Ward Churchill: He’s Baaack!Historians/History
Well, that embarrassment for the liberal academy—Ward Churchill—is back in the news again. This time he is triumphant. A jury in Colorado has just ruled that his firing in 2007 was improper, and they upheld Churchill’s central contention: that he was fired because of his politically-incorrect comments on the victims of 9/11. This turn in the saga has allowed Churchill to proclaim his vindication, and has moved his attorney to crow that: “There are few defining moments that give the First Amendments this kind of light.”1 As of this writing, Ward Churchill is pursuing reinstatement at the University of Colorado.
So, it is now Ward Churchill who is the poster boy for academic freedom. How did it come to this? Let’s review.
Multicultural Postmodernism at Work-
In early February 2005 a professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado named Ward Churchill went in one day from the usual academic obscurity to national notoriety when an essay he had written in 2001 on the Twin Towers tragedy for some reason became a topic of media interest. Churchill had, among other intemperate remarks, described the victims in the Twin Towers as “little Eichmanns,” and had suggested they got what they deserved. As Churchill summarized his thesis at the trial: “if you make it a practice of killing other people’s babies for personal gain . . . eventually they’re going to give you a taste of the same thing.”2
Churchill was immediately depicted in the popular media as an anti-Semite, and perhaps even a traitor. The Governor of Colorado, reflecting the popular sentiment, demanded his firing. Churchill, for his part, held a defiant rally sponsored by the American Indian Movement, and he was introduced at the rally—and embraced as a beloved elder of the Indian peoples—by Russell Means. The rally was a flashback to the 60s, and, as it turned out, Churchill’s rant was the standard far-left stuff about how America is a genocidal imperialist power. Pretty much everything he said could just as easily have been said, perhaps a little more elegantly, in any essay by Noam Chomsky, or coughed up in pretty much any speech by Ramsey Clark. But from reading the summarized version of events that appeared in the press and on television one would never have known this. Churchill was depicted as some kind of sui generis madman. Instead, like Chomsky and Clark, he is just a pathetic figure, still stuck in the 60s, and still trying to somehow sell the old brand of soap.
But the world has changed. The official journalistic take on Churchill can no longer go unquestioned. Thanks to the Internet, anyone with an interest can find the original source document upon which the entire story was based, and can read the primary source itself. 3 In Churchill’s case, reading the source document reveals that the reference to “little Eichmanns” was not an anti-Semitic slur. Rather, his actual thesis was that America is a capitalist, imperialist, hegemonic, genocidal, corrupt state, and that the tenants of the World Trade Centers (because they were mostly involved in high-finance) were mid-level functionaries in this capitalist system and hence played a role that is, very crudely, that of an Eichmann, i.e., a bureaucratic functionary in a corrupt state. Not much better perhaps, but different than the journalistic consensus account.
In any case, the academy was horrified; they wanted this embarrassment to go away. But Churchill had tenure. And he was—despite having only a Masters degree—the Chairman of the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The University officials could not come right out and admit they wanted to fire Churchill because they found his views to be so patently offensive. They thus launched a peer review of his academic work and found, apparently to their surprise, that it was shoddy, unprofessional, plagiarized, and in general not up to academic standards. Thus, he was fired, presumably on these grounds, and not on grounds of political correctness (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).
Why it is that Churchill’s worthless scholarship was news to the academy, is worth reflecting on. Anyone who had ever bothered to read anything Churchill had written, or heard any of his speeches, would have instantly been able to detect their quality—unless they were wearing a certain type of intellectual blinders. The type of blinders at work here, I suggest, are what I have referred to as one of the five main forms of postmodern declension in historical scholarship—Multicultural Postmodernism—in which we do not demand of certain historical narratives the full measure of objective rigor, if they are narratives in service of the favored clients of the postmodern academy, i.e., women, minorities, the victims of imperialism, etc.4
I realize this is a rather sweeping claim; so it might help to examine in detail an example of Churchill’s scholarship, to see just how hard it was to discern its quality.
The Bogus Blanket Story
There is a fringe view out there that claims that the introduction of smallpox in the New World was a deliberate genocidal strategy by the Europeans. Churchill is a major peddler of this tale. In Churchill’s version of the story, smallpox-infected blankets were knowingly distributed to the Indians by the U.S. Army, with the result that hundreds of thousands of Indians were murdered in this way.
