Kevin Barrett has his fair share of critics, but according to last semester's course evaluations, most of his students were not among them. And those students may have the opportunity to take more classes with him, as the former languages and cultures of Asia lecturer told The Badger Herald he'd like to return to the University of Wisconsin next fall. Anonymous student evaluations from Barrett's Fall 2006 LCA 370 class, obtained by The Badger Herald through an open records request filed last year, show generally positive feedback — including some students who dispute the criticism surrounding his employment. "It was unfortunate the amount of controversy over Professor Barrett," one student wrote. "The class really had nothing to do with 9/11 conspiracy. It would be great if there was a class on conspiracy theory." However, it was Barrett's conspiracy theory that brought him the most attention since last summer, when it was announced he would teach his class in fall 2006. Barrett has been criticized by some state legislators for his view that the United States government was responsible for the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Critics, including state Rep. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater, who chairs the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities, have said Barrett does not belong at UW. But Barrett said the students who take his class have minds of their own and are welcome to agree or disagree with his opinions. "My students are adults," Barrett said. "They're quite capable of looking at complex and contested information." About a dozen comments focused on Barrett's conspiracy theories. One student wrote, "No brainwashing occurred," while another said Barrett "didn't come across as a 'conspiracy nutjob.'" And one student told Barrett to "keep fightin' the good fight and don't let the white devil get you down." Negative comments focused mainly on the lack of organization in the lectures. However, one student wrote, "Barrett's main goal was to promote his theory, sadly." Nass spokesperson Mike Mikalsen said he's not surprised students responded to Barrett's class so positively. "Student evaluations are only one piece of the student puzzle," Mikalsen said. "One of the things students can't evaluate is scholarly work. Barrett has never applied for or received tenure from the university." Still, of the 105 student evaluations obtained by The Badger Herald, 67 of them contained written comments. Of those 67, 49 contained relatively positively comments, and 18 were relatively negative. UW Provost Patrick Farrell added the personal comments he has heard about Barrett's class have also been generally positive. "In a few cases, [students] thought it was one of the better courses they've taken," Farrell said. "So in that sense, it seemed like the course itself seemed to go well and students appreciated the course and learned a lot from it." And based on the students he has talked to, Farrell added most chose to take the class based on the topic rather than the instructor. "What comments I had heard from students were largely … saying they chose the class for the topic and because it was something they [are] interested in learning," Farrell said. "[Students said they] were unaware of the controversy or only became aware of it later after they had decided to take the class." The course evaluations reflect that trend, as 70 percent of students selected "personal interest" as their main reason for taking the course, with 15 percent choosing "instructor's reputation" and 10 percent because it was a "requirement." However, despite the generally positive feedback, Mikalsen said Barrett has hurt both UW and the state of Wisconsin. "We have heard from numerous sources that the university did lose some [donors] as a result of Barrett's lecture," Mikalsen said. "On a national basis, there was no question Kevin Barrett was an embarrassment to the state and to the university." Farrell said some people, though, misunderstood Barrett's role at the university. "People are entitled to say what they think," Farrell said. "I think there was a certain amount of misinformation about his position here — the chronology for how he was hired, what exactly would go on in the course versus his own personal views." James Leary, director of the UW Folklore Program that Barrett taught a class for in fall 2005, said within the university Barrett has made a positive impact. "I think he's expanded people's consciousness and encouraged them to consider things they might not otherwise consider," Leary said. "The negative stuff has really come from a fairly small-minded overreaction to free speech by a private citizen." Although it's too early to tell whether there will be any positions available for Barrett this fall, Leary said he would welcome Barrett back to UW. "If anything comes up, I would have no hesitation to hire him again if he remained in the area and the funding was there," Leary said. Farrell did not rule out Barrett's return to UW either, but said a decision could not be made for months. "It's dependent on whether there's an opening," Farrell said. "He was a lecturer, which are typically hired semester to semester, so a department will look at what their needs are and post the positions. At this point, it's too early to even know a position for which he might be suited will be posted." As for Barrett himself, he said he's satisfied with how the semester went and was happy students responded so positively. "I thought it was a successful class," Barrett said.
BRYAN FAUST/Herald file photo