UNH Students Knock on Woodward

Seacoast Online reports that a UNH group calling itself "Students for Academic Integrity" is circulating a petition to "remove" our local 9/11 conspiracy theorist, psychology professor William Woodward. Little Green Footballs also notes this with a pointer to a story at WMUR, New Hampshire's big TV station.

I haven't seen the petition, but if it really does call for Professor Woodward's firing, it's bound to be an ineffective waste of time. The University's defense against that is pretty easy: we don't fire professors in response to petitions, sorry, but thanks for sharing your views, go away.

Look, folks: we can deal with nutty professors. UNH people with even short memories will remember Ted Loder, who was devoted to UFOs and the coverups keeping the truth about them from the masses. But Ted (I'm pretty sure) never did that stuff in the classroom. I would wager that any decent sized University has its share of … um … unconventional thinkers on the faculty.

So the spotlight on Woodward is simply misplaced; instead, it should focus ("like a laser beam") on the badly broken system that allows academically worthless topics to be "taught" by unqualified instructors. It would be a lot more interesting if the students demanded some straightforward answers from UNH higher-ups as to (a) the guidelines they follow for permitting gonzo conspiracy theories into the classroom; (b) why these theories are being presented by (specifically) a psychology professor in a psychology classroom.

"Academic freedom" doesn't cover that. Even the American Association of University Professors, who have the greatest interest in expanding the scope of "academic freedom" as widely as possible, state in their classic "1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure":

Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.

It's a sad state of affairs where the University won't deal with this issue other than hiding behind bland generalities. And it's frustrating when Woodward's opponents can't figure out how to mount an effective challenge that could nudge the University into doing something that would really regain some of its squandered academic integrity.

Last Modified 2006-09-29 7:08 PM EDT