Saturday, July 22, 2006

Aother Attack On Free Speech 

Over 60 Wisconsin state legislatures have sent a letter to the University of Wisconsin-Madison "urging" the university to fire Kevin Barrett, an adjunct professor hired to teach an introductory course on Islam. The reason they want him fired? He made public statements that the U.S. was behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Mr. Barrett's remarks are offensive and calls into question his scholarship. However, the speech is protected under the First Amendment and as offensive as it may be, it is not grounds to fire him or take any other action against him.

The fact that UW-Madison hired Barrett to teach an introductory course on Islam, in which his conspiracy theories will be part, calls into question the judgment of the hiring committee. It also calls into question whether the course has any academic value. However, those are UW's problems and have no impact on Mr. Barrett's First Amendment rights.

I find the actions of the state legislatures even more offensive than any speech that Barrett has engaged in. They are not calling for Barrett's dismissal because he is incompetent to teach (a conclusion I am not sure the legislature is itself competent to make). Instead the sole reason they want him fired is because they find his speech offensive. As asinine and offensive as Mr. Barrett's speech may be, it is no excuse for these legislatures to disregard the Constition and attempt to restrict Barrett's First Amendment rights by threatening UW-Madison with dire consequnceis if he is not fired.

Now having said that, UW, like all universities, has an obligation to ensure that the courses taught are grounded, at least somewhat, in fact. State universities also must ensure that they do not restrict the First Amendment rights, or any other constitutional rights, of their students and falculty. If they fail to fulfill either of these obligations they run the risk that state legislatures will become more active in the day-to-day management of the universities, such as adopting Horowitz's Academic Bill Of Rights.

(Cross posted at Lamplighter)