Friday, March 11, 2005

Ward Churchill and Academic Freedom

The newswires have begun to suggest that Ward Churchill is going to leave UC Boulder with a bunch of dough in his pocket. There is some argument that the money will come from private funds but even that should raise eyebrows.

Academic freedom is not without some reasonable limits. We should not go back to the era of Levering oaths. But there should always be an out for a university to adjudge a person like Churchill as no longer being eligible to stay in the club. His remarks about "little Eichmans" were offensive - but they should be protected to a point. But his inflated claims about scholarship (his educational record is suspect.

The CU academic handbook states "With the conferral of tenure, the faculty member holds a continuing appointment, and the burden shifts to the institution to show why the faculty member should be dismissed. Tenure presumes the continuing fitness of, and need for, the faculty member. The presumption is rebuttable, but only by the administration's demonstrating in a hearing of record before a body of academic peers, as required by the university's and Board of Regents' official policies, that adequate cause exists for taking action against the faculty member.   " That is a tough standard, as it should be. But it should not prevent the administration or even the faculty from reexamining the performance and even the decision about tenure.

In this case Churchill, without a legitimate terminal degree seems to have been fast tracked to tenure. As the Chanellor has suggested a panel will be convened to "determine whether Professor Churchill may have overstepped his bounds as a faculty member, showing cause for dismissal as outlined in the Laws of the Regents. Two primary questions will be examined in this review: (1) Does Professor Churchill's conduct, including his speech, provide any grounds for dismissal for cause, as described in the Regents' Laws? And (2) if so, is this conduct or speech protected by the First Amendment against University action? " But the real question should go a bit deeper.

Clearly Mr. Churchill, a graduate (according to his webpage) of Sangamon State (on Churchill's page he even spells the name of the place wrong) - now the University of Illinois at Springfield has a half a dozen publications from mediocre presses. His last listed was in 1996. What a productive scholar.

IMHO the group making the review should go back and look at the tenure decision - was it legitimate or was it a fraud. Did Churchill obtain his position by claiming Native American heritage? If he did the decision should probably have been rescinded at the point that people began to see his true background and skills. It looks a lot like CU hired him to fill a quota. The people of Colorado and the donors to the university should not be forced to pay off a fraud or to continue to pay a fraud.

His scholarly work from all appearances seems to be shoddy, and his credentials are mediocre. Both of those factors should go into any review of whether or not there are grounds for revoking his tenure. The CU site gives a bit more creedence to First Amendment rights than I might - but that is a bit less dodgy in a public institution - free (political) speech is generally protected in a public instiution regardless of tenure.

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