Already under intense scrutiny from the state Legislature, University of Wisconsin lecturer Kevin Barrett may be close to losing the confidence of the UW administration as well.
In a July 20 letter to Barrett, whose Sept. 11 conspiracy theory has garnered him national media attention this summer, UW Provost Patrick Farrell warned the embattled lecturer to "control" his enthusiasm for his personal viewpoints.
Throughout that letter, Farrell — who during this summer reviewed and ultimately accepted Farrell's suitability to teach here — expressed waning confidence in Barrett's abilities to be a fair and balanced instructor.
In a recent interview with The Badger Herald, Farrell said that if Barrett continues associating himself with the university in his media appearances — in turn suggesting UW endorses those same ideas — he will be fired.
"The message in the letter was that if his behavior … suggests to me that he lacks the discipline to control how he expresses his own opinions — that suggests to me that lack of control will carry into the course," Farrell said. "If it becomes fairly obvious to me that he is unable to separate those two things, I don't see how we can put him into a classroom to teach a course."
In reaction to the warning, Barrett admitted Farrell's letter was not entirely out of line, but at the same time said the provost may have jumped to conclusions after seeing one of his television interviews.
"When you're speaking on FOX TV, you're in a very different situation than when you are speaking in a university classroom," he said. "Nobody in their right mind would speak the same way in both situations."
What's more, Barrett said, is that the media seeks Barrett out, rather than him trying to create his own publicity.
But Barrett is not alone in thinking Farrell may have overreacted.
James Leary, a Scandinavian Studies professor and director of the UW Folklore program, called Farrell's letter to Barrett "troubling," and claimed Barrett's association of himself with the university is simply a matter of identifying his profession.
"Certain talk show folks have seized much more on his UW affiliation than Kevin would have," Leary said. "He has made it clear that he has opinions as a private individual."
Meanwhile, Farrell, while acknowledging Barrett's right to free speech, said his comments have somewhat tainted the university's reputation, and maintained his assertive position against the way Barrett identifies himself publicly.
"He has the right to speak how he chooses in public but he does not have the right to say those views are connected to the university," Farrell said. "He has created political and other fallout [for] the university as a whole."
For his part, Barrett claimed that if the Legislature were not holding the threat of administrative funding cuts over UW, "hundreds" of his colleagues would say they agree with his theory.
Although Leary stopped short of endorsing Barrett's conspiracy theory, he said he himself has doubts about the validity of the official 9/11 Commission Report.
Moreover, Leary said, professors can hold a controversial opinion without enforcing it on their students.
"I think any good teacher — and Kevin is one — has their own point of view, but expects their students to sift and winnow," Leary said.
When Barrett's views were first made public in early July, 61 Wisconsin legislators — 60 of whom are Republican — insisted he be fired in light of his theory, namely that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were an inside job orchestrated by the Bush administration.
After a 10-day review of Barrett, whose contract with the university expires at the end of this semester, Farrell decided to allow him to teach as planned.
Despite the controversy, Barrett said he is looking forward to the semester and thinks his class, "Islam: Religion and Culture," will be a "first rate" and "enjoyable" course.