17.5.06

QUOTE OF THE DAY. At Phi Beta Cons, David French weighs in on the Ward Churchill case.
While it is certainly true that Churchill's expressive activities (such as comparing the 9/11 victims to Adolf Eichmann) put him under the public microscope; it is not true that the university is necessarily limited in its ability to punish him for other forms of misconduct. When a person places himself in the public eye by making inflammatory public comments, critical scrutiny is inevitable. It was Churchill's responsibility to conduct himself in a manner that could survive that scrutiny. It is not the university's responsibility to look the other way when real misconduct is apparent. So long as the university treats him in the same way that it treats other professors who are guilty of similar misconduct, it should not face legal liability.
Put another way, Professor Churchill is no Richard T. Ely (background on Professor Ely and academic freedom.) Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed misses this point.
But the panel also faulted the university, noting that allegations about Churchill had been known for years in the scholarly world but had not been deemed worthy of inquiry at his home campus. The committee suggested that the university had hired Churchill knowing he was an outspoken activist and should not have been surprised when that’s what it got. And the panel raised concerns about its own role because it was created in the aftermath of a public uproar over essays Churchill wrote about 9/11 — essays that infuriated many but that the panel concluded were protected by academic freedom and the U.S. Constitution.
Let's break this down. Wisconsin hired Richard T. Ely and John R. Commons (and Milton Friedman, but that's for another day) despite their political views because each had promise as a scholar (new economists, there's a reason the plenary session at the annual convention is the Richard T. Ely Lecture.) Professor Churchill, on the other hand, is at best a fourth-rate Barrington Moore, jr., and if there is any fault in Colorado's hiring practices, it is in not disclosing the implicit tradeoff of scholarly excellence for diversity it used in hiring, tenuring, and promoting him. There might also be fault in Colorado's vetting to the extent that the professor engaged in research misconduct while at Colorado. Eugene Volokh gets it.
As the report points out, "public figures who choose to speak out on controversial matters of public concern naturally attract more controversy and attention to their background and work than scholars quietly writing about more esoteric matters that are not the subject of political debate" (p. 4). That seems to me to be exactly what happened here. Unfortunately for Ward Churchill, it turns out that his scholarship couldn't bear the attention that his statements prompted.
As does Scott at The Valve.
Were a panel of my peers to find that I “had committed falsification, fabrication, plagiarism, failure to comply with established standard regarding author names on publications, and a ‘serious deviation from accepted practices in reporting results from research,’” I would expect to find a pink slip in my box. Academic freedom shouldn’t protect the falsifier, the fabricator, or the plagiarist from dismissal, should it? Or is this one of those cases in which we defend the worst for fear of future actions against respectable but politically unpopular scholarship?
As does Unlocked Wordhoard.
So, here we have a judgment rendered by academics, with damning evidence that Churchill committed some of the worst academic sins possible. In my mind, the debate is over. There are cases in which apparent plagiarism or academic honesty can be excused -- editors accidentally removing citations or quotation marks, small record-keeping errors, slips of the memory, dishonest co-authors, etc.-- but Churchill's appears to be a career of dishonesty. Game over, case closed.
Had Professor Churchill demonstrated the integrity of an Ely or a Commons there would be no scandal, Colorado's sloppy promotion and tenure procedures notwithstanding.

King at SCSU Scholars links to a number of commentaries, with observations of his own, including this depressing interpretation of the committee's statement.
It is worth pointing out that the report includes some not-so-oblique criticism of the university for hiring the guy and bringing this thing on themselves, and directs attention at the media (and I suppose bloggers -- perhaps I give us too much credit) for shining light on this whole affair.
Without those disgruntled students at Hamilton College, would there have been any controversy?

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