July 25, 2006

"What should Wisconsin do?"

Glenn Reynolds opines on the Kevin Barrett controversy:
They've got two problems here. No, make that three.

Problem one is that they hired a looney as an adjunct. That's not shocking -- adjunct positions pay badly and are often hard to fill....

Problem two is that they've converted this into a question of academic freedom, when it's not. At least, an adjunct who promised to teach white supremacy, or Christian supremacy, in a course on Islam would be very unlikely to retain his position. Wisconsin may claim otherwise, but I don't believe them, and I doubt many others do....
I think they'd try very hard to. The pressure for academic freedom here is very strong. But, of course, that kind of hiring mistake is far less likely to occur, so we probably will never face this test.
Problem three is that the Wisconsin administration has responded in a very tin-eared fashion and made the problem much bigger than it has to be.

To address these, they could fire Barrett, but I think that's a mistake and wouldn't get to the root of the problem. They need to look at the process for hiring adjuncts, and to protect students in Barrett's case they should assign the guy a supervisor or member of the department to co-teach the course for quality control. For justice, it should be the department head or committee chair who hired him, they should be present for every class, and it should be an addition to their regular course load. . . .

More importantly, they need to realize that people pay good money to send students to Wisconsin because it's "branded" as a place that provides quality education from quality professors. When you respond to criticism by basically disclaiming any responsibility for what's taught in classrooms, you also destroy the brand. Why send students to Wisconsin if that's the case? Where's the quality control? What does it mean to be an elite institution if you let any bozo teach whatever he/she wants in any course?
Good questions. I wish the university administration was not so averse to talking to the citizens about their concerns. It is content to state the justification for the decision, to tell people that they aren't working hard enough to grasp the justification, and to try to deflect attention onto the bad old legislators who want to intrude on the university. This aloofness doesn't help the university's cause. And, ironically, it runs counter to the very enthusiasm for free and open debate that the administration asserts as its reason to retain Barrett.

43 comments:

RaymondW said...

This is pretty amusing. I can't help but feel very jealous of those in the academic world. No consequences or accountability.

One thing I don't understand though, what exactly does it take to get fired from a tenured or non-tenured position at a university?

Goesh said...

Ward Churchill will soon be looking for work.....he may as well get hired on at UW - he already was paid once for giving a talk. He would be a good fit in the Ethnic Studies Dept. He is after all a Cherokee, and other days a Choctaw Indian. I don't think it's a big-deal issue, after all, parents are free to send their kids to schools that don't hire loonies and all taxpayers are free to lobby to have funding cut for schools that pay loonies good money to be looney.

JohnF said...

I've been a little bit of a broken record here, but let me try again.

Glenn says, "...they could fire Barrett, but I think that's a mistake and wouldn't get to the root of the problem." I think this is Ann's position too.

First, firing him would solve ONE problem, namely, the dopey hiring of him in the first place. (I assume here that firing is a lawful option, and that whatever contract he has permits it; if not, then I do think Wisc. should honor its obligations, however misguided it was to assume them.)

Second, the main argument, as I understand it, against firing him is that it would cause more harm than keeping him and letting things run their course. I believe this is wrong. If he teaches, the demonstrations, editorials, columns, disruptions, legislative hoo-hah, etc., will make what's going on now look like a party. On the other hand, if he were fired, there would be some outcry this summer, but, in the (fairly short) end it will all be forgotten. Look at Ward Churchill--much going on until the firing decision, not much now.

There. That should change Ann's mind. Glad to help.

UW Student said...

So I have a question, related to this topic but not this particular post. Ann, you made a reference to how difficult it would be to police teaching in a substance-neutral manner. What, exactly, do you mean by that? The idea that not all viewpoints are worthy of serious consideration in a classroom -- isn't that the whole point? How does neutrality even come into play?

I can't help but compare this to the evolution/creationism "debate," where there are certain criteria that course content must meet to be called "science" and the creationist guys just don't have it. Where are the similar standards, in the humanities? What sort of rubric should we use to separate the crazies from the serious scholars? It would be nice to have something more rigorous than "well, that one's obviously a loon." Teaching outside of one's area of expertise or outside of course relevance is promising as a warning sign, but it also works against the notion of interdisciplinary instruction, which if I'm not mistaken holds a lot of sway with normal, non-loony teachers at the moment.