It turns out this story was completely fabricated by Churchill. In his 1997 pastiche, A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas 1492 to the Present, Churchill neatly juxtaposes two separate stories so that he can elide the distinctions between them, so as to give the appearance that the two stories support a broader claim. This deliberate use of misleading juxtapositions as a substitute for evidence is a common technique throughout Churchill’s corpus of work. When evidence is lacking, he merely glides over the problem by implying that one piece of information proves the next because they appear in consecutive paragraphs.
In the first story, two British military officers exchange letters in 1763. The first officer, in a postscript, suggests that giving smallpox-contaminated blankets to Indians might help the British “extirpate” their native foe. The second officer reports he has taken up the suggestion and distributed “two blankets and a handkerchief” to this end. Churchill then neatly assumes that all subsequent smallpox-related deaths among Indians in this era (by his estimate over 100,000) were due to these three infected pieces of cloth.5
Then immediately in the text comes the next story. In 1837 a steamboat run by the American Fur Company out of St. Louis stopped at Fort Clark on the Missouri River to sell its wares and trade with the residents at the Fort, and in the nearby Mandan Indian village. Some disembarking passengers were unknowingly carrying the pox and they unwittingly infected people at the Fort, and some members of the tribe. In the ensuing epidemic, almost 95% of the 2,000 member Mandan tribe perished, lacking as they did any immunity to the smallpox virus. This is the actual story, according to the only source cited by Churchill in documentation of this event. 6 But in Churchill’s version—having established that two English officers distributed two infected blankets more than seventy years earlier—and noticing the origins of the steamboat in St. Louis, entitles him to conclude the steamboat was carrying U. S. Army blankets that had been loaded aboard by the Army from the smallpox infirmary in St. Louis and intentionally distributed to the Indians as a weapon of war.
The epidemic that began at Fort Clark (which again Churchill puts at causing over 100,000 deaths over the whole region, all of which he conveniently puts down to the infected blankets) is thus claimed to be an example of a military use of smallpox infection as a weapon of war, intended to produce genocide among the Native American populations in North America.
But of course, the story that the Army loaded infected blankets on the riverboat as a weapon of war against the Indians, is pure invention—pure Churchill. It is fiction from start to finish. But Churchill passionately believes it, since it fits so nicely with his master narrative here. This fabricated story by Ward Churchill of the Army using infected blankets as a weapon of war is now routinely assumed and repeated by scholars in a host of disciplines.
The Right Clients
It is also instructive to note that Churchill has for years now been in the business of fabricating for himself an imaginary Indian ancestry: he claims to be 3/16 Cherokee Indian. This self-representation as a Native American is the central technique Churchill used to lend credence to his scholarship. He represented himself as a Native American specializing in documenting the history of America’s oppression of his people. Churchill’s claim to be a Native American also explains how a minor scholar with a Masters degree in Communications from Sangamon State University could become a departmental chairman at the University of Colorado. 8 It also explains, I suggest, why his scholarship received so little peer scrutiny—he was cheering for the right clients.
As a result of the notoriety Churchill called down upon himself due to his comments about 9/11, the Rocky Mountain News newspaper in Denver launched an investigation of Churchill’s claimed Indian ancestry—tracing his ancestry back to Pre-Revolutionary days—and determined that this claim too, like much of his scholarship, is false. 9
The Wrong Clients
The odd thing about Churchill’s hateful commentary about Jews and the World Trade Center attack is that it was nothing new. For years Churchill had been making equivalent allegations against a wide variety of American cultural figures. He even has his own twisted version of Holocaust-denial: one of Churchill’s central ideological crusades is to minimize the importance of the European Holocaust, so that he can enlarge the importance of the New World holocaust by contrast, all the while claiming that the deniers of the New World holocaust are like the deniers of the European Holocaust.
