July 10, 2006

"Continual and fearless sifting and winnowing."

UW-Madison Provost Patrick Farrell announced that, after a review, 9/11 denialist Kevin Barrett will be allowed teach his course here:
"There is no question that Mr. Barrett holds personal opinions that many people find unconventional," Farrell says. "These views are expected to take a small, but significant, role in the class. To the extent that his views are discussed, Mr. Barrett has assured me that students will be free - and encouraged - to challenge his viewpoint."...

"I am satisfied that Mr. Barrett appreciates his responsibility as an instructor. I also believe that he will attempt to provide students with a classroom experience that respects and welcomes open dialogue on all topics," Farrell says. "And I fully expect that the vast majority of his teaching will involve aspects of Islamic culture and religion wholly unrelated to his controversial views of the events of 9/11, which we know had a profound impact on the world and many members of our campus community."
This is almost surely the best way to deal with the reality that Barrett was already hired. What really matters is the larger problem of why he was hired in the first place. The announcement doesn't allow us to see how Farrell is handling that.
"It is in cases like this - difficult cases involving unconventional ideas - that we define our principles and determine our future," Farrell adds. "Instead of restricting politically unpopular speech, we will take our cue from the bronze plaque in front of Bascom Hall that calls for the 'continual and fearless sifting and winnowing' of ideas."
I would like to see some "continual and fearless" judgment about who should be given the opportunity to amass the pile of material that students are assigned to sift and winnow.

(My earlier posts about the Barrett matter are here and here and here.)

UPDATE: Well, as long as we're sifting and winnowing and coming up with unconventional, speculative notions about the nefarious ways of government, let me throw out a question for you to apply your critical thinking to. How do we know Kevin Barrett is not a government agent? Wouldn't it be a pretty brilliant scheme to set up someone to teach this 9/11 theory at this university and see which students take the course? Your average, ordinary student will simply shun this horror. So who will take the course? Wouldn't the roster make a good list for the CIA?

38 comments:

Doolesfan said...

Well, it's "good" to see the "sifting and winnowing" line is as much BS today as it was when I graduated from UW-Madison 10 years ago.

AJD said...

I think that you are absolutely right on this one, professor.

And more heat should be directed at the hiring process!

One would think that at a time when Colorado is in the long-overdue process of getting rid of Ward Churchill that Wisconsin would take this issue more seriously.

SippicanCottage said...
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Mark the Pundit said...

Instead of restricting politically unpopular speech, we will take our cue from the bronze plaque in front of Bascom Hall that calls for the 'continual and fearless sifting and winnowing' of ideas

The University of Wisconsin should hire David Irving. No doubt Mr. Farrell would approve of such 'continual and fearless sifting and winnowing' of ideas.

jeff_d said...

"There is no question that Mr. Barrett holds personal opinions that many people find unconventional."

I love that line. Unconventional. So the problem isn't the staggering combination of ignorance and spiteful irresponsibility that informs Mr. Barrett's 9/11 theory, but rather, it is just that "many people" are stuck in the rut of thinking conventionally. What a relief. And, in any event, Mr. Barrett will spend the "vast majority" of his time on matters untainted by his idiosyncratic fondness for explaining away genocide with blame-the-victim gibberish. That is a fine new standard for higher education—at least four hours of actual teaching for every hour of lecturing on The-World-According-To-Charlie-Sheen.

Still, I'd be just a little worried--if I was about to enter this institution of higher learning or for pay it--that whatever standards allowed Mr. Barrett to slip through might need to be tweaked.

Eli Blake said...

markthepundit:

I actually blogged in defense of David Irving a few months ago.

The issue is not whether I agree with his holocaust denial, or with Dr. Farrell's 9/11 denial. If that were the case, I'd defend neither of them. But I defend both of them, because I believe in the concept of academia being free to expound any theories that they want-- since over the centuries this has served us well as universities have served not only as educational institutions, but also as a place where any idea can get a hearing (and sometimes, like when the thinker was Albert Einstein, those 'nutty ideas' turn out to be right.)

The best way to kill nutty ideas like this that are wrong is to expose them to the light of day. Put them out there and pick at it publically, using documentation and evidence. Then you 1) make it clear that this idea is crazy and 2) instead of forcing it to grow underground, like a weed whose stem you have just hacked through, you pull it all the way up by the root so it can't grow back.

What, are you afraid to wield the sword of truth to slice up such a demonstrably false argument?

Mike said...

Color me disappointed. Especially after his remarks that his hiring by the UW implied there was substance to his conspiracy theory came to light.

