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Defunding Academic Extremism By: Lisa Curtis
Ozaukee County News Graphic | Wednesday, August 09, 2006

PORT WASHINGTON - Members of an Ozaukee County board committee will consider Friday how to cut almost $8,500 from the University of Wisconsin-Extension budget following last week's vote by the full board to cut the equivalent local contribution of a controversial UW-Madison lecturer's part-time salary.

The board voted 18-11 on Wednesday to withhold dollars from the UW-Extension in Ozaukee County as an objection to the UW system's continued employment of Kevin Barrett, whose syllabus for an Islamic Studies class includes theories that the United States federal government masterminded the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Ozaukee County Supervisor Joe Sopko, who coauthored the resolution with Supervisor Joe Dean, said the budget cut won't affect services or popular programs such as 4-H.

"UW-Extension will survive," said Sopko, a member of the Air National Guard who served in Afghanistan after Sept. 11. "This is not so much about UW-Extension. This is about the truth."

Dean was out of town during the vote and could not be reached for comment.

The amount represents about 2.8 percent of the UW-Extension's budget, and will be cut from the 2007 budget. There is disagreement, though, on where the cuts should be made and who decides.

Sopko told the board that no 4-H or agriculture programs will be touched, and suggested that cuts could be made in personnel funding.

When asked by Supervisor Rose Hass Leider last week where the money could be cut, UW-Extension Chairman Dan O'Neil told her he had prepared the following suggested cuts: $1,200 from publications, $2,100 from postal printing, $1,200 from 4-H literature, $1,800 from mileage and $2,200 from paper publications, which includes the 4-H, Master Gardener and Family Living newsletters.

But some supervisors seem to have other ideas for where to cut the UW-Extension budget. The Environment and Land Use Committee, which oversees the UW-Extension office, will discuss and possibly take action on the budget at its meeting Friday morning. The committee meeting will be relocated to a larger room due to the larger-than-normal crowds expected on this issue.

O'Neil said it's unusual for the board to recommend specific cuts once it votes on the overall budget.

"Until that meeting, board members have never gotten involved in any budget line items," O'Neil said.

O'Neil said if he'd been asked to speak at last week's board meeting, he would have told board members that Kevin Barrett works for a different division of the University of Wisconsin system "that has nothing to do with the UW-Extension," he said.

Those supervisors who voiced support for the resolution said it was important to send a message to UW officials on the county's objections to Barrett's continued employment.

Supervisor David Barrow of Cedarburg said that UW officials have not responded to other pressures to fire Barrett. But one or more counties withdrawing funding might start to have an impact, he said.

"Do we have your attention now?" Barrow asked rhetorically.

Opponents, on the other hand, insisted that punishing the local extension was the wrong way to go about it.

"This resolution does not pertain to our mission whatsoever," said Supervisor Jean Stern, one of six Mequon supervisors on the board to vote against the resolution.

"I know we were all eager to stomp our feet on this and accomplish something, but I don't think by penalizing the extension - and thereby penalizing ourselves - this is the way to go about it," said Supervisor Donald Dohrwardt.

And despite Supervisor Gus Wirth's objection to the amendment, he voted in favor because voting with the majority allowed him to bring the issue back for a revote. Wirth said the whole idea was a no-win situation for the county.

"You can't vote for it. You can't vote against it," he said.

As of Monday, Wirth said he would wait to see what happens with the 2007 budget cycle before deciding if and when he will bring the issue back for a revote.

Sopko said phone calls and e-mails that he's received are about four-to-one in favor of his resolution. He disagreed with those critics who say he's trying to stop the very thing he fought for as a soldier: free speech.

"I fight for the truth also," he said. "Freedom of speech and truth go hand in hand. (Barrett's) not using a hypothesis. He's teaching lies."

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Lisa Curtis is a senior research fellow in the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).

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