August 5, 2006

"If Farrell is not going to apply that reasoning across the board, why is he inflicting it on Barrett?"

That's a question I'm asking, over on Instapundit.


David said...

Because Barrett is bad for the business of education. A reasoning public would logically believe that there are other subjects worthy of his limited efforts than disputing an American iconic tragedy during a time of war.

The back story on this is what, if anything, the alumnae association is doing, or threatening to do, if this silliness continues. Barrett continues to use his position, however tenuous and temporary it may be, with the university to provide a legitimate connection to his wacky ideas.

Free speech gives you the right to make yourself look idiotic. It does not give Barrett the right to make his employer, dependent on tuition and students, to look frivolous in it's hiring and teaching practices.

Farrell is stuck in the past and does not see, yet, the failure of his policies in the eyes of a discerning public. The same public that is in a mood to send their children and hard-earned tuition dollars to more serious centers of learning.

The Drill SGT said...

Farrell has the polarity on his free speech positions reversed:

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.

Ann said:
When I go on radio or TV, I am introduced as a professor at the University of Wisconsin, whether I'm talking about law or politics or culture or some other topic I presume to blab about. It's never even occurred to me that stating this true fact -- where I work -- means that I "speak for the university" or that listeners might be confused into thinking that I do. You'd have to think ordinary people are idiots to believe that they think Kevin Barrett is speaking for the university when he spews his offensive theory.

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"

Ann, I don't think you start TV appearances with, "I'm Ann Althouse, Prof an UW Law, and obviously because I am allowed to teach there, what I'm about to say about nuclear physics must be fact."

Ann Althouse said...

Drill: If I did say that, I would be so blatantly an idiot that everyone should discount what I say, not give it more credit. And it would still be crushingly clear that I was not speaking for the university. I would be bringing disrepute to the university for having an idiot like me on the teaching staff, but that would simply be useful information that the public deserves access to.

David said...

Interesting that every business I have worked for had an EEOC department that actively enforced a no free speech agenda.

In academia it is exactly the opposite. What a way for teaching institutions to prepare students for life outside the hallowed halls of academe!

Tim Sisk said...

Ann, a few comments that sort of disagree with your Instapundit post (even while I agree with your position on Barrett).

First, I think Farrell is saying to Barrett that by making his position on 9/11 so forcefully in the media (and sooo nuttily) that Farrell is beginning to doubt that Barrett can truly be "fair" and even-handed in his treatment of the subject. The fact that Farrell is just now seeing that Barrett may not be able to, you know, be fair in the presentation of the material is what is a mystery (and demonstrates how lame the U of W-Madison's response has been). The obvious remedy is to have the department head sit in on these sessions. (And Farrell seems to be setting the stage for that to happen.)

Secondly, I think Farrell thought the university would be shielded by the "academic freedom" argument and that people would detach the conspiracy theory from university. As Barrett continues to speak out and is identified as working for the university, Barrett is seeing the reputation of the university being diminished. (Again, why he is just now seeing that is a mystery).

The biggest problem (and one that you have talked about frequently) is that this isn't a legitimate academic subject (especially within subject of this course on Islam) and by allowing a professor to teach it (not just research it but teach it) neccesarily calls into question U of W Madison's academic reputation (or at least some of the controls within some parts of the University). By allowing Barrett to teach the coursework as presented in the syllabus, the University tacitly endoresed the worthiness of the subject. Farrell, as we say in the South, made his bed, now he has to lay in it.

Ann Althouse said...

Tim: If the point is that Barrett's media appearances show him to be a nut, I think Farrell already had that information from the interviews he did before deciding to keep him on. The new problem that has emerged from the media appearances is not Farrell's perception that he is a nut but the embarrassment to the university caused by the general access to seeing what he is like.

altoids1306 said...

For some reason, it didn't strike me until today that making a stand against Farrell and Barrett was incredibly brave. (While I cringe to use phrases like "making a stand", it actually does apply to this situation.)

As someone who hopes to be a tenured professor someday, it's inspiring to see someone who isn't cowed by the university bureaucracy. I'm not sure what professional pressures you're facing, but thanks anyways.

Dave said...

The decline in the legitimacy of the university continues apace.

Dusty said...

I'll second altoids1306's comment, Ann, and let me add that your eforts are admirable.

pct said...

I think Farrell is running up against the limits of a formalistic, content-neutral approach to the issue. Saying something is offensive and lunatic necessarily implies a judgement about content.

Tim Sisk said...

I'm going to assume Farrell didn't know Barrett was a nut until the media interviews. People act differently in private than under the glare of media spotlight after all.

Certainly I disagreed with Farrell from the beginning and thought he was naive to trust Barrett. It is frustrating that it wasn't obvious to Farrell from the beginning that Barrett is what he is certainly coming across in the media spotlight. But I think probably Farrell saw this as a question of academic freedom and not for what it is rightly (as Ann so ably has pointed out) akin to teaching about UFO's. Not serious/legitimate academic concern.

I say this not knowing Farrell and just assuming his intentions were well intended albeit misguided. I believe he fundamentally missed issue from the beginning but is now coming around to understanding the problem.

