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Feb 6, 2005 8:25 pm


Why Churchill Matters



This morning's Denver Post reports that in April, in a magazine promoting"social justice," Ward Churchill mused about the possible need for more 9-11 style attacks because of the weakness of the US anti-war movement, and contended that his long-term goal ws to see"the state gone: Transform the situation to U.S. out of North America. U.S. off the planet. Out of existence altogether."

Colorado governor Bill Owens has naturally seized upon this latest statement to demand Churchill's dismissal. If Owens were smart, and if he truly cared about the quality of instruction that students at his flagship institution receive (two big ifs), he'd be using the Churchill issue to focus on more significant issues, such as:

1.) To what extent does Churchill's career personify the ills of"groupthink" that Mark Bauerlein's brilliant Chronicle essay explicated? Specifically, Churchill's career--the tenuring of a scholar of dubious scholarly credentials and then allowing him and a few like-minded colleagues to create a full-time department with the power to hire and tenure other professors--seems to demonstrate what Bauerlein termed the"Law of Group Polarization," which holds that"when like-minded people deliberate as an organized group, the general opinion shifts toward extreme versions of their common beliefs." Group Polarization, Bauerlein noted,"happens so smoothly on campuses that those involved lose all sense of the range of legitimate opinion." In this environment,"Extreme views appear to be logical extensions of principles that everyone more or less shares, and extremists gain a larger influence than their numbers merit. If participants left the enclave, their beliefs would moderate, and they would be more open to the beliefs of others. But with the conferences, quarterlies, and committee meetings suffused with extreme positions, they're stuck with abiding by the convictions of their most passionate brethren."

Group Polarization offers one way of explaining how someone like Churchill could have been regularly promoted and given administrative responsibilities--and then been regularly invited to paid lectures at other campuses (not only Hamilton but now, we learn, Wheaton and EWU had him on tap for coming weeks).

So, if Owens were smart, he'd be asking what steps the Colorado academic administration is taking to weaken the role of Group Polarization in academic matters, especially in hiring and tenuring decisions, and using the Churchill fiasco to improve the university's standing rather than to weaken its commitment to academic freedom.

2.) What exactly is it that Churchill and the other eight members of his Ethnic Studies Department are teaching Colorado students? When he gets into the classroom, maybe Churchill demonstrates a quality of mind absent in his public statements on foreign policy. But I doubt it. As we've seen in the MEALAC controversy, the worst-case scenario comes when ideologically one-sided departments hire ideologues who then view it as their right to use the classroom to express their political beliefs. Rather than investigating Churchill's writings, Owens, if he were smart, would be telling the Regents to investigate what kind of instruction Colorado students have been receiving.

The worst thing Owens could do seems to be exactly what he's doing: acting to make Churchill an ill-deserved martyr, and ignoring the broader problems that Churchill's career demonstrates.




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Jonathan Dresner - 2/18/2005

Mr. High,

Curious that you didn't see my admission, since it comes in the same post as "libertinism," and it is precisely the fact that truly absolute freedom of speech is widely viewed as untenable that led me to assume Mr. Nelson was speaking of something less... absolute. We're not in disagreement here, I believe, though I remain mystified as to what exactly your problem is.

And the English language permits us -- practically encourages us -- to create new words. In any event, I'm not the first person to use this term, as this search result attests. Don't blame me for your lack of a good dictionary, when the internet provides.


Hugh High - 2/18/2005



I, like most, understand what a 'libertine' is. However, you wrote : "libertinism? " which, as I noted,is clearly a newly coined word. One could, of course, add "-ism" to a variety of acts or descriptions of behaviour, but to do so would be most unconventional usage of the language -- and that was my point about the language.

As regards Mr. Nelson's use of the word, "absolutist", I must have overlooked your admission. If so, I apologize.

I would , however, quickly note that there are but few people who would, I suspect, ABSOLUTELY support a TOTALLY unbridled right of "free speech"


Jonathan Dresner - 2/18/2005

libertine, n. one who is sexually promiscuous, licentious
by extension, flaunting of rules and conventions.

I misunderstood Mr. Nelson's use of "absolutist" and admitted it. Your point?


Hugh High - 2/18/2005


While it may have been previously mentioned somewhere (and I suspect has, since would be most surprised if my idea were a completely novel one ), it occurs to me that there are likely to be several decided good effects from the Churchill controversy, most of which will be disliked by academics, but which will benefit, ultimately, those "mere consumers" of Mr. Luker , and taxpayers, generally : I have in mind, of course, a further dimunition in the institution of Tenure.

The case for tenure is well known; the case(s) against it less so. Time and space preclude my re-visiting them here. BUT, most readers will realize that, increasingly there have been a decrease in the relative number of tenured positions at universities, and a rise in other vehicles regarding academic employment, e.g. long term contracts.

