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Jul 27, 2007 5:10 am

Friday Notes

Tim Burke,"Harry Potter as Complex Event," Easily Distracted, 24 July, and Alan Jacobs,"Potter, Tolkien, War, Complex Events," American Scene, 24 July, continue a thoughtful discussion.

Six years after the administration at British Columbia's Simon Fraser University blocked the appointment of the historian David Noble to the University's J. S. Woodsworth Chair, Noble's suit against Simon Fraser has been settled out of court. The details of the settlement were undisclosed, but they included a public apology from the University to Noble, who remains at York. Widely known for his work on technology and society, Noble had attributed Simon Fraser's rejection of his candidacy to his criticism of distance education. Hattip.

Brian Leiter of the law school at the University of Texas thinks that Ward Churchill has a good chance of successfully challenging the decision of the University of Colorado's Board of Regents to fire him. He offers this link to the complaint filed by Churchill's attorney in Denver's state district court. Hat tip. Leiter may very well be correct, because of many public statements calling for his dismissal early on in the controversy. The University obviously sought to sanitize the process via two-and-a-half years of due process hearings. Leiter is certainly too dismissive of the gravity of charges of academic misfeasance against Churchill and of the fact that Churchill was convicted of those charges by his academic peers. My own sense is that he ought not to have been hired into a faculty position in the first place and that he ought not subsequently have been tenured. I think it's fair to ask Leiter whether, given what he now knows about Churchill's professional work, he would recommend him for a faculty position at UT, Austin.

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Alastair Mackay - 7/30/2007

Leiter's blogging is a bit jarring. Perhaps regular readers recognize that his prose can be over-the-top, and know that embedded hyperlinks may only kinda-sorta support the point he's making.

The UC committee's summary report does, indeed, contrast with the impression left by Chuchill supporters. The five members explain their split advice on how the errant professor should be sanctioned:

* Two members of the Committee conclude and recommend that Professor Churchill should not be dismissed. They reach this conclusion because they do not think his conduct so serious as to satisfy the criteria for revocation of tenure and dismissal set forth in section 5.C.1 of the Law of the Regents, because they are troubled by the circumstances under which these allegations have been made, and because they believe that his dismissal would have an adverse effect on other scholars’ ability to conduct their research with due freedom. These two members agree and recommend that the most appropriate sanction, following any required additional procedures as specified by the University’s rules, is a suspension from University employment without pay for a term of two years.

* Three members of the Committee believe that Professor Churchill’s research misconduct is so serious that it satisfies the criteria for revocation of tenure and dismissal specified in section 5.C.1 of the Laws of the Regents, and hence that revocation of tenure and dismissal, after completion of all appropriate procedures, is not an improper sanction. One of these members believes and recommends that dismissal is the most appropriate sanction; the other two believe and recommend that the most appropriate sanction is suspension from University employment without pay for a term of five years.

Gareth Evans Jones - 7/28/2007

Leiter expands on his reasoning at this other site, not linked to by your note:

There he points out that firing was the recommended sanction by only one of the five members of the investigating committee. This claim immediately precedes his conclusion that the regents' decison to fire him is plainly disproportionate, and would naturally be interpreted (by most readers) as evidence for his conclusion.

Yet, if you read the investigating committee's report (something Leiter hints most haven't), three out of the five members of the committee plainly say that the offenses fall within the range appropriate for dismissal.

The committee quite explicitly says its recommendations are not solely based on the seriousness of the
offenses (based solely on a consideration of the offenses themselves), but were formed by a fuller consideration of "the context" of the complaints.

The committee is plainly saying (in the majority) that the offenses considered on their own are serious enough to warrant dismissal. They just as plainly state that they have not limited their consideration of sanctions to just the facts concerning the seriousness of the offenses.

In short, the committee's own report hardly offers support for the notion that the offenses were not serious enough, and hardly supplies the support for Leiter's conclusions as he would have it. That only one recommended dismissal is a result of the fact that they did not limit their consideration of sanctions to the facts concerning the offenses.

The irony is that it is the committee members themselves (who didn't recommend, in the majority, dismissal) that imported "extraneous" considerations into their deliberations concerning sanctions, and not necessarily the regents. The committee report does not, therefore, provide the kind of support for Leiter's conclusions that he implies. I suggest people read the committee's report:

Charles V. Mutschler - 7/27/2007

KC Johnson has an article on Churchill posted at "Minding the Campus."

That location also has a link to an article by a Denver attorney who thinks that Churchill's legal case is not a slam dunk, that while Churchill may have an argument with some justice that his firing came after his September 11 criticism, the academic misconduct warrants his firing.

Wicazo Sa Review, a journal of American Indian Studies, has a couple of essays looking at the Churchill case in its most recent issue. Elizabeth Cook-Lynn notes that Churchill's false claims of Indian identity and his bad scholarship may create long term damage to efforts by serious scholars in the field. Similar comments are in a recent issue of Indian Country Today, available on-line.

Ralph E. Luker - 7/27/2007

Mr. Rotenstreich, When you've learned to read English, you'll know that I never claimed that Leiter hired or tenured Churchill nor did I claim either that Churchill was at the University of Texas or that his public statements were reason for him to be fired. Like many others who comment on the case, you don't seem to have bothered to read the careful reports by his academic peers who found him guilty on multiple counts of academic misfeasance. No doubt other people are also guilty. I hope you don't mean to argue that they should not also be held accountable.

Ralph M. Hitchens - 7/27/2007

I actually read through the published reports of the investigating committee, and to be sure there was evidence of shoddy scholarship. Leiter may be right, however, that Churchill will prevail in court. If that happens he will no doubt exult in his exoneration, but one wonders how much joy can he get by saying, in effect, "they tried to fire me for work that is no worse than what other tenured scholars publish."

samuel rotenstreich - 7/27/2007

Your question to Leiter is unfair. Leiter neither hired nor gave tenure to Churchill. Furthermore, Churchill is not the only professor who is not up to par and such professors are not a negligible minority.

As repulsive as Churchill is, his statements are immaterial to his academic standing.