Monday, July 24, 2006

Academic Freedom & The Teaching Moment

Should a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who argues that Vice President Cheney orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks be fired?

More than 60 state legislators want the school to give Kevin Barrett the ax and are further incensed that he will be teaching an introductory class on Islam in the fall, but UW-Madison Provost Pat Farrell said Barrett is a qualified instructor who can present his views as one perspective on the attacks.
This one is even a stretch for me as a guy who works on a college campus and is a staunch defender of academic freedom, let alone freedom of speech.
But my problem is less with Farrell, an obvious wingnut whose expertise is in engineering and cites no credible evidence to back up his claim, than Barrett, who like too many other college administrators caught up in academic freedom disputes, does a pretty fair imitation of being out of touch.
Farrell, who has been breathing the rare air of academia for too long, dumbed down the debate by not taking the criticism against Barrett seriously. He told the legislators that they aren't "paying attention" and accused the legislator leading the charge against Barrett as being "only interested in name-calling and witch hunting."

Like Farrell, administrators in two other current campus controversies -- the Taliban jihadist attending Yale and the University of Colorado professor who is under fire for an essay likening white-collar victims of the 9/11 attacks to Adolf Eichmann, a key planner of the Nazi Holocaust -- also are uninterested in using them for what I call "teaching moments."
A teaching moment is an opportunity to part the ivy and engage in a dialogue about the purpose of a university, including the central and very necessary role that academic freedom plays.

Maybe you don't win people over. But at least you make an honest effort to demystify academia, which is even more necessary for a state school like UW-Madison.
For more on the Barrett-Farrell imboglio, go here.

Rutgers University is losing $66 million in state aid as a result of the budget crisis that caused New Jersey state government to shut down earlier this month.

The university's response has been, in part, to eliminate six varisty sports: men’s tennis, men’s fencing, women’s fencing, men’s swimming and diving, men’s heavyweight crew, and men’s lightweight crew.
The cuts would not take place until September 2007, plenty of time for alumni to pass the tin cup, but they are nevertheless a blow to Rutgers' ambition to be ranked in the upper echelon of the nation’s public colleges and universities.
New Jersey is the only state lacking an epynonymous university, which is at the heart of the identity crisis that has afflicted Rutgers for many years. In fact, as I noted in this post, New Jersey is one big identity crisis.

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