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April 4, 2009 12:21 PM   Subscribe

Ward Churchill reinstated. A jury has found that The University of Colorado wrongfully dismissed the controversial professor, author, and activist. After a day and a half of deliberation, they cited the tenured professor's infamous post-9/11 essay, wherein he compared technocrats who died in the World Trade Center to "little Eichmanns," as the "substantial or motivating" factor in the University's decision to fire him and awarded him $1. (previously here and here.)
posted by inoculatedcities (54 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Ward Churchill reinstated

Umm...

Whether Mr. Churchill, 61, will get his job back, and when, was not resolved. Mr. Churchill’s lawyers said they would ask Judge Larry J. Naves of Denver District Court to order reinstatement, in light of the verdict.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:23 PM on April 4, 2009


Given the incredibly shoddy work of the CU hiring department, which awarded tenure to a hack and a fraud, why did anyone think their legal team would be any more competent?
posted by Krrrlson at 12:24 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Umm...

Post wording is inaccurate, but many believe that the verdict means the judge will have no choice but to reinstate him.
posted by Krrrlson at 12:25 PM on April 4, 2009


Sorry, XQUZYPHYR. I had read a couple of things that said he was definitely being reinstated (damn blogs!). Should be changed to something like "Ward Churchill wins wrongful dismissal suit."
posted by inoculatedcities at 12:27 PM on April 4, 2009


That said, this is ultimately a good ruling, since the very purpose of the tenure system was to prevent exactly what happend to Churchill. You can fire a professor for being a bad teacher, or for being a criminal, or for being negligent in their duties as an employee of a university, but you can't just fire a teacher because you disagree with their private opinions about something.

If Glenn Reynolds or Ann Althouse were fired as law professors for the moronic shit they write on their blogs every day I sincerely doubt they'd be celebrating their dismissals.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:27 PM on April 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Clearly the most important liberal in the U.S. After Bill Ayers, of course.
posted by delmoi at 12:28 PM on April 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


delmoi, you forgot Jane Fonda. Jeez.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:30 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


That said, this is ultimately a good ruling, since the very purpose of the tenure system was to prevent exactly what happend to Churchill.

The purpose of the tenure system is to protect people who falsified their results and credentials and took a big steaming dump on academic ethics? The only affront to the tenure system was the fact that Churchill was awarded a professorial position without a doctorate and then awarded tenure without a probationary period.
posted by Krrrlson at 12:34 PM on April 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


And Streisand.

I will never understand the hate-on Matt Drudge has for her
posted by shakespeherian at 12:34 PM on April 4, 2009


Thousands of Afghans protested against President Hamid Karzai and the United States on Sunday over reports of fresh civilian deaths caused by U.S.-led troops during a raid against Taliban militants. - Reuters, January 25

When we kill civilians, it's "regrettable". When they kill civilians, it's an atrocity.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:37 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Krrrlson, I'm sick and tired of your neutral tone! Won't you please tell us what you think of Ward Churchill!
posted by klangklangston at 12:45 PM on April 4, 2009 [8 favorites]


I've just read that essay for the first time, and I don't see the expression "little Eichmanns" in it. How come?
posted by WPW at 12:45 PM on April 4, 2009


Speaking as someone who was born in Boulder to a Ph. D. student at CU, and whose mother-in-law has taught there, and who knows many people involved with the school, my take is this: this whole debacle has been a tragedy, and there's really no one who we can really and truly blame it on beyond the Board of Regents and the tenure committee. Ward Churchill always was a pretty crappy teacher in general, not because his ideas were bad but because he was a grandstander. He never should have gotten tenure in the first place, and he is but one example (I could quote dozens) of the fact that CU has no idea who it should and shouldn't grant tenure to. But that's really not his fault, in the end, and going after him on nothing but "your ideas are embarrassing!" was a sad display of the worst aspect of Colorado beaurocracy: the knee-jerk gut-felt sense that there's some kind of universal 'decency' standard that you can appeal to any time you see something you don't particularly like. I'd rather see that kind of thing confined to Colorado Springs, frankly.

