Pun Salad is Irked@UNH.edu

UNH's student newspaper, The New Hampshire, routinely prints "news stories" which are barely-veiled efforts at promoting some cause or issue. Yesterday's (9/26/2006) issue had a couple of articles in that vein; by themselves, they are pretty much business as usual. Juxtaposed, however, I thought they demonstrated something kind of striking.

The first article considers the "trials" of UNH's resident 9/11 conspiracy theorist, Professor William Woodward.

For the past month, UNH psychology professor Bill Woodward has been thrust into the national spotlight for sharing his controversial view that the U.S. government played a role in the September 11 attacks.
While "fair" on the surface, quoting both sides, the article facilely presents the issue as one of "academic freedom" and the right of Woodward to present "controversial views." He's just "stirring the pot."

Totally missing: any hard questions.

  • Are any professorial "controversial views" OK in the college classroom? Holocaust Revisionism? Homosexuality as sinful? Faked Moon landings? Intelligent Design?

  • Apart from that, why in the world would anyone find it appropriate for 9/11 conspiracy theories to be presented in a psychology class, or to think that they can be competently put forth by a psychology professor? Are physics professors going to start devoting class time to the great Vince Foster murder coverup?

    (Professor Woodward's students, at least the ones quoted in the article, have no problem with this sort of thing. This isn't surprising; it's much easier to listen to a prof's wacky opinions than, y'know, actually learn something about psychology.)

I don't want to see Professor Woodward fired, but the University would be perfectly within its rights to insist that he stick to his own discipline in the classroom. (Say, if he taught conspiracy theories (a) in the context of Richard Hoststadter's "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" and (b) offered himself as a prime example.)

But all that's old news, and most of UNH is doggedly closing its eyes and wishing real hard for the issue to go away.

Bringing us to the second article, this one about a recent showing of An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's frightfest on global warming.

This past weekend, MUSO packed MUB Theater II with a wide-eyed audience, some with mouths agape, concerned for our earth's future. "An Inconvenient Truth," the environmental film narrated by Al Gore, which explains the dire consequences of global warming, was followed by a discussion conducted by three UNH professors after Thursday's show.
The rest of the article is about as balanced as the above excerpt, which is to say, not at all. It's a lovefest for Al up here; the only indication of contrary views are made simply to accuse the holders thereof of dishonesty, and to warn impressionable young minds away:
During Thursday night's showing, Cameron Wake, professor of climate changes, validated Gore's facts explaining that, "the number of real scientists who don't believe this have dwindled down to zero." He also added that the ones opposed to global warming awareness are "mouthpieces for big oil companies. You shouldn't listen to them anyway."
Anonymous character assassination, in other words; in case anyone attending happens to run into the views of (for example) this guy, he's been preemptively smeared and discredited. No need to pay any attention!

Lest anyone miss the correct political implications, a couple other profs were eager to drive those home:

UNH professor Stacy VanDe[v]eer explained to the audience that only with federal regulations would a significant amount of CO2 be reduced. Therefore, it is important to ask candidates what they are planning to do to help the environment. "It's important to tell them, not just each other," said VanDe[v]eer. Carmela Amato-W[ie]rda, UNH materials science professor, reminded the packed theater of approximately 170 people to "be aware of the facts before you vote" and to spread the word to everyone possible.
I.e., one-sided political advocacy at a university-sponsored function, echoed uncritically by the newspaper. Again, this is business as usual for The New Hampshire (including not spelling the professors' names correctly).

But the two articles taken together are a pretty good indication of the state of intellectual ferment here at UNH. Kooks on the left are protected, and huzzahed for being "controversial" and "stirring the pot." Any viewpoints from the right, responsible or kooky … well, you're just not going to see that sort of controversy or pot-stirring here, thank you very much. Those sort of people are simply "mouthpieces" anyway.

I suppose I wouldn't mind this so much if not for the irritating mixture of cluelessness and self-righteousness displayed in the double standard.