Defend Ward Churchill and Academic Freedom
Right-wing witch-hunters have University of Colorado professor of ethnic studies Ward Churchill in their sights. But progressive academics and activists have rallied in his support.
A University of Colorado faculty panel and a committee on “research misconduct” have recommend that the outspoken critic of the U.S. government and scholar of American Indian history be fired and the administration has moved to do so.
Citing debatable evidence of falsification and plagiarism in Churchill’s work, the investigating panel claimed in a May 16 report that their censure of Churchill was about his scholarship and not his political views.
But it is clear that the panel’s obsessive scrutiny of Churchill came as a direct result of attacks by right-wingers like David Horowitz. Horowitz has called for the censure and firing of radical professors in his book The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America.
Conservatives—and many liberals—decried Churchill’s remarks after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, in which he compared workers at the World Trade Center to Nazi functionaries, or “little Eichmanns.”
Churchill’s comparison was politically wrongheaded. However, the bulk of Churchill’s post-9/11 remarks argued rightly that the attacks were an example of chickens coming home to roost—an outgrowth of and response to U.S. imperialism in the Middle East.
In July, Teachers for Democracy (an initiative of a group of professors on Horowitz’s list) published a statement in defense of Churchill that recognizes the political basis of charges against him. Signed by more than 400 academics and others, the statement reads, “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.”
The University of Colorado investigation has emboldened conservatives bent on persecuting left academics. The right-wing American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) published a report called “How Many Ward Churchills?” Their answer: “Ward Churchill is everywhere.”
John Wilson, author of Patriotic Correctness: Academic Freedom and Its Enemies, commented, “The Colorado committee is opening the door to a vast new right-wing witch hunt on college campuses that conservatives could easily exploit across the country. If you don’t like a professor’s politics, simply file a complaint of ‘research misconduct.’”
Indeed, a growing number of outspoken academic critics of the U.S. and Israel have faced university firing squads. (These include Douglas Giles, a religion professor at Roosevelt University of Chicago; professor of Islam Kevin Barrett at the University of Wisconsin; the widely-respected University of Michigan Middle East studies professor Juan Cole, who was blackballed during a job search at Yale; Nancy Rabinowitz, who lost control of a center at Hamilton College when the center invited Churchill to speak; Nicholas De Genova of Columbia University; Timothy Shortell, who lost a chairmanship at Brooklyn College over his comments about religion; and Stanford University Middle East studies scholar Joel Beinin.)
We cannot allow these assaults on academic freedom and public expression of critical views to go unchallenged. As an anonymous blogger commented, “To the culture warriors on the right, Ward Churchill was simply the appetizer.”
Dana Cloud is one of Horowitz’s 101 “Most Dangerous” professors.
The petition is open to signatures from intellectuals, journalists, and others. For more information, go to http://www.teachersfordemocracy.org/?q=node/19 and http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2006/05/19/wilson .