Meanwhile, perfectly good teachers haven't made tenure and the school struggles with budgeting issues, even though they have a fairly huge endowment for a school of their size, because they can't help but trip into ridiculous scandals like this one - and there have certainly been others. The day CU gets an administration that knows what it's doing will be a fine day for this state.
posted by koeselitz at 12:58 PM on April 4, 2009 [11 favorites]


This appears to be the full text of the essay. The link in the FPP is just the first few sections, and it cuts off a paragraph or two before "little Eichmanns."
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:00 PM on April 4, 2009


I understand that what we did and are doing in Iraq was and is reprehensible but the killing of our civilians is also inexcusable.

Two wrongs != right, etc.

Christ, what an asshole.
posted by double block and bleed at 1:01 PM on April 4, 2009


WPW: I've just read that essay for the first time, and I don't see the expression "little Eichmanns" in it. How come?

That link doesn't contain the whole essay; for some reason, it cuts out about a quarter of the way into it. (You might notice that the last sentence is a bit awkward.) Here's the whole text, which includes the bit you're looking for, which actually comes right after the original link cut the article off:

As to those in the World Trade Center . . .

Well, really. Let's get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire – the "mighty engine of profit" to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved – and they did so both willingly and knowingly. Recourse to "ignorance" – a derivative, after all, of the word "ignore" – counts as less than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in – and in many cases excelling at – it was because of their absolute refusal to see. More likely, it was because they were too busy braying, incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I'd really be interested in hearing about it.


I don't think any of this matters half as much as everybody else might. Yes, these views are somewhat execrable to me (in the same way that Marxist rationalizations of 'dictatorship of the proletariat' are execrable, and pointedly not in the same way that terrorism is execrable, by the way) but they are not the kind of thing you can fire someone for. In fact, it is (one might notice) against the law in this country to do so.

There were better reasons to fire Ward Churchill, but no one can really do that now - he'll have to stay on, methinks.
posted by koeselitz at 1:05 PM on April 4, 2009


A state institution can't let someone incompetent have a job, and then when the person makes a political statement the institution doesn't like, start poring over the person's publication history to find some reason to fire them.

If you cared so much about the person's competence, you would have never let him have the job in the first place.

A concern for competence that arises only after he makes a political statement you don't like, should get no recognition or protection by the courts.
posted by jayder at 1:05 PM on April 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


When I was in highschool Iowa State had a professor who wanted to Blow Up the Moon. We recently denied tenure to Intelegent Design Advocate, causing a bunch of whining and gnashing of teeth by the ID nutjobs.
posted by delmoi at 1:07 PM on April 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


Thanks nebulawindphone and koeselitz.
posted by WPW at 1:11 PM on April 4, 2009


Jayder is spot on.

I find it curious that so much anti-Churchill discourse focuses on his apparent lack of demonstrable blood quanta (see the page title here). As if one cannot possibly defend indigenous rights and history unless blood labs demonstrate a certain degree of genetic relation. Silliness. Apart from that, the University's representatives even concede that none of this would have happened had Churchill not written the essay. I agree with the L.A. Times' analysis: "Whatever you think of Ward Churchill, it's a victory for freedom of speech."

delmoi - I wonder if Abian was the inspiration for this memorable Mr. Show sketch about American (cosmic) hegemony?
posted by inoculatedcities at 1:26 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Glad to see tenure fairly defended. That said, what a fucking asshat.
posted by dgaicun at 1:29 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Back in the 70's and 80's there was a philosophy professor at the University of Montana in Missoula who was notorious for his extreme views. He was a confirmed Hegelian, and was associated with the "No Nukes" cause.