I suspect the Churchill controversy will have the net effect of making it more difficult for a number of people, and particularly those without terminal degrees, as seemingly is the case in Churchill's case, to get tenure. And, I suspect that, in lieu thereof, many institution, and particularly public instituitons , will institute and/or explore other employment provisions, e.g. long term contracts,contracts which provide for strenuous 'review' processes but which permit employees to be fired for what are deemed to be cause, etc.

In short, those who are so caught up in the defense of Churchill's 'rights', may wish to consider some broader issues which are likely to predictably flow for this issue. The irony is that Churchill may, ultimately, serve to further undermine and diminish tenure in American public institutions.


Ralph E. Luker - 2/18/2005

Mr. High, You enter the discussion very late and take literally a comment made by me to Anthony Smith who understood it in the sense that it was intended. Thanks for paying attention to a comment that you thought deserved no attention. I may not pay similar attention to your silly statements in the future.


Hugh High - 2/18/2005



Whatever does this mean "libertinism? "

Clearly a word newly coined by Mr. Dresner.

Mr. Nelson,on reading the words "free speech absolutist", seemingly thought the writer, like Mr. Dresner, meant what he said, i.e. that ANY speech should be permitted. Yet,the great weight of case law, in the US and elsewhere, fails to support such absolutism -- and, I would venture to suggest, so do most people, seemingly including Mr. Dresner.


Hugh High - 2/18/2005



The nonsense here clearly comes from Mr. Luker with an unadultered , and ultimately meaningless (and silly ) series of statements in response to a reasonable statement of belief as to mandatory requirements for graduation.

But, this most assuredly isn't Mr. Luker's first such silly statement, and, I'm confident, will not be the last -- but, it should receive the attention it merits, i.e. none.


E. Simon - 2/11/2005

Why is conservative American thought so often conflated with European conservativism? The country started with the revolution; no broad American political philosophies can seriously be traced beyond that. So, by default, the ideals of the founders, as originating political philosophies, are in strong competition for claiming the mantle of American conservativism. They might not have been defining the extreme edge of laissez-faire libertarian capitalism, but they went to war over, among other things, a tax on their breakfast beverage. If you think the economic grievances were all just about economic nationalism (-was that issue even given the same weight back then?), then Washington's discomfort at quashing the Whiskey Rebellion would seem to indicate otherwise.

The relation between the individual, the government and the economic structure are at the core of policy divisions today. However many Evangelicals who suddenly decided to vote notwithstanding, I think the social/"moral" issues are being given undue weight in defining the kind of political spectrum referred to in this discussion.


Jonathan Dresner - 2/8/2005

In Mr. Nelson's defense, several of us (well, myself, anyway) did use the term "free speech absolutist" in the sense of strongly protected constitutional rights, in ignorance of what Mr. Nelson took that to mean, namely unrestricted and consequence-free libertinism.


Derek Charles Catsam - 2/8/2005

universities are still different from hospoitals. they run on ideas. I still maintain that having read what you have posted, the case you cite does not say what you think it says with regard to the Churchill case. I also have not yet gotten anything beyond an argument based on moral outrage as to why you think he ought to be fired and why that would not open the door for your views to be punishable.

And again, to be very clear, since you seem to be willfully obtuse on this point -- no one here has argued that free speech is an absolute right. No one. As in not one single person. So against whom are you flailing when you continue to flog this phrase?

dc


Jonathan Dresner - 2/8/2005

That's more useful, thanks. Actually, the case is even more relevant, and disturbing, because the nurse in question was making a professional observation and analysis, something which, if there is justice and reason in the world, should be respected rather than punished.

It really isn't that the government is the employer that's the main free speech issue, though: it's that free speech, in the form of academic freedom, is a contractual obligation of the employer, who also happens to be the government (which, according to your citation, may be more able to punish it's employees speech than its citizens (though there seems to be a split hair or two here) but which is not able to go beyond that which a normal employer may do without national security issues being in play.


Jason Nelson - 2/8/2005

The web cite I included does not work for me when I click on it. Im sorry, I thought it would. If you google Churchill v. Waters and constitutional law, you can read the entire decision.

