18.6.06

THE PSEUDO-INDIAN DEFENSE. A majority of the special committee on research misconduct at the University of Colorado has recommended that plagiarist professor Ward Churchill be dismissed for cause. Pirate Ballerina has been following the recent developments carefully, and deserves special recognition for unearthing an astonishing editorial by a professor of sociology and women's studies at Colorado.
A spin I have yet to read is what I believe to be a progressive insight: Mainly, that a seemingly white male, who's benefited immeasurably through co-opting an American Indian identity, is providing rich fodder for the right and the racists (often one in the same) to damn, discredit and/or dismantle ethnic studies programs, not just at CU, but across the country.
The vast right wing conspiracy (if there is one) cannot be as effective at this effort as defenders of such programs will be, starting with the argumentam ad hominem recited above.
Universities, understandably, can't be in the business of asking job applicants or existing faculty requesting promotions, tenure or negotiating raises or counter-offers, for documentation of their membership in an oppressed group. Nor can they go through every faculty members' writings to look for plagiarism, failure to document "facts," and so on. However, when someone brings on the level of national attention that Churchill did when he responded so pompously and unapologetically when the "Little Eichmanns" essay "hit" the national news, it's not surprising that investigative journalists would start "digging."
That confession says more about hiring, promotion, and tenure reviews in area studies programs than it does about the process itself. Perhaps genealogies ought not be part of affirmative action hires (I'm writing this with knowledge of an asserted but not yet substantiated Native ancestor in eighteenth-century upstate New York ...) but perhaps the notion of using ancestry as a plus factor in making appointments or admissions ought to be abandoned as impracticable. Published writings, on the other hand, are a matter of public record. That the hiring or promotion dossiers for Mr Churchill went through departmental, divisional, and university committees and external review without anybody noticing something wrong suggests a failure somewhere in that review system. If such failure is characteristic of area studies departments or of affirmative action hires, the failing lies with the disciplines. I give the professor credit for recognizing that Mr Churchill is a bad poster boy for the cause of area studies.
So for those of us who support the right to free speech, the importance of some of the "outlandish" essays that often serve to make people think and the dire need for ethnic studies programs/departments at universities across the country, it can be challenging, to say the least, to be in the position of staying quiet when the "messenger" we're supposed to be supporting, has behaved so narcissistically and abominably.
But she then discredits herself.
I have no doubt that if there were someone or a group of individuals who wanted to do away with sociology, women's studies, physics, history or any other college department, and had the means to do so, they could find an individual or more who plagiarized or used exceedingly sloppy methods in a department of their choosing somewhere in the United States.
There's that vast right wing conspiracy ("a group of individuals ... had the means to do so") again. I disagree. Plagiarist faculty tend to get caught by proper peer review of journal submissions, external review of promotion dossiers, jaundiced colleagues on the tenure committee, or their own carelessness, at least in respectable departments and responsible disciplines. Which apparently do not include area studies.
The real tragedy is that Ward Churchill has done an incalculable amount of harm to ethnic studies programs in order to promote himself.
No. Had the search committees and promotion committees and deans, provosts, and presidents done their job properly (rather than salivating, as appears to be the prospect, at landing a real live Billy Jack, fourth-rate-Barrington Moore scholarship nothwithstanding) Mr Churchill would be enjoying the obscurity he properly deserves.

Tightly Wound gets it.
I think it's valid, given the Churchill case's exposure of sloppy hiring and self-policing on the part of the academy, to ask how many more frauds there may be out there exploiting the uber-PC campus culture for their own benefit. I also agree with many of the commenters who believe that the real crime against the humanities here isn't so much the political nonsense that professors may or may not spout in the classroom, but in the degeneration of real critical thinking in the classrooms.
Amen.

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