Blogs > Cliopatria > Some Odd Notes on Ward Churchill ...

Feb 19, 2005 2:01 pm

Some Odd Notes on Ward Churchill ...

Through the media blitz about Ward Churchill, I kept thinking that there's something that we're not understanding here. The more I read, the more sure I was that it was true. Here are a couple of points that may call for some second thoughts all around.

Maybe it's just that his name amuses me, but Ralph of Makes Me Ralph is guest-blogging over at That Colored Fellas Weblog. Ralph is a University of Colorado blogger with special interests in Colorado politics. I recommend that you read his interesting"Is This the New McCarthyism" at TCFW. What startled me was its concluding point:"Lost in all this, however, is the never-reported fact that Churchill is a registered Republican." The claim is that Churchill became a Republican when President Clinton refused to pardon Leonard Peltier. Odd, isn't it, that Governor Bill Owens would be determined to fire one of his own. Odd, isn't it, that David Horowitz is opposed to that effort. Those facts run against our reflexive Left/Right binaries.

Another, less obvious, odd thing that appeared during the Churchill blitz, but without reference to it, is this passage from Cathy Young's"Ayn Rand at 100," Reason, March 2005:

Still more troubling is an earlier passage in Atlas [Shrugged] in which bureaucratic incompetence and arrogance lead to a terrible train wreck. Many would say, Rand wryly notes, that the people who died in the accident"were not guilty or responsible for the thing that happened to them." Then, in a series of brief portraits, Rand endeavors to show that the passengers were guilty indeed: All of them had benefited from evil government programs, promoted evil political or philosophical ideas, or both. Rand does not advocate their murder, of course (though she sympathetically depicts a trainmaster who chooses not to avert the disaster, partly in revenge against the regulators); but she does suggest that they had it coming. In Atlas and the nonfiction essays she turned to in her final decades, political and ideological debates are treated as wars with no innocent bystanders, and the dehumanization of"the enemy" reaches levels reminiscent of communist or fascist propaganda.
Ward Churchill? A Randy libertarian? Maybe so. Maybe not. Maybe it's just that they both see that we get caught up as cogs in machines and both refuse to hold us guiltless for playing those roles.

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Van L. Hayhow - 2/21/2005

The other issue is whether these might be considered personnel records. I don't know about Colorado, but open records laws sometimes exempt such records.

Richard Henry Morgan - 2/20/2005

If the request did not come from the radio host, and the records were released by somebody at Colorado-Bouler for his own purposes, then on a moral plane, I couldn't agree with you more (it may even be illegal). Colorado-Boulder went to extraordinary lengths to give him tenure, so it would hardly surprise me if their current behaviour would likewise fail to survive scrutiny.

Louis N Proyect - 2/20/2005

I am speaking of incriminating in the sense of the FBI telling MLK Jr's wife that he was having affairs. It is not against the law to have an affair, but the FBI has no business getting involved in this sort of dirty trick. I have no idea whether Colorado having an "open records" law is supposed to legitimate the administration sending documents to a rightwing radio host. In my book, this is not the way a college should operate. It smacks of the 1950s.

Richard Henry Morgan - 2/20/2005

"incriminating"? I hope you're not admitting that Churchill has actually broken a law. Is it against the law to not have a doctorate in Colorado? The transgressors must number in the thousands, I would imagine.

It's my understanding, perhaps imperfect, that Colorado has an open records law (Title 24, Article 72), and Colorado-Boulder being a state entity ... which of course doesn't apply to Columbia on either count.

Louis N Proyect - 2/20/2005

Speaking of jury-rigging, are you people aware that the U. of Colorado adminstration has released allegedly incriminating documents on Ward Churchill to a local talk radio personality? The Chronicle of Higher Education, Feb. 18, reports:

"Newly released documents show that a vice chancellor at Boulder urged other administrators to hire Mr. Churchill in 1990, even though he did not have a doctorate. He earned tenure the next year, bypassing the usual six-year review. The documents were released by the university to Dan Caplis, a talk-show host on a Denver radio station, who shared them with the Rocky Mountain News."

This is amazing stuff. I couldn't possibly imagine my employer, Columbia University, admitting that it was passing incriminating documents on Mideast Dept. professors to Rush Limbaugh and the NY Post. That's our version of Dan Caplis and the Rocky Mountain News.