Derek, It is on point because the only first amendment argument that holds water is that because the University is a government entity, it can not chill free speech. This case directly addresses that. The hospital in the case was also a goverenment entity and was found by the court to have the right to act, as an employer, and to fire an employee for a certain kind of speech. Here is an excert that supports my assertion that free speech is not an absolute right. From the decision:


"We have never set forth a general test to determine when a procedural safeguard is required by the First Amendment - just as we have never set forth a general test to determine what constitutes a compelling state interest, see Boos v. Barry, 485 U.S. 312, 324 (1988), or what categories of speech are so lacking in value that they fall outside the protection of the First Amendment, New York v. Ferber, 458 U.S. 747, 763 -764 (1982), or many other matters - and we do not purport to do so now. But though we agree with JUSTICE SCALIA that the lack of such a test is inconvenient, see post, at 3, this does not relieve us of our responsibility to decide the case that is before us today. Both JUSTICE SCALIA and we agree that some procedural requirements are mandated by the First Amendment and some are not. See post, at 1. None of us has discovered a general principle to determine where the line is to be drawn. See post, at 1-3. We must therefore reconcile ourselves to answering the question on a case-by-case basis, at least until some workable general rule emerges.

Accordingly, all we say today is that the propriety of a proposed procedure must turn on the particular context in which the question arises - on the cost of the procedure and the relative magnitude and constitutional significance of the risks it would decrease and increase. And to evaluate these factors here, we have to return to the issue we dealt with in Connick and in the cases that [ WATERS v. CHURCHILL, ___ U.S. ___ (1994) , 9] came before it: What is it about the government's role as employer that gives it a freer hand in regulating the speech of its employees than it has in regulating the speech of the public at large?


Jason Nelson - 2/8/2005

What I posted is like an "executive summary" of the case. The entire case is cited at the website I listed. Its not a trick, its just way case law is written, sorry.


Derek Charles Catsam - 2/8/2005

Um, what does this have to do with practices at a university where ideas are far more part of the culture? Political freedom, freedom of speech, that is not part of the culture. This example, beyond not showing what you say it shows, is not even vaguely germane to the discussion.

dc


Jonathan Dresner - 2/7/2005

Then you need to cite that case, and the reasons. Unless there's a subtle legal trick to reading these things, what you posted above was the appeals ruling.


Jason Nelson - 2/7/2005

On first appeal it was decided in favor of the speaker. The Supreme Court vacated that descion, overturned it. In fact the Court ruled in favor of the public hospital.


David Lion Salmanson - 2/7/2005

What, you never heard of Wesleyan, (Conn), Swarthmore, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, etc. ? (He said proudly!)


Derek Charles Catsam - 2/7/2005

Jason --
You say that no one has provided an example whereby a professor should be fired for speech. I think I in fact have, at least twice. I have said if his speech encourages criminal behavior, it ought not to be protected. Indeed, the law says it would not be protected. So let me put it in these terms -- the burden is on those who want to see him terminated to convey why, and how this does not open a door that conservatives in academia, do not want opened. I do not see a legal leg to stand on for firing him. No matter how strongly you state your opposition to what he said, at the end of the day, your stromng opposition, even if most of us would think it was right, is to ideas that he has expressed. If it is ok to punish someone solely for the ideas he or she expresses, this will have no good end.
Why are you so committed to restricting speech? How are you threatened by Churchill's idiocies? Churchill is doing the job his university pays him to do. You have not shown the link between that and him exercising the right to his opinions, however loathsome those opinions may be. effectiveky you still have not said anything to lead any of us to believe that you want him fired for anything other than the fact that his opinions are different from yours. unless you have been forced to take his classes and listen to his public presentations, I am a bit perplexed as to why his firing is any concern of yours.

dc


Jonathan Dresner - 2/7/2005

You need to make a stronger point, Mr. Nelson. There really aren't any free speech absolutists here, as you define them. The case you cite was decided, ultimately, in favor of the speaker, not the employer, and seems to provide a great deal of comfort to those of us who believe broadly in free speech.


Van L. Hayhow - 2/7/2005

You can't yell fire? Sure you can. Just make sure there is a fire.


Ralph E. Luker - 2/7/2005

Except on some limited moral values issues, I think that's correct.


Jason Nelson - 2/7/2005

Then the current shift in national politics to a 'red state' leadership is not a conservative one?


Jonathan Dresner - 2/7/2005

Mr. Nelson,

Clearly you missed my point above: the issue is not what he said, but where he said it. The examples you cited earlier of sportscasters and commentators were paid precisely to speak in a certain manner, and crossing a line, failed to perform their jobs adequately. There's little evidence yet that Churchill's statements reflect relevantly on his job performance in a manner which would justify employer action.

Churchill has already experienced scorn, derision, attacks on his character and writings, hostility, disagreement. Those are legitimate negative consequences of free speech. Termination from his employment, or threats to his person, are not.


Jonathan Dresner - 2/7/2005

Mr. Nelson,

Though I don't call myself a conservative, I do believe, as Will and Ariel Durant wrote, "The conservative who resists change is as valuable as the radical who proposes it." The conservative tradition, really beginning with Burke, is one of healthy skepticism, caution (sometimes oversimplified as "gradualism"), particular concern for individual rights, and consensus building. In that sense, which is much closer to the sense in which Mr. Luker is using the term, I am also quite conservative.

