Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


University Instructor Likens Bush to Hitler

By Shawn Healy
Kevin Barrett's push to pin blame for the 9-11 attacks in the course he teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison hits close to home for me as I stand as a proud graduate of the fine institution. While I vehemently disagree with his message and find the parallels between Nazi Germany and the contemporary United States repulsive, I support my alma matter's decision to retain him as a member of the faculty for the sake of academic freedom. Barrett's absurd beliefs deserve consideration in the marketplace of ideas, and his backhanded praise of Hitler at the expense of the current President will be shunned in the process of sifting and winnowing facilitated by the First Amendment.

CNN released a story detailing Barrett's opinions as revealed in a course packet assigned to students: University Instructor Likens Bush to Hitler.


Blogger Dave A said...

We know that not all speech is protected. To use the tired but worthy example, one doesn't have the First Amendment right to falsely yell "fire" in a crowded theater. Since not all speech is protected there must be a spectrum of speech, one end which contains protected speech and one which contains proscribed speech or at least speech which can be punished. Our challenge as a society then is to define under what circumstances speech may be punished.

Since we know that defamatory speech may be punished, what is wrong with punishing Barrett on the grounds that his speech defames President Bush in fact, without respect to whether or not the President files a defamation suit or not? Alternatively, why can't an employer decide not to employ someone who speaks offensively to some of its constituents? Doesn't this merely promote civilty?

7:55 PM  
Blogger Shawn Healy said...

Defamation is definitely punishable if pursued and proven, but the President is a public figure and therefore subject to unabridged criticism unless actual malice can be proven. By my estimation, this certainly cannot be proven here.

In relation to your second point, I don't dispute the university's right to make decisions relative to employee performance. If Mr. Barrett failed in his duties as a professor to present a broad array of perspectives in his classroom, dismissal is warranted. His teaching was scrutinized, and the university rightly decided to retain him on these grounds. If he was fired for viewpoint reasons alone, academic freedom would be sacrificed for a majoritarian worldview. College students are mature enough to weigh his opinions with their own and others they will encounter in a free learning environment. In most cases Mr. Barrett's absurd leanings will be rejected and their own convictions strengthened as a result. If the marketplace of ideas is weakened on college campuses, where will it flourish?

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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at