Colorado Indymedia reports:

>>An anonymous tipster working with, what was referred to as, a “faith-based think tank”, claims that KHOW/Clear Channel’s Dan Caplis accepted a “gift” from the unnamed group to spread the biased Ward Churchill story in an attempt to “frame the left”, the anti-war movement, and the 9-11 truth movement into “one package”. The person also stated this was a ploy to set-up an “Ideological Enemy” on “American Soil” and to re-invent Ward Churchill as a “sacrificial lamb”.<<


All this smacks of J. Edgar Hoover and the Cointelpro program. I would hope that progressive-minded professors would take exception to this sort of cabal between the U. of Colorado and these sorts of characters. For people who want to see radicals smashed into the ground, I have no advice obviously.

Richard Henry Morgan - 2/20/2005

Greetings from the antipodes. There is, BTW, a fascinating article in the Rocky Mountain News concerning the gymnastics that Colorado-Boulder went through to jury-rig an extremely irregular and non-rigorous tenure review for Churchill. Reading it, one can't help but entertain the notion that the process created was tailor-made to allow Colorado-Boulder to tenure him. Just my view, of course, but I invite others to read the article, by Berny Morson, in the Rocky Mountain News of Feb. 18.

Louis N Proyect - 2/20/2005

There are 32 Democrats and 0 Republicans in the Duke History department? This means that the center is well-represented and the right is not. I said that the left is being hounded on the academy, not people who identify politically with Joe Biden or Joseph Lieberman. At my own institution, there are tons of Democrats but the people who are David Horowitz's hit-list are either from the Middle East department with no ties to the Democratic Party or outspoken radicals like Nick DeGenova. I know that people like David Horowitz like to make an amalgam between Teresa Heinz Kerry and Mumia, but I would expect a more refined analysis here. Well, maybe not...

Jonathan Dresner - 2/20/2005

On the responsibility of cogs in the machine, it seems to me that both Rand and Churchill are presaged by Walden, not to mention a lot of other folks. How sad, I think, that Thoreau's legacy seems to be so attenuated that it takes a Churchill to remind us of it. Of course, Thoreau was considered an unpatriotic elitist liberal academic, too....

Don Willis - 2/20/2005

The point was that Horowitz explicitly condemned firing Churchill.

Jason Nelson - 2/19/2005

Well said.

Robert KC Johnson - 2/19/2005

You don't have to agree with all that David Horowitz does (I certainly don't) to recognize that the statement that the "exact opposite" of "rightwing professors are being hounded from their posts" is about as far from the truth as you can get in the contemporary academy. Apparently all of these professors being hounded from their posts don't work in the Duke History Department (32 Dems/0 Repubs); Stanford or Cal's new hires (96.8% of those in a registered party are Dems); or the universities that ranked among Kerry's largest contributors in 2004.

Louis N Proyect - 2/19/2005

It Horowitz called for Churchill being fired, that would undermine his own phony crusade against "political correctness" on campus. He puts forward a schema in which rightwing professors are being hounded from their posts, when in fact the exact opposite is happening. As Malcolm X said in 1964, "The press is so powerful in its image-making role, it can make a criminal look like he's the victim and make the victim look like he's the criminal." Indeed.

Chronicle of Higher Education, November 26, 2004

A Liberal Professor Fights a Label
A faculty member accused of bias takes on students and a conservative group


Oneida J. Meranto did something this semester that she had never done in her career. She tape-recorded her lecture.

The reason: self-protection. Last winter two students filed grievances accusing the associate professor of political science at Metropolitan State College of Denver of having a liberal bias and intimidating conservative students.

Although college officials found as recently as October that she had done nothing wrong, she received death threats and dozens of hateful e-mail messages. She was too frightened to walk to her car alone, so students escorted her.

Should she be accused of bias again, she wanted a record of what she had said.

Sure enough, two days after she taped her lecture, another student filed a grievance against the tenured professor.

A Navajo who often speaks out at rallies for women's and minority rights, Ms. Meranto identifies herself as a liberal. She describes her politics as "very raw" and says they were shaped by the plight of Native Americans in this country. A former potter who ran art galleries in Colorado before earning her Ph.D. at age 40, she prefers acupuncture to chemotherapy in her battle against breast cancer. She has a soothing voice that can turn menacing when she is angry, which she often is these days.

What has happened to her shows how disputes about professors' political leanings can quickly escalate into vicious battles that pit students against faculty members and leave administrators stuck in the middle. The dispute at Metropolitan, which has drawn national attention, has already lasted a year, and shows no sign of ending.

In the aftermath of a contentious presidential election, such tensions may only become worse as emboldened conservative students try to oust professors they perceive as too liberal