Campus Greens, a recognized UW Oshkosh student organization, has invited Kevin Barrett to speak at a program it has scheduled for Oct. 26 at the theatre at Reeve Memorial Union, a student fee-funded building. No state or taxpayer dollars will be used for the program. Members of the campus community will decide on their own whether or not to attend.
We will take all necessary steps to ensure a safe, civil and tolerant setting for the student-sponsored event, which also will include the showing of the controversial film, "Loose Change 2." We will work with members of Campus Greens to make sure they follow the necessary protocols. Failure to adhere to these protocols would require me to postpone the event, and it would not be rescheduled until I am convinced we have ensured a civil environment.
Many believe that the highly controversial views of Mr. Barrett, who has said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were orchestrated by U.S. government officials to spark war in the Middle East, should not be protected by freedom of speech.
I do not in any way endorse the 9/11 ideas advocated by Mr. Barrett. In my opinion, his ideas are nonsensical. His visit, however, provides our students the opportunity to assess critically his views. Any analysis of the tragedy must conform to the most rigorous standards for scholarly analysis.
Mr. Barrett's visit offers us a chance to reaffirm our belief that with freedom comes responsibility. Members of a university community do not have absolute freedom of speech in their official capacities. They are free to pursue academic, artistic and research agendas essential to the university mission, but they must also contribute to an open and collegial environment that promotes reasoned inquiry, intellectual honesty, scholarly competence and the pursuit of new knowledge.
Wisconsin has a long-standing tradition of academic freedom. It was eloquently summarized by Helen White of UW Madison in 1957:
"There is today a good deal of dispute over the advantages of various types of bomb shelters for our bodies. But there is no dispute over one fact, and that is that there are no bomb shelters for our minds. Indeed, I know of no readier way to disarm ourselves than to try to hide from disturbing knowledge, and, conversely, I know of no surer way to steady our nerves and find the courage we need than to take arms against a sea of rumors and alarms and by understanding end them."
University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Chancellor Richard Wells issued this statement shortly after Barrett's visit to campus was announced last month.