Move to Fire Professor For 9/11 Conspiracy Views
A student activist group has joined New Hampshire Governor John Lynch in trying to fire a University of New Hampshire professor for his rather bizarre views on the 9/11 attacks.
A small group of students has started a petition to remove a University of New Hampshire professor who believes that Bush administration officials planned the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks or knew about them and allowed them to happen.
“Basically, we watch professors to just ensure they’re doing their job … they’re not biased in the classroom and are not teaching what they are not supposed to teach,” said Bill Hunt, chairman of the newly formed and unrecognized organization Students for Academic Integrity. The group has set its sights on psychology professor William Woodward for “pushing his personal agenda on … students.”
Hunt said the Students for Academic Integrity are considering bringing audio and videotape recorders to class to prove their case. “I’ve heard from several students that (Woodward is) indoctrinating them,” he said. “He claims that he wants everyone to have an opinion. The fact is, he doesn’t.”
Woodward, a tenured professor, belongs to Scholars for 9/11 Truth, whose members question the official story about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and contend that the U.S. government either had knowledge of the attacks or had a role in them.
Gov. John Lynch called Woodward’s beliefs “completely crazy and offensive” and asked the trustees to investigate. Andy Lietz, chairman of the university system trustees, said a “careful review” of Woodward found his teaching consistent with accepted standards, “even though he has expressed some ideas that many find objectionable.” Some of Woodward’s students have defended him. Woodward has said he does not push his views on his students but has mentioned it in his classroom in the spirit of full disclosure.
Bruce Mallory, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs, said he has investigated the controversy surrounding Woodward and has not heard of the Students for Academic Integrity petition. He added that the university still stands by its position that Woodward acted within the bounds of academic freedom. The UNH administration’s reaction is one of the reasons Hunt and his friends started the petition. “I think it reflects very poorly on the university that they have no problem with this,” Hunt said. “I really don’t think we can rely on the university to monitor these professors, so it’s up to the students.”
I’m not sure how Woodward’s views on 9/11 would fit into his psychology lectures, but it’s not my field. If he’s using his classroom to indoctrinate his students, that’s a problem. If he’s doing his job and just happens to have some rather strange off-duty activities, it’s not.
The idea that politicians, let alone students, should have any say as to which professors are hired and fired is nuttier than anything Woodward espouses. The professoriate has always operated as essentially a guild, with experts monitoring the conduct of other experts. That system has worked for centuries.
If we’re to keep our universities the best in the world, professors need to be free to explore their intellectual interests free from political considerations. The faculty and provost should ensure that professors are not abusing their positions, to be sure, but substantial latitude should be given otherwise.
UPDATE: Dave Shuler comments, “I don’t think they should fire him. I think they should ridicule him. Publicly. Relentlessly.” Agreed. That is much more in the spirit of higher education than censorship.
My presumption is that Woodward, a professor at a quite decent school, is a reasonably bright fellow whose obsession with his 9/11 conspiracy theory has him in command of the basic facts. To challenge him in debate, therefore, will require students and others to bone up on the facts themselves so as not to be defeated through ignorance. A few nutty professors are, in this sense, a positive addition to a campus.