It's true, in any case, that administrators don't have a lot of control over what gets taught. To those of you who complain about this, I remind you: In a modern research university, teaching is only the business incidentally. The real money and the real focus are elsewhere. It is just possible that the reason the administrators don't get more involved in the nitty gritty of course content is that they don't care.

dearieme said...

Raymondw: In Britain, the old answer was "Shag a donkey. In daylight. In the Old Quad. In front of the Vice-Chancellor. And Her Majesty." But actually, I know of a tenured British academic fired for being such a drunk that he didn't turn up reliably for his classes, and when he did, he was so often so drunk that they were a disgrace. Naturally, the legal procedure took so long that by the time of the final hearing, he could plausibly claim to have dried out. But they sacked him anyway. Quite right too.

jas said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sloanasaurus said...

I think the UW should just admit they made a mistake in hiring Barrett, but that under the contract he is allowed to teach for a semester. Then the UW should provide statistics as to the 1000s of instructors hired who have not taught conspiracy classes.

Another way would be for the UW to encourage students not to take the class. This could be done by annoucing that any grades from the class will be suspect due to the undue pressure on the instructor and that the class can be taken pass/fail only. If its pass fail, it will be worth less than bowling or tennis.

Aziz Poonawalla said...

FWIW I took strong exception to Barrett as well - from my perspective as both an american muslim and as a UW alumnus. I don't see why retaining Barrett minimizes harm - there's certainly harm to the students taking his course.

John said...

As with most things, I don't think the majority's views are being presented. In this case, the "majority" are 80% of the faculty and staff at UW. This problem rests squarely with the administration, for, as Ann states:
"This aloofness doesn't help the university's cause."

Those of us in the state and many of us as alums, are sitting precariously on the fence. If the university that educated us took a principled stand and discussed it publicly, we'd all be on board. Most of us know the complexity of managing a large organization (business or public institution) and realize how difficult individual hires can make our lives. The best answer is always cut ties quickly.

quietnorth said...

II have a question about what "academic freedom" means here. If I am hired to teach a course on Islam, why am I opining for any length of time in my classes on the WTC (other than to report perhaps that many people believe it is a conspiracy). I would be angry if I took a course on Islam and the instructor spent a week talking about any theories about the world trade center bombing. Is there that little to say about Islam? It is interesting, I teach social science classes at a technical college, where I chafe sometimes at the specific objectives all instructors are to meet in their classes. But I can't imagine why someone is free to teach anything only tangientially related to the course. Teaching something besides what students paid for seems to be a kind of fraud. (I say all this reluctantly, because I think there is a real danger of putting the acadamy under greater control of state legislators- I have followed the mess they leave in the area of natural resources.)

Mental Meanderings said...

There is an old joke in academia that the only way to fire a tenured professor is to catch him with a live boy or a dead girl. This joke is neither sensitive nor is it politically correct nor is probably very accurate. Nowadays it would take falsification of research (on a major grant)or child pornography. Some schools would include online gambling via the university's networks.

Mike said...

Comments from the Dept. chair have been conspicuously absent throughout this controversy. I wouldn't necessarily assume, as Glenn seems to, that the chair could provide supervision/balance for Barrett. How do we know that he is not a "Truther" as well?

raymondw asked: "One thing I don't understand though, what exactly does it take to get fired from a tenured or non-tenured position at a university?"

Apparently there is no difference between tenured and non-tenured positions here. I've been asking myself why I gave up 7 years of any semblance of a normal life to attain tenure.

SippicanCottage said...

People keep harping on all the wrong stuff.

There's no first amendment right involved here. There's no right to say anything anywhere without consequences. You get to say what you want and get your candy or take your beating like the rest of us.

This is not a question to be decided by engineering types. His ravings do not rise to the level of analysis. If someone tells you the earth is filled with nougat, do you grab a shovel and a test tube?

Please stop conjecturing about white supremacy and holocaust denials and so forth as if they were the obverse of his views. They are of the same genre. You make it sound like he's fighting the good fight against such persons.

