Thursday, August 03, 2006

Wisconsin legislature reconsiders McCarthyism at Republican behest

According to the New York Times, Wisconsin legislators are expressing "outrage" that the state university at Madison employs as an instructor a man who doubts the truth of the four-hijackings story of 9-11.

Barrett has got to go,’’ Mr. Nass, a Whitewater Republican, said. “It is an embarrassment for the state of Wisconsin. It is an embarrassment for the university.”

The week of July 24, Mr. Nass, who is up for re-election this year, sent a resolution signed by 61 state legislators — all but one of them Republican — to Gov. James E. Doyle, a Democrat, and university officials condemning Mr. Barrett’s “academically dishonest views” and demanding that his one-semester contract to teach the class for a salary of $8,247 be terminated.....

A university review determined that although Mr. Barrett presented a variety of viewpoints, he had not discussed his personal opinions in the classroom. [Aug. 1 NYTimes]

To me this is categorically worse than Kansas and biology, or Frist and Schiavo. It's about freedom of thought on an issue that has nothing to do with a recognized religious doctrine or practice but is purely political and hugely pertinent to democratic self governance during a state of war. Is this any different than McCarthyism? The Cold War "Red Peril" meant we could not tolerate anyone less than devoted to free market capitalism to hold any position of influence. The Radical Islamist Threat of the War on Terror means we can't tolerate in such a position anybody who doubts the foundational transgression that is moslem hijackings story of 9-11--or who lack faith that our government would not deceive us about so grave a manner. Are Wisconsin legislators scouring all department for faculty who believe in UFOs? Who believe in ghosts? Karma? No. Their concern is independence regarding a belief central to our most burdensome national program--financially, emotionally, reputationally and especially in regard to maintaining our respect for ourselves as we commit murder and mayhem with an overwhelming impact on ordinary people with children like our own. What the legislators are entertaining is exactly the thought policing Orwell wrote about and perhaps the most basic ingredient of totalitarianism. I wish this were happening in Kansas, on a county level, or in some sparsely populated and economically unimportant state. If Wisconsin is a "laboratory of democracy," then it's one verging on the kind of toxic spill that gets labs shut down for good.


SteveG said...

"If Wisconsin is a "laboratory of democracy," then it's one verging on the kind of toxic spill that gets labs shut down for good."

Damn, what a sentence.

Academic freedom is a weird thing in part because the very notion of higher education is so different from that of secondary education. In secondary classrooms, teachers are authorities who present to their students basic understanding and train them in basic skills needed to go on in life and further education. Higher ed, on the other hand, goes up to the edge and things are live in a different way. What is taught is much more provisional and the trained skills are those which will support or undermine the content taught. Students are active participants, not recepticles.

It strikes me that what we see here is an imposition of an image of secondary ed onto higher ed.

SteveD said...

Wait a minute...let me get this get paid ove $8K for teaching _one course_ in Wisconsin! Where was that payscale when I was teaching part-time to pay for grad school?

troutsky said...

Everything will just run much smoother when we all think exactly alike. And think like me.