Eli Blake said...

Oh, dear:

Whoops, it seems that I have gotten Dr. Farrell and Mr. Barrett mixed up.

Wurly said...

What, precisely, are the factors that transform a "crackpot theory" into mere "politically unpopular speech"?

Seriously, will the real academics at Wisconsin accept this insult and having to work under an administration that cannot distinguish between genuine scholarly debate and conspiratorial fantasy?

Mark the Pundit said...

[A]re you afraid to wield the sword of truth to slice up such a demonstrably false argument?

Certainly not, but I would rather not make such theories be presented as mainstream by any university.

charlotte said...

This "crackpot" theory is an unconscionable slander. Why should malicious rumor-mongering that names specific persons as mass-murderers and traitors be an exercise of academic free speech? This is not at all like teaching the existence of flying saucers or even that AIDS was invented by white man to hold Africa back. Real people are horribly defamed by this "controlled demolition" dark fantasy.

R C Dean said...

The best way to kill nutty ideas like this that are wrong is to expose them to the light of day.

But they have been exposed to the light of day. And their proponent has been rewarded with a sweet teaching deal.

How exactly is that "killing nutty ideas"?

And, having adopted the principle that people with nutty ideas should be given teaching slots in order to expose and kill their nutty ideas, how much room will there be on the faculty for people who don't have nutty ideas, but are merely intelligent and conscientous?

Simon said...

Eli Blake said...
"I actually blogged in defense of David Irving a few months ago."

I think the hardest part of coming up with a reductio ad absurdum of the liberal position is just how little reduction is actually involved. Every time you think you've done it, it turns out that actually, that is something they'll subscribe to! ;)

JohnF said...

I disagree with Ann on this. It is just another example of an inability to do the right thing, justified by word salad that looks balanced.

If the guy had a "small but significant" part of the course devoted to his theory that, say, Jews should be treated as second class citizens because of their descent from pigs, are we to assume that his teaching is consistent with what he was hired to do? And if not, that he is still entitled to his job?

This guy was hired to teach an introductory course on a religion, Islam. No one has explained, least of all the administration, what a bunch of lies, or perhaps mere engineering stupidity, has to do with this assignment.

PatCA said...

"He's an idiot, but he's our idiot."

To hell with rationality or the slightest bow to academic rigor.

If I were an alum, I'd yank my membership.

Simon said...

Ann:
"Wouldn't it be a pretty brilliant scheme to set up someone to teach this 9/11 theory at this university and see which students take the course? Your average, ordinary student will simply shun this horror. So who will take the course? Wouldn't the roster make a good list for the CIA?"

Well, the flaw in that theory is that it assumes that potential students have heard about the controversy. Those students who signed up, but who haven't heard about the controversy about the lecturer -- which, one has to suspect, will be the majority, since this is hardly a big, national story beyond Madison and regular Althausians -- will be laboring in blissfull ignorance, thinking that they are signing up to an introductory course on Islam.

Sad to say, given the assumed bureacratic incompetence, this fatal flaw in no way disqualifies your hypothetical from being accurate.

ben wallace said...

Jessica McBride has now implicated the Havens Center in this conspiracy. I predict that soon we will all accept the fact that Barrett is just the tip of the CIA iceberg. The entire Havens Center, and most of the sociology department, is probably run by the CIA. just ask yourself: how do we know they are not run by the CIA? The McCarthyite skeptics will claim that this is absurd, but the truth will eventually come out if we keep questioning them!

PS: Do not refer to us as "conspiracy theorists," which is an attempt to debase out claims; we are Critics Responding to American Propaganda.

ChrisCC said...

I tend to agree with johnf's criticism: what does 9/11, and especially Mr. Barrett's theories about US government complicity in the 9/11 attacks, have to do with teaching an introductory course on Islam? I would let him teach, but make him stick to the subject matter; if he can't live by those rules, I would fire him.

Doolesfan said...

To hell with rationality or the slightest bow to academic rigor.
If I were an alum, I'd yank my
membership.


When the Alumni Association calls I already tell them I will donate no money while John Wiley is Chancellor. Now I have another name to add to that list.

Reggie said...

This is absolutely nuts.

Two things I read today lead me to believe our decadent society is doomed. This is the first. That a state school will allow someone on their payroll teaching a class about Islam to delve into analysis over whether 9/11 was caused by a government conspiracy is beyond belief on so many levels. What does it say about the school's understanding of Islam that they allow this to be taught in this class? Does the school care at all about what is taught in its classrooms? It's really impossible to state the shamefulness of this decision.

