25.7.07

THE PSEUDO-INDIAN, REFUTED. University of Colorado victim studies hustler and serial plagiarist Ward Churchill has been given his walking papers. Pirate Ballerina, a site that has concentrated on Mr Churchill's incendiary statements and his subsequent exposure as a low-level fraud, has continuing coverage. Two posts at Phi Beta Cons call for extended commentary. My favorite retired administrator, Peter Wood, takes perhaps too rosy a view of the fallout.
First, it shines light on the bogus "scholarship" that often passes for legitimate academic credentials in fields like ethnic studies. De-legitimizing the academic Left will take more than one scandal, but this is one of those scandals that will stick. Colleges and universities across the country that have winked at the intellectual trash put forward in lieu of scholarship by some of their ideologue professors now have something to worry about.
Although I have characterized Mr Churchill as a fourth-rate Barrington Moore, it behooves critics of the academy to focus on departures from scholarly integrity rather than to fuss too much about junk-think. Face it, in fifty years is anybody going to give a rip about the structure, conduct, or performance of twentieth-century heavy industry, even when the policy implications are non-trivial?

The project of rooting out genuine academic fraud (where it exists, and where the fraudster hasn't called attention to himself) is not as easy as Mr Wood makes it look.
Third, it kicks over the idea, argued by many of Churchill's supporters, that his academic "work" shouldn't be subject to scrutiny because...well, they gave lots of reasons. Because he was a popular teacher. Because he had come under scrutiny in the first place because of his political opinions. Because he would sue the University. Because everything he did was to advance a good cause. Knocking down all of these excuses and evasions was a good thing because it makes it easier for colleges and universities all over the country to knock them down again the next time they are offered—and they will be.
A lot of academic research involves scholars beavering away in obscure thickets where -- perhaps -- a reviewer will recognize that something doesn't look right. And sometimes there are great temptations to fudge. It would have been very easy for me to submit tables of regression results from runs that were approximately converged, and nobody would have been the wiser (the referee comments I receive tend to focus on specification or interpretation, not on sign or significance) and the papers would have been in the pipeline faster, but I chose to do the right thing and do some sensitivity checking and run all estimators to convergence, and to report my convergence criteria. My internal standards of honesty were all that stood between the reader and stinky results. We count on other researchers to be similarly honest -- particularly where regression analysis or simulation is involved. Mr Churchill betrayed that fundamental value. The case ought not be treated as license to root out troublesome scholars who make ideologically inconvenient statements.

David French notes that the greater damage has been done by the tendency of the professoriate to defend the indefensible among them.
The radical academic left could hardly have chosen a worse standard-bearer. An under-qualified, arguably fake Native American with a long history of not just plagiarism and other forms of academic fraud, but also a disturbing tendency to threaten and intimidate his critics, it turned out that Churchill was the kind of person who could only exist within the coddling atmosphere of either a radical activist organization or a university ethnic studies department (as if those things are different).
In his view, the self-preservation of the diversity hustlers has made all of higher education look bad.
Churchill’s dogged fight to keep his job only reinforced to many Americans the notion that faculty view themselves as a breed apart – entitled to lucrative lifetime employment no matter what they do. And that may well end up as the lasting legacy of the Churchill case: the tipping point that led an increasing number of ordinary Americans to view the academy as an out-of-control, disconnected bastion of spoiled and petulant entitlement. The academic left decries the “chilling effect” of Churchill’s termination, but the only individuals who should feel “chilled” are those professors publicly spewing deranged invective at that same time that they conceal a professional past rife with fraud and abuse. No, the real (and important) legacy of the Churchill case is that he became the most famous professor in America, and he was the worst possible ambassador for an academy that is under ever-increasing scrutiny.
That scrutiny is likely to make my job more difficult. The fault lies with departments and colleges that aren't explicit about the tradeoff they're making between superficial diversity and academic integrity. These ought not be mutually exclusive.

No comments: