Madison - Room 526 of the Social Science building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was buzzing with excitement Tuesday afternoon.
It was minutes before 4 p.m., the time Kevin Barrett was scheduled to begin his first class on Islam. The nearly 200 students packed into narrow rows of wooden desks were stirring with anticipation.
Barrett, a part-time lecturer, sparked controversy this summer for advocating the theory that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were an inside job, and for planning to teach the theory in his fall class on Islam. Since then, enrollment in the class has swelled to capacity, with some students signing up hungry to hear his views.
"It induced me to take the class," a molecular science major with a pierced eyebrow said of the controversy. "I'm inclined to believe we killed our own people."
But anyone who expected Barrett to use his class as a pulpit on the first day was sorely disappointed.
"Welcome to Conspiracy Theories 37," he said, prompting students to chuckle and begin clapping. "NOT!"
Barrett made his intentions clear. The majority of the class would be focused on the history and religious beliefs of Islam. Only one week would be used to read and discuss the Sept. 11 theories to which he subscribes. The rest of the time, he said, those theories would be "left by the wayside."
Even with reporters and university officials in attendance, it wasn't long before the class started to feel a lot like, well, class.
The students whipped out their notebooks as Barrett began discussing the history of Islam and its place in the world. They chuckled when he cracked a joke about Monty Python movies. Within a half-hour, some students were doodling or nodding off.
"Oh, great," sighed a girl with a blond ponytail after Barrett told the class to expect the first readings, on the Qur'an, to be very rigorous.
Barrett has inspired rage in politicians and headaches for the university's administration, but he has left much less of an impression on the general student body.
The Badger Herald student newspaper on Monday ran an editorial lambasting Barrett for what it called his lack of "academic quality." It said Barrett was too attached to his conspiracy theories to teach objectively.
But the students wandering in and out of the Social Science building Tuesday didn't sound too concerned.
"I don't know much about it," said senior Arielle Seiden, who said she wouldn't have heard about Barrett were her roommate not a reporter for The Badger Herald.
Junior Ilirijan Residovski was even less informed. When asked for his opinion on the part-time lecturer, Residovski paused in confusion.
"Who's Kevin Barrett?" he said.