The second sign of the apocolypse was the Mass. Supreme Court having two judges write to say the people couldn't amend their state constitution to overrule a state supreme court ruling. Gah.

I think I'll start packing up and head to Alaska to ride out the collapse of Western Society.

F15C said...

chriscc: "what does 9/11, and especially Mr. Barrett's theories about US government complicity in the 9/11 attacks, have to do with teaching an introductory course on Islam?"

Exactly. Are we to belive that Barrett does not want others to believe in his version of what happened on 9/11 and will not evangelize his belief? For a conspiracy theory to be 'successful' requires only one thing (and it is not the truth): That you can get others to believe. If you are the only one who believes, you are a whackjob, but if you can get others to believe, then you are prescient (at least in your own mind).

I look at it this way: If even one student exits Barrett's class with a new-found belief in Barrett's view of 9/11, then the U of W has done an incredible disservice to that student and to the nation.

The U of W is not, to my knowledge, providing a course that provides detailed factual information about what really happened on 9/11 to counter Barrett, nor is Barrett going to provide information that would undermine his closely held beliefs - he can't.

So how is an otherwise unprepared student expected to deal with Barrett's sick ideas?

Henry said...

It seems the 'continual and fearless sifting and winnowing' of ideas is an ends, not a means.

ignacio said...

It's a virtual certainty that Barrett will have a prepared blizzard of "facts" to support his impassioned thesis, such that an unprepared student will be ill-equipped to easily refute.

brylin said...

Why doesn't Farrell appoint a committee of the renowned University of Wisconsin Engineering Department to "sift and winnow" Barrett's allegation?

Why doesn't the esteemed University of Wisconsin Engineering Department take it upon itself to "sift and winnow" Barrett's allegation?

Ann Althouse said...

Brylin: I'm sure these people would regard it as an inappropriate burden, just as I would resent being assigned to disprove some kooky law theory propounded by somebody some other department decided to hire. To study it is to give it more credence than it deserves.

How about if the folks in limnology spend some time disproving my theory that mermaids are swarming in Lake Mendota?

Basically, there's a mistake that has already been made, and the damage undoing it only causes more damage. It will turn a villain into a victim.

The real problem to be solved is in the future. We need to strengthen the hiring process of our university.

brylin said...

Ann, I respectfully disagree. It is clearly an engineering question. Not to refute it is to allow it to be cited as credible to people gullible enough to believe it. If I were a UW engineering prof I would be outraged that someone would be allowed to teach such an engineering falsehood at my university.

This preposterous and dangerous lie must be refuted.

Reggie said...

Why can't they just say, don't teach this objectively false and irrelevant nonsense in your class? If he refuses, fire him. I don't see what the problem is with this.

If you take a wrong turn, you don't continue on the wrong path indefinitely, making a note to yourself to go the other way next time. You turn around and take the right path.

The Drill SGT said...

So a couple of questions about this search for enlightenment at UW, e.g. "sifting and winnowing" :

1. Would the University support the same level of free and open dialog if it were teaching the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion", or "Blacks are diseased spawn of Cain?" or fewer women are SCOTUS material?

2. What if the instructor wanted to teach in his class that Islam was a religion of Jihad, and that Mohammed was a child molester? If CAIR picketed, would we have free speech support from the administration?

3. Did the Administration encourage the publishing of the Mohammed cartoons? were they shown in the previous Intro to Islam class as the basis of a discussion on freedom of speech and Islamic tolerance?

just checking to see what the parameters are on speech at UW

I think I already know all the answers. Some majority groups can be racist, but others, by their historic minority status are innocent of all taint.

JohnF said...

OK, so you're saying there AREN'T mermaids in Lake Mendota?

And those of us supporting firing your new Intro to Islam teacher surely agree that the hiring issue needs to be revisited. But this seems to be a nontrivial breach of his employment contract. If it were a minor thing, I'd agree with you. But it isn't.

I guess he's just lucky the House Committee on Science doesn't have its own Jesse Jackson (see http://www.house.gov/science/hot/wtc/wtcreport.htm).

For anyone interested in other academics who share Barrett's views, Football Fans for Truth (!) has a top ten list, including Barrett (HT The Corner).
http://www.footballfansfortruth.us/archives/001517.html

Buddy Larsen said...

The guy was just on tv. Hannity and Combes--I guess noting the guy's weird tics and glassy stare--went easy on him, but he still went into a rant about "19 boxcutters and a guy in a cave is the real conspiracy theory" and "Fox should be taken off the air" to stop it from "spewing venom all over the airwaves" and so forth.

