August 02, 2006

 

Academic Freedom, Part I

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...It’s not identical to the Ward Churchill case (Churchill was the Colorado professor who gained notoriety by verbally abusing 9/11 victims and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, but was ultimately brought down by two cases of plagiarism, falsifying historical incidents, lying about having Native American heritage in order to receive preferential hiring treatment, and two cases of copyright infringement), but it is shaping into another battle in the world of academia as the term “academic freedom” is once again being bandied about.
...Kevin Barrett, a folklore and Islamic studies professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has come under fire recently for his views on—similar to Churchill—the 9/11 attacks. Barrett, however, is receiving criticism for saying that “[t]he 9/11 lie was designed to sow hatred between the faiths” and that if 9/11 discussions don’t cover the “compelling evidence” that the attacks were “an inside job,” there isn’t much else to discuss.
...Barrett insists that the Twin Towers collapsed due to controlled demolition blasts under the watch of the U.S. government in an effort to generate popular support for increased growth of the military industrial complex. He also claims that Osama bin Laden is dead and has been replaced by a look-alike, but his group, The 9/11 Truth Movement, isn’t fooled.
...Similar to the Churchill incident, critics are calling for Barrett’s dismissal, while supporters are saying that this is another case of a college professor coming under fire for personal beliefs who nonetheless has a right to academic freedom. Barrett has said that his views on the September 11 attacks are discussed in his classes.
...In an effort to cut to the chase, I’ll say that it’s my firm belief that this is a situation which must be officially determined by the administration of the University of Wisconsin and no one else. They hired Barrett; they have to decide if he stays or if he goes.
...With that said, do those of us outside the school have a say on the issue in general? Of course we do. We have the right to free expression the same as Barrett. That’s what allows us to question a few of the things that he and his group are saying.
...The first question pertains to Professor Barrett’s basis and background for the idea that strategically-placed explosives were used to bring down the Twin Towers. Milwaukee news channel TMJ4 interviewed Barrett and he claimed that the buildings collapsing is the proof that crashing planes didn’t bring the World Trade Center down. Barrett’s group insists that there was molten steel at Ground Zero, and since jet fuel and office paper would never generate enough heat to melt steel, it must have been a government-sponsored explosion. This, fellow 9/11 Truth Movement member Tom Spellman says, is evidence that “probably six or eight people—with backpacks on their backs—carrying the material in 40-pound packs and maybe making 10 to 12 trips” helped to destroy the landmarks.
...There are two problems with this theory. First, news footage from Ground Zero doesn’t show any molten metal. Second, in March 2005, Popular Mechanics published a special series entitled “9/11: Debunking the Myths,” in which they point out that while it’s true that jet fuel, which burns at 800° to 1500° Fahrenheit, isn’t hot enough to melt steel, the steel frames of the Twin Towers wouldn’t have been required to melt for the towers to collapse—they would have simply needed to lose their structural integrity.
...In the report, Farid Alfawak-hiri, senior engineer of the American Institute of Steel Construction, stated that “[s]teel loses about 50 percent of its strength at 1100° Fahrenheit.” That temperature falls within the 800° to 1500° range, and doesn’t even take into consideration that the towers contained burning rugs, curtains, and furniture in addition to the jet fuel and paper.
...Popular Mechanics also reported that Vincent Dunn, a retired New York deputy fire chief and author of The Collapse of Burning Buildings: A Guide to Fireground Safety, has never seen melted steel in a building fire—only twisted, warped, bent, and sagging steel.
...No offense to Professor Barrett, but his background is in folklore and Islamic studies. I think that I’m going to trust Popular Mechanics, a retired FDNY deputy chief, and a steel engineer on this one.
...A second concern in this issue is Barrett’s interpretations of incidents (which goes hand-in-hand with his conspiracy theories). Like him or hate him, Fox News blowhard Bill O’Reilly was accused by Barrett of having called for the professor’s murder on O’Reilly’s television program. In a letter to Rupert Murdoch, Barrett said that O’Reilly “stated on national television that he would like to see [Barrett] murdered and thrown into Boston Harbor.”
...Aaron Nathans of The Capital Times obtained a transcript of the O’Reilly Factor episode in which the host was said to have made the threat, but the quote doesn’t seem to back up Barrett’s claim. According to the transcript, O’Reilly stated:
“But here’s the problem that I see at Wisconsin. There’s no leadership there. There’s no leadership in the Board of Regents at the university. This guy would have been gone at Boston University, my alma mater, in a heartbeat. The chancellor there, John Silber, this guy would be in the Charles River floating down, you know, toward the harbor. It wouldn’t happen. But here at the University of Wisconsin, there are no standards. This guy can go in and say anything, not back it up, and get paid by the taxpayers. And I’m just stunned.”
...I’m not a regular Bill O’Reilly viewer, but that doesn’t sound as if he’s calling for Barrett’s murder. If anything, it’s making John Silber sound like a tyrant.
...In the end, the big-wigs at the University of Wisconsin will have to determine whether or not Barrett’s ideas are what they want taught in a classroom on their campus. This will no doubt come down to a debate over the concept of “academic freedom,” but how far does academic freedom go?
To be continued.

2 Comments:

Blogger John Britely said...

Staging the WTC collapse would be equivalent to staging the landing on the moon. Not impossible but improbabe. The supposed motive doesn't make any sense either.

Another crazy liberal university.

August 02, 2006  
Blogger a.m. said...

Ah yes, "Academic Freedom," the collegiate catchphrase of the moment. If I had a dollar for everytime someone uttered those words in the last year, I'd truly have surpassed my own salary.

Truly, there are those within the Academy who would like to believe that any and everything they can possibly conceive of can fall under the tenuous realm of "academic freedom," - whether it's their own course preparation and design, articles in peer-reviewed journals, or merely so-called 'free speech' on campus. The thin, gray line comes into play when a university has to decide for itself that its academic flock stand at the ready in lockstep and represent the university at every turn, with every word; or else they allow their faculty to speak their minds to the degree that they don't particularly care how the world outside the campus walls receive the message.

I do think, though, that every campus needs to decide for itself how it plans on assessing these needs, and just what exactly contitutes as "academic freedom" so there are no mixed messages when new faculty hires come on board ... and maybe they end up having to sign something that says 'I understand these are my rights and these are the rights of the university under the academic freedom policy.' Just a thought.

August 02, 2006  

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