What you are espousing is not "conservative" but aggressive free-market liberalism (in a 19th, not 18th century sense). And the discussions will go much easier if we define our terms properly.


Ralph E. Luker - 2/7/2005

Why bother calling yourself a conservative? That's about the last thing that you are.


Jason Nelson - 2/7/2005

Here is a case on point in the Churchill case. Ironically, there is a Churchill involved here as well. This is a case and point that according to the Supreme Court of the United States, free speech rights are not absolute. We all have seemed to agree that the law and due process should triumph in this matter. It will, and this case is one reason why it will result in Churchill's firing.

http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=search&;court=US&case=/us/511/661.html

CYNTHIA WATERS, ET AL., PETITIONERS v. CHERYL
R. CHURCHILL, ET AL.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT
No. 92-1450

Argued December 1, 1993
Decided May 31, 1994



Petitioners fired respondent Churchill from her nursing job at a public hospital, allegedly because of statements she made to coworker Perkins-Graham during a work break. What Churchill actually said during the conversation is in dispute. Petitioners' version was based on interviews with Perkins-Graham and one Ballew, who had overheard part of the conversation, and indicated that Churchill made disruptive statements critical of her department and of petitioners. However, in Churchill's version, which was corroborated by others who had overheard part of the conversation, her speech was largely limited to nondisruptive statements critical of the hospital's "cross-training" policy, which she believed threatened patient care. Churchill sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that her speech was protected under Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138, 142 , in which the Court held that the First Amendment protects a government employee's speech if it is on a matter of public concern and the employee's interest in expressing herself on this matter is not outweighed by any injury the speech could cause to the government's interest, as an employer, in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees. The District Court granted petitioners summary judgment, holding that management could fire Churchill with impunity because neither version of the conversation was protected under Connick. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that Churchill's speech, viewed in the light most favorable to her, was on a matter of public concern and was not disruptive, and that the inquiry must turn on what her speech actually was, as determined by a jury, not on what the employer thought it was.

Held:

The judgment is vacated, and the case is remanded. Page II

977 F.2d 1114, vacated and remanded.


Jason Nelson - 2/7/2005

Mr. Catsam,
A free speech absolutist is one who believes that there is no conceivable speech that should result in tangible negative consequences, anything goes, all the time. An academic freedom absolutist cannot conceive of any speech or teaching that would legally justify the termination of Churchill. Since I have asked the question twice to this very creative and intelligent audience and have received not one answer, I am forced to conclude that the majority of the readers can imagine no possible type of speech or teaching that should result in Churchill's ouster. If the line were not crossed here, then where would it be?


Jonathan Dresner - 2/7/2005

Mr. Nelson,

By your definition, then, I am not an "absolutist," nor do I share those misconceptions, as should be clear from my comments on the possible consequences of Churchill's speech. But I do maintain that academic freedom should indeed be a considerable shield against mere public distaste unless it clearly impinges on job-related activities.


Jason Nelson - 2/7/2005

Mr. Luker,
You are using the old school conservative definition. Today's conservative wants to bring that radical power of free markets and democracy to the middle east. Today's conservative wants to radically reform the social security mess so as to give younger workers a chance to collect on some benifits when they need them. Today's conservative wants to bring the changing power of the free market to our public schools, by introducing parental choice and competition to reform a system that guzzles money and always finds another reason for failure. Please do not confuse me with the 18th Century conservative, I most certainly am not protecting the current establishment. You will have to look to the liberals for that.


Grant W Jones - 2/7/2005

Unfortunately, state supported universities have as much to do with capitalism as the Social Security system.


Jason Nelson - 2/7/2005

Perhaps you are not an academic freedom absolutist. I do not believe the Churchill matter is a first amendment issue at all. The only thing protecting him is the notion of academic freedom.
However, being a free speech absolutist is also dangerous and unrealistic as well. I have already given the examples of Al Campanis and Jimmy the Greek. Their speech had consequences, but the Government did not punish them.
Further, it is common to know that an American citizen cannot yell “fire” in a crowded room. There are laws restricting speech involved in liable and slander. The Content Model Standards for Civics in the State of Colorado for social sciences teachers mentions that all rights have some extreme limit.
One of the most common misunderstandings of constitutional law is that free speech is an absolute right. Another misconception is that the first amendment provides blanket immunity to consequences of an individual's speech. The first amendment only specifically addresses the government's role as regards free speech. “Congress shall pass no law restricting.”
In most workplaces in America if an individual, with words only, exercises his or her first amendment rights by using speech that is sexually explicit, harassing, racist, combative, or even disrespectful to the authority in the workplace, he or she is subject to termination.
That individual is entitled to be able to walk away, not to be imprisoned or fined by the government, yet the consequences remain. Just as the second amendment, the right to bear arms is not absolute, so too first amendment rights are not absolute.