No one in the academic establishment thought his earlier remarks beyond the pale; no one called Churchill to account for his plagiarism; no one in the academic community seemed to be offended by Churchill’s hysterical pseudo-scholarship. The difference, it seems, is that most of his previous insults and lies about American history were launched, as it were, from the far left of the political spectrum and were aimed at historical figures who are out of favor among professional historians—they were attacks on the “great white men” of American history. The new apparent attack on Jews, by contrast, seemed to come from the far right (redolent as it was with Nazi-like views of Jews) and to be focused on a traditional “protected class” for the left-leaning multiculturalists. No one in the academic establishment seemed outraged when Churchill falsely accused the American government of using smallpox as a weapon of war to create an intentional genocide of the Native American population; but when he called Jews Eichmann-like money-changers, well, that finally caused the academic establishment to wake up and take notice.
I might also be impolitic enough to observe that it is no accident that a pseudo-scholar like Ward Churchill could find himself a departmental chairman in an Ethnic Studies program. Such programs—along with Cultural Studies and Women’s Studies programs—are non-traditional academic disciplines in many respects, not the least of which is their apparent attitude toward traditional scholarly practices. Indeed, these types of programs often have more of the character of Political Action Committees than they do the character of scholarly research programs. Women’s Studies programs, for example, make a central function of their operations—and a central point of their appeal to young female students—the idea that they exist to empower women.
When political motive is allowed to intermingle so promiscuously with scholarship, a diminished valorization of objectivity is inevitable. And the hiring of scholars based on their political correctness rather than their scholarship seems just as inevitably to follow. It is hard to think of any other explanation for the rise of such a merit-less poser as Ward Churchill. Indeed, as L.A. Timescolumnist Gregory Rodriguez observed about the firing of Churchill: “What should concern us all . . . is academia’s nurturance of loons like the hate-filled Mr. Churchill. . . . And though their influence is minor . . . they can be very influential in particular fields, such as comparative literature and gender and ethnic studies. That’s because the problem on campuses isn’t rigorous Marxist materialists, as conservative stereotypes would have you believe, but craven emotional warriors in the arena of identity politics.” 10
This latest rebuke of the actions of the board of regents ought to have taught them a lesson—but I doubt they got it. This is a classic example of the old saw about being hoist on one’s own petard. The University of Colorado hired this unqualified scholar and promoted him to a high position at the University out of political correctness, and they were forced to fire him for the same reason. Initially they hired Churchill because he represented the Native American victimization in America’s history—his hiring was the usual kind of intellectual compensation for historical injustice in which the liberal academy specializes. It was “positive political correctness.” But when Churchill made comments that were offensive to the current sensibilities of the liberal academy, a reverse form of political correctness motivated them to fire him. This “negative political correctness” was indeed, as the jury rightly perceived, the reason Churchill was fired.
How much simpler it all would have been if they had never hired Churchill in the first instance, because he was so obviously unqualified for the position he was given. And how much simpler it would have been if they had fired him long ago for all the shoddy, disreputable, scholarship he spewed forth over the years. But that scholarship had the right valence: he was criticizing American history for its treatment of Native Americans. To this “noble” end, apparently anything goes. But when he implicitly criticized a favored class (Jews and the victims of 9/11), suddenly the academy noticed that his scholarship was shoddy. His work then became the “cover story” for his firing. The jury—and pretty much everyone else—clearly saw this. But since the jury members were not initiates in the academic club, this perverse kind of conduct struck them as improper—as indeed it is.
I say that the story of Ward Churchill is a perfect case study in the shortcomings of Multicultural Postmodernism, and its denigration of the ideals of truth and objectivity in scholarship. When we dispense with these traditional ideals of the modernist conception of historical scholarship, scholars like Ward Churchill are exactly what we inevitably get. We ought to be embarrassed—again.
1 “Ward Churchill Wrongly Fired by University of Colorado: Jury,” Huffington Post, 4/3/09. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/02/ward-churchill-wrongly-fi_n_182619.html
3 The text is available on various sites, including: http://www.kersplebedeb.com/mystuff/s11/churchill.html
4 I argue this case in detail in my manuscript Truth and Objectivity in History: In Defense of Declining Virtues.
5 Ward Churchill, A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas 1492 to the Present, (San Francisco, City Lights Books, 1997): 154.
6 Russell Thornton, American Indian Holocaust and Survival, (Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987): 96-99.
7 Churchill, 1997: 155-156.
8 Sangamon State was founded in 1969 as an “alternative” university in which grades were optional (at the choice of the student) and which dispensed with academic departments, departmental chairs and deans, among other trappings of traditional instruction. The university advertised for faculty in such publications as Rolling Stone and Radical Teacher magazines, and opposition to the Vietnam War was virtually a de facto requirement for an appointment. This was the university that credentialed Churchill.
