Update on NH 9/11 Free Speech Battle
UNH Provost Says No Students Complained about Prof’s 9-11 Views
By Associated Press
August 30, 2006
CONCORD, N.H. – A University of New Hampshire professor who thinks government officials orchestrated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks said he doesn’t impose his opinions on students, but teaches them to discuss and debate differing viewpoints.
“I try not to push a certain view,” psychology professor William Woodward said Tuesday from Durham, as he faced a growing chorus of criticism _ and some support. “But at the same time, I might put it out there because it’s important to be a role model for having an opinion but not pushing it on other people.”
Woodward belongs to Scholars for 9/11 Truth, whose members believe that Bush administration officials either planned the attacks or knew about them and allowed them to happen in order to get public opinion behind their policies.
After extensive research and hearings, the bipartisan 9/11 Commission said the federal government communicated poorly and missed opportunities that might have prevented the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But the commission expressed no doubt that the bombings were planned and carried out by al-Qaida operatives under the leadership of Osama bin Laden.
Gov. John Lynch, who has called Woodward’s beliefs “completely crazy and offensive,” asked the university system’s trustees to investigate Woodward’s teaching practices. Lynch headed the board before he was elected governor two years ago.
UNH Provost Bruce Mallory said Tuesday no students have complained about Woodward’s presentation of his opinions, and that after reviewing course materials and student evaluations, he is persuaded that Woodward did not impose his opinions on students. Mallory also said the material was presented in a way that was relevant to the courses Woodward taught.
“All of the evidence satisfies us,” Mallory told the Concord Monitor. “We’ve not conducted any formal review. … We don’t see any reason to initiate one.”
But University Chancellor Stephen Reno said the board of trustees still may ask for a formal review.
Woodward said the goal of his political psychology seminar is teaching the responsibilities of citizenship _ including forming and articulating political opinions _ through thoughtful debate and writing. There are no examinations and no right or wrong opinions, he said.
He has also expressed his views in other upper-level seminars and shown a clip from a film supporting the Sept. 11 theory of government involvement, “The Great Conspiracy.”
“It’s being blown way out of proportion. It’s a minor part of what I teach, and all of my teaching encourages students to practice thinking for themselves,” he said.
Criticism from politicians raises important questions about academic freedom, he said.
“Are we going to continue to have tenure and protection of free speech, or are we going to have politicians deciding what is acceptable to teach our children?” he asked.
Woodward, a tenured professor of psychology, earned his undergraduate degree at Harvard, his master’s in psychology at Princeton and his doctorate in the history of science at Yale.