I'll tell you the viewpoint that would get Barrett fired in a nanosecond, and all you academic "sift and winnow" types would be first down at the office with pitchforks and torches:

What if Bizarro Barrett wanted to teach that Islam is inextricably linked to terrorism? That it is a world domination cult masquerading as a religion? That there can never be a point of stasis between Islam and the west?

If he expressed that viewpoint, in public or private, verbally or written, inside or outside the classroom, he'd be fired summarily.

But as long as he expresses it against the United States, he's golden.

By the way, if he said that about catholicism, or evangelicalism of any kind, they'd give him a medal.

Acad Ronin said...

Raymondw:

UPENN tenured: Not fired after not guilty verdict in case of solicitation of a minor.

UPENN unenured: Not fired but encouraged to resign after not quilty verdict in case of rape accusation by an undergraduate.

reader_iam said...

It is content to state the justification for the decision, to tell people that they aren't working hard enough to grasp the justification, and to try to deflect attention onto the bad old legislators who want to intrude on the university.

I'm refraining from commenting on this one (so true! so true!) in the manner that tempts me, but I will say I'm glad my mouth wasn't full when I came across it.

From my point of view, this implying that it's OTHERS who aren't quite bright or enlightened enough to get it is SOP for academicians, especially in higher ed. Nothing new in that!

(My own prof father had a tough time leaving that 'tude at the office, which is why I got so wise and sensitized to the phenomenon at an early age and eventually learned to fight fire with fire. Made for lively times, I can tell you, and prepared me very well for my own Adventures In Education.

See, I can be an insufferable snot, too!--as you've no doubt noticed. I do have lot of respect for academia, by the way: I just don't see the individuals as holy or any less prone to error, in their own ways, as everbody else, in the aggregate.)

Anyway, I think Glenn's suggestion of assigning a supervisor or co-teacher is a good one, both for balance and for the nice "humiliation" factor, which in this case would be a very fine thing. The only thing is that I would also invite a guest prof--of engineering--for the actual week or whatever it is when Barrett "presents" his theory. (I know I was pooh-poohed before, but I still think that that someone from UW's engineering faculty should get involved, for the sake of the university, the university community, and, well, gee, the pursuit of Truth.)

It strikes me as very unlikely that any sort of supervision will be pursued, however, given the intransigence of the UW administration, which appears to be determined to cut off UW's nose to spite the face.

PatCA said...

Barrett also raises questions, especially in tuition-paying parents' minds, about the value of sending their kid to a UW-level school for two years of general ed courses taught by at worst unqualified nuts, or at best the same adjuncts who teach at the local JC. The student will still have his/her major course work taught by professionals. Why bother, except for lifestyle issues?

This issue was raised at a private university I worked for, and the admin took notice.

reader_iam said...

Part of the problem with Academic Freedom--a critical and vitally important and necesssry thing, in my opinion--is that, as in other areas in our society, the balance between "freedom to" and "freedom from" has gotten way out of whack in certain disciplines. It seems to me there's too much emphasis on the "rights" part over the "responsibility" part, and on an individual basis as opposed to the university community as a whole. That strikes me as a likely root cause of the Academy's reluctance to police itself, as it is supposed to do, or at least ineptitude in doing so.

ben wallace said...

Glenn Reynolds says "Problem two is that they've converted this into a question of academic freedom, when it's not."

This statement is inaccurate. If Farrell had fired Barrett primarily because of political pressure, then academic freedom would have been reduced given academic freedom fundamentally implies academic decisions should not be made in response to political demands.

Farrell helped academic freedom by rejecting political demands. Given the (sound) decision by Farrell, Reynolds and others rightly argue pragmatically about creating the best learning environment at UW by reforming the process for hiring lecturers.

I hope Farrell now recognizes that academic freedom does not require turning departments within the university into sovereign bodies with absolutely no higher power within the university. Indeed, academic freedom implies some decisions will be made jointly by administrators and departments in some situations.

knoxgirl said...

RW, it is curious, isn't it. Teachers of just about every political stripe are against Barrett being fired. We're warned that teachers would become afraid, boring, over-policed... basically, that course content would suffer. See, by allowing guys like Barrett to teach, we're preserving the integrity of course content...

Um... yeah.

