Thursday, July 26, 2007

I Come to Bury Ward Churchill . . .

The fraud that is Ward Churchill, university professor, is no more. For those of you late to the party, Churchill was a University of Colorado Ethnic Studies professor who turned into David Horowitz's wet dream after being invited to speak at Hamilton College two years ago. A Hamilton conservative group began circulating an essay Churchill wrote after 9/11, in which he famously called the 9/11 victims "little Eichmans". In the media shitstorm that followed, it was discovered that Churchill:

A) Had somehow become a tenured professor and chairman of the Ethnic Studies department with a six-figure salary despite only holding an M.A. in communications from from a hippie-dippy experimental college that did not assign grades.

B) Could not prove any of his claims to membership in three different Native American tribes. His claimed Indian heritage had been part of the reason he had got his job as a diversity hire, but the closest he came was an honorary membership from the Keetowah Band, which has since publicly disavowed him.

C) Had plagiarized his work and falsified and misrepresented his sources on multiple occasions.

It is this last point that finally got Churchill fired after two years of committee hearings and faculties reviews. But the first two points make it clear that he never should have had a job to begin with.

But that is neither here nor there. Because, as his well-intentioned but misguided supporters have frequently pointed out, this is "not about Ward Churchill". No, it is about the assault on academic freedom that it represents. According to his supporters, Churchill was not being fired because of his shoddy scholarship, but because of his political views. If he had not written his essay about 9/11, the investigation would have never began. If he is fired because of the investigation that his controversial statements started, it will discourage other professors from speaking truths that make people uncomfortable. . .

You know what, screw this. I was seriously trying to present the pro-Churchill camp's views in a serious manner before refuting them, but I can't do it. I really want to understand the pro-Churchill people, I really do. They include many people that I know personally and deeply respect, and I have spent the past two years trying to see what they see that I don't. But I simply can't do it. What is the lesson of Ward Churchill, what is his legacy in academia? Simply this: if you are lucky enough to hustle your way into a cushy, well-paying job you clearly are not qualified for and get by for fifteen years doing terrible work, keep your mouth shut. This is not about a scholar being punished for his controversial views. This is about a charlatan's idiotic statements finally drawing attention to his lack of credentials and bad scholarship and a University Board of Regents finally doing a job it should have done a long time ago.

Academics should be outraged about this story, but about its beginning, not its end. It should anger every honest, hardworking professor and graduate student that, in world where tenured jobs are increasingly hard to come by, this con man was able to steal a job from someone who was actually deserving of it. We should be on the case of the Colorado Board of Regents and the university administration, but instead of accusing them of being puppets for the vast right-wing conspiracy, we should be accusing them of incompetence in ever letting this idiot get by with his scam for so long.

And one final comment about that essay the essay that started all of this. All of the anti-Churchill people have frequently repeated that the firing was not about his political views, but about his shoddy and unethical work. However, it should be, at least in part, about that essay. Not about the position that it ostensibly represents: that U.S citizens should take a long hard look at the things our country has done to create the dangerous climate we live in today. That is an important and potentially unpopular position that should be explored. But it should be done by real scholars, and "Roosting Chickens" proves that Churchill is not a real scholar.

Anyone who has waded through the tortured prose of "Roosting Chickens" can see Churchill's lack of intellectual honesty. That essay proves that he is not about opening minds, but closing them inside of his ideologically-driven agenda. He is not a martyr to academic freedom, which is about protecting open and honest inquiry, but instead he is just the left-wing version of the anti-intellectual Bush administration neocons, who let no amount of reality interfere with their ideology.

Academia has too many problems facing it today for scholars to waste their time on idiots like Ward Churchill. He, as an American, of course has the right to say any idiotic thing he wants to, and his notoriety from this needlessly-prolonged nonsense guarantees that he will make a good living doing so, preaching to the far-left choir and being hailed as free-speech hero at Campus Green Party events and Rage Against the Machine concerts around the country. Good for him. But the rest of us, who aspire to be real scholars, need to work to protect our institution, from the likes of both David Horowitz and Ward Churchill.

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