Hoax: Student who claimed harassment for reading Mao

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The head of policy studies at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth wants the university to suspend a student who made up a story about being grilled by federal antiterrorism agents over a library book and to reprimand faculty members who spread the tale.

Following the student's admission Friday that it was a hoax, Clyde Barrow, chairman of the policy studies department, said UMass should punish the student and faculty members, in particular two history professors who repeated the unsubstantiated assertion of the history student to a New Bedford Standard-Times reporter.

The story, first reported by the newspaper on Dec. 17, was picked up by other news outlets, triggered screeds on left-wing and right-wing blogs, spurred a flurry of concerned e-mails among UMass faculty, and appeared in a Globe op-ed piece written by Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

In a Saturday Globe story reporting the hoax confession, UMass spokesman John Hoey said the university had no plans to discipline the unidentified student because the deception had nothing to do with his studies.

That prompted Barrow, who had no involvement in the episode, to write a sharply worded e-mail message to Hoey.

''It's unbelievable that this student is not being suspended for a semester," wrote Barrow, who said he does not know the student's identity. ''It's even more unbelievable that the faculty who jumped the gun on this story and actively promoted it on campus, the Internet, and blogs will walk away from their misconduct without any consequences."

Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, the two history professors who relayed the student's assertion to the Standard-Times and other reporters, denied that their political views colored their teaching or any action they took in the episode.

Williams, an associate professor of Islamic history, said he prides himself for having middle-of-the road political views and said Barrow's description of the professors was ''incendiary language" befitting someone who ''seems to me to be unstable."

It was Williams who first told the Standard-Times about his former student's claim after the reporter called him for comment about President Bush's approval of a controversial domestic spying program.

After expressing his concerns about government surveillance, Williams told the reporter as an afterthought about the purported visit by Homeland Security agents, and that became the thrust of the story, Williams said.

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