According to Kevin Barrett, the US government planned and carried
out the 9/11 attacks, the World Trade Center imploded due to
explosives set up ahead of time in the buildings, Minnesota Sen.
Paul Wellstone's plane crash was no accident, and Osama bin Laden
has probably been dead since 2001.
Mr. Barrett is not a radical anarchist or a teenager peddling
conspiracy theories; he's a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin,
Madison - a fact that has outraged some state politicians.
The case has drawn national attention and provided grist for
conservative talk-show hosts, while the university has been deluged
with e-mails against Barrett. Yet it has stuck by the decision to
have him teach a planned course on Islam this fall.
Beyond the emotional reactions, the case raises questions about
academic freedom: Are there limits to what can be taught, and if so,
who decides them? Are certain views indicative of incompetence, as
some Wisconsin legislators have said, or does such criticism lead to
"There should be no limits at all as to what subjects can be
subjected to academic analysis," says Stanley Fish, a law professor
at Florida International University in Miami. "But you should be
performing as an academic and not as a partisan or preacher or moral
That's the view the administration took as well, when they
investigated. They found that however outlandish his personal
opinions, Barrett - who was given an $8,427 contract to teach this
course - was given good reviews for his past teaching. He plans to
look at 9/11, including his own views, during one week of the
course, but through a range of lenses.
"He does a good job teaching that course, no matter what his
views are," says John Wiley, the university's chancellor.
Interference from legislators or the public sets a dangerous
precedent, Chancellor Wiley adds. "If there's one place controversy
should be welcomed, it's universities."
Such controversies are not new or rare. Taboo subjects have
included sex, politics, and even butter - in the 1940s when dairy
industry grew angry over research into alternatives. More recently,
the University of Colorado faced criticism over its defense of Ward
Churchill, an ethnic studies professor who called some 9/11 victims
"little Eichmanns" in a 2001 essay. The university ultimately voted
to fire Professor Churchill for professional misconduct, including
plagiarism and fabrication of information - a decision he is
Earlier this year, an electrical engineering professor at
Northwestern, Arthur Butz, raised the ire of some for denying the