His great claim to fame was allegedly digging a "grave" on the courthouse lawn, evidently in protest of the proliferation of nuclear weapons. I've tried searching the Internet for mention of this story, but I've yet to come up with anything. If it really happened, it probably occurred in the 70's or 80's which was, of course, the pre-Internet stone age.

Whatever did or did not happen, he never lost his teaching job. I think he had student sycophants from time to time, but most everyone else dismissed him as a total nut.
posted by Tube at 1:37 PM on April 4, 2009


was awarded a professorial position without a doctorate

Compare William James a hundred years ago in his essay "The Ph.D. Octopus".

(I can't muster up strong feelings about Ward Churchill one way or the other, but I'm fascinated by the shift in attitudes over the past century or so--already evident when James was writing).
posted by moss at 1:38 PM on April 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Not his blood quanta. His plagiarism is what condemns him as an academic
posted by A189Nut at 1:40 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


The $1 damage award is curious. The judge instructed the jury that if they found that Churchill had suffered no damage, they should award him $1, and that is what they did.

I think I read the jury verdict this way: They agree with the plaintiffs that the reason Churchill got investigated by the university was because he became high profile. But they agree with the university that he did deserve to be terminated for academic misconduct.

That's why no damages. If they thought his termination was wrongful, then they would have found that he suffered real damage -- to reputation, not to mention loss of salary. They didn't find that, though, hence $1.

That's why I'm not sure this verdict will force the judge to order him rehired. It could happen, but I don't think it's a lock.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:40 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I still don't understand why the right is so shrill about Ward Churchill. It's died down a bit, but I seem to remember campaign 2004 involving efforts to tie Kerry to him for some reason. Just usual "the Democrats are traitors" rhetoric?
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:44 PM on April 4, 2009


A189Nut - If that's the crux of the argument (which is an entirely separate matter), why is his lack of racial "purity" so frequently discussed? And why couldn't the University of Colorado prove his plagiarism and academic misconduct in court?
posted by inoculatedcities at 1:46 PM on April 4, 2009


That said, this is ultimately a good ruling, since the very purpose of the tenure system was to prevent exactly what happened to Churchill. ... you can't just fire a teacher because you disagree with their private opinions about something.

I have mixed feelings. For one thing, I agree with the above, that private opinions shouldn't matter (although it would be interesting to see if anyone here jumped to the defense of a tenured professor who wrote an essay on "why gays should be hospitalized" or "why the Negro race is inferior.") to one's performance of the task at hand, which is teaching and scholarly pursuits.

But, setting aside questions about Churchill's skill at his job, we have to recognize that the very fact that Churchill's writing was noticed at all is, at least partially, due to his role as a tenured professor. I write lots of things, but I don't garner the kind of attention he does, because I haven't earned a role like he has.

When Churchill writes publicly, then, he is trading on the name of the university. He's not walking alone. His byline is not "Ward Churchill, dude on street corner." It's "Ward Churchill, Professor of Ethnic Studies and Coordinator of American Indian Studies, University of Colorado."

This is part of the deal you make when you accept tenure; you're representing the entire university when you're going public with your opinions.

And if it's not now, it should be. Do professors need shields in order to enjoy free reign for their scholarly pursuits? Yes. Should this be a set of magic can't-fire-me-nyah-nyah-nyah handcuffs for the university? Hells no.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:47 PM on April 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


The purpose of the tenure system is to protect people who falsified their results and credentials and took a big steaming dump on academic ethics?

Sure, frothbag, except for the fact that he won a lawsuit that demonstrates that the purpose of the tenure system is something completely different, notably to protect professors for having politically unpopular opinions.

Still, it's a shame that the only recent, notable example of someone who wins a court case for having his career destroyed by right-wing Nazis is this guy.

Seems like folks like, I don't know, Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson deserve recompense for career assassinations by the right-wing criminal element, just because they pointed out the logical and factual lapses of those in charge.