It's also a pretty good follow-up joke that the rest of us are somehow supposed to trust that the people who hired Barrett, and see no need to fire him, wouldn't hire someone like him again.

Maxine Weiss said...

Do adjuncts get office hours?

Maybe that's the solution. Increased office hours would allow him to spout off and exhaust his rhetoric...so by the time he got to the classroom......no need to start up.

Students don't go to office hours anymore, though.

I was always afraid to be alone with some of these people.

But, I heard some really wild stuff went on, and that's when you really found out just how edgy some of these teachers were.

Peace, Maxine

ed said...

Hmmmm.

Perhaps that's the most effective means of obtaining a good education then. Attend an accredited smaller, and more local, junior college for non-critical courses, perhaps along with online courses, and then only attend the university for the most critical degree courses.

*shrug* if you're going to get taught by grad students anyways, what the heck.

price said...

I've taken several classes taught by a team of professors, and it was usually really fun when the professors clearly disagreed on something. Firstly, watching disagreements transpire in front of the class were an awkward delight... but more importantly, we were more comfortable actually exploring our own ideas rather than adhering to an idea that might get us a better grade.

So yeah, why not give this guy a teammate? Oh, and graders.

Simon said...

They (UW) probably feel like they're going to be damned and criticized whatever they do, and for some unknown reason, they thought that riding out the storm would be the path of least resistance. The thing that they have to understand, though,is that this has become a firestorm that is feeding itself; they are going to have to endure another month of bad press and mounting criticism before the Al Queda apologist Barret ever sets foot in a classroom. The question for them has to be, is this really the path of least resistance?

I agree with Glenn (which unfortunately means disagreeing with out hostess) - there is no way that if this guy was wanting to teach that black people are the source of all evil, or that hitler was simply a misunderstood genius who was trying to save us from those beastly Jews, that he would ever teach at UW. Maybe they'd bow under withering and intense pressure from the liberal media, maybe they'd do it from a sense of innate decency, but they'd fire him. That they aren't doing so with this fellow is a mystery. Is UWreally so enamored with any criticism of George W. Bush that they're willing to do grave and lasting damage to their institutional reputation for it?

GlassRace said...

Forgive me, but doesn't the position taken by the 9/11 Commisson represent the equivalent of Holocaust denial in this case?

The suspicious incineration of 3,000 Americans has yet to be investigated. If that isn't a cover up, what is?

And why the presupposition that one whistle blower alone can bring down a conspiracy?

Kayle said...

I think it might be a good idea for someone to post an article about what exactly an adjunct is. While I have a fair understanding, people less immersed in the world of academia probably have little idea of the difference between an adjunct and a tenure-track position. I'd link to The Invisible Adjunct, except it seems to be gone now.

vnjagvet said...

I have been following this story primarily on this site because of Ann's connection with UW.

From the UA Administration's point of view, we have heard from Farrell and a Regent. Valuable to be sure, but where is the Department?

Why has the Unversity chosen to speak through administrators rather than through the Academics who are responsible for assigning Barrett to teaching this course?

If there is a real academic reason for putting this BS out to the students in a Basic Islam course, I have not seen it yet.

Have I missed something?

Leverkuehn said...

raymondw:

It is very easy to get fired from a university before you get tenure. The decision is basically up to the department, although of course there is the possibility of outside pressure (from deans etc.). Once you have tenure, it's of course another story. Depending on the institution, it can actually be impossible to fire tenured faculty, even for cause. You can make life difficult for them by doing things like moving their office and lab space to undesirable locations, but in the end there's just no good way to fire tenured faculty.

This is as it should be. I can't speak for the liberal arts, but from what I've seen in the physical sciences, the tenure process is a very thorough vetting where you make damn sure that you want to be giving someone a lifetime appointment before they get that promotion. This can lead to people being denied tenure for political reasons (office politics, not the electoral sort), but even then the productive researchers generally find somewhere else to settle down. If you're not an outstanding producer, you don't get that lifetime job. Once you have that appointment, you're free to pursue any research program for which you can get the funding, and that's exactly why so much wonderful stuff comes from academic labs -- extraordinarily intelligent people working on problems that truly excite and motivate them. Tenure is a good thing.

reader_iam said...

