Movie viewers unfortunate enough to start watching the infamous 1987 flop "Ishtar" were quick to ask: "When does this end?"
Wisconsin is asking the same question of the Kevin Barrett story at UW-Madison.
That is why UW-Madison administrators should make sure Barrett upholds the spirit of academic freedom before they hire the controversial part-time lecturer back to teach again in the 2007 fall semester.
Barrett has been at the center of a firestorm over his view that the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on America was an inside job - a scheme by the U.S. government to "sow hatred" between Christianity and Islam.
State Rep. Steven Nass, R-Whitewater, led a call for UW-Madison to fire Barrett from his job teaching a course called "Islam: Religion and Culture."
To be sure, Barrett's conspiracy theory is a fictional flop of "Ishtar" proportions. If he were a regular faculty member seeking tenure, his research would never pass muster. It is utterly baseless.
However, his view is apparently popular in the Muslim world, making it a reasonable matter for consideration in a course on Islam. So, academic freedom was at stake.
Academic freedom is the liberty to study any subject, no matter how it may offend the powerful. It's essential to all the other freedoms Americans enjoy.
But academic freedom is not the liberty to use a classroom to recruit students to a particular view. So, UW-Madison officials investigated. They found that Barrett intended to present his view objectively, alongside competing viewpoints, as a small part of the course. They also found he had sound credentials to teach the course and students rated him highly.
As a result, UW-Madison correctly permitted Barrett to teach, despite continuing objections from Nass and others.
Barrett, regrettably, used the opportunity to morph from teacher into advocate, promoting himself and his view nationwide. He also used his position at UW-Madison in an effort to establish credibility.
UW-Madison Provost Patrick Farrell responded with a stern warning that Barrett should control his interest in publicity and should make it clear that his views are not the views of the university.
Barrett's teaching job ends at the close of the fall semester. His course is not offered in the spring. He intends to apply to teach again next fall, after working for the Muslim-Jewish- Christian Alliance for 9/11 Truth, which promotes the "inside job" theory of the Sept. 11 attack.
We hope UW-Madison can find better teaching candidates. At a minimum, the university should hold Barrett accountable for his behavior. If he violates the university's warning, he should not be rehired.