The University of New Hampshire is refusing to fire a tenured professor whose views on 9/11 have led many politicians in the state to demand his dismissal.
William Woodward, a professor of psychology, is among those academics who believe that U.S. leaders have lied about what they know about 9/11, and were involved in a conspiracy that led to the massive deaths on that day, setting the stage for the war with Iraq. The Union Leader, a New Hampshire newspaper, reported on Woodward's views on Sunday, and quoted him (accurately, he says) saying that he includes his views in some class sessions.
The newspaper then interviewed a who's who of New Hampshire Republican politicians calling for the university to fire Woodward. U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg is quoted as saying that "there are limitations to academic freedom and freedom of speech" and that "it is inappropriate for someone at a public university which is supported with taxpayer dollars to take positions that are generally an affront to the sensibility of most all Americans."
State legislators chimed in, demanding Woodward's dismissal and threatening to consider the issue when they next review the university's budget. In some respects, the political reactions mirror those in Wisconsin, where lawmakers lined up to urge the University of Wisconsin at Madison to fire Kevin Barrett, who shared Woodward's views and is an adjunct teaching in the fall semester. The university is letting Barrett's course go ahead, although as a non-tenured adjunct, he has no assurance of work after this semester.
While Wisconsin conducted a study before announcing that Barrett would be allowed to teach, the University of New Hampshire's reaction has been quick in backing its professor. There are no plans to take any action against Woodward and officials said it would be inappropriate to do so.
"What we're saying is that we support and are committed to academic freedom," said Kim Billings, a university spokeswoman. "We may not agree with Professor Woodward, but he is entitled to his opinion."
In an interview Monday, Woodward said that he was gratified by the support. He said that he mentions his views on 9/11 maybe once or twice in semester-long courses he teaches on political psychology and the psychology of race. He said that when he discusses his views, he makes clear to students that his views "are controversial" and that most people disagree. (Local press reports, quoting students of a variety of political views, back Woodward's summary of his class approach on the issue.)
A self-described "aging hippie," Woodward, 61, has taught at New Hampshire for 31 years. He said that he's never tried to hide his political views, and that he was active in protesting the Vietnam War. He said he's never before had politicians demanding that he be fired. "It's a little unsettling, but I am feeling empowered. I'm just one person -- and I'm gratified if anything I could do would bring the discussion out into the open."
In an e-mail, Roger Bowen, general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, had harsh words for New Hampshire politicians who are calling for Woodward to be fired.
"That some legislators apparently believe they have an obligation to criticize the content of faculty classroom instruction is of enormous concern to the AAUP. The U.S. Supreme Court has held repeatedly that academic freedom is a First Amendment right of professors and at least six federal appellate courts have followed Supreme Court rulings," he said. "So long as the faculty member teaches within his or her discipline and is careful to teach the truth as set by the highest standards of scholarship within their discipline, they and their universities should not be subjected to political intrusions. This rule applies even in highly charged times like today. Professors outside the classroom should speak truth to power as their conscience dictates and inside the classroom they should speak the truths of their discipline. Based on the press reports I have read, it appears that Professor Woodward exemplifies both these professional desiderata."
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