A tenured professor of psychology at the University of New Hampshire believes an "elite" group within the federal government orchestrated the September 11th attacks on America.
William Woodward has already raised that possibility in his classroom and later this year hopes to teach a class that would explore Sept. 11th "in psychological terms -- terms like belief, conspiracy, fear, truth, courage, group dynamics."
He may not get the chance. Several state leaders yesterday criticized Woodward for bringing the radical theories into the classroom.
"In my view, there are limitations to academic freedom and freedom of speech," said U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H.
"I believe it is inappropriate for someone at a public university which is supported with taxpayer dollars to take positions that are generally an affront to the sensibility of most all Americans," Gregg said.
Others were equally blunt.
New Hampshire Senate President Ted Gatsas, R-Manchester, a UNH alum, said, "I would think the board of trustees and the acting president (of UNH) would take a long, hard look at someone who advocates that kind of nonsense."
Sen. Jack Barnes, R-Raymond, said he's embarrassed the professor works at his alma mater.
"I compare this guy with the idiots out there who say the Holocaust never occurred," Barnes said.
"Maybe we'd better check the UNH budget very closely next year if they have guys like that teaching our kids," Barnes said.
Woodward, an acknowledged member of several leftwing political action groups, belongs to the Scholars for 9/11 Truth.
The group contends that "pods" attached to the jet airliners actually steered planes into the Twin Towers and explosives planted inside the buildings were then set off.
The group also has advanced various conspiracy theories about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
The 9/11 Commission that investigated the terrorist attacks concluded 19 young Arabs acting at the behest of Islamic extremists based in Afghanistan were responsible.
Woodward told the Sunday News he's convinced "there was a genuine conspiracy on the part of insiders at the highest level of our government."
But in last week's interview, the Yale-educated professor said, "I am very careful about what I offer to students.
"I just can't come across as having one strong position, even though in my heart I do."
Woodward said he did raise the topic in his political psychology class last spring semester, after showing the film "The Great Deception," He offered the film "as a different perspective than you see in the mainstream."
One of the students in Woodward's political psychology class where the topic came up was Zack Bazzi, a UNH psychology major and National Guardsman who served in Iraq.
Bazzi said it was common for Woodward to share "different versions of different events in history" in the upper-level course. "He certainly doesn't try to indoctrinate the kids," he said. "He just puts it out there."
"Do I agree with it? No. The overwhelming majority of the facts obviously show that 9/11 was a terrorist act conducted by terrorists from Middle Eastern backgrounds."
Bazzi said Woodward was "systematically careful" when he shared his own, often controversial, views on any topic. "I will stress he would always present this as his opinion, and he'll acknowledge it's controversial, he'll acknowledge a lot of people think he's out there. Then he'll present it and move on."
What did Woodward say about Sept. 11th? "From my recollection, he said the government's theory on it is wrong and it's flawed and he thinks there are alternative theories to be explored," Bazzi said. "From my recollection, not one person in the class agreed with him."
Woodward said he hopes to develop a course that would explore Sept. 11th in psychological terms. But because of the sensitive nature of the topic, he would seek guidance from his department chairman and his dean before he proceeds.
Embracing such conspiracy theories about Sept. 11th is not constructive for Americans who face a immediate threat from terrorists "who want to kill Americans because they don't like us," Gregg said.
"It is insensitive, inappropriate and inexcusable to make such statements," he said, "and not far from making racist statements and using hate statements."
Sen. Barnes said, "He has got the right to say what he wants, but he is so full of baloney."
Gatsas said he does not believe the Legislature would be mean-spirited enough to punish the university through next year's budget. But he said, "People from New Hampshire died in that event. It's important to preserve their memory. This kind of thing is uncalled for."
Woodward doesn't hide his political views; he's a member of New Hampshire Peace Action and several Seacoast groups that plan anti-war activities and question the official story surrounding Sept. 11th. And he is currently awaiting trial for criminal trespassing, after he and five others who call themselves "the Dover Six" were arrested during a May sit-in at U.S. Rep. Jeb Bradley's office to protest the Iraq war.
His Quaker tradition, Woodward said, compels him to "speak truth to power."
"I know there could be consequences, but if only more people would speak out, then we would have a safer world," he said. "We need to be vigilant."
Former Gov. Walter Peterson, a University System of New Hampshire trustee, said the professor, who has tenure protection, should not be fired.
According to the American Association of University Professors' policy on academic tenure, a tenured professor can be terminated only for "adequate cause."
"I don't think trustees should be trying to influence professors and what they say, but if it gets too bizarre, the division director or dean or, probably more appropriately, the chairman of the department, should have a chat with him," Peterson said.
As for Woodward's views on 9/11, Peterson said, "The most effective tactic is to laugh it off. That's crazy.
"If a person can back that up with evidence and have a sound academic reason, that's one thing," he said. "It sounds pretty far-fetched for me."
Bazzi said professors like Woodward should not be censored for exposing students to radical ideas. "It's America. It's a free country."
"He has the right to say his opinion but we have the right to disagree with it."
And academic freedom is even more important at a publicly funded school like UNH, "where most of us regular folks go that can't afford to go to private schools," Bazzi said.
If you remove a professor such as Woodward for his controversial views on Sept 11th, he asked, "Where do you draw the line? It's a slippery slope. Somebody's going to be offended by what another scholar says."
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