BYU takes on a 9/11 conspiracy professor
Brigham Young is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has a fitful relationship with traditional university standards of intellectual freedom.
"BYU is literally the example we use of a university that does not promise strong free speech or academic freedom protections," says Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights on Campus. Those limitations, however, generally apply to religious matters, such as bans on denigrating Mormon doctrine or profanity. Because of its restrictions, the university has been on the American Association of University Professors' list of censured schools since 1998.
Other members of Scholars for 9/11 Truth have had their careers threatened because of their advocacy, but pressure to fire professors has usually come from the state level. Both Kevin Barrett, an associate lecturer at the University of WisconsinMadison, and William Woodward, a psychology professor at the University of New Hampshire, were criticized by state legislators for discussing 9/11 conspiracy theories in their classes. Both say that September 11 represents only a small aspect of their courses and that they also offer students the official explanation. Both continued teaching this semester.
Barrett called BYU's decision a "grotesque violation of academic freedom" but says he is not terribly worried about his own career.
"I'm convinced that within one or two years at most, the entire academic community will agree that the 9/11 commission report is a travesty and a fraud."
But the University of Wisconsin's decision will not stop efforts by Wisconsin state Rep. Stephen Nass, who says he plans to move to cut budgeting for administrative positions at the university if Barrett continues to be allowed to teach after this semester. Nass says that he supports academic freedom but that the university's view is that claims, "no matter how dishonest, have a place in the classroom, and that's ridiculous."
More broadly, Jones belongs to a class of academics who have faced possible career damage for controversial statements about the September 11 attacks. The group includes Richard Berthold, who was reprimanded for telling a class at the University of New Mexico the day of the attacks that "anyone who can bomb the Pentagon has my vote." He retired in 2002. Ward Churchill, who called some of the victims of the attacks "little Eichmanns," is contesting the decision by the University of ColoradoBoulder to fire him for plagiarizing and falsifying information.
If anything, Jones's paid leave will only add to the conspiracy theorists' sense that the establishment is out to get them. James Fetzer, the cofounder of Scholars for 9/11 Truth, noted that President Bush met with Gordon Hinckley, head of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Utah on August 31, and both Fetzer and Barrett suggested government involvement in the decision to stop Jones's teaching.
"It's well known that there is a certain Mormon presence in the FBI and the CIA," Barrett says.