Kevin Barrett should not be allowed to teach at the University of Wisconsin-Madison - and it's not because a large swath of the population finds his contention on who authored the 9-11 terrorist attacks odious.
He should be barred because academic freedom doesn't mean teachers get to teach fiction as fact - even in a university.
For that, please see the blogosphere or subscribe to Conspiracy Theory Monthly. In a classroom, particularly one funded with tax dollars, the public should have a reasonable expectation that what's taught has fact and truth as foundation.
Barrett is the part-time professor who will be allowed to teach a course this fall called "Islam: Religion and Culture." This appointment sparked controversy because Barrett, who co-founded the Muslim-Jewish-Christian Alliance, has espoused the view that the Bush administration orchestrated the 9-11 attacks.
Reacting to the controversy, the university reviewed Barrett's past teachings and the course. Provost Patrick Farrell concluded on Monday that Barrett and his theory are fit for the classroom.
It was the wrong decision.
It's about that word: "theory." We don't for a second believe that Barrett views it as such.
Barrett said on Monday that students in his class would spend one week studying a variety of viewpoints on the 9-11 attacks, including that they were "probably an American operation to launch a war on Islam countries." His "probably" here doesn't do much to assuage.
The view that Americans - or Israel, for that matter - perpetrated the 9-11 attacks is very real in the Muslim world. A Pew Global Attitudes Project survey this year found Muslims believe that Arabs didn't carry out the attacks. Knowing this has value.
What doesn't have value is teaching something as patently false as the idea that the Bush administration purposely killed the 9-11 victims - even if it is taught with the word "probably" acting as convenient caveat. This is tantamount to teaching gravity probably doesn't exist or that up probably is down.
Farrell said, "We cannot allow political pressure from critics of unpopular ideas to inhibit the free exchange of ideas."
Agreed. But Farrell apparently failed to recognize the fundamental issue: standards - for what's taught and who's teaching.
Wacky ideas at universities abound. If they are taught in the context of theories among many and that some are demonstrably false, they might have some utility. We aren't convinced by anyone's assurances to date - Barrett's or the university's - that this will be the context in which this 9-11-as-American-plot will be taught.
Not only should Barrett, after review, have not been allowed to teach this course, he shouldn't have been hired to do it in the first place. No freedom, including academic freedom, is absolute. There are limits.
We have many problems with how President Bush led this nation to war in Iraq, but making the leap that his administration murdered on 9-11 crosses a line.