Saturday, August 05, 2006

More From UW-Madison and Barrett 

Sorry my contribution here has been rather light this past week, but alas trials have way of sucking your time dry. But for better or worse I am back, least till Monday when King returns. So I thought I would return to a topic that I have posted about over the last month or so (here, here, and here)

Today the Chicago Tribune has a story on UW-Madison's growing frustration with Barrett - the adjunct with the offensive, not to mention rather bazaar 9/11 conspiracy theories who was hired to teach an introductory course on Islam. Seems That Provost Patrick Farrell is now having second thoughts about his decision to retain Mr. Barrett:

University of Wisconsin's provost warned an instructor who believes the U.S. government orchestrated the Sept. 11 attacks to stop seeking publicity for his views, days after he defended the teacher's right to free speech.

UW-Madison Provost Patrick Farrell also warned Kevin Barrett to stop associating himself with UW-Madison when he advocates his views. Otherwise, Farrell wrote in the July 20 letter, he would reconsider his decision to allow Barrett to teach a course on Islam this fall.

``In summary, if you continue to identify yourself with UW-Madison in your personal political messages or illustrate an inability to control your interest in publicity for your ideas, I would lose confidence ... ,'' he wrote in the letter, obtained by The Associated Press in an open records request.

The letter came 10 days after Farrell decided to retain Barrett as a part-time instructor for the fall semester course, ``Islam: Religion and Culture,'' despite calls to fire him.

I think everyone here knows my position on the topic - Barrett shouldn't have been hired, he isn't qualified, and is an embarrassment, but he cannot be terminated for engaging in protected speech. Of course UW-M can terminate an incompetent professor. However, the university has painted itself into a corner.

UW-M hired Barrett after reviewing his qualifications, and since those qualifications have not changed and he has not begun teaching, it would be hard to argue that he is now suddenly not qualified. More importantly:

Farrell launched a review of Barrett's course plans after he gave a radio interview in which he said he planned to teach students his views that the U.S. government carried out the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to spark war.

The provost concluded Barrett was qualified to teach and he could present his ideas during one week of the course as long as students were allowed to challenge them.

In short, UW-M approved Barrett's course content. So how can the university now fire Barrett for teaching and talking about the contents of a course they approved? Additionally, UW-M is now threatening to fire Barrett not for speech he engages in during class, but for speech he engages in outside of class. It is plain that UW-M is reacting to the public backlash, which is significant and in my opinion justified. However, to fire Barrett for engaging in protected speech would only further compound the significant mistakes UW-M has so far made - not exercising more caution in the hiring process and approving Barrett's course content.

Ann Althouse, a law professor at UW and blogger, who is guest blogging at Instapundit puts it better then I can (ok, at least as well as I could):

And why should Barrett have to refrain from publicizing his ideas in order to keep his job? It's acceptable for him to teach here, but please, be very quiet about it? And this is held out as an attempt "to be fairly careful to not inhibit his privilege of speaking freely"? The letter makes a connection between speaking out publicly and being able to "separate his opinions from what happens in the classroom." But what is that connection? And would we use that reasoning on other teachers? Promoting a strong political position in the public arena raises a suspicion that you can't fairly present material in the classroom anymore? All politically active academics would feel threatened if we thought the university would apply that reasoning across the board. And if Farrell is not going to apply that reasoning across the board, why is he inflicting it on Barrett?

In my opinion, the outrage should be directed at the UW-M powers to be. It is their extremely poor choices that has placed the university in the position of living with the public backlash or violating a person's civil rights.

One of the great things about our country is that we have very broad free speech rights. In order to ensure that those rights remain viable they have to be protected for everyone, not just for those whose opinions conform to the prevailing norm. And yes, that includes Mr. Barrett, regardless of how offensive and asinine I find his opinions.