Tim Sisk said...

Also, generally, I agree with you that universities, in general, don't like too much observation about what is being taught. You state it better when you say:

His reprehensible conspiracy theory is fine to inflict on students, but please stop showing your face to the general public because it's making trouble for the university?

Send us your money and your children but don't get too involved here, you aren't welcome. One of the bigger problems that remains unaddressed is the question of academic standards. My graduate degree came from a fairly liberal private university. It was departmental policy that every class (every class!) include a book representing feminism and minority (usually African-American) scholarship. (Even better if it could be from womanist theory.) The problem wasn't that we had to study these areas, but by requiring representation in these areas there were obvious gaps in the quality of materials. To provide materials in these areas sometimes required the instructors to "stretch" to find resources, and as students we often found a real drop off (simply because of the paucity of resources or the relatively new-ness of the subject areas). The Academy is suffering because specialized disciplines diffuse the generalist disciplines. By focusing on the micro we forget the macro.

Simon said...

David said...
"Free speech gives you the right to make yourself look idiotic. It does not give Barrett the right to make his employer, dependent on tuition and students, to look frivolous in it's hiring and teaching practices."

Ah, but if Barrett's employer IS frivolous in it's hiring and teaching practices (as evidenced by their decision to hire him and refusal thusfar to fire him), does free speech give Barrett a right to forewarn by example the potential students who might otherwise be tempted to attend UW and give them the money on which you say they depend?

Apropos, Ann's comment that:
"If I did say that, I would be so blatantly an idiot that everyone should discount what I say, not give it more credit ... I would be bringing disrepute to the university for having an idiot like me on the teaching staff, but that would simply be useful information that the public deserves access to."

Is that not an accurate description of what is actually happening here? Barrett is saying that, he is blatantly an idiot, everyone should discount what he's saying, and he's bringing the university into disrepute by having an idiot like him on the teaching staff? To some extent, aren't students entitled to know the quality of the judgement of the university's hiring practices?

If Barrett is performing any kind of public service, it is that he is serving as a beacon to warn parents that UW is nota place to send their children. If UW doesn't like being associated with Barrett, if they don't like their potential customers knowing just what kind of nutjob they're willing to hire, perhaps they should take the logical step and not be associated with him - to not have him on staff?

The Drill SGT said...

Tim said:
I'm going to assume Farrell didn't know Barrett was a nut until the media interviews. People act differently in private than under the glare of media spotlight after all.

That assumption brings into play another problem. The Department Chairwoman, the regular Instructor and the whole interdisciplinary departments that are the home to LCA 370 (Intro to Islam) and where Barrett got his PhD and was a TA.

While Farrell can be excused for assuming that nobody could be as wacko as Barrett really is, those faculty in the department worked with him for 10 years including nearly 5 after 911. They knew his theories and granted him a PhD and thought he'd be just fine for LCA 370. It doesn't say much for the scholarship or the radical bias of the whole crew. If Farrell did even the most minimal due diligence before he made his decision, he should hold the people that mis-represented Barrett to him accountable now.

Ann Althouse said...

"making a stand against Farrell and Barrett was incredibly brave"

It's not that brave. I have tenure (and even a vested pension) at a university that is fiercely devoted to academic freedom and free speech. That devotion, of course, is how they got into this fix in the first place.

In any case, not one administrator or faculty member or student or alumnus has said one word to so much as suggest even that I tone it down a smidge.

Ann Althouse said...

And certainly no one has said that I shouldn't be making it seem as though I represent the university!

Ron said...

OT, but still from Instapundit --

Kos Coy? Isn't that that place where you get liberal opinions in bulk?

Christy said...

I spent a lot of years speaking for my employer in areas of my technical expertise. To have used that pulpit for my own agenda would have gotten me fired forthwith.

Just wondering. Does UW get much in grant money from private industry? Over the years I've been in a position to direct money to three large universities for engineering and for nuclear medicine programs. I certainly would have found it easier to direct money to another worthy school than go to bat for a Barrett-embattled univeristy. Is there potential for Wisconsin to lose much private grant money?

bearbee said...

Conspiracy nuttiness spillover Conspiracy theorists blog that Flight 93 photo is fake

Editor Theorist said...

AA is quite correct about the wrongness of the President's comments.

The University of Wisconsin is evading its right and responsibility to prevent Barrett teaching this material (on the basis of it being inappropriate for the curriculum).

Instead of instructing Barrett not to teach this material, in his public statements the President has instead explicitly approved and endorsed Barrett's curriculum.

Therefore, teaching the 9/11 conspiracy is no longer Barretts responsibility, but the President's.

My feeling is that - by avoiding the tough decision at an early stage, the President of UW has dug himself into a hole.

Stopping Barrett teaching 9/11 conspiracy theories in a classroom is a curriculum matter, nothing to do with 'free speech'; but trying to pressurize Barrett to stop speaking about his ideas outside the classroom _is_ an infringement of his free speech.

It looks like the UW president has completely misunderstood the situation.

My guess is that this business will probably, quite rightly, lead to the resignation of the UW President, sooner rather than later.