Derek Charles Catsam - 2/7/2005

Jason --
Actiually, the state of Colorado does have to keep him on the payroll unless they can find a reason to get rid of him. I am not necessarily a "free speech absolutist," whetevr that means, but i believe that fre speech that does not also count as a criminal act ought to be pretty absolute on a university campus. And in any case, I've pointed out on a nu ber of ocasions why the taxpayers meme is either factually wrong, irrelevent, or the sign of a lack of other arguments. We do not angage in law by referendum. unless Churchill has engaged in something illegal or has not been doing his job. i cannot believe conservatives would be so shortsighted as to try to get him fired. but again, if it happens, I do not want to hear bitching from Colorado when students start getting punished for their beliefs. Punishing people for asserting their beliefs, however offensive, is either ok or it is not. No tortured machinations can change the fact that you cannot justify doing it selectively. I think what Churchill said was loathsome. I think students have every right to picket or protest. I think they have every right not to take his classes. I do not think the state has the right to impose their views on his speech in a punitive way. I have yet to hear a good argument for it, beyond moral outrage.
dc


Ralph E. Luker - 2/7/2005

Mr. Jones and Mr. Nelson, I suspect that you have put yourselves into such a reactionary track that no conservative in academe would quite satisfy your litmus test. Predictably, your next move against academic conservatives is "I am more conservative than thou." Try understanding that capitalism, itself, has _nothing_ to do with conservatism, that it is the enemy of conservatism. It is the little engine that heedlessly disrupts established order. It is a dramatically radical force.


Ralph E. Luker - 2/7/2005

Sorry, Anthony. I am so used to hearing the student is consumer meme these days that I didn't even recognize that you were mocking it.


Van L. Hayhow - 2/7/2005

Barney Frank was my congressman for many years. My home city was redistricted out of his district. During that time I met him several times and also heard him speak. He is one of the brightest people I have ever met and is a thinker. It may be disguised sometimes because he loves old fashioned partisan politics so much. Still, you could search many a campus and think tank and not find someone as smart as he is.


Jonathan Rees - 2/7/2005

Charles:

I owe you an apology. Colorado State - Pueblo actually does have a "cross-cultural " requirement. It is a list of general education courses which students have to take anyway that will satisfy this sub-heading as long as they take one of them.

However, the list is so broad that the requirement has proven totally useless. For example, any foreign language satisfies the requirement which is required of all BAs already. For this reason, the requirement has dropped off my department's planning sheet (which is why I forgot about it).

To have a meaningful ethnic studies requirement you need to have enough faculty to teach the entire campus and room for them in your classrooms or you have to have a requirement like ours that's so broad it doesn't mean anything. CU can do it in a meaningful way. We can't. The smaller schools will have a much harder time forcing any student to take a course they don't want because they won't have the manpower.

JR


Anthony Paul Smith - 2/7/2005

I was mocking the idea that the student is consumer, I thought that would be clear. My position is that, while students should have a say, the idea that they have absolute power because they pay money is beyond stupid. I also, just by chance, don't think there is anything wrong with have a culture and gender diversity requirement. I have misgivings with multi-culturalism as it tends to ultimately disrespect difference to make us all better consumers, but if the choice is either "Let us stay ignorant" or "Let us get along better in the marketplace" I'll go with the second option.


Jonathan Rees - 2/7/2005

I am not surprised to learn of a cultural and gender diversity requirement at Boulder for BAs, but we're getting a rather bit beyond the original claim here, aren't we? In Colorado, such decisions are made independently on each campus unless the CCHE requires it. My school does not, and I other state schools smaller than mine do not have the course offerings to make that requirement possible.

I entered this discussion only to prevent someone from using Ward Churchill to distort the Colorado educational system into some sort of "politically correct" nightmare. I think I've succeeded.


Jonathan Dresner - 2/7/2005

Actually, though I speak for and represent nobody but myself in this matter, I'm not an academic freedom absolutist (see my writings on grade inflation, for example, where I call tenure and fashionable theory into question) as I am a free speech and due process absolutist.

If Churchill's remarks were legal speech, and he is performing his professional duties at the levels of quantity and quality expected of others in similar positions, then he should be able to say anything he wants without it affecting his job. If his political views are interfering with his job performance, by unduly skewing his teaching or by creating a truly hostile environment for students, or leading to fistfights with coworkers, then it is something which the university should have mechanisms to address. If his speech is not legal speech, then the relevant prosecutors should bring an indictment and his employer should belay action until such a case is properly adjudicated.

