Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Professor Ward Churchill: Victim of Neocons, or Plagiarist?

Ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill is out of a job, at least for now.

Professor Ward Churchill achieved national fame in September of 2001, when he wrote an essay titled "Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens" in which he compared "technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire" working in the World Trade Center as "little Eichmanns," a professorial quote taken from a Wikipedia article.

In 2003, Professor Churchill wrote a prize-winning book entitled "On the Justice of Roosting Chickens: reflections on the consequences of U.S. imperial arrogance and criminality" (ISBN 1-902593-79-0). (Again, thanks to Wikipedia for bringing this information together.)

A Denver Post headline in today's paper announces another milestone in professor Churchill's career: "CU regents vote to fire Churchill" (also published online in the Post's "movies" folder).

The Post gave a number of views on the firing. The paper quotes Emma Perez, associate professor of ethnic studies: "I'm disappointed because the University of Colorado and the regents have succombed (!) to the political agenda of the neo-conservatives."

It's true that U of C, Boulder, was encouraged to take a closer-than-usual look at Professor Churchill and his work after he wrote that essay, comparing some of the 9/11 victims to Nazi leaders.

The free-speech aspect of the colorful ethnic studies professor was dealt with early. An Associated Press article, repeated on the FOXNews.com pages, said, "Churchill's essay mentioning Sept. 11 victims and Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann prompted a chorus of demands for his firing, but university officials concluded it was protected speech under the First Amendment." (Emphasis is mine.)

Professor Ward Churchill was, and is, perfectly within his rights to call the people whose bones are still being picked out of New York City's hair Nazis. The freedom to say outrageous things is guaranteed by the Constitution.

I doubt, however, that we'll be hearing much about the way the university went to bat for his right to call terrorism victims Nazis.

According to the Denver Post, David Lane, Churchill's lawyer, said:
"...'I told them (the regents) we are at a crossroads, and that they will do irreparable damage to academic free speech if they fire him.

"The world will perceive that he was fired for his free speech.'...
(Denver Post)
That's likely enough. The actual reasons for his firing were much more prosaic, and don't reflect well on the politically correct parts of the academic world.

Even today, academic professionals are expected to tell the truth, and not claim credit for what someone else did. Professor Ward Churchill had earned a reputation for telling scholarly whoppers, and plagiarizing the works of others.

All in a good cause, I'm sure.

Buried much deeper in the Denver Post article were a few paragraphs that discussed the academic reasons for Churchill's firing.

(Warning: some of what follows violates what "everybody knows" on at least some college campuses.)
"...It soon became clear that Churchill's scholarship had been questioned for years by other professors. Thomas Brown of Lamar University in Texas had long challenged Churchill's assertion that early European settlers of North America had intentionally spread smallpox among Indians by handing out infected blankets.

"Eventually, other revelations about Churchill became public, including that his hiring bypassed most of CU's normal processes for awarding tenure and that he had no proof of his claimed American Indian ancestry, which was the foundation of his hiring.

"Ultimately, a CU faculty committee charged Churchill with inaccurately describing historical facts in some of his writings - including the smallpox case...."
(Denver Post)
(I'll get back to the "smallpox case" momentarily.)

The FOXNews.com article goes into rather more detail, but both the Denver Post and AP seem to agree on the basics.

Churchill was accused of plagiarism, falsification and other things that professors shouldn't do, by three faculty committees.

These "research allegations" go back to other learned writings made by Churchill. His "September 11" essay is involved only in that it raised such a stink that U of C, Boulder, was forced to take a serious look at the ethnic studies professor's work.

"The decision was really pretty basic," said university President Hank Brown in the AP article. President Brown added that the school had little choice but to fire Churchill to, in the words of the Associated Press, "protect the integrity of the university's research."

"The individual did not express regret, did not apologize, did not indicate a willingness to refrain from this type of falsification in the future," Brown said.

The falsification mentioned is a bit of academic mythology which I first encountered some time during the 1970s. At that time, "everybody knew" that American Indians were deliberately killed off by smallpox-infected blankets.

The AP article says, in part:
"...Brown had recommended in May that the regents fire Churchill after faculty committees accused him of misconduct in some of his academic writing. The allegations included misrepresenting the effects of federal laws on American Indians, fabricating evidence that the Army deliberately spread smallpox to Mandan Indians in 1837, and claiming the work of a Canadian environmental group as his own...."
(Associated Press)

All of that is rather boring, though. I expect that by the time I get this post finished, about 10:40 pm Central time in the States, tales of political oppression, neocon plots, and the total loss of freedom of speech will be the crisis du jur for many netizens.

In the news:

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.