Creating yet another point of contention between the University of Wisconsin and the state Legislature, some lawmakers have called for the dismissal of controversial lecturer Kevin Barrett.
Barrett — who has a semester-long contract to teach a course titled "Islam: Religion and Culture" at UW this fall — says he believes the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings was a ploy by the U.S. government to justify a pre-planned war in Iraq.
"There's circumstantial evidence that the Iraq and Afghan invasions were set in stone before [Sept. 11], but they could not have happened without the propaganda value of [Sept. 11]," Barrett said in an interview with The Badger Herald. "[The attack on Sept. 11, 2001] was a false-flag war trigger."
Although Barrett's theories have sparked controversy and outrage, UW Provost Patrick Farrell, UW-Madison's second-highest ranking administrator, announced after a 10-day review that he will not fire Barrett and will allow him to teach this fall.
"I think the political correctness — or non-political correctness — of his views outside the classroom … should not have an impact on whether or not he's allowed to teach," Farrell said in an interview.
Sixty-one members of the state Legislature, including 52 representatives and nine senators, 60 of whom are Republicans, voiced their discontent by signing a letter condemning Farrell's decision and calling for Barrett's immediate termination.
The letter was sent July 20 to UW administrators, Barrett and Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat.
Doyle spokesperson Matt Canter said that while the governor has concerns about the appropriateness of Barrett teaching a class about Islam, he does not plan to take any action against UW or Barrett.
"The governor would have come to a different decision than the university," Canter said, "but he recognizes that the university has legal authority to make their own personnel decisions."
For his part, Farrell maintained he has taken the necessary precautionary measures, asking both the Languages and Cultures of Asia department chair and the dean of the College of Letters and Science to have discussions with Barrett throughout the semester to help ensure he sticks to the syllabus.
"I am interested principally [in] what would he expect the students to walk away with," Farrell said. "What's his real goal for the ways in which students will be changed as a result of participating in this class? And very specifically, does he plan to do things to make that happen?"
Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, who in many ways has led the charge on this particular issue, called Barrett's beliefs about the Sept. 11 attacks outlandish and invalid and argued that those views should bar him from being allowed teach at a public university.
"The public knows it wasn't orchestrated by the government; it was a terrorist attack," Nass said. "And for the provost to allow [Barrett] to teach this fall — fact and honesty just don't matter."
Nass was the author of a failed Assembly resolution formally condemning Barrett's views. Although the resolution was presented to representatives during the last day of the body's session in late July, it was not taken up for a vote, as they opted instead for the informal letter.
While a significant number of lawmakers continue to disagree with Farrell's decision, others who disagree with Barrett's theories, such as UW political science professor Donald Downs, see the issue as part of a larger academic picture.
Downs, who also serves as president of the Committee of Academic Freedom and Rights, said he does not believe Barrett's theory at all and does not know anybody at the university who does, "left, right or center."
But despite that fundamental disagreement, Downs said he still supports Barrett's employment.
"We want professors to be intellectually responsible, but we also want professors to be intellectually honest," Downs said. "We want the envelope pushed; we want people to stick their necks out if it is done with intellectual integrity. Otherwise it could cause a watered-down education."
Meanwhile, Nass, along with many other state representatives, argue Barrett's very presence harms the university's reputation.
"It really calls into question the [Board of] Regents and the higher echelon of the university," he said.
While UW Chancellor John Wiley called Barrett's 9/11 theory "very unconvincing, to put it mildly," he offered a different perspective, claiming Barrett's employment actually strengthens the university's reputation.
"I don't care what [Barrett's] personal views are as long as he doesn't use them to badger the students," Wiley told The Badger Herald.
As for his future in Madison, once his one-semester appointment expires in December, Barrett said he plans on applying for a tenure-track job at UW or at another Wisconsin university in the near future.
"After the public realizes I'm right," Barrett said, "my chances of getting a job will be better."