The time to tell Churchill that his research direction is fruitless, etc., has passed with his reciept of tenure. Barring evidence of misconduct sufficient to warrant the removal of tenure, he's doing his job as it's been presented to him and for which he has been rewarded in the past.

By your lights, this probably makes me the academic freedom absolutist who has no limits.


Ralph E. Luker - 2/7/2005

Mr. Nelson, It would be a great mistake for Colorado to establish a precident for revoking the tenure of and firing a tenured professor, regardless of how wrong his public statements may be. Such a precident threatens the security of tenure for all faculty members at public institutions in Colorado; and it inevitably chills public discussions throughout the state.
Take the word of conservative legal scholars (Glenn Reynolds and Eugene Volokh, for two): Churchill's speech may be highly offensive; he cannot be fired for offensive speech. If his position is threatened, and it may be, it will be on other grounds. On those other grounds, I suspect that he may be penalized. I do not expect that he will be fired.


Jason Nelson - 2/7/2005

Mr. Jones,
I could agree with you that most politicians are not thinkers and cite Ted Kennedy, Nancy Peloci, Harry Reed, Howard Dean, Barney Frank, Governor Gray Davis, Pat Lahey, and Barbra Boxer, but I would be making a larger point. Oftentimes the politicians that are considered "thinkers" by an individual are the ones that the individual agrees with. I've heard Governor Owens join a public discussion of Victor Davis Hanson's Carnage and Culture, and I believe that he is indeed a thinker. Further, while many will no doubt disagree, I consider myself a bit of a thinker, and I strongly agree with Owens on this matter.
To answer your final point, the Universities do not reach out to conservatives because they do not want to. Most in charge of them would like to see the virtual liberal to left monopoly of the establishment to continue, not to be challenged with substantive balance.


Jason Nelson - 2/7/2005

All dissent is not created equal. It is not just the Governor calling for Churchill’s job. The people, the vast majority, the taxpayers, the reason all professors have their jobs, want Churchill gone. This in itself does not justify his dismissal; that is why due process will be followed and constitutional law will be applied. Its sad that this makes many professors uncomfortable but academic freedom is not absolute.


Jason Nelson - 2/7/2005

Mr. Luker,
I find myself in an uncomfortable position, agreeing with you. Since no one has yet answered my simple question, (Is there any possible thing Churchill could have said or taught that would have disqualified him as a paid employee of the University of Colorado), I will assume that most of those defending his job are academic freedom absolutists.
This comes of no surprise. Let me make a loose analogy. I can not remember a police shooting that was not defended by other police. No matter how questionable the circumstances, the majority of police defend the shooting as "You cant make a judgement unless you were there, unless you knew the danger, unless you had to make such a tough decision in such a short ammount of time". This also is no surprise. First, police protect their own. This is similar to the comments on Churchill, professors protecting thier own.
Second, in the back of many policeman's (or women's) mind is that maybe someday they might be in a tough spot, and they would like the widest posssible lattitude given them if needed. Again, similar to the Churchill matter.
I know I am unlikely to change many minds here. However, you all must recognize that this means little. Other professors have too much personal interest wrapped up in this situation to be fair and objective. That is why the situation should be settled by duly elected representatives in this republic. Further, this will end up before the most effective legislative body of the modern liberal, the federal courts. I am confident that there is plenty of constitutional case law that will support the action of the university against such a man as Churchill. Time will tell.


Jason Nelson - 2/7/2005

Mr. Luker,

You are correct to point out my error. It is a cultural and gender diversity requirement. I am sorry for the imprecise language and appreciate the correction.


Ralph E. Luker - 2/7/2005

Anthony, You'll all over the place. In one comment, you argue that the student is consumer and has every right to determine his or her course of study without faculty requirements or guidelines. Here, you see no problem with a requirement in culture and gender diversity. What is consistent in your position?


Anthony Paul Smith - 2/7/2005

Is this really a problem?!


Ralph E. Luker - 2/7/2005

Charles, What Jason Nelson said specifically was: "I know that in the State of Colorado, every student is REQUIRED to take an ethnic studies course." Both what Professor Rees says and what you found in the catalogue of the University of Colorado show that Mr. Nelson is incorrect. His claim is _false_. Undoubtedly, ethnic studies courses _may_ satisfy a culture and gender diversity requirement, but there are, undoubtedly, courses outside ethnic studies which also satisfy that requirement.


