Back a third time on the Ward Churchill hiccup. It’s just too much fun to resist. So go ahead and shout me down if you’re bored by reading more on this. But here goes:
Colorado University Law Professor Paul Campos says it best: “The deeper one digs into the Ward Churchill scandal, the more amazing the story becomes.”
Writing yesterday in the Rocky Mountain News, Campos says:
Academic freedom must be protected, which is why I'm continuing to write about this matter. A version of academic freedom that protects Churchill from appropriate sanctions isn't sustainable either as a political or an ethical matter.
Consider: Churchill has constructed his entire academic career around the claim that he is a Native American, yet it turns out there is no evidence, other than his own statements, that this is the case.
Churchill has said at various times that he is either one-sixteenth or three-sixteenths Cherokee, yet genealogical reporting by the Rocky Mountain News and others has failed to turn up any Cherokee ancestors - or any other Native Americans - in Churchill's family tree.
Why should we care one way or another? We should care because Churchill has used his supposed Indian heritage to bully his way into academia. Indeed Churchill lacks what are normally considered the minimum requirements for a tenure-track job at a research university: he never earned a doctorate, and his only degrees are a bachelor's and a master's from a then-obscure Illinois college.
Churchill's lack of conventional academic credentials was apparently compensated for, at least in part in the eyes of those who hired him at the University of Colorado, by the "fact" that he contributed to the ethnic diversity of the school's tenure-track faculty.
To the extent that Churchill was hired because he claimed to be a Native American, he would seem to be guilty of academic fraud. But the situation is worse than this.
Campos then goes on to cite this research paper by Thomas Brown, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Lamar University in Texas who has written that Churchill essentially made up a story about the U.S. government spreading an 1837 pandemic among Indians:
Churchill’s tale of genocide by means of biological warfare is shocking. It is also entirely fraudulent. The only truth in Churchill’s version of the pandemic is the fact that a smallpox outbreak did occur in 1837, and that it was probably carried into the region on board the steamboat St. Peter. Every other detail of Churchill’s story must have come from his imagination, because his own sources contradict him on nearly every point.…
One has only to read the sources that Churchill cites to realize the magnitude of his fraudulent claims for them. We are not dealing with a few minor errors here. We are dealing with a story that Churchill has fabricated almost entirely from scratch. The lack of rationality on Churchill’s part is mind-boggling. Why would a tenured professor decide to make up data—perhaps the most scandalous possible abuse of the academy’s norms—especially when in the Amherst affair, Churchill had a verified example of precisely the type of incident he wanted to invoke for his polemic purposes? How did Churchill expect to get away with a fraud that is so easily detected simply by reading the sources he cites in his own footnotes?
The answer comes into focus when you consider that Churchill is not writing for a scholarly audience. He originally wrote this story to inflame the emotions of a jury. Churchill publishes the bulk of his essays in small left-wing presses or in obscure journals that lack a rigorous peer review. He is writing for a non-specialist audience that takes him at his word. Mainly, Churchill is writing for other Indian activists, and for the broader reading population of leftists.
In Indian activist circles, prestige and legitimacy often accrues to those who most successfully express an oppositional identity. The way the equation works within the movement is that the more opposition you express, the more Indian you become. Anti-white racism within AIM is largely perpetrated by people—such as Churchill—who are insecure in their own Indian identity…
Brown, in no way, denies the holocaust suffered by American Indians. But he slams Churchill for cheapening it through his fraudulent distortions.
But wait… there is more. Last night Churchill rallied a thousand or so students and made a very half-assed explanation of his “little Eichmann remarks.” But in no way did he back down from them. In fact, he said he wasn't going to cede an inch.
Indeed, I got a note today from Hamilton College professor Phillip Klinker on this matter. You will remember that Hamilton is the school that invited Churchill to speak at last month—an incident which touched off the current firestorm. Klinker writes:
As someone in the center of the Churchill fiasco, thanks for your willingness to call him out on his outrageous comments. For the life of me, I don't understand why people on the left insist on defending, obfuscating, or explaining away his comments. In fact, the "Push Back" essay, which he is now furiously trying to explain away, is not the only time he has said similar things. In fact, in Feb. 2003 he gave a talk in which I think he made an even more objectionable comment about 9/11.
