Kevin Barrett wants the world to open its eyes and minds and, at the very least, listen to the theory that our United States government was a co-conspirator in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Most consider that idea poorly-supported nonsense. To a few, it's a frightening reality.
But to the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh's credit, it understood the underlying principle that afforded Barrett his local spotlight Thursday: Academic freedom.
UWO kept the campus open to Barrett and his controversial notions, as he was a guest speaker of the UWO Campus Greens student organization.
The presentation was peaceful. No brains melted in the delivery of Barrett's bologna.
That's what Wisconsin universities are all about: Letting controversial notions have their day in intellectual court.
There, they can rise to fame or die in the radio static that is an unimpressed, unconvinced academic universe.
There were mini-lessons in Barrett's visit to Oshkosh.
On the day of Barrett's visit, reporters were made aware that "pending a signed agreement from Kevin Barrett, media will be able to record during the event at Reeve Memorial Union." That didn't mean Barrett's John Hancock, and his John Hancock alone, would let TV cameras into Reeve's theater. Instead, the signing of a form — or waiver — allowed Campus Greens to tape Barrett's presentation in its entirety and rebroadcast it on a campus cable channel. Academic freedom? Hmmmm? …
Any Wisconsin professor who wants to fire up a UWO course called "American Controversies 101" would probably win a full house. UWO's side programs on the nature and origins of conspiracy theories — orchestrated as counterpoint to Barrett's 15 minutes of fame — were noble and eye-opening. Question: What's more interesting than an American crackpot? Answer: The pastiche of anger, paranoia and fallacious thinking that motivate him or her.
Universities are indeed laboratories where students still can be as outrageous as they want to be, where many others earn their ideological stripes and where still others simply grow up. UWO Chancellor Richard Wells and his administrative staff have annually taken a relatively hands-off approach to student controversy, debate and discussion. Wells' philosophy is not unlike one parents raising young children have. After the tears and fears are shed, a few skinned knees can actually teach kids to be careful and watch where they walk.
Final Thought: UW-Madison Instructor Kevin Barrett spoke at UWO Thursday. Welcome to Friday. Life goes on.