9 Kevin Flynn, “The Charge: Misrepresentation; are Ward Churchill’s Claims of American Indian Ancestry Valid? Our Findings: Genealogical Records, DNA Don’t Support Assertions,” Rocky Mountain News, June 9, 2005: 5A.
10 Gregory Rodriguez, “Activists Masquerading as Academics,” Baltimore Sun, 8/5/07: 15A.
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Fish X Calibur - 4/28/2009
The author of the document below forgot to address the role of racism in structuring social security. He's an academic fraudster, get em!
Social Security: A Documentary History (Washington, D. C., Congressional Quarterly Press, 2008)
Larry DeWitt - 4/10/2009
From those who take comments like these at face value, you might want to do a little fact-checking of your own.
My website is at: http://www.larrydewitt.net/
and the essay in question is here:
And the theme of the essay (for those who don't want to bother to read the whole thing) is:
"But the postmodern histories offered around the quincentenary were breathtakingly one-sided accounts. The new historiography was as vast a lie as that which it sought to displace. It seems to never have occurred to these New History critics that the moral failings they see so self-evidently on display in the conduct of Europeans were human failings, present in equal measure in the native cultures. Blind in one eye, as it were, the new historians saw the flaws in human beings from European cultures but failed to notice the flaws in human beings who were native residents of the Americas. Thus the story, for them, was one of angels and demons--a most improbable kind of story when dealing with the human species."
In other words, I am not "burnish[ing] the reputation of Christopher Columbus." I am, rather, only suggesting we give a more balanced accounting of the sins evident on both sides of the European invasion of the New World.
Louis Nelson Proyect - 4/9/2009
I wondered why Larry DeWitt is so worked up over Ward Churchill. I now understand after visiting his website and discovering that he is trying to burnish the reputation of Christopher Columbus. Even Brown University has the good sense to stop celebrating Columbus Day. They must finally be realizing that it is tantamount to celebrating Herman Goering Day.
Robert Goldstein - 4/8/2009
I'm not familiar enough with the bulk of Churchill's rather extensive work to judge him (tho I think we have to pay serious attention to a jury that heard this case for weeks and reached a unanimous decision), but it's clear that DeWitt's views can't be taken seriously as a critique of anyone else's scholarship. It largely consists of sloppy generalizations about university departments (which he has begun to hedge back from) and suggestions that Churchill is anti-semitic (which he also has begun to hedge back from). Talk about political contamination of scholarship!! The main thing I happen to know about Churchill is that he has cited my publications on several occasions, despite my obviously Jewish name.
Larry DeWitt - 4/8/2009
"In any case, it is clear that large parts of the liberal academy are now uncomfortable with Churchill’s scholarship and see him as, among other things, possibly anti-Semitic. This is, after all, the whole point of my essay. I am not claiming Churchill is anti-Semitic. What I am claiming is that the liberal academy hired and promoted Churchill out of a sense of political correctness (because he claimed to be a Native American criticizing European colonialism) and then they began to view him as anti-Semitic and as attacking the innocent victims of the 9/11 attacks, and that these views then caused the liberal academy to want him fired, out of a flip-side political correctness. That’s my only point here on this score."
Per Fagereng - 4/7/2009
Larry, you say that Churchill's 2001 essay aroused a furor in 2005 and he was quickly accused of being an anti-Semite and perhaps a traitor. That implies some sort of connection, but there is none.
Now you bring in his criticism of Deborah Lipstadt and other Holocaust scholars, none of which adds up to anti-Semitism either. He thinks they are deliberately obscuring the holocaust against Native Americans. He thinks that some use the Holocaust as a cover for Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians, an opinion shared by Norman Finkelstein.
You find his remarks at a public forum "muddled," but his point seems clear to me. He is saying that Israel's settler colonialism, Zionism, is anti-Jewish and was not supported by rabbinical councils at that time. Fact is, for a long time Zionism didn't have much support among Jews. I recommend Lenni Brenner's Zionism in the Age of the Dictators.
