Friday, August 04, 2006

UW Madison Has Been Trying to Shut Up Kevin Barrett

Via McBride’s Media Matters, the fact that the University of Wisconsin, Madison, which has stood up for the “academic freedom” of Lecturer Kevin Barrett to teach 9/11 U.S. government conspiracy theories in the classroom, has been trying to shut up his public statements.
MADISON, Wis. -- University of Wisconsin’s provost warned an instructor who believes the U.S. government orchestrated the Sept. 11 attacks to stop seeking publicity for his views, days after he defended the teacher’s right to free speech.

UW-Madison Provost Patrick Farrell also warned Kevin Barrett to stop associating himself with UW-Madison when he advocates his views. Otherwise, Farrell wrote in the July 20 letter, he would reconsider his decision to allow Barrett to teach a course on Islam this fall.

“In summary, if you continue to identify yourself with UW-Madison in your personal political messages or illustrate an inability to control your interest in publicity for your ideas, I would lose confidence . . . ,” he wrote in the letter, obtained by The Associated Press in an open records request.

The letter came 10 days after Farrell decided to retain Barrett as a part-time instructor for the fall semester course, “Islam: Religion and Culture,” despite calls to fire him.
As McBride points out, this whole business is bizarre. The university, which is quite willing to allow Barrett to spout fringe conspiracy theories inside the classroom, is trying to shut up his out of class statements.

Yet it is the former that relate to the quality of instruction students are getting. University bureaucrats are apparently more afraid of bad publicity in the public media than of lousy instruction given to their students.
Mike Mikalsen, an aide to Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, said Farrell’s letter “makes a mockery of his earlier statements” that he was committed to protecting Barrett’s ideas and may signal the school is looking for a way to fire him.

“It stuns me they would put that kind of threat in writing because they have set a standard that Barrett’s already broken,” he said, noting Barrett gave an interview on Fox News on Thursday morning. “He has not backed off one iota.”

Farrell said he wanted Barrett to know that he could reconsider his decision if he did not meet expectations. He said Barrett has “modestly made some efforts” to cut down on publicity.

“I was trying to be fairly careful to not inhibit his privilege of speaking freely,” he said. “My point was that he should be aware as he exercises those rights there may be a time when I have to rethink the assurances he has given me about his ability to separate his opinions from what happens in the classroom.”
Translation: “shut up or we are going to fire you.”

The University of Wisconsin-Madison was quite clearly incompetent in hiring Barrett. It was equivalent hiring a holocaust denier to teach Jewish history, or a flat-earther to teach geography.

But once they hired him, they insisted his academic freedom precluded firing him. If that was all there was to the story, fine. They refused to correct their blunder by infringing on academic freedom.

But this most recent news shows that they don’t really care that much about academic freedom. If they did, they would let Barrett speak freely outside the classroom.

Rather, it seems they blundered in hiring him, and then lacked the guts to cross liberal interest groups (and their own liberal faculty) by firing him. But then they also lacked the guts to tolerate his speaking freely in public venues.

In other words, they lacked the courage of their own incompetence.


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