August 3, 2006

"I have not sought publicity."

The plot thickens. (Yikes! A plot!)

IN THE COMMENTS: Wurly asks the important questions:
Farrell seems to be a scrambling to try to get out of this hole. But these warnings to Barrett, assuming that they would be applied fairly across the university, are actually a greater threat to academic freedom than a simple initial decision to cancel the class would have been.

Does Farrell make it his business to chastise all Wisconsin professors/instructor/[adjuncts] for publicly discussing the theories that they teach to university students? Isn't the point of scholarship to develop and disseminate ideas, theories, etc. Would you, Ann, accept such a limitation on your right to engage with the broader community?

I assume that you are identified as a professor at Wisconsin when you appear on the radio or on panels? Do you think you are speaking for the University on those occasions?

28 comments:

Seven Machos said...

" The Ozaukee County Board voted Wednesday to cut funding to next year's UW Extension program by $8,247 -- the amount Barrett will earn for the course -- in a symbolic protest that could spread to other counties."

This is quite brilliant. Every county in Wisconsin that can should do this, as should the state itself, as should the federal Congress. It would be popular politics and would not hurt that much, and would drive the point home that this kind of thing is to be avoided in the future.

It may be that the University is laying the groundwork to fire the guy, anyway. And, clearly, his days at the University are numbered. In the long-term, this will not end poorly.

Pogo said...

1. Farrell seems to have found a way to save face in front of both legislators and university professors. By firing him for insubordination, he gets to avoid free speech concerns. Still, this one's gonna leave a mark.

2. Barrett feels he hasn't sought "publicity"?
"Paging Kevin Barrett ; Inigo Montoya on line one."

3. I'm warming up to Ozaukee's message. If applied frequently enough, the kudzu of government could be pruned to a more reasonable size.

4. If the the Ozaukee method is anything like the Suzuki method, will we see child prodigy legislators, aged 4 or 5, developing perverse but exact punishments to the delight of admiring and pushy parents?

Goesh said...

Fire the loon and bring in Ward Churchill to replace him

JohnF said...

The articles you link says Farrell (U.W. Provost) told Barrett to stop "associating" himself with the university when he talked to people. Stop associating himself with U.W.??? What does Farrell think a U.W. teacher is?

It also seems odd that Farrell thinks this "associating" can be a firing offense, apparently on the ground that a teacher's "opinions" shouldn't enter the classroom lest, I gather, they be "associated" with the school ("I have to rethink the assurances he has given me about his ability to separate his opinions from what happens in the classroom").

Let me just issue a warning to Ann--be careful what you say about the Supremacy Clause, lest U.W. be accused of folding on important states rights issues. None of your opinions in the classroom, please!

I've previously said this Barrett thing would be much worse for everyone if he was kept on than if he was fired promptly. I don't want to say I told you so, but I may have to soon.

Wurly said...

Farrell seems to be a scrambling to try to get out of this hole. But these warnings to Barrett, assuming that they would be applied fairly across the university, are actually a greater threat to academic freedom than a simple initial decision to cancel the class would have been.

Does Farrell make it his business to chastise all Wisconsin professors/instructor/sadjucts for publicly discussing the theories that they teach to university students? Isn't the point of scholarship to develop and disseminate ideas, theories, etc. Would you, Ann, accept such a limitation on your right to engage with the broader community?

I assume that you are identified as a professor at Wisconsin when you appear on the radio or on panels? Do you think you are speaking for the University on those occasions?

Robin said...

It seems to me that Farrell has shown that he is inadequate to handle the position to which he has risen. By retaining Barrett in the face of his absurd beliefs and allowing the man to shout his idiocy from coast to coast while proclaiming that he has been hired to teach at UW, Farrell has harmed UW almost irreparably. I think this may well end with BOTH men being fired.

Dave said...

The declining legitimacy of the academy continues apace.

Up next: flat Earth and intelligent design advocates.

Ann Althouse said...

Wurly: You are raising the important questions. Perhaps Farrell's got free speech values exactly backwards and Barrett shouldn't be permitted to teach here but should be allowed to say all he wants in the media if he can get the attention. Ironically, the media are only interested in hearing what he's got to say because the UW hired him.

Pogo said...

Re: "the media are only interested in hearing what he's got to say because the UW hired him"

Absolutely. Farrell fails to grasp that UW is viewed as having given its imprimatur to Barretts opinions, rather than having merely given him a podium to engage debate.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PatCA said...

I agree, Wurley. Farrell is revealing himself as a bit of a stalinist, isn't he? "You can have free speech... as long as I say so!"

I think he, either an incompetent or a thug, should be fired, along with Barrett, a mere nut.

The Drill SGT said...

Wurly and Ann have it right.

1. Barrett should not be allowed to teach his conspiracy gospel in class beyond raising it from a peripheral perspective (e.g. The Islamic world has a different perspective on various events (including 911). In order to combat Islamic extremists, we need to get inside their heads at some level (swimming is cesspools anyone?))

2. Barrett should be allowed to preach conspiracy from the rooftops or bay at the moon, on his own time, as long as it isn't a UW rooftop. Unfortunately, I recall numerous interviews where Barrett has explicitly or implicitly said: "It's not a conspiracy, its the truth. The proof is that I'm allowed to teach it at the great U of W"

The Drill SGT said...

Don't forget the Department Chairwomen when we hand out pink slips. She got this started with the hiring and syllabus

Mike said...

Pogo said: "Farrell fails to grasp that UW is viewed as having given its imprimatur to Barretts opinions, rather than having merely given him a podium to engage debate."