If you want to talk about falsifying results and credentials and ethics, where's their "tenure"? Why did the government fail to protect them? Where are the WMDs, Krrrrrrrlson?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:05 PM on April 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


And why couldn't the University of Colorado prove his plagiarism and academic misconduct in court?

Great question.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:06 PM on April 4, 2009


totally phony controversy ginned up by bill o'reilly and fox news in the first place.

the public is so easily manipulated by these clowns. didn't anyone wonder why churchill's essay was suddenly VERY IMPORTANT after having languished in oblivion for 3 1/2 years? o'reilly's producers LIVE to inflate nonsense like this into "controversies" and the rest of the media is complicit, fearful that somewhere there's a bandwagon they haven't jumped on.
posted by Hat Maui at 2:23 PM on April 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ward Churchill always was a pretty crappy teacher in general, not because his ideas were bad but because he was a grandstander.

Oh God yes. I never had a class with him at CU, but everyone I knew who had a class with him said he was a pretty lousy teacher and spent way too much time on his soap box and not enough on the class.

It's not that CU didn't have more than a few blowhards. I took a class with Ed Rozek, a paleocon saint among the College Republicans and one to always grandstand when he could. And there were many others.

Ultimately, though, this is more an indictment of the CU tenure system than Churchill. The CU system is pretty much a good ol' boy network, only in this case it's men and women who very much have a One Of Us attitude in the process. If you're accepted in the club, you'll get tenure, regardless of your publication record or whether you even have a PhD (which Churchill did not). And it seemed doubly bad in the social sciences, since it implied that if you were weren't a leftist you'd be in for an uphill battle to get tenure.

Most universities require that a faculty member must hold the highest possible degree in their field in order to receive a tenure-track position. Why was Churchill given one with only a BA? Were there really no qualified people in Native American studies with PhDs?

CU lived by their loosey-goosey rules and died by their loosey-goosey rules. I'm hoping that after Churchill's rampant plagiarism he won't be reinstated, but it wouldn't surprise me if he were, and I kinda think CU deserves it.

After the football team rape fiasco and the Churchill affair I decided that my alma mater won't get any of my money should I ever come into it. So when I did come into it, I gave it to my employer (another public university) instead.
posted by dw at 2:26 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


That said, this is ultimately a good ruling, since the very purpose of the tenure system was to prevent exactly what happend to Churchill.

What would prevent universities from abandoning the tenure system?
posted by iviken at 2:27 PM on April 4, 2009


Think I will go on over to National Review's the Corner and feast on the outrage. The outrage!

Reminds me of when me and my cousin came back from the inaugural. I almost thought I saw Reverend Wright in the President's viewing stand. I then said "he gets a mic and haranges the crowd." My cousin says "Obama comes out in fatigues." We laughed all night about that one.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:38 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I was in highschool Iowa State had a professor who wanted to Blow Up the Moon. We recently denied tenure to Intelegent Design Advocate, causing a bunch of whining and gnashing of teeth by the ID nutjobs.
posted by delmoi at 2:07 PM on April 4 [1 favorite +] [!]


It's unfortunate that when a professor goes non-violently bonkers it becomes front page news.
posted by mecran01 at 3:05 PM on April 4, 2009


What would prevent universities from abandoning the tenure system?

The prospect of having no top scholars willing to work at your university, since, being top scholars, they can get job protection at every other university that offers tenure?
posted by jayder at 3:45 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


@iviken
At some levels of academia, some of the faculty are considered perhaps the most highly skilled people in the world for their field and so the job market is extremely competitive and tenure is an attractive career goal and incentive for faculty and helps universities and colleges to retain these highly skilled faculty members.

At the other end of academia, schools that you can sign up for or that accept most of their applicants, tenure is a way of ensuring incentive for time and grade at a school.

You could also argue that tenure allows academics to take risks. Some academics say and do controversial things. Whether they're Peter Singer or this asshat.

The downside is that the asshats are tougher to fire. You have to do things like give them tiny closet offices in the least convenient part of campus, don't give them parking spots, shun them socially and all the rest of the nasty things that people do to make someone want to quit.

