What better way to commemorate the 5 year anniversary of the cowardly act that transformed a healthy, if neurotic, democracy into a totalitarian nightmare than with another cowardly act. As the Associated Press reports today, in Provo Utah, Brigham Young University has placed on academic leave a physicist, and university professor, who dared to challenge the accepted account of how the Twin Towers fell.
Steven Jones, who has been a faculty member at BYU since 1985, suggests that it was an explosion, and not aircraft, that demolished the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Further, in his book, "9/11 and American Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out," published two weeks ago, Dr. Jones asserts that the incendiary chemical, thermite, was present at the Twin Towers site, after the event, which, to his mind, is evidence that the structure was brought down by explosives, and not Al Qaeda hijackers. Clearly, this account runs counter to the 9/11 Commission, as well as accepted notions of what is considered the cause of the death of more than 3,000 people. While, undoubtedly, the professor's position is controversial, is it acceptable for the administration of any university to repudiate the process by which alternative explanations for current events come about?
Whether one agrees with Dr. Jones, or his ideas about the veracity of his government, the underlying question is how can a faculty member who has taught at a university for more than two decades be subjected to intellectual harassment with impunity? Why aren't other faculty members, or students, coming to his defense? Moreover, is it really about the articles the professor wrote, his book, or the fact that he is co-chair of the group "Scholars for 9/11 Truth?" If participation in socially, or politically, unorthodox,or iconoclastic groups, is grounds for even temporary suspension from one's teaching responsibilities, how can we expect the integrity of scholarship itself not to be compromised?
Consider for a moment the flagrant irony in the fact that an administration which claims to be fighting "Islamic fascism" has engendered a climate in which the university, traditionally the safest place to practice irreverence, and engage in dissenting discourse would have such dire consequences, all in the name of securing our national ethos. In order to remain safe from attack from without, must we attack from within?. Wasn't academic freedom the first casualty of European fascism?
Consider, too, the complacency of the media, and the press, with respect to covering, or not covering, this crucial story out of Provo today. This is not the first instance in which a faculty member has been penalized for expressing contrarian views. Remember Ward Churchill, the University of Colorado professor, who wrote a most unpopular essay about 9/11 that ended up costing him the chair of his department, as well as several cancelled speaking engagements? What the hell is going on in this country, and why is no one speaking out? We are living in dangerous times indeed when we teach our freshmen English students about how to develop an effective argument, then expel their faculty members for their attempts to do so. It is important to note, as a rule of thumb, that an effective argument is not necessarily one with which one agrees, but one that provides evidence, and proof of its position.
Dr. Jones was placed on administrative leave for the mere crime of argumentation, something that is reprehensible. I daresay, if given the opportunity, Brigham Young would place another prominent physicist, Galileo, on administrative leave for declaring that the earth revolves around the sun? No, not for a minute am I suggesting that one may compare the findings of Steven Jones with those of Galileo. It just seems to me truly tragic that, nearly 5 years to the day, a scientist operating under the umbrella of an established university now also faces excommunication for the simple act of making inquiry.
What a sad statement about how little things have really changed, over the past several hundred years, when one who chooses to use tools of his trade to argue for a different view of what happened on 9/11 is met with the same brand of fearful contempt one would expect to find in the Middle Ages, but hardly in the age of the World Wide Web.
All those who care about free speech, and the First Amendment, must write to the president of Brigham Young, write to the editors of our local newspapers, as well as members of Congress, and speak out against this assault on academic freedom, and the spirit of inquiry without which learning is by rote, and without reason.