Journalism school deans defend the Times

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While I'm away, my assistant, Brian Sopp, has put together a few issues worth considering.

There is a good post on "Phi Beta Cons" about the deans of several journalism schools coming to the defense of the New York Times's publication of information about SWIFT. The deans wrote in the Washington Post that the government's objections to the Times story were unfounded.

"It is the business–and the responsibility–of the press to reveal secrets," the deans write. "Despite the rhetoric of their fiercest critics, most journalists take secrets seriously."

If the Times's action was justified in this case, is there ever a time a reporter should hold a story that could endanger national security?

"There are situations in which that chance should not be taken," the deans write. "For instance, there was no justification for columnist Robert D. Novak to have unmasked Valerie Plame as a covert CIA officer."

Coincidentally, three days after this piece was published in the Post, Novak published column entitled "My Role in the Valerie Plame Leak Story."

"Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has informed my attorneys that, after two and one-half years, his investigation of the CIA leak case concerning matters directly relating to me has been concluded," Novak writes. "Some journalists have badgered me to disclose my role in the case, even demanding I reveal my sources.… I have promised to discuss my role in the investigation when permitted by the prosecution, and I do so now."

Looking back on his decision to reveal Plame, Novak writes: "I considered his wife's role in initiating Wilson's mission, later confirmed by the Senate Intelligence Committee, to be a previously undisclosed part of an important news story. I reported it on that basis." Novak told the Post. "I certainly wouldn't have used her name if anyone had indicated she might be in danger."

Instructor cleared to teach students that 9/11 was a government conspiracy

Kevin Barrett, a temporary instructor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, received his Ph.D. from Madison in 2004 in African languages, literature, and folklore. In the fall he will teach a class, Islam: Religion and Culture, in which he will teach students that "the United States planned the 9/11 attacks as a way to start a war in the Middle East," according to a recent radio interview with Barrett. Barrett's comments raised concern among state legislators and led Wisconsin Provost Patrick Ferrell to review Barrett's file.

Inside Higher Ed reports that Barrett has been cleared to teach in the name of academic freedom.

"We cannot allow political pressure from critics of unpopular ideas to inhibit the free exchange of ideas," Ferrell said. "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."

Isn't it interesting how universities are so quick to defend leftists in the name of "academic freedom" but to silence other ideas they deem offensive in the name of "tolerance" and "inclusiveness"? The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education labels Madison a "red light university," meaning it has policies that "clearly and substantially restrict freedom of speech." David French, senior legal counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund, points out on "Phi Beta Cons" that the University of Wisconsin was recently forced to give permission to RAs to lead voluntary Bible studies. It took legal action to convince administrators that voluntary Bible studies in residence halls constituted protected speech.

The worst part of this story is not the hypocrisy of academe. Barrett should be allowed to have whatever views he likes on any subject while employed at Madison. What he says outside the classroom is his business. But what an instructor says inside the classroom of a public university is the business of department chairs, administrators, and taxpayers. The university has the obligation to ensure that what is taught in its classrooms has academic merit. Barrett's bogus views do not.

To learn more about 9/11 conspiracy theories, visit the website for the Muslim-Jewish-Christian Alliance for 9/11 Truth, the organization Barrett founded. For balance, read the March 2005 cover story in Popular Mechanics.

"To investigate 16 of the most prevalent claims made by conspiracy theorists, Popular Mechanics assembled a team of nine researchers and reporters who, together with PM editors, consulted more than 70 professionals in fields that form the core content of this magazine, including aviation, engineering, and the military," write the editors. "In the end, we were able to debunk each of these assertions with hard evidence and a healthy dose of common sense."

Another skeptic of the conspiracy theorists is David Corn, the Washington editor of the Nation and staunch critic of President Bush. Corn's authorship of the book The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception, has not stopped some conspiracy theorists from accusing him of being a CIA operative covering up the misdeeds of the Bush administration.

ABA diversity provision: wording changes, lawlessness doesn't

There is a good article by Peter Kirsanow on National Review Online about the recent revisions in the American Bar Association's accreditation standards. Since the issue was last covered on this blog, the ABA has changed part of the standard.

ABA Standard 211(a) reads:

A law school shall demonstrate by concrete action a commitment to providing full opportunities for the study of law and entry into the profession by members of underrepresented groups, particularly racial and ethnic minorities, and a commitment to having a student body that is diverse with respect to gender, race, and ethnicity.

This provision is amplified by the fairly amazing requirement in Standard 211-1:

The requirement of a constitutional provision or statute that purports to prohibit consideration of gender, race, ethnicity, or national origin in admissions or employment decisions is not a justification for a school's noncompliance with Standard 211. (Emphasis added)

Kirsanow reports that in light of the uproar the provision has caused, the ABA clarified Standard 211-1 by adding the following sentence:

A law school that is subject to such constitutional or statutory provisions would have to demonstrate the commitment required by Standard 211 by means other than those prohibited by the applicable constitutional or statutory provisions.

While the ABA thinks that the new clause will quell the opposition to the standard, Kirsanow notes that the provision, which goes into effect in August, still violates Grutter v. Bollinger, the Supreme Court case that upheld the affirmative action policy at the University of Michigan law school.

"First, it violates Grutter by taking away from the law school the discretion to determine whether diversity is essential to its mission," Kirsanow writes. "Second, the standard provides no safe harbor. Since the standard measures a school's compliance by results achieved, the only way a school can satisfy 211 practically is by using massive preferences."