The comments come from a talk he gave in Feb. 2003 entitled, "Perversions of Justice."
Churchill: "The individuals in the buildings that they hit were being far too busy acquiring the best cup of cappuccino in New York or Washington D.C. and arranging dinner dates on their cell phones, eternally braying like mules at the top of their voice and disrupting everybody else's public space. This was a certain gesture of social ecology that they were engaged in that day. Okay, there are fewer of those folks around now frankly, and, well, I'll leave the dot dot dot after that one."
The full essay is at http://www.ratical.org/ratville/CAH/WC022203.html
Klinker also writes saying: “After reading up on him, I'd have to say that if he has any identifiable politics, they are closer to fascism than anything approaching the left. He glories in violence and death, he revels in public spectacle, he rejects Marx as just another European colonial ideology, and he has a sort of intense hyper-nationalism about him. But, the enemy of my enemy is still my enemy it seems.”
I don’t think this is far off, if at all. It might further surprise some of Churchill’s leftist defenders to know that the prof was an ardent supporter of the CIA-backed Miskito contra insurgency during the Sandinista period in Nicaragua… a delightful little contradiction given the current controversy.
Finally, I can’t resist noting this bauble. Right-wing man-devil
David Horowitz – who has been trumpeting a campaign against university
leftists—has now come out to support Churchill’s continued tenure :
It will probably come as a surprise to many people, both friend and foe alike, that I am opposed to any attempt to fire Ward Churchill for the essay (now part of a book) that has become notorious in which he denounces his own country as a genocidal empire, supports America's terrorist enemies, and says that 9/11 was a case of the "chickens coming home to roost."
… The remedy for the Churchill problem is first of all to embrace the idea of intellectual diversity as a primary university value. This will insulate the university from attempts by legislators to remedy the situation themselves. The American public will accept the presence of an extremist like Churchill on a university faculty if they are convinced that the university is a true marketplace of ideas and that Churchill's perverse views will be answered by his peers.
UPDATE: The always rapier-witted Michael Berube has also weighed in on the Churchill kerfuffle. Berube has some thoughts on a spate of Churchillian attacks on my colleague David Corn as well as some Churchillian statements from National Review's Rich Lowry. But mostly Berube is taken by the parsing of what Churchill really meant by "little eichmanns:"'
I’m not going to get involved in the Monty Python Left’s latest parsings of Churchill’s self-defense, namely (as Churchill now writes), that he meant the “’little Eichmanns’ characterization” to apply “only to those [World Trade Center workers] described as ‘technicians.’ Thus, it was obviously not directed to the children, janitors, food service workers, firemen and random passers-by.” In other words, the dead working class and the dead kids were all right by us; it’s only the dead who were actively aiding and abetting the project of American Empire who deserve our condemnaton. I’ve read a number of these parsings in the past week, and they tend to run something like this: What about the cheesemakers? Are they exempt, along with the janitors and firemen? No, the cheesemakers were far from innocent– as were the WTC dairy producers in general. They may have been “very little Eichmanns” as opposed to “little Eichmanns,” but they were nonetheless comparable on some scale to the technicians of the Holocaust. What about the accounting department on the 82nd floor of the south tower? Were they guilty? Yes, guilty as sin. The 82nd floor was an especially imperialist floor, even if the photocopy room could more accurately be described as “quasi-crypto-imperialist” rather than nakedly “neo-imperialist.” But what about the Holocaust analogy? Were these people really the moral equals of Eichmann? No, Professor Churchill did not say they were “like Eichmann.” Please do not take his words out of context. He said they were “little Eichmanns,” which is quite another matter, as it implies a difference of scale. Please see the cheesemakers, above.