Heh! So, hours later, I get around to reading the Higher Ed essays referenced in another of Ann's posts, and I come across this sentence in one of this (admittedly taken out of context):

But academic freedom is not freedom from criticism, nor is it freedom from judgment.

Ricardo said...
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Ricardo said...

Once again, you're working everyone into a frANNzy over things that don't deserve this much attention. And by the way, it also appears you're trying to pre-censure what someone else will teach in another course. That can't be a good precedent. Let the guy teach his stuff, and then you'll have ground for real objections. This issue is not yet "ripe".

Richard Dolan said...

It's going to take a lot more heat than the Barrett case is likely to generate before Wisconsin, or any other university, will do anything about the monoculture that gives rise to these oddball appointments. As Reynolds notes in his linked article, deviations by professors from the Acceptable Worldview in a rightward direction are dealt with quite harshly, and without all the noise about academic freedom (Reynolds cites, for example, a philosophy professor at SUNY denied promotion for criticizing university policies such as affirmative action in a column the professor wrote for a local paper). Since university administrators evidently believe that academic freedom protects only those on the left, the different treatment accorded more right-thinking academics (the few of them foolish enough to speak their minds before getting tenure) keeps the folks at FIRE quite busy.

As for the idea that a market driven response by parents demanding their money's worth from the universities to whom they entrust Junior's education: would that it were so. But on that score, I think Prof. Reynolds is dreaming. From an economic perspective, universities today perform an accrediting function even more than they perform an educational one. That some of the professors Junior will be subjected to along the way are cranks or worse has no impact on the accrediting function, and if truth be told, no real impact on the educational function either. Even the dimmer bulbs among the student population know when the teacher is a real bozo. And it is undoubtedly the case that at Wisconsin, and every other major university, the bozos seeking to use the classroom for indoctrination purposes are a small fraction of the faculty. A small and unintended benefit (and one that hardly makes hiring the Barrett's of this world a sensible choice for university administrators) is that it's not a bad lesson in life for Junior to learn how to deal with agenda-driven cranks in positions of authority, particularly in a setting where the stakes for Junior are quite low if he is slow on the uptake.

At the root of all this is the lefty monoculture in academia, and the remarkable blindness and self-righteousness that comes with it. Perhaps the embarrassment that this story is causing Wisconsin, like the embarrassment Yale rightly received regarding the special admission of "Taliban student" and Columbia got for the nutty goings-on in its Mideast Studies (a/k/a Palestinian Grievances) Department, may make universities a bit more self-aware of their manifest shortcomings on the real diversity scale. But I am afraid that the solution to the monoculture problem will, at a minimum, have to await the passing of the current generation of professors, who got their training (both in their discipline and in politics generally) in the 60s and 70s. In the interim, it can't hurt to have state legislators taking a close look at an institution supported by the taxpayers. It may not be a great idea to have state legislators dictating academic policy, but someone needs to point out to university administrators -- in a way that they will have to pay attention to -- that a public university is not their private play thing.

brylin said...

Speaking about academic stifling of controversial conservative viewpoints, Glenn Reynolds says: "Wisconsin may claim otherwise, but I don't believe them, and I doubt many others do...."

Ann, by use of elipses, omits the example of the State University of New York at Fredonia to which Glenn links.

She may wish/desire that the UW wouldn't stifle conservative viewpoints, but my bet is with Glenn on this one. And I think it's clear.

Just like my bet is that UW won't reject Barrett by letting him "pass through" the system.

In her defense, she is closer to UW than I am, but sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees.

Finally, Glenn's Barrett writing was one of the most lengthy posts I've seen him make in a long time. That's probably an indication of his strong feelings on this issue.

Jim Gust said...

If I lived in Wisconsin, I'd be writing to my legislative representatives demanding draconian investigations (preferably televised), firing of all administative personnel responsible, and the replacement of the existing governance system with something that will be responsive to public opinion and demonstrate ordinary common sense.

In short, I'd be demanding that they go completely overboard, with the hope that someone in the University other than Ann Althouse would finally begin to take this seriously.

What does it take to get fired at a university? Ask Larry Summers. Free speech has limits, after all.

Gene C Evans said...