And on preview, jayder beat me to it.

It may also be worth mentioning that critics of academic perks like tenure criticize faculties for having a union mentality. There is certainly some truth to that but less so at the competitive end of the spectrum.
posted by christhelongtimelurker at 3:54 PM on April 4, 2009


I don't buy that Churchill was a lousy or incompetent scholar. In recent years we have had major, decorated scholars be revealed as plagiarists and liars. Harvard Law's Charles Ogletree admitted to plagiarism and kept his job. Doris Kearns Goodwin was shown to be a liar and plagiarist. Another prominent historian found to be a plagiarist. Yale law professor Ian Ayres apologized for his errors after being accused of plagiarism.

When professors at the most prominent universities in the U.S. are found to be plagiarists --- and they keep their jobs --- I would require more evidence before I conclude Ward Churchill is a fraud or a hack.

At least, if we're judging based on plagiarism, he doesn't seem to be any more of a fraud or hack than some of the most prominent scholars in the U.S.
posted by jayder at 4:03 PM on April 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


jayder: At least, if we're judging based on plagiarism, he doesn't seem to be any more of a fraud or hack than some of the most prominent scholars in the U.S.

And if your definition of 'scholar' is merely 'one who is referred to as a scholar', then sure. But to some people, the word 'scholar' generally means something else.
posted by koeselitz at 4:14 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Another thought, vis-a-vis the "Churchill is a fraud and a hack who should not be reinstated" line of thinking:

What I find so evil about what CU Boulder did, is that they used Ward Churchill when it suited their purposes, and then they abandoned him --- tenure be damned --- when it was politically expedient to do so.

We all know how it works: universities need to fill their faculty spots with a certain number of blacks, Native Americans, ethnic studies scholars, etc., to please certain constituencies within their state and fill slots in their ethnic studies departments.

So, when they needed Churchill, they hired him, regardless of the fact that he had only a master's degree. He fit into some slot the university needed filled. He was just fine there, as long as he kept his damned mouth shut.

Then with this Churchill fellow, who suited the university just fine when he was keeping his trap shut, started actually making use of the tenure protections given him by the university, and voicing unpopular opinions, they fired him.

As long as he was a nice little house nigger, they were fine with him, but when he presumed to make use of the tenure protections that THEY gave him, they fired him. It's fucking evil.
posted by jayder at 4:18 PM on April 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Word is, at least in the Native American rhetoric studies, that Churchill's not liked among his professional cohort either, and quite a few Native Americans feel used by association with him.
posted by klangklangston at 4:20 PM on April 4, 2009


In recent years we have had major, decorated scholars be revealed as plagiarists and liars. Harvard Law's Charles Ogletree admitted to plagiarism and kept his job. Doris Kearns Goodwin was shown to be a liar and plagiarist. Another prominent historian found to be a plagiarist. Yale law professor Ian Ayres apologized for his errors after being accused of plagiarism

I'd fire them as well.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:13 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Then with this Churchill fellow, who suited the university just fine when he was keeping his trap shut

Churchill NEVER kept his trap shut. He got that job, in fact, because he never kept it shut.

Please don't make him out to be an innocent here. He knew what he was doing, and the university just let him go because hey, prominent outspoken Native American activist on faculty!

Churchill and CU deserve each other.
posted by dw at 5:23 PM on April 4, 2009


Did any of the combatants in this fracas mention this?
posted by crazylegs at 5:40 PM on April 4, 2009


What would prevent universities from abandoning the tenure system?

Probably the tenured professors that sit on the boards that would be required to enact such changes.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:40 PM on April 4, 2009


I am a white historian who writes about Indians and I commented on Churchill in a previous thread. He was not fired for being a leftist, or for falsifying his heritage, but because of plagiarism and falsifying evidence as a historian. And there is no doubt he was guilty.