Charles V. Mutschler - 2/7/2005

Perhaps Professor Rees will run through all the catalogs for all the colleges and universities in Colorado. However, please note that the current catalog for the University of Colorado (CU for all you alums) requires one three credit (semester hour)course in the content area of cultural and gender diversity for the BA in the College of Arts and Sciences. This is part of the core Curriculum. If the flagship university in the state requires this, it's probable that most of the other state schools have something similar. While Professor Rees is possibly correct that there is some field of study leading to a BA at some four year institution in Colorado which does not have an diversity requirement, I suspect it is the exception rather than the rule. Most of the state universities that I am familiar with have some kind of diversity requirement as part of the core curriculum for BA or BS degrees. Mr. Nelson may be correct at more institutions that Professor Rees.

CVM


Ralph E. Luker - 2/7/2005

Nonsense, Anthony. That is unadulterated capitalist consumerism. Wash your mouth out with soap -- or your keyboard down with lye.


Robert KC Johnson - 2/7/2005

On Owens' tactics: yes, in theory it doesn't have to be an either/or. But there are lots of reasons why Churchill shouldn't be fired. First of all, the university knew of his political beliefs, weak scholarly credentials, etc. before it tenured him, and it did so anyway. (Why it tenured him, of course, is another matter.) Dismissing him now would be saying that outside criticism can lead to the overturning to tenure decisions, which would make tenure meaningless.

Second, the institution of tenure--while it clearly has been abused--does provide some protection to dissenters. at many institutions, especially non-elite ones, it's hard to believe that the removal of tenure would not, in the end, produce more ideologically homogeneous faculties.

Third, we have to be conscious of history. During the McCarthy era, professors were fired for their political views, and history has come to judge that action harshly. So a governor calling for the dismissal of a professor because of what he has said will invariably lead to allegations of McCarthyism, and distract from the broader problems of the academy.

As to issues of ideological bias at various religious colleges in Illinois, I admit that I haven't read anything about such allegations in the Chronicle, the Chicago Trib or Sun-Times, or other periodicals. When I do, I'll be sure to comment on them.


Anthony Paul Smith - 2/7/2005

Indeed, students should not be forced to take any classes for graduation if they don't want to. Whether that be ethnic studies or economics, we paid money to be here, we should make all the decisions.

I was discriminated against at my former college, instead of bitching about it I left. There are plenty of schools that will welcome your ideological bent.


Ralph E. Luker - 2/6/2005

Mr. Nelson, Dr. Rees has corrected you about one of the claims that you made. Is he correct or is your right to make false claims an absolute one?
Whether Professor Churchill will be found to have crossed "the line" will be decided by appropriate authorities -- not here. It may be that a tenured professor has far more latitude to write and teach than you think is appropriate. Those of us who care about academic freedom can be expected to defend it. There probably is little you have to say on that matter that is likely to change our minds.


Jason Nelson - 2/6/2005

Mr. Rees,

There is a question on the table for any acedemic freedom absolutists. What could he have said or taught that would have disqualified him as a professor? If you believe that there is nothing he might have said that would justify firing, then you believe that acedemic freedom is absolute, which it is not. This is the greater and most important point.


Jonathan Rees - 2/6/2005

You are not required to take an ethnic studies course to get a Bachelors Degree in Colorado. Just think about it. Who controls the Colorado Commission of Higher Ed., the only body that could make such a requirement? Governor Owens.

And while we're at it, just because students think they are getting bad grades because of their political views does not necessarily make it so.

JR


Jason Nelson - 2/6/2005

Mr. Catsam,

I do realize that it is dangerous. That is why this action should only be done in the most extreme cases. Churchill could have questioned US foreign policy and been safe. It is the encouragement of violence and the expression of active seditious beliefs that have crossed the line. He can be against everything American, he just can’t be preaching for the overthrow of the government.
I can not help but believe that if a professor was actively encouraging the discrimination, segregation, or killing of (pick your minority, blacks, Jews, others), most of the same people against Churchill’s firing would be on the other side of the argument. Why should the state pay for a professor to spread Nazi-like viewpoints? The state would not be compelled to do so, and similarly, it is not compelled to subsidize Churchill.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but some students are currently getting bad grades simply because of the content of their views. Since the higher education establishment is filled with liberal to leftist thinkers, the bulk of this kind of grading is against conservative students. I have personally experienced this.
Any other person in any other job has a limit on what they can say. The first amendment and academic freedom is not absolute. If Churchill’s comments do not disqualify him as a professor, than please humor me. What would he have to say or teach to have crossed the line? If you can not think of anything that should result in firing, than you believe academic freedom is absolute, which it is not. Remember Al Campanis on Nightline? He was fired for what he said and no one was clamoring over his first amendment rights. Remember Jimmy the Greek? Same thing. There are countless examples of limits at the extreme on 'free speech', especially when you are representing an employer or institution.
I would love for students to be able to vote with their feet. I know in the State of Colorado, to get any bachelors degree every student is REQUIRED to take an ethnic studies class. I do not have the choice. I would welcome any effort to eliminate this as a requirement. This free market approach may result in the reduction or elimination of ethnic studies departments in Colorado, revealing that the majority of students only take these classes because they are forced to. Would this really be acceptable to you?
I am not trying to pick a fight with you; I simply disagree strongly with your viewpoint about Churchill. All dissent is not created equal and Churchill has crossed the line.


