Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Let's be careful out there 

We have in The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscribers only; temp link) the story of another faculty member who is part of the Scholars for 9/11 Truth. I suggest you look at that last link first. Then consider these two quotes from the Chronicle article:
Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, said through a spokeswoman on Monday that Mr. Woodward's view, which the professor has discussed in his political psychology class, is "crazy and offensive." The spokeswoman, Pamela Walsh, said that Mr. Woodward's view shows "a reckless disregard for the true facts and raises questions as to why such a professor would be teaching at the university in the first place."

A university spokeswoman, Kim Billings, said that Mr. Woodward was entitled to his First Amendment right to free speech. "We support academic freedom," she said. She argued that Mr. Woodward was free to discuss "case studies," such as the September 11 terrorist attacks, in the classroom, saying that he was "entitled to his opinion."

Nevertheless, as requested by the chairman of the University System of New Hampshire's Board of Trustees, administrators are looking into Mr. Woodward's teachings and his past student evaluations.

Mr. Woodward was gratified that officials, including Andrew E. Lietz, chairman of the Board of Trustees, and J. Bonnie Newman, interim president of the main campus, at Durham, have spoken out in favor of free speech in his case, though they said they disagreed with his views. "I was very heartened to have an affirmation of academic freedom," the professor said on Tuesday.

But Mr. Woodward said he wished that his critics would read his syllabus and visit his class sessions. "I don't press my own views," he insisted, but he does share them. He said he also tries to get students to come to their own conclusions after viewing evidence and hearing all sides of debates on "hot-button issues."
As Mike pointed out during his guestblogging here when discussion Prof. Barrett of Univ. of Wisconsin, Prof. Woodward is engaging in protected speech, a position with which I agree. However, Mike argued "the university has painted itself into a corner" by hiring this professor who appear to be unqualified. I do not know this. This is, after all, a political psychology class -- denial of historical events might well be part of political psychology.

UNH should refrain from looking into this professor's syllabus and student evaluations for anything more than the usual process for promotion and tenure. If he's unqualified to teach, there's a process by which we deal with those issue. Stick to them.