What exactly does it take to get fired from a tenured or non-tenured position at a university?

Praising George W Bush might do it. Wearing an 'I Like Dick Cheney' t-shirt to a faculty meeting would be even better.


Gene

magemom said...

I don't disagree that Barrett is a loon. But what most people don't realize is that Barrett *has* co-taught this class in the past, several times, w/ a member of the faculty (who is I believe tenured, tho I'm not positive). In fact, this is what got him the job: he had been TAing the course for years, he received decent reviews for doing so, and when the usual prof went on sabbatical, he was the logical person to take over it. Oh, and he also happened to be the only applicant.

So I'm just not sure what else the university should have done here. Not offer the course at all? I think it's an interesting question, and not one w/ an obvious answer as many seem to think. Bear in mind that his wacky theories occupy only a small fraction of the class. The rest is standard intro to Islam stuff.

Nor am I sure how the university could have responded differently to this. I don't think the unversity disclaimed responsibility; they reviewed his syllabus, readings, and past evals, and found that on the whole, the content of the course was sound and that he was an OK candidate to teach what was in the syllabus.

And would additional free and open debate on this topic have simply lent legitimacy to Barrett's wacky theories?

tjl said...

The potential harm to students from letting Barrett teach is minor compared to the actual harm to the university from 1) hiring him in the first place and 2) stonewalling about the reasons for retaining him.

As many of the comments on this and previous threads make clear, we all attended schools where left-leaning politics were absolutely dominant among the faculty. Has anyone claimed that they suffered any harm beyond a little annoyance? The opposite seems to be true. The leftist campus orthodoxy is so doctrinaire, so rigid, so transgressive of real life, that it helps students develop the skills and tools to detect its falsity. It's not unlike the irritating foreign matter that makes the oyster form a pearl.
We should have more faith in the intelligence and common sense of the students.

Karton said...

Is there a curriculum for this intro course? Established, I would think, by the academic dept. that requires the course be taken prior to a student's taking higher-level courses. If the teacher isn't teaching the curriculum, that would be an issue for the dept., presumably grounds for dismissal.

Should there be academic freedom? Yes, but I suggest degrees of it. An academic dept. setting standards or requiring a core of instructional material is not necessarily the antithesis to academic freedom. (Perhaps especially for an introductory course being taught by someone who isn't part of the university's or the department's team of standard-setters, or expectations-setters.) The teacher should be able to demonstrate, at least to his/her peers, that the institution's desired (educational) ends are met by the methods employed. Is this not how it works? Perhaps it is in fact working this way, but as other commenters have noted, the dept. head has not been heard.

Is discussion of current popular beliefs germane to an "Intro to Islam" course? I'd say yes, even conspiracy theories. However, such topics need to be presented as subjects not yet settled as fact. We'd be foolish to teach the current popular beliefs of many cultures as fact.

Active, up-to-date education will involve "radical" theories, and like other topics these theories need to be presented with the fullest support the teacher can muster, the better for students to learn how to evaluate their world. That said, all areas of study develop cores of information -- perhaps shifting, evolving -- that students need to be exposed to in order to evaluate other information. It is this information that seems most appropriate to an intro course.

Mike said...

Ben Wallace said: "If Farrell had fired Barrett primarily because of political pressure, then academic freedom would have been reduced given academic freedom fundamentally implies academic decisions should not be made in response to political demands."

Ben, your reference to political pressure seems like a straw man to me. I agree with you that UW should not have acted due to political pressure, but that doesn't preclude the UW installing a remedy because it's the right thing to do. And, as many people, including Glenn Reynolds, have pointed out, there are suitable remedies other than firing.

Magemon said: "what most people don't realize is that Barrett *has* co-taught this class in the past, several times, w/ a member of the faculty (who is I believe tenured, tho I'm not positive). In fact, this is what got him the job: he had been TAing the course for years, he received decent reviews for doing so, and when the usual prof went on sabbatical, he was the logical person to take over it. Oh, and he also happened to be the only applicant."

I think this is a good point. I don't agree with Ann that this episode necessarily implies a broken hiring process. Though I still wonder if the hiring Dept. knew of Barrett's intentions.

Kayle said: "I think it might be a good idea for someone to post an article about what exactly an adjunct is."

