The University of Wisconsin-Madison announced Thursday that it would launch a review of an instructor who argues that the U.S. government orchestrated the Sept. 11 attacks for its own benefit.
The instructor, Kevin Barrett, is co-founder of an organization called the Muslim-Jewish-Christian Alliance, which claims the Bush administration planned the attacks to create a war between Muslims and Christians. He argues that members of the faiths must work together to overcome the belief that terrorists were to blame.
"The 9/11 lie was designed to sow hatred between the faiths," Barrett has written on the organization's Web site.
"Either we discuss the compelling evidence that 9/11 was an inside job, or there is precious little to talk about."
Barrett, who did not return calls Thursday and an e-mail seeking comment, has taught a class on cultural folklore and is scheduled to teach an introductory class on Islam this fall in Madison. He has said he discusses his views on Sept. 11 in the classroom.
In a written statement Thursday, Provost Patrick Farrell said the university would conduct a 10-day review of Barrett's plans for the fall course and his past teaching performance. He said Barrett's syllabus, reading list and past evaluations by supervisors and students would be examined.
"Mr. Barrett's statements regarding the events of Sept. 11 have raised some legitimate concerns about the content and quality of instruction in his planned fall course," Farrell said.
"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," the statement says.
Word spreads on the Web
The announcement came as word of Barrett's views spread through political Web sites. State Rep. Stephen Nass (R-Whitewater) was among a burst of critics calling for his dismissal.
Other Sept. 11 conspiracy theorists in academia include Steven Jones, a physicist from Brigham Young University who argues that the World Trade Center towers were brought down by controlled explosives, not just the impact of airplanes; James H. Fetzer, a retired philosophy professor from the University of Minnesota-Duluth who believes the U.S. military launched a missile into the Pentagon and shot down the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania; and David Ray Griffin, a retired professor from the Claremont School of Theology who sums up arguments for U.S. involvement in the attacks in two books, "The New Pearl Harbor" and "The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions."
Barrett arranged for Griffin to speak at UW-Madison last year. Barrett also helped organize a conference in Chicago this month called "9/11: Revealing the Truth - Reclaiming Our Future." In July, he and Fetzer are scheduled to speak about the Sept. 11 theories at a forum at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
"We're catching on," said Fetzer, who co-chairs the group 9/11 Scholars for Truth, which includes more than 50 members from academia, including Barrett. "Kevin Barrett has been instrumental on many fronts."
Barrett has shared his views in letters to The Capital Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education and has discussed them on Wisconsin Public Radio.
But it wasn't until he spoke on a conservative talk show hosted by Jessica McBride on WTMJ-AM (620) Wednesday night that Barrett prompted a public outcry in Wisconsin. He talked openly about his Sept. 11 beliefs and said he discussed them in the classroom.
Nass released a statement calling on Chancellor John Wiley to fire Barrett immediately.
"The fact that Mr. Barrett uses his position at UW-Madison to add credibility to his outlandish claims is an unacceptable embarrassment to the people of Wisconsin and the UW System," Nass said. "Chancellor Wiley must act immediately to end any professional relationship between Barrett and the UW. He needs to be fired."
U.S. Rep. Mark Green (R-Wis.), who is running for governor, released a statement that said: "Not a dime of either taxpayer or tuition dollars should be going to Kevin Barrett so he can tell students that September 11 was a creation of the government, and that the most murdering terrorist organization in the world is a myth created by the CIA."
But not everyone was outraged.
Mir Babar Basir, a recent graduate of UW-Madison who served as president of the Muslim Students Association, said he knew Barrett and agreed with his take on the attacks. He said Griffin drew hundreds of supportive observers when he spoke at the university.
"This is not just Kevin Barrett's idea," Basir said. "It's legitimate to think that the U.S. government was involved."
"When David Ray Griffin spoke, it was packed," Basir added. "Madison is fairly liberal. It's not surprising that a lot of people agreed with him."
David Walsh, president of the UW System Board of Regents, said Barrett should be able to share his views in the classroom.
"Unless he's yelling fire in a crowded theater, we need to be careful to protect his academic freedom," Walsh said.