Students at the University of New Hampshire are petitioning for the removal of a professor for stating his views of the government’s involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks in the classroom, but some AU professors and student leaders say different ideas are essential to student development.
Bill Hunt, a junior and political science major at UNH, created the petition to address the teachings of tenured UNH psychology professor William Woodward. Woodward is a member of Scholars for 9/11 Truth, a group that believes the federal government either had knowledge of or had a role in planning the attacks on Sept. 11, according to the Portsmouth Herald.
Hunt formed the Students for Academic Integrity group this year on campus, which has no affiliations with the university. Hunt said there are five or six members actively getting signatures for the petition.
The purpose of the group is to “watch for things like this, for liberal bias in the classroom, and professors teaching what they are not supposed to be teaching,” Hunt said.
The UNH administration stands by its position that Woodward acted within the bounds of academic freedom, which enables professors to teach, pursue or discuss knowledge without restrictions, according to the Portsmouth Herald.
Thomas Williams, an AU professor in the School of Public Affairs, said he believes in academic freedom in the classroom.
“I certainly believe in a university setting, ideas such as these are fair game for class discussion and debate,” Williams said. “Universities are places where the free flow of ideas has to be respected and nurtured. Obviously, when discussing an issue such as this in the classroom, it has to be done in a sensitive and appropriate way.”
Clare Allenson, president of College Democrats and a sophomore in the School of International Service, said she believes having academic freedom makes students think from different perspectives.
“If you limit what you can talk about, it seems kind of anti-academic,” she said. “A major aspect of college is to hear what other people have to say; you don’t necessarily have to agree, but it allows for you to make a better opinion.”
Will Haun, vice president of College Republicans and a sophomore in SPA, said that while challenging a student with diverse viewpoints is essential to student development, he said it is inappropriate for professors to express their political views if they don’t apply to the subject taught in the classroom.
“When a professor uses the classroom as a soap box, especially when their views are not relevant to the subject matter, or their views become a grading rubric for assignments, they waste our minds, money and education,” Haun said. “Professors have so many outlets for their own particular viewpoints. ... The classroom does not need to become one at the expense of a student’s education.”
Hunt said that after the petition receives enough student signatures, the Students for Academic Integrity will eventually submit to it to UNH’s president, board of trustees, student senate and alumni association for their final say on the removal of Woodward.