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Two months before the start of the fall semester, one syllabus at the University of Wisconsin at Madison is getting a very thorough review.
Patrick Farrell, Wisconsin's provost, announced last week that he would review everything about the course "Islam: Religion and Culture," in light of comments made on a radio show by the instructor, Kevin Barrett. In his remarks, Barrett said that the United States planned the 9/11 attacks as a way to start a war in the Middle East. Barrett also indicated that he planned to share his views during the course this fall.
Barrett, a temporary instructor, received his Ph.D. from Madison in 2004 in African languages, literature and folklore. He has taught one other course at Madison, but it was not about Islam. Barrett is a founder of a group called the Muslim-Jewish-Christian Alliance for 9/11 Truth. On that group's Web site, he elaborates on the views that he discussed on the radio, writing, for example, about the "big lie" of 9/11 and of the "compelling evidence" that the attacks were "an inside job."
The comments set off politicians throughout the state, many of whom are calling on the university to immediately fire Barrett. In a typical statement, Wisconsin Rep. Steve Nass, a Republican, said: "This case isn’t about academic freedom. I firmly believe this is a case of protecting students from the academic garbage that Mr. Barrett spews." He added that Barrett is "free to stand on the street corner and advocate his nutty left-wing views. However, the taxpayers and tuition-paying families shouldn’t pay this man one cent to perform his voodoo in a UW classroom."
On the radio show and in an interview with a Wisconsin newspaper, Barrett said that he would share his views in class (noting that he would also share what he considers the official, whitewashed version of the events). Madison officials and educators elsewhere typically have an easier job defending the right of professors to espouse views that are widely seen as lies if those views aren't shared in class. Northwestern University, for example, has repeatedly resisted calls to fire Arthur R. Butz, an engineering professor who is a Holocaust denier, but who doesn't discuss the Holocaust in class.
In his announcement that Barrett's plans for the fall course would be reviewed, Farrell stressed the fact that Barrett had talked about views he would share in class. "Mr. Barrett is entitled to his own personal political views. But we also have an obligation to ensure that his course content is academically appropriate, of high quality, and that his personal views are not imposed on his students," Farrell said.
The review will include the planned syllabus, the reading list, and past teaching evaluations. Farrell said this review was appropriate to deal with "legitimate concerns about the content and quality of instruction."
Barrett did not respond to messages seeking his comment.