One can disagree with Churchill's statements, but I still see nothing anti-Semitic about them. That's a serious charge and not to be made lightly.
omar ibrahim baker - 4/7/2009
" And his broader views are an example of that peculiar mash-up of pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli, anti-American foreign policy, cant that very often seems to be verging on being attacks on Jews more broadly "
Is the lame statement that a prospective academic scholar chooses for the defense of his own thesis.
The scholar to be had many high scholarly sounding epithets with which he lambasted Churchill including the objectively correct, intellectually unchallengeable and unassailable paradigm that :
“When political motive is allowed to intermingle so promiscuously with scholarship, a diminished valorization of objectivity is inevitable. “.
However here he, DeWitt himself, seems to have fallen into that same vile pit of “intermingling political motive with scholarship”, and fails that same righteously proclaimed test when he needlessly brings in Churchill’s “pro Palestinian” attitude and he himself commits that same malfeasance of “positive political correctness.” that he so indignantly condemns in Churchill.
And all that within a very short time span that brooks no forgetfulness nor can justify nor mitigate it!
Thomas Ford Brown - 4/7/2009
In "A Little Matter of Genocide", Churchill writes:
"Deniers such as Steven Katz are wont to point to a federal policy announced
in 1833 ‘requiring’ the inoculation of
all Indians against smallpox as ‘proof’ that the U.S. earnestly attempted to prevent the disease from spreading among the indigenous population. [here Churchill cites to Katz 1996]. Katz, and those like him, neglect to inquire whether the supposed inoculation requirement was ever acted upon. The answer is a flat no. In post after post, vaccines,
when they were provided at all, languished in storerooms rather than being administered. If we’ve learned anything at all through historical observation of governmental conduct, it should be that ostentatious
policy pronouncements lacking anything resembling serious implementation are usually
a cover for something else (most often an unstated policy running in the opposite direction). In any event, arguing that the 1833 policy statement proves what Katz says it does is roughly equivalent to arguing that since the Nazis maintained medical facilities at Auschwitz they must really have had the Jews’ health at heart."
Churchill's claim here is entirely fabricated. There is copious evidence that the 1832 Vaccination Act was carried out. There is no evidence at all that vaccine was withheld and stored at "post after post". Churchill has fabricated this claim in order to label Katz as a "denier".
Larry DeWitt - 4/7/2009
You are correct to note that the word “Jews” does not appear in the particular 2001 essay that got Churchill in such trouble. But my essay is not just about that 2001 essay, but about Churchill’s scholarship more broadly. And his broader views are an example of that peculiar mash-up of pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli, anti-American foreign policy, cant that very often seems to be verging on being attacks on Jews more broadly
For some time now—especially with the publication of his 1997 book A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas, 1492 to the Present—Churchill has been criticizing prominent Jewish scholars of the Holocaust. For example he has attacked such prominent Jewish scholars as Deborah Lipstadt in similar terms. Long before the 9/11 essay Churchill called Lipstadt “an Eichmann” as well, ostensibly because her renowned book on the European Holocaust did not give equal time to the New World holocaust of the Native Americans. Thus in Churchill’s twisted logic she is complicit in the slaughter of Native Americans.
In A Little Matter of Genocide, Churchill goes out of his way to criticize Jews and Jewish scholars for their efforts to emphasize the Jewish Holocaust. He routinely says of eminent Jewish scholars of the Holocaust that they are in effect neo-Nazi Holocaust deniers because their emphasis on the Jewish Holocaust obscures the holocaust of the Native Americans, and the fate of the other victims of American and Israeli terrorism. In fact, he says such scholars are worse than the neo-Nazi Holocaust deniers because “those who deny the Holocaust, after all, focus their distortion upon one target. Those [Jewish scholars] who deny all holocausts other than that of the Jews have the same effect upon many.” Indeed, he goes so far as to say that for such scholars, that their emphasis on the horrors of the Jewish Holocaust is a deliberate strategy to “construct a conceptual screen behind which to hide the realities of Israel's ongoing genocide against the Palestinian population.”
Churchill is frequently found speaking in contexts in which anti-Jewish sentiments are being openly expressed, and his remarks in response are, at best, ambiguous. For example, at a public forum in Berkeley in March 2005, in response to one questioner who questioned the legitimacy of the Jewish state, Churchill’s muddled reply was: “This leads us to the situation in a certain sense of settler colonialism and the cruel order of a particular type in the area of Palestine, which results not from something Jewish but from something particularly anti-Jewish, which is Zionism. Zionists . . . [did] not even have the sanction of their own rabbinical councils at the time they undertook the project of conquest and colonization in the area they now call Israel.” Now I am not sure what Churchill means by remarks like this, but it makes one wonder.
