In the past few weeks, I have posted a few things (see here and here) about the unfolding battle in Wisconsin over academic freedom that was sparked by Kevin Barrett's suggestion on a radio talk show that 9/11 was an inside job (Barrett is an adjunct instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison). On Tuesday The New York Times ran a piece on Barrett which contained the following (see here):
Mr. Barrett, a co-founder of a group called Muslim-Jewish-Christian Alliance for 9/11 Truth, argued that he had never presented his personal opinions in class and that he was free to offer those opinions on his own time outside the classroom.
Some of you may recall that I made the following observations in one of my earlier posts:
The main problem with this line of reasoning is that Barrett's course--which is entitled, "Islam: Religion and Culture"--will focus on "the history of Islam, the Koran and the faith's effect on modern-day U.S. society." Absent seeing the syllabus for the course, why would anyone think he would be teaching the students his views concerning 9/11? After all, Barrett never said he was going to teaching his views about 9/11 in the classroom at all--his comments were made during a radio talk show and they were about his personal beliefs.
It appears the good lawmakers of Wisconsin are operating under the following assumptions: (1) If P says x in public, then clearly P will teach x to her students. (2) If most people believe x is false and P is going to be teaching x to her students, P ought to be fired. The unfolding debate seems to focus on the merits of (2)--which is pretty bad as far as it goes--but we need to be focusing on (1) instead. After all, absent evidence that Barrett will be teaching his students his views concerning 9/11--we have no way of evaluating the merits of the argument the legislators have put forward.
It appears that either Barrett is lying (something only his students are in the position to know--hopefully, they will step forward to defend him) or we finally have the evidence we need to reject the Wisconsin lawmakers' argument for firing Barrett.
They want to fire Barrett not for what he does inside the classroom but rather for what he says outside the classroom. This is not just an encroachment on academic freedom--it is something else entirely. It amounts to an attempt to have someone fired merely for speaking his mind in public concerning beliefs that those in power happen not to share--all in the name of protecting the impressionable young minds of college-aged 'children' in Wisconsin.
It appears that the good people of Wisconsin really need to be protected from the authoritarianism of the politicians they have elected. Perhaps they will decide that there are other people in Wisconsin who are are more deserving of a pink-slip than Barrett. Rep. Steve Nass would be a good start.