Grant W Jones - 2/6/2005

Most politicians are not thinkers. Too often politcos on both the left and right reduce issues to a matter of personalities. The governor should take the high ground and investigate systemic problems at the university.

If there is "group think" and "disperate impact" in hiring only those that agree with a department's calcified views, then measures should be taken to change it. There are numerous conservative think tanks filled with learned scholars, why doesn't the university reach out to them?


Derek Charles Catsam - 2/6/2005

Jason --
I've made this point to you before, but I do not think you saw it. Don't you realize how dangerous it is for firing someone because of his political views, no matter how loathesome. What if a Porfessor found your views to be loathesome? By your rationale, doesn't that mean the professor could decide to punish you with a bad grade? Or dceide to scuttle your efforts to go to grad school, law school, med school? Or that with the majority of humanities profs skewing somewhat leftward, it would open up a witch hunt against conservative professors? Sure, there are limiuts to speech, but almost none of them play out in the realm of ideas. They play out uinstead where that speech promotes or engages in criminality. What Churchill said may be loathesome; I am not certain it was in any way criminal even in the most tortured definition. This idea of firing tenured professors for ideas that they hold and things that they say seems a very dangerous one. Unless you want to see, for example, pro-war students hammered with D's just because someone thinks they need to be punished, I'd reconsider your line of reasoning. Students can vote with their feet -- by not taking his classes and by protesting things he has said. The state has no business in firing him.

dc


Anthony Paul Smith - 2/6/2005

Responsible education? Isn't this really a codeword for the exact opposite kind of thing you want KC?


Anthony Paul Smith - 2/6/2005

Fair enough (regarding public/private but more so the misspelling).

Except it seems impossible to set up a private school that is "leftist" as oppossed to conservative/evangelical. The only one I can think of is New School, and they are always hurting for funding. Is KC Johnson also willing to ignore the "ideological" bias of schools like the philosophy department at DePaul University (Catholic)?


Jonathan Dresner - 2/6/2005

The difference between a public and private institution is substantial; more so when an institution like Olivet takes a specific non-academic mission in addition to its educational one. Whether Olivet's practices and culture are problematic is a very different issue from the Churchill one.

I don't usually note people's spelling, but I have to say that the image conjured up by "ostrichize" (instead of "ostracize") of a great big academic bird sticking its head in the sand (or in this case, of a lot of academic birds sticking their heads in the sand while one lone bird stands there looking lost), is one which we might need to promulgate more widely....


Jason Nelson - 2/6/2005

Mr. Johnson,

Why should this be an either/or for Governer Owens? I believe that he will do the things that you have suggested. Additionally, after the investigation and appropriate due process, it is my opinion that Churchill with be fired. Governor Owens loses nothing by doing this, and instead of being the worst thing, it could shine an even brighter light on the problems in higher education that you have enumerated. None of our rights as citizens are absolute, and neither is acedemic freedom. It is high time that there is some far outer boundary set for responsible education.


Anthony Paul Smith - 2/6/2005

Conservatives have done nothing to help that school Ralph. Trust me, I've been there. Where are the conservatives trying to get the press out of bed with the Right-wing government? Where are they in trying to bring balance to coverage of the conflict in Israel/Palestine? Trying to bring us some affordable health care? No, they aren't there either.

Though neither are the Democrats.


Ralph E. Luker - 2/6/2005

Anthony, Undoubtedly, Olivet Nazarene University needs all the help (and subversion) we can give it. Your use of the word "conservative" is a little loose. Some of us regard Barth as being, in many ways, on the conservative side of things. When you wake up one day in the trenches and find that it is conservatives who are carrying the assault on the paracites, philistines, and provincials, you'll be thanking whatever g_d there is, for conservatives.


Anthony Paul Smith - 2/6/2005

There is a University in NorthEast Illinois called Olivet Nazarene University. It needs your help NOW! They are victims of groupthink, where if you speak out against the war by wearing a "Peace Now" pin the President of the Univerisity takes you out to lunch and asks you to take it off. If you espouse Barthian theology, as oppossed to good old generic theology, you are essential forced out. If you suggest that the policy against R-rated movies is poorly thought out, you are ostrichized from your own department. Hell, they aren't even allowed to show Amistad in the "Faith and Film" course anymore because of nudity!

Help them Robert KC Johnson. Surely this is just as bad as Ward Churchhill, or at least almost as bad (I deducted 2 bad points since it is a conservative majority here).

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