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Iowa State U. Defends 9/11 Assignment Against Lawmaker’s Criticism

When an Iowa State University lecturer assigned students to write about the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, from the perspective of a terrorist group, he drew harsh criticism from an Iowa legislator, but campus administrators have defended the assignment.

The 500-word paper was part of an online course taught by James Strohman for the university’s department of world languages and cultures, The Des Moines Register reported. The assignment has been part of the course for years, but it recently grabbed national news-media attention based on the critique by Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, a Republican, who said he believed at first that the paper had been assigned in a way to justify the attacks.

“I glean zero value from this assignment,” he said.

Mr. Kaufmann said he was concerned mainly about whether professors provide more than one perspective on political issues, given the increasing animosity in today’s political climate.

Mr. Strohman said in a written statement on Monday that the assignment was not an endorsement of the attackers. About 1,000 students have handed in the assignment over the past decade, he said, and one student who complained about it was excused from completing it. “Let me be clear that I consider 9/11 a horrific and devastating attack,” he wrote, “and I support all who were, and continue to be, impacted by the tragedy.”

Rob Schweers, a spokesman for the provost’s office, told the Register in an email: “The horrible events of September 11, 2001, are a tragic and painful memory for all Americans. However, it is also important to study the underlying cultural and political issues that led to the attacks, in hopes that will prevent another attack in the future.”

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