Provost review clears Barrett to teach class on Islam
July 10, 2006
Following a thorough review, University of Wisconsin-Madison Provost Patrick Farrell today announced that lecturer Kevin Barrett will teach, as scheduled, a class titled "Islam: Religion and Culture."
Barrett's remarks regarding his theories on the events of Sept. 11 recently drew widespread attention and criticism.
As a result, Farrell, along with Gary Sandefur, dean of the College of Letters and Science, and Ellen Rafferty, chair of the department of languages and cultures of Asia, met with Barrett. They reviewed his course syllabus and reading materials and examined his past teaching evaluations.
"There is no question that Mr. Barrett holds personal opinions that many people find unconventional," Farrell says. "These views are expected to take a small, but significant, role in the class. To the extent that his views are discussed, Mr. Barrett has assured me that students will be free - and encouraged - to challenge his viewpoint."
Farrell says that Barrett told him that the semester-long course will spend a week examining current issues, including a brief discussion of various views on the war on terror. Barrett told Farrell that he plans to base the discussion on readings from authors representing a variety of viewpoints.
"I am satisfied that Mr. Barrett appreciates his responsibility as an instructor. I also believe that he will attempt to provide students with a classroom experience that respects and welcomes open dialogue on all topics," Farrell says. "And I fully expect that the vast majority of his teaching will involve aspects of Islamic culture and religion wholly unrelated to his controversial views of the events of 9/11, which we know had a profound impact on the world and many members of our campus community."
Farrell notes that a broader issue at play in the Barrett case is the UW-Madison's long tradition of protecting classroom expression and encouraging students' critical thinking by allowing analysis of even the most controversial ideas.
"We cannot allow political pressure from critics of unpopular ideas to inhibit the free exchange of ideas. That classroom interaction is central to this university's mission and to the expansion of knowledge. Silencing that exchange now would only open the door to more onerous and sweeping restrictions," he says.
"It is in cases like this - difficult cases involving unconventional ideas - that we define our principles and determine our future," Farrell adds. "Instead of restricting politically unpopular speech, we will take our cue from the bronze plaque in front of Bascom Hall that calls for the 'continual and fearless sifting and winnowing' of ideas."
UW-Madison students, Farrell says, are fully capable of analyzing new, controversial and even unwelcome ideas.
"Our students are not blank slates. They are capable of exercising good judgment, critical analysis and speaking their minds," Farrell says. "Instructors do not hand over knowledge wrapped up in neat packages. Knowledge grows from challenging ideas in a setting that encourages dialogue and disagreement. That's what builds the kind of sophisticated, critical thinking we expect from our graduates."
Campus officials also reviewed Barrett's teaching record at UW-Madison.
"Although the university does not endorse Mr. Barrett's political views or his theories regarding the events of 9/11, our review showed that he has a record of quality teaching, including as a teaching assistant in this class," Farrell says. "His plan for the course appears to offer a sound learning experience for students interested in gaining a better understanding of Islam."
Barrett has accepted a one-semester appointment as an associate lecturer, beginning on Aug. 28. This is a 50 percent appointment that has a salary of $8,247.