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Open Letter Calling on the University of Colorado to Reverse Its Recommendation To Dismiss Professor Ward Churchill
DERRICK BELL, Visiting Professor of Law, New York University School of Law
We’ve come to a critical moment in the effort to derail Ward
Churchill’s firing, whose case has become a focal point for the defense
of dissent and critical thinking in academia in this period. In
preparing to submit the Falk Letter (see below) to the New York Times Op
Ed page, we asked Natsu Saito if she would write a concise statement of
the present status of Ward’s case. Natsu wrote us in reply on 2/9/07:
“A University of Colorado faculty committee has recently heard testimony in Professor Ward Churchill's final internal appeal of the Chancellor's recommendation that he be fired for ‘research misconduct.’ The faculty committee is also holding hearings on Prof. Churchill's grievances concerning (a) selective or pretextual enforcement and (b) breaches of confidentiality by University officials. Their recommendations will be sent to President Hank Brown who, in turn, will make a recommendation to the Board of Regents, who have the final say.”
To Whom It May Concern:
As members of academic professions committed to the principle of
academic freedom, we deplore the procedures and recommendations of the
University of Colorado in the case of Professor Ward Churchill.
Responding to a public outcry against Professor Churchill's
constitutionally-protected free speech, the administration of the
University of Colorado appointed a special committee to investigate the
character and quality of Churchill's scholarship. The committee
recommended his dismissal, a recommendation that is supported by
The case against Professor Churchill is flawed on multiple
contextual, procedural, and substantive grounds. Some of these are
recognized by the university's own investigative committee. The
committee's final report communicates a profound "disquiet" about the
political motivations for the inquiry. Similarly, it worries about the
fairness and legitimacy of a process that has the university's interim
Chancellor serving as formal complainant against Professor Churchill
while he's also positioned as prosecutor and judge. In addition to
these misgivings about context and process, the report contains other
substantive problems. These include (1) an unreasonably broad and
elastic definition of "research misconduct"; (2) a near-obsessive
interest in dissecting a small number of paragraphs and footnotes from
an otherwise "impressive" and "unusually high volume" of academic work,
an analysis that virtually guaranteed the discovery of errors,
misrepresentations, and inconsistencies even as it reaffirmed the
validity of several "general points" and a core of "historical truth";
and (3) a failure to fully appreciate the "scholar activist" and "public
intellectual" roles—roles that, on balance, expand and enrich the
academic and journalistic enterprises—that Professor Churchill was
clearly expected to fill when hired by the University of Colorado.
The actions of the University of Colorado in this case constitute a serious threat to academic freedom. They indicate that public controversy is dangerous and potentially lethal to the careers of those who engage it. They suggest that professors—tenured and untenured alike—serve at the pleasure of politicians and pundits. They call into question standards of scholarship and peer review at Colorado 's flagship institution. They endanger not only those scholars working in that area where historical inquiry, critical social commentary, and political activism intersect—an area that defines the true locus of academic freedom in an open and democratic society—but also those historically disenfranchised "others" who are struggling to have their perspectives and programs represented in, and legitimized by, the academic mainstream. Thus, for a variety of reasons that go well beyond the scholarship and politics of a particular individual, we urge the University of Colorado to reverse its decision to fire Professor Ward Churchill.
Michael Bérubé has posted his AAUP talk on academic freedom. He's just added a new post responding to some criticisms. Always an entertaining read over at Le Blog Bérubé.
Interesting essay at IHE about the funding of critics of the academy. Of course the neo-cons will cry "conspiracy theory-mongering" but we need to do more to demonstrate the co-ordination of the attack on the academy and on faculty autonomy as part of a larger political project. Behind the crackpottery of people like Horowitz is a well-funded propaganda machine. We've all see -- at a distance and up close -- what that machine is capable of.
The AAUP has just released a report of a public opionion study concerning attitudes about tenure and politicization of the classroom. There are a couple of articles about it at IHE today.
It is always a bit disappointing to see how many Americans express weak or no support for freedom of expression. As the report makes clear, majority opionion respects professors and higher education. Weakest support comes from the elderly, conservatives, Republicans, and those who have not attended college.
It is disappointing to read on IHE that NCATE is removing "social justice" from its material on dispositions. This seems to be a pretty clear case of caving in to the pressure from the right. The usual suspects (NAS, FIRE, etc.) were making a lot of noise about how any consideration of a commitment to social justice among dispositional qualities would be unfair to conservatives, who, it seems, find the notion of social justice objectionable.
The comments are especially humorous. IHE attracts a wide variety of commenters, including a few loony wingnuts.
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