I admit it is a little unclear just what exactly Churchill’s views are on Jews, and how they fit in his general anti-American and anti-Israel screeds. As to his 9/11 essay in particular, it is unclear whether he intended anything particular in the juxtaposition of his description of the residents of the Twin Towers as “a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire,” and “the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers.” But the whole thing seems, in this broader context, suspect.
In any case, it is clear that large parts of the liberal academy are now uncomfortable with Churchill’s scholarship and see him as, among other things, possibly anti-Semitic. This is, after all, the whole point of my essay. I am not claiming Churchill is anti-Semitic. What I am claiming is that the liberal academy hired and promoted Churchill out of a sense of political correctness (because he claimed to be a Native American criticizing European colonialism) and then they began to view him as anti-Semitic and as attacking the innocent victims of the 9/11 attacks, and that these views then caused the liberal academy to want him fired, out of a flip-side political correctness. That’s my only point here on this score.
Per Fagereng - 4/6/2009
Am I missing something? Where does Ward Churchill say anything about Jews? If he did, Larry DeWitt should give us a quote.
Thomas Ford Brown - 4/6/2009
Good points. You left out another incident in the 70s in which Means and his bodyguard, Dick Marshall, went into a bar bathroom with another AIM member under suspicion. Marshall shot and killed the man. Marshall was convicted, but Means got off.
Churchill alleges that Marshall was framed -- never mind that Marshall already confessed in the 80s.
Churchill is also alleged to have participated in creating the "Mr. X" video -- supposedly shot in Churchill's house -- which is a false alibi intended to exonerate Leonard Peltier, who is imprisoned for killing two FBI agents.
Randll Reese Besch - 4/6/2009
"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."--Ward Churchill
The full quote in context. But isn't his premise correct that without all of those workers keeping the bureaucracy going it would not function so well in what it does? It must be said that at the end he called it a "stream of consciousness" piece and admits there could and probably are errors. I thought Mr.DeWitt did protest too much which suggested a sensitive area thus exposed in his own psyche. Dragging Chomsky and Clarke into it was certainly transparent to me at least. "Stuck in in the 1960's" is pathetic as if they don't quote and show recent occurrences of the same caliber and merit that are timeless. I would point to Pakistan, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan as examples. By Mr. DeWitt's point of view I too then am stuck in the 1960's and will forever remain there as long as I see our country permitting, and even promoting killing and resource theft in other countries.
If Churchill is an academic then it would behooves him and the University to tighten their requirements concerning it on the other hand if Churchill isn't a scholar in the academic sense then never mind.
James Simon - 4/6/2009
The University of Colorado was "done in" by its own incompetence. From hiring to firing, they showed an untutored inability to divine what it was they found so objectionable. If they had only considered the trove of deceit evident in Churchill's potboilers, Agents of Repression and The Cointelpro Papers, the case of proving that a scoundrel cannot be trusted with teaching our young people could have been a slam dunk. Better yet, the University should have taken notes from American Indian Mafia, a singular source from which many can learn.
Churchill is as dirty as they come, but nothing he has written is as contemptible as his slimy cover-up missives on behalf of American Indian Movement (AIM) criminals. The most serious allegation comes from former FBI Chief, Joe Trimbach, author of Mafia. Trimbach alleges that Churchill is not only an academic imposter, he is also a party to murder cover-up. This argument is based on Churchill’s historical accounts which divert attention away from his buddy, AIM leader Russell Means, and his role in the AIM-ordered execution of fellow member Anna Mae Aquash. It is hard to believe that Churchill innocently misreports his allegation that the FBI was behind the murder and that his political soul mate, the AIM firebrand who makes no mention of Anna Mae in his rather lengthy autobiography, who was a no-show at her funeral, and who admits the victim was taken to his brother’s house the night they shot her in the head, had no part in the conspiracy.
