culture and religion wholly unrelated to his controversial views of the events of 9/11, which we know had a profound impact on the world and many members of our campus community.”
Farrell notes that a broader issue at play in the Barrett case is the UW-Madison’s long tradition of protecting classroom expression and encouraging students’ critical thinking by allowing analysis of even the most controversial ideas.
“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,” he says.
“It is in cases like this – difficult cases involving unconventional ideas – that we define our principles and determine our future,” Farrell adds. “Instead of restricting politically unpopular speech, we will take our cue from the bronze plaque in front of Bascom Hall that calls for the ‘continual and fearless sifting and winnowing’ of ideas.”
UW-Madison students, Farrell says, are fully capable of analyzing new, controversial and even unwelcome ideas.
“Our students are not blank slates. They are capable of exercising good judgment, critical analysis and speaking their minds,” Farrell says. “Instructors do not hand over knowledge wrapped up in neat packages. Knowledge grows from challenging ideas in a setting that encourages dialogue and disagreement. That’s what builds the kind of sophisticated, critical thinking we expect from our graduates.”
Campus officials also reviewed Barrett’s teaching record at UW-Madison.
“Although the university does not endorse Mr. Barrett’s political views or his theories regarding the events of 9/11, our review showed that he has a record of quality teaching, including as a teaching assistant in this class,” Farrell says. “His plan for the course appears to offer a sound learning experience for students interested in gaining a better understanding of Islam.”
Barrett has accepted a one-semester appointment as an associate lecturer, beginning on Aug. 28. This is a 50 percent appointment that has a salary of $8,247.
9-11 Flap Won’t Stop UW Lecturer
– Legislators blast university decision
By MEGAN TWOHEY
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
July 10, 2006
The University of Wisconsin-Madison announced Monday that it would keep Kevin Barrett as a part-time lecturer and allow him to teach a controversial theory on the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in spite of political pressure to dismiss him.
Barrett has come under fire in recent weeks for teaching that the Sept. 11 attacks were an inside job and for advocating the theory outside the classroom. Gov. Jim Doyle, U.S. Rep. Mark Green (R-Wis.) and several state legislators have called for his dismissal.
But after conducting a 10-day review of Barrett’s past teaching and his plans for a fall class on Islam, Provost Patrick Farrell determined that Barrett was fit to teach and that the alternative theory on 9-11 had a place in the classroom when taught along with other viewpoints.
Farrell said academic freedom demanded the decision and that it would have been a mistake for the university to succumb to outside pressure.
“We cannot allow political pressure from critics of unpopular ideas to inhibit the free exchange of ideas,” Farrell said in a written statement. “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.”
For his part, Barrett said he was “very pleased” by the decision. He said students in his fall course, “Islam: Religion and Culture,” would spend one week studying a variety of viewpoints on the 9-11 attacks, including the theory that “9-11 was probably an American operation to launch a war on Islam countries.” He said he would not tell his students that he subscribed to that theory nor would he penalize them for disagreeing with it.
While the decision drew cheers from the academic community, the UW System Board of Regents and the American Civil Liberties Union, the top leader in the state Assembly warned of severe damage to the university’s relationship with the Legislature.
Legislators have slammed the UW System in the past for being out of step with the public. Assembly Speaker John Gard (R-Peshtigo) said this decision would fuel that argument and hurt UW’s efforts to get more state support.
“People are going to be hurt and offended by this decision,” Gard said. “The university will lose friends. When they come back and ask for something else, people will say ‘You’ve shown your true colors, we’ve got other people who need help,’ and they’ll look away.”
Green, who is challenging Doyle for governor, has criticized the UW System throughout his campaign.
After learning of the university’s decision, he released a statement saying: “Mr. Barrett can dwell all he wants on the fringe left of society, but he should not be doing it under the banner of the University of Wisconsin. . . . Teaching students lies is not a Wisconsin value.”
Doyle was less critical.
“The governor thought that some of Mr. Barrett’s outrageous comments raised serious questions about the appropriateness of him teaching,” said Matt Canter, a Doyle spokesman. “But he recognizes that the university has legal authority to make their own personnel decisions.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, meanwhile, applauded Farrell’s decision, saying that “controversial speech, especially controversial political speech, deserves protection from government censorship.”
Mark Evenson, president of the Association of University of Wisconsin Professionals, an organization that represents faculty and staff throughout the UW System, said: “We are glad the administration is defending the principle of academic freedom and free exchange of ideas that we need on all the UW campuses.”
Board of Regents President David Walsh, who has defended Barrett, agreed. He complimented Farrell for “balancing the issues regarding academic freedom with the assurance that there will be open dialogue” in the classroom.
“It’s a great day for academic freedom and freedom of speech,” Barrett said.
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