It is not accurate to compare him to Goodwin or other people who committed plagiarism (though I'd have fired them as well). Faking historical evidence takes him to another level, the only apt comparison I can think of is Michael Bellesiles, of Arming America infamy, who was fired from Emory University for "unprofessional and misleading work" (academic speak for making shit up).

That said, Churchill's pretending to be Indian is not a minor issue. (For those coming late to this controversy, Churchill pretended to be Indian but was in fact 100% white.) His supposed Indianess is a major focus of his work and often invoked. He is a wonderfully gifted polemicist and was a huge figure in Native American Studies curriculums. I used to assign a fair number of his essays and will miss them. But real American Indians have put up with so much shit--appointing a white guy as an academic spokes person was a bit much.
posted by LarryC at 7:23 PM on April 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


(although it would be interesting to see if anyone here jumped to the defense of a tenured professor who wrote an essay on "why gays should be hospitalized" or "why the Negro race is inferior.")

It's not a current case, but there is William Shockley. On the one hand, he was a racist asshat who argued for the genetic inferiority of the black race. On the other hand, he won a Nobel Prize for inventing the frickin' transistor. He used to attract protests when he was on the faculty of Stanford University because of his racist views, but that would not necessarily be a reason to fire him from teaching electrical engineering.
posted by jonp72 at 7:27 PM on April 4, 2009


from the article: The jury had to decide whether he had plagiarized and falsified parts of his research, particularly on American Indians, as the university contended in dismissing him.

does anyone know of a good source for what he's accused of plagiarizing &/or falsifying? there's nothing specific in the main link and i haven't yet found anything in the earlier threads referenced...

(could have easily missed something - i'm still on my first cup of coffee)
posted by jammy at 4:27 AM on April 5, 2009


This guy reads like a twat but, "little Eichmanns", how good is that?
There's a little Eichmann inside all our heads. He must be destroyed
posted by yoHighness at 4:37 AM on April 5, 2009


Try this jammy.
posted by Tenuki at 5:39 AM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


For a more apt example of somebody not getting fired because of his opinions, try Phillipe Rushton, a "researcher" affiliated with MPOW. I even met him once, and wasn't particularly impressed with his grasp of certain aspects of the research process.
posted by djfiander at 6:30 AM on April 5, 2009


At many of the universities that I have worked at, there is now a "post-tenure" review process set up, where, even if you have tenure, you are occasionally (every 5 years maybe?) looked at by your colleagues to see if you still "deserve" tenure. Does anyone know is CU has such a process?
posted by wittgenstein at 8:58 AM on April 5, 2009


For a more apt example of somebody not getting fired because of his opinions, try Phillipe Rushton ...

But Rushton was clearly at the forefront of some extremely important research, regardless of his opinions:

1988 Rushton surveyed student participants by asking "such questions as how large their penises are, how many sex partners they have had, and how far they can ejaculate."

The "how far can you shoot your load" question is one that has been grossly neglected by the academic establishment.
posted by jayder at 9:25 AM on April 5, 2009


What would prevent universities from abandoning the tenure system?

Probably the tenured professors that sit on the boards that would be required to enact such changes.


Research universities rarely if ever have professors or educators of any stripe on their boards.

Boards of trustees at research universities are populated mostly by prominent (read: wealthy, powerful) business people who, at least at the universities with which I have been associated, generally don't show a whole lot of respect for the faculty. And by "don't show a whole lot of respect," I mean their animosity toward us is apparent, especially during contract re-negotiations. Many board members would love to get rid of tenure if they could.

Luckily, boards of trustees don't have absolute authority to dictate radical transformations to an institution's infrastructure and culture. Universities are among the last bastions of shared governance in the American workplace. Thus the efforts of faculty unions to preserve that tradition ought to be supported rather than disparaged, especially by those who have not worked in higher education and thus know little or nothing about what tenure is for or why it matters.
posted by isogloss at 9:37 AM on April 5, 2009


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