CAIRO — The American University of Wisconsin-Madison is standing its ground against pressures by lawmakers to sack a lecturer for daring to question the official 9/11 version of events and planning to explore a conspiracy theory version with his students.
"We cannot allow political pressure from critics of unpopular ideas to inhibit the free exchange of ideas," provost Patrick Farrell told The Los Angles Times on Tuesday, July 25.
In a letter delivered Monday, July 24, to university administrators and Wisconsin Gov. James Doyle, 61 lawmakers demanded the sacking of Kevin Barrett, a lecturer and assistant teacher at the university, before the fall semester begins.
Barrett came under lawmakers' fire after he had announced plans to discuss whether Al-Qaeda network was really behind bringing down the World Trade Center over one week of the a 15-week course for undergraduate students next semester.
He told a Milwaukee talk show host in June that he believed that the Bush administration used "controlled demolitions with explosives" on Sept. 11 to bring down the World Trade Center buildings and later said that the idea of a hijacked plane hitting the Pentagon was "preposterous."
The course, "Islam: Religion and Culture," will also focus on the history of Islam, the Qur'an and the faith's effect on modern-day US society.
Barrett is co-founder of the Muslim-Jewish-Christian Alliance for 9/11 Truth — a coalition of activists, academics and clerics who are pushing for an investigation into whether the US government was involved in the attacks.
Some of the legislators who signed the letter threatened to cut the university system's public funding when the next state budget is reviewed next year if it proved reluctant to fire Barrett.
"The university is one of the chief financial engines of this state," said provost Farrell.
"It's short-sighted to handicap that engine just because legislators are annoyed with the views of one of our employees."
Jonathan Knight, director in the department of academic freedom and governance at the American Assn. of University Professors, was equally critical of the fund threat.
"The thing we do not need is legislative bodies deciding to fund, or not fund, education depending on whether they like what a faculty member says," he said.
"To do so would create a chilling effect across education," Knight warned.
Although many university professors disagree with Barrett's 9/11 theory, they have chided lawmakers for politicizing and trying to censor the academic life in the United States.
"You can't tell someone that they can't say these things because it's not what a moral person would think," Donald A. Downs, a University of Wisconsin professor of political science, law and journalism, told The Los Angles Times.
"I'm a supporter of the war on terror. I'm offended by him (Barrett) having these beliefs. But it's censorship to say he can't say these things," added Downs, also president of the Committee for Academic Freedom and Rights.
Knight agreed that it should be a university's faculty — not politicians — who say whether a person is fit to teach.
"It's all on how the information is taught. If a person uses a classroom as a forum to proselytize his views on 9/11, he shouldn't be there. If he's using those views to explore other ideas and how people reason, that's different," he said.
The Guardian reported in April that US professors and teachers are facing hard time speaking their minds out and criticizing the Bush administration's foreign policy with federal anti-terror sheriffs watching and students paid to tape "anti-America" statements.