It's nothing unusual to hear a professor musing about "elite" groups. Most any college student will soon get used to hearing the charge that an "elite" group of straight, white, Protestant men run the world at the expense of everyone else. I heard it all the time in college.
But William Woodward, a tenured psychology professor at the University of New Hampshire, is in the news for using the word a way you might not expect. Take it from Sunday's New Hampshire Union Leader:
A tenured professor of psychology at the University of New Hampshire believes an "elite" group within the federal government orchestrated the September 11th attacks on America.
William Woodward has already raised that possibility in his classroom and later this year hopes to teach a class that would explore Sept. 11th "in psychological terms—terms like belief, conspiracy, fear, truth, courage, group dynamics."
Nope, he's not kidding. It's all over the newspapers in New England.
Of course, as FSM readers know, Woodward is not the only college instructor to teach such silliness in his classroom. University of Wisconsin-Madison instructor Kevin Barrett made many headlines earlier this summer for doing the same.
When the Barrett story broke, it was difficult to believe that any more educated people would believe what he does. But the Woodward case makes clear that he is not alone. Nor is this scandal just about the two of them. Both Barrett and Woodward belong to a group called Scholars for 9/11 Truth that claims to have 70 professors among its 300 members.
I found out firsthand that they are not alone. After I wrote about Barrett on FSM, I received e-mails lecturing me on how I should "give up on [my] delusions" that jihadists, not Dick Cheney, felled the Twin Towers. (And that was the one from a Harvard grad!)
Not surprisingly, the leader of the "scholars" group, James Fetzer, is a retired professor. Here's what he had to say to the Concord Monitor: "When it came to 9/11, the evidence is so overwhelming and the physics so elementary that I cannot believe that anyone would take seriously what the government has told us. It's blatantly false."
Also not surprisingly, folks are upset about the Woodward case. A whole host of elected officials have called for his firing, and the Union Leader has demanded an investigation. So far, though, UNH's provost is refusing to perform a "formal review." As was the case in Wisconsin, the university's public statements rely heavily on appeals to academic freedom.
These appeals are interesting if you know anything about UNH's history. This whole love for freedom of speech seems to be a new thing there. It certainly wasn't present in 2004, when student Tim Garneau (a very nice young man whom I have met) was evicted from his dorm for (like Woodward) speech that some considered "offensive."
Tim's crime? He jokingly posted a flier encouraging freshman girls in his dorm to take the stairs rather than the elevator (apparently too many people were using the latter for short trips). Here is what it looked like.
Of course, what Tim did was sophomoric. (Indeed, if memory serves, he was a college sophomore at the time.) But truthfully, it was no dumber—or less supported by scholarly research—than Woodward's conspiracy theories about 9/11. You wouldn't know that from UNH's current public statements, though.
The very same UNH that claims to be a defender of academic freedom these days convicted Tim of "harassment" and threw him out of his dorm. He had to live out of his car—oh, and attend sensitivity training. All of this came despite the fact that he apologized for his silly flier.
There are two lessons to be learned here. First, don't trust universities when they claim to love freedom of speech. It seems clear that they will defend conspiracy theories about the Bush administration to the hilt—but less "politically correct" expression will get you convicted of "harassment." Just ask Tim Garneau.
Second, and more importantly, Kevin Barrett is not an isolated phenomenon. Nor was Ward Churchill, the infamous University of Colorado professor who compared the victims of 9/11 to Nazis. He and his cohorts are not alone—and they are proud of it.
Today's campuses are not the ones the parents who are financing them remember. And especially in a time of war, the crazy things that are said on them—especially in class, on taxpayers' and parents' dime—must not be ignored.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Charles Mitchell is a writer in Washington, D.C.