Here are the guidelines for an adjunct appointment: http://www.ohr.wisc.edu/polproced/uppp/APX01_C.pdf which don't seem to fit this case (primary professional career outside higher education instruction, generally adjunct appointment are $0). We have adjunct appointments in my Dept. and they do not have classroom teaching responsibilities. I'm uncertain what Barrett's exact title is. Here is the entire Unclassified Title Guidline.

Juliet said...

I haven't posted on this topic yet and I'm thinking about several aspects of it, so my response is likely to be long-winded. My apologies in advance.

1. What distresses me most about the whole matter is this: any college course, but especially an introductory class, is more about what you're going to leave out than what you're going to include. Islam has a 1400-year history. I don't know a lot about it, but I know enough to know that there is a lot I don't know, more than can fit into a 15-week class. Barrett's ideas are basically irrelevant to the course description and take valuable time away from other things he could be teaching. If he just didn't bring up this nonsense, it wouldn't detract from anyone's understanding of Islam; quite the contrary, it would allow more time for learning what's essential about it.

2. Glenn's suggestion that a supervisor co-teach the course is excellent. I think it's necessary not only for the students' protection, but also for Barrett's, because he'll be under a lot of scrutiny, and I expect some students will take the course simply to provoke him into saying or doing things that could be embarrassing to him and/or the university. A more experienced professor could help defuse that risk.

3. I'm sure I know less than magemom does about the LCA department, but I can think of several possible alternatives to having Barrett teach the course: a. Don't offer it until the usual professor returns--that is, if nobody's required to take it. It can wait a semester or a year. b. Have an advanced graduate student teach the course. Someone would probably appreciate the fundng. c. Have another professor in the department teach outside his or her specialty. A course taught by someone whose specialty isn't necessarily Islam, but who knows something about it and can put together a syllabus, is better than a course taught by someone who isn't qualified, or is going to damage the university's reputation.

dick said...

magemom,

where did they advertise the position that he was the only applicant. A position at Univ of Wisconsin is nothing to sneeze at, even for an adjunct. It would look good on the CV even if you were only part time and if you can get good references from it you might even parlay that into something really good.

That they advertised anywhere and only got this one applicant says that they were not trying too hard and speaks even more to the problems that Univ of Wisconsin needs to investigate from this whole kerfluffle.

Simon said...

Jim Gust said...
"What does it take to get fired at a university? Ask Larry Summers. Free speech has limits, after all."

But Summers/Harvard is a totally different situation that can't fairly be compared to Barret/UW. When Harvard fired Summers, it was because they disagreed with him. See the difference? ;)

magemom said...
"Nor am I sure how the university could have responded differently to this. I don't think the unversity disclaimed responsibility; they reviewed his syllabus, readings, and past evals, and found that on the whole, the content of the course was sound and that he was an OK candidate to teach what was in the syllabus."

Yes, but the real problem is that when it became abundantly clear that they had made a bad call, they failed to correct the mistake. You note that nobody else applied for the position, perhaps with the implication that "if not Barret, then who will teach this course" - but that just begs the question: is it better that a course not be taught, or that it be "taught" only in the sense of being a platform for prosetylizing this fellow's absurd nonsese?

"And would additional free and open debate on this topic have simply lent legitimacy to Barrett's wacky theories?"

The only thing legitimizing it is the acquiesence of a major university to the material being "taught" in a class where it is wholly unrelated to the subject by someone totally unqualified to speak with authority on the subject. The "marketplace" function only operates where students have a choice: if they could choose to take the course with Barret or choose to take it with another prof.

PatCA said...

magemom,
You bring up relevant points. He has taught this class, in part, before and came out unscathed by criticism. Why take a chance on someone new? Academia feels it must teach an Intro to Islam course but paradoxically only according to its dogmatic tenets of moral and cultural relativism. Yet what sensible intellectual could teach a course on Islam without mentioning its significant ties to violence and thus violating The Code? They could not possibly ask Robert Spencer to teach, nor would the public accept, say, the local Muslim radical.

So Barrett fills the bill: philosphically acceptable (at least up till now). The provost seems almost glad he is merely nuts and not "Islamophobic."

blogsearcher said...
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