University officials may be forced to reap what they have grown, and to the great detriment of their students, navigate the waters of responsible scholarship with a greasy-haired aider and abettor around their necks. Rumor has it that Churchill may even be called as a hostile witness in the upcoming trial of the alleged triggerman in the case. The trial begins May 12 in federal court in Rapid City. How many students will rush to defend their vindicated hero?
Larry DeWitt - 4/6/2009
Thanks for reminding us of the Thomas Brown piece. In addition to the passage you quote, I would call readers' attention to this one as well:
"Responsibility for this state of affairs traces back to the CU administrators who tenured Churchill—despite his lack of a doctorate, without the normal tenure review, and despite the fact that he avoids publishing in peer-reviewed venues—simply in order to create the impression of racial-ethnic diversity among the campus’s faculty. Documents obtained by the press show that the CU administration had a difficult time finding a department that was willing to roster Churchill. Eventually, they strong-armed the Communications department into accepting him. Additional documents reveal that when CU founded its Ethnic Studies department a few years later, there was no shortage of other qualified applicants for Churchill’s position, and that a number of them had far more legitimate claims to Indian heritage than Churchill."
This is the point I was making in my comments about Ethnic Studies programs, and the broader point that the liberal academy's own efforts at "positive political correctness" are to blame for this whole sad saga.
Again, I confess to over-generalization re: Women's Studies and similar programs. But, again, the point here is that when scholars put other values ahead of truth and objectivity in scholarship, truth and objectivity inevitably suffer. And I do still think it is true that many Women's Studies, Ethnic Studies, and similar program have as a prime mission politically empowering their client subjects. And my thesis is that this kind of politicization of scholarship (even for noble ends) inevitably ends up producing guys like Ward Churchill.
Sheldon M. Stern - 4/6/2009
Ward Churchill is merely an "academic" practitioner of Oliver Stone's view of history: "Who owns reality? Who owns our history? He who makes it up so that everyone believes it. That person wins.”
Edmond Dantes - 4/6/2009
Thomas Brown made some good points in 2005 on this site (http://hnn.us/articles/10633.html) regarding Ward:
"Had CU only followed the normal vetting procedures for hiring and tenuring faculty, this particular scandal may never have occurred. The CU administration had a second chance to address the problem when Professor LaVelle brought Churchill’s habit of plagiarism and fabrication to light nearly ten years ago. Instead, CU dithered and failed to act, thus allowing the media and the political class to drive the issue."
Michael Green - 4/6/2009
But to exaggerate for polemical effect is not exactly scholarly, is it? To attack Ward Churchill's bona fides and scholarship is fine with evidence, which the author has done. To overgeneralize about his and other disciplines is to engage in the same kind of silliness in which he engages and does the cause of legitimate academic scholarship no good.
For the record, I believe that Churchill should have been fired for the reasons the author mentions. What is sad is that the judge and jury were right. The issue was whether he was ultimately fired for his unconscionable statements about the victims of September 11, and let's face it: he was.
Ronald Dale Karr - 4/6/2009
Are department chairs ever chosen for their scholarship? At least in my experience, they get the job either for their perceived administrative skills or because they're the only one who wants to do the departmental paperwork.
At some universities I've seen chairs who are powerful figures with responsibility for hiring, budgets, assigning courses, and tenure review; in others, they're first among equals, burdened by responsibilities but without real power.
Is Colorado a strong or weak chair school?
Larry DeWitt - 4/6/2009
Yes, I notice that Ward Churchill is now fair game for criticism--my point being that he was not before this incident. That switch ought to tell us something.
And yes, I confess to over-generalizing in the essay re: Women Studies and similar programs. I realize this is not universally true. This was done in part for polemic effect, to provoke some reflection on this issue. But also, in part, to point out something that the academy needs to examine more closely. Again, I reiterate, in my judgment Ward Churchill could never have become a departmental chairman in a major university except in a program like Ethnic Studies. This is something that should cause some soul-searching within the academy.
Susan M Reverby - 4/6/2009
It is one thing to raise questions about Ward Churchill and even the context of his hiring/tenure. It is another to go on a jeremiad about a wide variety of mutli-diciplinary programs/departments from ethnic studies to Women's Studies. If the author wants to attack Churchill for his shoddy research, I suggest he not do the same with his own generalizations.
Susan Reverby, Marion Butler McLean Professor in the History of Ideas and Professor of Women's Studies, Wellesley College
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