Revolution #88, May 13, 2007
Ward Churchill Must NOT Be Fired!!
The decision by the University of Colorado (CU) over whether to go ahead with a recommendation by the former Chancellor to fire tenured professor and former chair of the Ethnic Studies Department Ward Churchill is now before CU President Hank Brown. If Brown calls for Churchill to be fired, it will then go to the CU Board of Regents for final approval.
In recent weeks, support for Churchill and expressions of opposition to this threat of firing have grown among students and faculty at CU-Boulder as well as scholars and prominent public intellectuals around the country. But much more is urgently called for in the coming days.
Boulder Letter Calls the Investigation of Churchill’s Scholarship a “Sham”
While the university claims the reason they want to dismiss Churchill is because of “research misconduct,” it is his radical critique of U.S. history and its international role that have driven the witch-hunt against him from the start. An April 19 public letter from English Professor Margaret LeCompte, president of the CU-Boulder chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), takes the administration’s orchestration of the investigation apart. It shows how the CU administration “put together what looks like a fair process, but which, in fact, has been totally hijacked… What happened at CU has allowed the CU administration to argue that ‘the process worked’ and that faculty themselves found that Churchill should be fired. Unfortunately, that isn’t what happened.”
LeCompte shows that the special investigatory committee to examine Churchill’s scholarship included faculty that were biased against Churchill from the start, including its chair. “It didn’t include anyone from Churchill’s own specific area, and thus, he was not judged by a jury of his disciplinary peers.” And it relied on limited information from sources known to be biased toward Churchill. The entire process, she concludes, “was a sham—imitating the form, but not the intent, of due process and fair, objective, scholarly investigation.”
LeCompte further argues that the claim that the investigation turned up evidence of serious misconduct is also untrue, and describes the investigatory report itself as “fatally flawed with error and misrepresentation.” Here she draws on the findings of Professor Eric Cheyfitz of Cornell University, a distinguished scholar in both Indian studies and Indian law, who argues that the investigatory committee's report “should be rescinded as a disgrace to scholarship.”
The letter concludes that “this important case…is not limited to Colorado. In fact, it is a test case by the US right wing to emasculate faculty rights in U.S. universities. It is spearheaded by ACTA, the Association of College Trustees and Alumni and other similar organizations. Should you feel that I am exaggerating, I simply refer you to ACTA's own publications, including ‘The Colorado Model: Any State Can,’ ‘How Many More Ward Churchills?’ and most recently, ‘Friends in High Places.'* It is very important that all of us who value academic freedom and the integrity of the university stand up and support the campaign to prevent witch hunts such as have occurred with Professor Churchill from ever occurring again.”
April 28 Emergency National Forum
This sentiment was echoed by participants in the April 28 Emergency National Forum to Defend Dissent and Critical Thinking: Why Ward Churchill Must Not Be Fired held on the Boulder campus. This all-day forum included talks by students and faculty from Boulder; by professors from the University of Denver, DePaul University, and SW Minnesota State University; and by the Dean of Faculty of Pitzer College in Claremont, California.
Statements in support of Professor Churchill were sent to the Forum from scholars and distinguished public intellectuals from around the country, including Columbia University, Yale University, UC Berkeley, UCLA, the University of Texas, the University of Hawaii, and many more.
Historian Howard Zinn wrote: “The attack on Ward Churchill comes at a time in our nation's history when constitutional rights are under attack by the national government, when war threatens the lives and well-being of all, and therefore we need the marketplace of ideas to be as open as possible. If we want to live in a democracy we must protect that openness. That is why defending Ward Churchill has an importance far beyond his particular situation.” Professor of International Law Richard Falk echoed Zinn’s concerns: “Never in my lifetime have we in America more needed the sort of vigorous debate and creative controversy that Ward Churchill's distinguished career epitomizes. We all stand to lose if his principled defense fails.”
Professors Zinn and Falk were among the initiators of the Open Letter Calling on the University of Colorado to Reverse Its Decision to Dismiss Professor Ward Churchill which appeared in the April 12 edition of the New York Review of Books. Many other initiators of the Open Letter also sent statements of solidarity, including U. of Pittsburgh Law Professor Richard Delgado, Yale Professor Immanuel Wallerstein, and Professor Drucilla Cornell of Rutgers University, who wrote: “Ward Churchill has been a brave and important scholar. I have followed his work carefully and I have learned so much from him. But I am defending him because there is more than just his work involved. We are fighting for academic freedom for all of us. We cannot let Ward Churchill's case set a dangerous precedent.” A videotaped statement from distinguished Law Scholar Derrick Bell, along with statements from Huanani Trask of Hawaii and attorney Jennifer Harbury were played at the Forum.
Distinguished Professor of Education Bill Ayers of the University of Illinois at Chicago referred to Bertold Brecht’s play about the scientist Galileo, who recanted his discovery that the earth was round in the face of torture by the church. “The right to think at all, which is in dispute—this is what the Ward Churchill affair finally comes to: The right to a mind of one's own, the right to pursue an argument into uncharted spaces, the right to challenge the church and its orthodoxy in the public square. The right to think at all.”
Professor Hamid Dabashi of Columbia University referred to the famous scene in Stanley Kubrick’s film Spartacus, where to save his comrades, Spartacus stands up and says “I am Spartacus.” But one after another of his comrades immediately stands up to say “I am Spartacus!” Dabashi concludes: “Today, every single professor teaching in the remotest parts of this country with an abiding conviction in the moral duty of democratic dissent is Ward Churchill. In the company of that magnificent chorus of hope for the democratic future of this country, I too am Ward Churchill.”
Students and faculty need to close ranks and to find the ways to express and to build support for Professor Churchill and defend dissent and critical thinking at this critical hour.
* The “Friends” ACTA specifically refers to are President Hank Brown, a co-founder of ACTA, and Michael Poliakoff, recently appointed by Brown to be CU’s new Vice President for Academic Affairs and Research. They didn’t mention CU Regent Tom Lucero, another ACTA member, or former Governor Bill Owens, who originally called for Churchill to be fired for the content of his political statements, and now has joined the University of Denver faculty.[back]
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