The Case of Ward Churchill and Academic Tenure

For people with a politically Conservative perspective, Ward Churchill is just one of those gifts that keep on giving. For many years, Conservatives have been pointing out to a largely indifferent country, that parts of universities, particularly the humanities departments, have become tenured bastions for the far-Left, largely out of touch with most Americans and only loosely connected to serious scholarship.

Enter Ward Churchill, chairman of the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado. Professor Churchill was to be a speaker at Hamilton College. Churchill probably believed that this was to be one of many speaking engagements at an American university where one can get paid to spew vicious, hateful statements, rally radical students, and pass largely unnoticed by not only a majority of students on campus, but by the world at large.

However, this time before his speech at Hamilton College what Churchill had been saying for some time about 9/11 came to popular attention before he could speek at Hamilton College. Bill O’Reilly at FoxNews perhaps deserves credit for bring Churchill to national attention.

The people who died in the 9/11 attacks represented people from all walks of American life and insulting them was the same as insulting all of America. Churchill compared the people working at the World Trade Center on 9/11 to functionaries of a Fascist system, specifically calling them “little Eichmanns.” Adolph Eichmann was technocrat in the Nazi regime who managed the logistics of the Holocaust. Ward Churchill was suggesting that those that died on 9/11 were not innocent and somehow deserved what happened to them.

Every serious person now recognizes Churchill as a scheming charlatan who plays up a fictitious American Indian background and relies on the generosity of the taxpayers of the Colorado to subsidize his speech and provide him the patina of legitimacy. There is little to be gained here by towering yet one more one silly statement of his upon another. To do so would be grant him more credibility than he deserves. Churchill’s cruel and hateful speech, however, has shined a light upon other questions about academia.

Churchill is a tenured professor at the University of Colorado and as such can not and should not be dismissed for making irresponsibly foolish statements. The real question is by what criteria is the University of Colorado granting tenure. Mr. Churchill does not have a PhD, the usually required credential. However, a university might overlook that particular credential if Churchill had an exemplary publication record in peer-reviewed journals. It seems that Mr. Churchill is lacking in that area as well.

The truth is that there are some departments at some universities that are not really scholarly departments, but rather paid centers of advocacy that universities tolerate lest they be considered less than tolerant. The support of such departments is protection money to keep campus peace. Ask yourself whether any science or engineering department at the University of Colorado would have hired as a professor, much less granted tenure to and make chairman of a department, anyone with as few scholarly credentials as Churchill.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule that angry anti-Americanism comes from non-scholarly, indeed anti-scholarly enclaves at universities. Noam Chomsky is a broadly recognized expert in linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who vocally spews far Left, largely anti-American politics. In some sense, Chomsky has earned the right (that is tenure) by his scholarship to enter the university dialogue.

Yet in the case of Churchill, a mistake is a mistake, and to support the concept of tenure, the University of Colorado will have to tolerate Churchill for at least a little while longer. The Rocky Mountain News in Denver is now lavishing on Churchill the scrutiny the University of Colorado should have devoted before granting Churchill tenure. According to the Rocky Mountain News, there is some question as to whether Churchill has committed plagiarism. It is too soon to tell, but the University of Colorado may yet find a way to use possibly fraudulent scholarship on the part of Churchill as a cause for dismissal and a way to circumvent tenure.

Somewhere at the University of Colorado, there must have been an academic dean who signed off on Churchill’s tenure. If that person is still at the university, he or she ought to be dismissed for allowing a person without sufficient scholarly credentials to be granted tenured.

It is unfortunate that it is only under the pressure of public embarrassment, that the University of Colorado may do the right thing. What of all the other Churchill’s holed up in ivory towers, not pursuing scholarship put political advocacy?

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