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BYU Is at It Again—9/11 Conspiracy Theorist Put on Leave 8 September 2006

Posted by Todd in Academia & Education, Commentary, Mormonism/LDS Church.

This time, they’ve put a professor on administrative leave for being part of the 9/11 conspiracy theorist dog-and-pony show. Now I’ll be the first person to say that Steven Jones, physics professor at BYU, is simply off his rocker on this one. He is traveling the country with a handful of other academics claiming that 9/11 was actually perpetrated by the U.S. government, which is now blaming other people for its own ends. On the face of the evidence and using simply Occam’s Razor logic, there’s virtually nothing to their arguments (but I do think there has been a concerted effort to cover up the administration’s deep incompetence leading up to the events, including the upcoming ABC program, which, if accounts are true is basically a propaganda piece).

That said, I have to yet again say that BYU is as wrong on this one as it is in its heresy cases, such as Jeff Nielsen earlier this summer. The principle of academic freedom is designed, among other things, to allow professors to research and question and explore whatever they want to, without fear of recriminations or punishment from their university. The University in Illinois with the holocaust denier hasn’t fired or put him on administrative leave. Although his arguments are fringe, he’s doing exactly what an academic *should* do, which is present his evidence in a public forum to be vetted by peers and experts.

So Jones is pretty much a whack job (he aparrantly teaches his students that Kolob is “dark matter,” Kolob being both the planet next to the mormon god’s dwelling and the planet from where the gods of Battlestar Galactica come (except they call it Kobol)). More importantly, I don’t buy his arguments about 9/11. But I think that is beside the point. The whole concept of academic freedom is to protect professors against precisely this kind of capriscious action, where a university says your research or public activities “tarnishes the university” or is “unamerican” or is “evil.”

BYU’s own policy actually “splits” academic freedom into two parts (see my earlier post about academic freedom at BYU), where you have complete academic freedom on anything that doesn’t directly touch on the church or the institution’s mormon mission or student faith; when you do or say anything that touches the church or BYU’s connection to the church, you are no longer protected. In most of these academic freedom issues, BYU’s rationale is that the professor violated their contract by questioning the church, which it has separated as a different aspect of academic freedom.

In Jones’ case, under BYU’s own policy, he has not violated its academic freedom policy and he should be reinstated immediately.

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