Yes, tha's right, I just saw it and heard it with my own eyes and ears, speech that he doesn't like "should be taken off the air".

These people aren't just kooks, they're stupid, and mean as hell.

Oh, yes, BTW, he stated that London, Bali, Madrid, and "most of the so-called Zarkawi bombings in Traq" are also "western military false-flag operations".

Also, kid u not, in a clip played before the segment, he says that Karl Rove was behind Sen Wellstone's death.

But, hey, we've got one just like him at Univ of Texas, a Dr. Robert Jensen, Journalism prof.

Ann Althouse said...

Brylin: Others have already been through this. I think Barrett is currently enjoying all the attention he's getting. I find it disgusting to give him any more.

I just saw him on "Hannity and Colmes." He kept twitching with excitement and talking over everyone else, expressing complete certitude that the government brought down the towers. I hope that clip becomes available for linking, because I don't see how anyone can look at it and think a student can make it through the class using normal critical thinking skills. How can a person who believes nonsense teach students how to think clearly? And how can someone with such a pompous certitude in his beliefs assure us that he will fairly listen to all sides? He's adamantly rejecting as ridiculous the idea that 19 men with box cutters could have brought down the towers.

Mathew said...
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magemom said...

chriscc: "what does 9/11, and especially Mr. Barrett's theories about US government complicity in the 9/11 attacks, have to do with teaching an introductory course on Islam?"

Modern practice of Islam and popular (mis)perceptions about Islam (shaped in no small part by and after 9/11) are an important aspect of any introductory course in the Islamic faith and culture. Indeed, it would sure be the white elephant in the room NOT to mention 9/11 or the relationship b/t Islam and terrorism in a post-9/11 class on Islam.

Finally, I actually saw some commenter (can't remember if it was here or elsewhere) remark on the need to protect "young, impressionable college students." Oh, please. You know what? This guy's going to spend a week talking about 9/11. That means 2 or 3 class periods. He's promised to make his students read a range of viewpoints on the subject (and hopefully now that he's under a microscope, he will do this), so that means he'll maybe get a whopping 1 hour or so to discuss his own crackpot theories, at which point, all the impressionable young students can collectively roll their eyes. It won't be the first time undergrads had to listen to a puffy-headed professor prattle on about his pet issue, and it won't be the last.

ben wallace said...

I supported Barrett before, but this guy is such a moron it makes it difficult to defend under academic freedom because he seeks to impose his views on students rather than advocating views to students. Does anyone know if these UW policies apply in this case, especially misrepresentation of facts for personal gain?

9.02. CAUSE FOR DISCIPLINE.

No faculty member shall be subject to discipline except for just cause, based upon a determination that the faculty member has violated a university rule or policy or has engaged in conduct which adversely affects the faculty member’s performance of his/her responsibilities to the university but which is not serious enough to warrant dismissal. As used in this chapter, discipline means any sanction except dismissal imposed by the administration against a faculty member for misconduct, including but not limited to an official reprimand, reduction in salary or reduction of a departmentally recommended increase in salary, or reduction in rank.

9.03. CAUSE FOR DISMISSAL. (See UWS 4.01.)

No faculty member shall be subject to dismissal except for just cause, based upon a determination that the faculty member’s conduct directly and substantially affects adversely, to a degree greater than that reserved for disciplinary action, the ability to carry out satisfactorily his/her responsibilities to the university. Examples of conduct that may warrant dismissal include, but are not limited to, fraud or intentional misrepresentation of facts for personal benefit, gross abuse of authority or influence (e.g.,discriminatory or retaliatory actions, particularly where a pattern is evident), or willful and protracted violations of university rules or policies. Layoff and termination for reasons of financial emergency are not dismissals for cause, and such actions are taken pursuant to Chapter 10 of these rules.

http://www.secfac.wisc.edu/governance/FPP/Chapter_9.htm

Dawn said...

I guess Provost Farrell won't be missing the $500 we donate annually to the UW Alumni Fund then, since he's more concerned about "sifting and winnowing" than hiring instructors who are based in reality, not some alternative one.

I feel sorry for the kid who will be calling us this year - they're going to get an earful.

Buddy Larsen said...

He wants Fox--and I'm sure everything else with which he doesn't agree, off the air. I can hardly wrap my head around that--this man frolicing among the daisies of free speech.

Mike said...

Henry said: It seems the 'continual and fearless sifting and winnowing' of ideas is an ends, not a means.

Excellent observation.

SippicanCottage said...
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