[Marxism] Ward Churchill update

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Mar 28 07:54:41 MST 2005

March 28
Churchill Wars Continue

Both Ward Churchill and one of his legislative critics compared the 
University of Colorado to an asylum this weekend — showing that the debate 
over the controversial professor has not been put to rest by a university 
review released Thursday.

Churchill says that the new investigation requested by the review — this 
time an inquiry into whether he engaged in plagiarism and other forms of 
research misconduct — is unfair. In a speech in San Francisco Friday night, 
he said that the new investigation at Colorado, which will examine among 
other things his claims of being an American Indian, was befitting to a 
“lunatic asylum,” and he vowed not to cooperate with the investigation, 
according to a report in The Rocky Mountain News.

Meanwhile, some Colorado officials who have been demanding that Churchill 
be fired complained that the new investigation was biased in Churchill’s 
favor because many professors who will consider the charges have said that 
they opposed taking action against Churchill because of his essays. The 
Denver Post reported that 3 of the 12 members of the faculty committee that 
reviews misconduct allegations have publicly stated that they did not think 
Churchill should be fired for his essay about September 11.

That prompted State Rep. Ted Harvey, a Republican, to tell the newspaper: 
“The patients are in charge of the asylum.”

University officials defended the investigation, noting that the professors 
who had come to Churchill’s defense did so on First Amendment grounds, and 
that none of the committee members had taken a stand on the research 
misconduct charges Churchill faces. Indeed, if there is a foregone 
conclusion among many in Colorado about the new investigation, it may be 
the view of politicians that the inquiry needs to lead to Churchill’s 

Churchill and his writings have been under scrutiny since January, when he 
was scheduled to speak at Hamilton College. Critics there questioned the 
appropriateness of a scholar whose essay on 9/11 said that many of those 
killed in the World Trade Center were “little Eichmanns.” Hamilton 
eventually called off the talk, citing security issues, and Churchill 
issued a statement saying that his ideas were being distorted.

As the controversy over Churchill’s 9/11 comments grew, many Colorado 
politicians demanded that the university fire him from his tenured position 
in the ethnic studies department of its Boulder campus. Instead, the 
university created the review panel that reported on Thursday. That panel 
said that Churchill’s statements about September 11, however offensive to 
many, were protected by his First Amendment rights, and that he could not 
be fired for them.

However, the panel also noted that it has received several allegations of 
plagiarism and research misconduct against Churchill, and that it would 
refer those charges to a faculty committee on misconduct that could 
recommend that Churchill be dismissed.

The review panel’s approach won praise from many experts on academic 
freedom — even some who opposed the creation of the panel — for strongly 
making the case that professors at public colleges cannot be fired for 
taking unpopular public stands.

As for Churchill, the focus of his arguments since the panel released its 
findings has been that since the review panel should never have been 
created, all of its recommendations — including that he be investigated for 
research misconduct — are tainted.

In an e-mail interview on Friday, Churchill’s lawyer, David Lane, said that 
the panel had never attempted to talk to Churchill, and that this failure 
undercut the entire process.

“The university understood that they could not fire him for his free 
speech. By the same token, they knew that if they contacted Professor 
Churchill, he would have been able to refute the remaining allegations,” 
Lane said. But, he added, the university could not do this because 
“politically, the university cannot afford to have the inquiry ended at 
this juncture, haven taken no punitive actions.”

Some of the faculty members nationwide who have been backing Churchill also 
reject the legitimacy of the Colorado investigation. Ruth Y. Hsu, associate 
professor of English at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, helped organize 
a petition drive on Churchill’s behalf, and is now inviting academics who 
feel that they have been punished for their political stands, post-9/11, to 
contact her. She called the new investigation at Colorado “the latest phase 
in the ongoing witch hunt of Professor Churchill.”

Some experts on academic freedom had more praise for the Colorado review. 
Robert M. O’Neil, director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the 
Protection of Free Expression, at the University of Virginia, said that he 
was “pleasantly surprised” by the review’s conclusion that Churchill could 
not be fired for the things he wrote and said.

O’Neil said that even though the original essay should not have been 
investigated as possible grounds for dismissal, he was not bothered by the 
way the review has led to the investigation of Churchill’s scholarship. 
O’Neil said that it was clear that some of the allegations about Churchill 
predate the controversy over his 9/11 essay, so these allegations cannot be 
viewed simply as an outgrowth of the public furor of the last two months.

“This is a serious question of plagiarism and it needs to be investigated 
thoroughly and carefully,” he said.

O’Neil, who formerly was head of the academic freedom committee of the 
American Association of University Professors, said that he has reviewed 
the procedures used by Colorado to review alleged research misconduct. And 
he said that the rules that will be used by a faculty committee at Colorado 
conform with AAUP guidelines on due process.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education also reviewed the 
Colorado report on Friday and issued an analysis of it. The analysis agreed 
with the review that plagiarism charges deserve investigation and that 
controversial speech should not lead to professors being fired. But the 
FIRE analysis was tougher on Colorado for undertaking the investigation in 
the way it did.

“At the time that the Board of Regents began its investigation, it was 
plain that none of Churchill’s controversial statements — including his 
‘little Eichmanns’ comment — were outside the bounds of protected speech. 
An ‘investigation’ of protected speech is itself improper and has a 
chilling effect on the free exchange of ideas. It is also improper to use 
clearly protected — though controversial — expression as a pretext to begin 
scouring the public record in hopes of finding examples of public 
statements that do not enjoy full First Amendment protection,” the analysis 

Many academics have found the entire Churchill controversy distasteful, 
saying that it has reinforced unfair views held by many in the public that 
professors are unpatriotic, off-the-charts leftists. But (with thanks to 
Cliopatria for the tip), these academics may take comfort in the analysis 
of Chris Bray in Histori-blogography:

He notes that if Churchill eventually loses his job, it will be because 
professors lodged plagiarism charges against him and a university is taking 
those charges seriously enough to investigate. Bray writes that there’s no 
better way to refute the charges of conservative critics that higher 
education is one big “academic monculture,” where the views of Ward 
Churchills go unchallenged.

“If a bunch of professors are trying to get another professor fired as a 
liar and a lousy researcher, well — that just proves that all these people 
think alike, doesn’t it? I mean, they all totally stand up for each other, 
right?” Bray wrote.

— Scott Jaschik



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