Maybe so, but it's hard to imagine how he could have missed this point. Barrett was saying explicitly "if my views are so loony, how can I be teaching at the University of Wisconsin?" from the beginning. It's one of the aspects of this I found so offensive.

"``I have not sought publicity,'' Barrett wrote in an e-mail message to The AP." Priceless. Personally, from what I've observed of Barrett's writings and interviews, I think he will prove to be completely incapabale of lowering his public profile.

Wurly said...

Another proposed slogan, painting with far too broad a brush:

"We teach nonsense, but are discrete about it!"

Wurly said...

Ack - discreet!

Todd said...

Wurly: I actually thought 'discrete' was part of the joke.

The Drill SGT said...

Alternately:

We provide equal parts of world class scholarship and pure bullsh_t in a nondiscrete teaching environment. Winnow it if you can. caveat emptor.

Simon said...

Pogo said...
"Re: 'the media are only interested in hearing what he's got to say because the UW hired him.' Absolutely. Farrell fails to grasp that UW is viewed as having given its imprimatur to Barretts opinions, rather than having merely given him a podium to engage debate."

I don't really agree that UW is viewed as "as having given its imprimatur to Barretts opinions" - that wording seems to imply that it would be a false perception that they have done so, whereas in fact, as the Tribune notes, that is precisely and specifically what UW has done: earlier in the summer, "[t]he 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" (emphasis added). It seems to me that the university has explicitly sanctioned teaching that "the Bush Administration planned and executed the attacks on the World Trade Center" -- the "idea[]" that Barret was permitted to "present ... during one week of the course" -- as part of the curriculum of an introduction to Islam.

Simon said...

The Drill SGT said...
"We provide equal parts of world class scholarship and pure bullsh_t in a nondiscrete teaching environment. Winnow it if you can. caveat emptor."

Well, the problem with saying "caveat emptor" to the students is similar to the problem of using the "marketplace of ideas" defense (see comments here): caveat emptor only goes so far. If you buy a mug of cocoa, caveat emptor only protects the vendor so far as the cocoa not tasting very good; but in buying it, you have a reasonable expectation that the vendor is selling you cocoa, not liquified crap. Caveat emptor only protects a seller against faults and problems with what you buy when it is reasonable to expect faults or problems with the product; it doesn't protect a seller from claims of fraud for selling something with an incorrect description which the buyer could not reasonably anticipate. Frankly, I think a student who signed up to a course on Islam and instead got a course on why George Bush is evil could (and probably should) claim fraud against UW. If you sign up for a course on Islam, you expect to get a course on Islam; caveat emptor would protects the University if, for example, the teacher has an obscure method, or a verbal tic, but it would not protect them if the lecturer spent the entire class opining about Golf, and it shouldn't protect them here.

It seems to me that the best way out of this mess would be to write to every student who signed up for the course, apologize for putting them in such a situation, and offer them the choice of their money back, or being taught the couse with the caveat that it will contain a two-week rant about the Bush administration. Anyone who wishes to take the course, disabused of the notion it will be about Islam, can do so. Then caveat emptor applies.

Dave Diamond said...

Hypothetical situation:

Ann is hired to teach constitutional law. Her syllabus says that she will teach a variety of schools of thought on Constitutional interpretation, and she promises that she won't favor one over the other.

Meanwhile, she begins a very public campaign of advocacy for strict constructionism, seeking out publicity for herself and her views on the subject.

Would her employer have a reasonable suspicion that she may not be as objective as she said she would?

Elizabeth said...

Dave D., I'm not sure that hypothetical works.

Barrett isn't really dealing with theory or interpretation; he's offering a scenario, saying one set of events is more likely to have happened than those in the official narrative.

On the other hand, a professor of law should be able to make a strong argument for the interpretive position he or she favors, so long as in the interest of turning out fully informed students that professor explains how all major schools of interpretation work. I'd argue the same for literature or history professors, or art professors, etc. I tend to favor a historical analysis to literature, for example, and will use that in most of my courses. But I talk about other critical theories, and encourage students to be familiar with them, and then work in the traditions that most appeal to them.

Barrett's defense of 9/11 conspiracy theory doesn't fall under that critical, interpretive umbrella. I see no problem with any academic having, and being open about, their favored critical stance. I do object them misrepresenting factual material, or offering critical evaluations based on disciplines in which they are not credentialed.

alikarimbey said...

Prof. Ann,

I commend UW to make the issue publicly available.

http://www.news.wisc.edu/barrettissue/index.html

This is transparency. PS: I could not locate the instructor (KB) in the dept. list.

Also, how come there are no postings on Lieberman-Lamont Blog Issues (see http://www.slate.com/id/2147117).

Simon said...

Dave,
One thing to add to Elizabeth's comments: for your hypothetical to be comparable, Ann would have to be put into the position you suggest while having no background in law or the teaching of it. Barrett intends to teach material which is not only non-germane to the class, but also which he has no qualification to comment on in a pedagogical setting. Barrett may or may not be qualified to teach about Islam, but what - if anything - qualifies him to discuss structural engineering, materials science and physics?

Ann Althouse said...

I posted on the Lieberman thing on Instapundit and linked to it here for discussion.

The Drill SGT said...

Ann,

I don't see a recent Lieberman post of yours at Instapundit

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
drakefan said...

In light of Farrell's contradictory policy (teach students whatever nonsense you please, as long as you don't discuss it in public) I would suggest the following slogan:

What happens at UW-Madison, stays at UW-Madison