Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Ward Churchill may get fired for his comments. But he shouldn't.

The University of Colorado has announced that it is considering disciplinary action-- possibly including termination, against Professor Ward Churchill. UC President Hank Brown is actively lobbying for his dismissal.

Churchill, you may recall, wrote an essay not long after September 11 in which he compared victims of the World Trade Center Attack to Adoph Eichmann, the Nazi psychopath who with Hitler planned the 'final solution,' leading to the extermination of six million Jews.

I find Churchill's comments to be inaccurate, stupid, intentionally offensive (and deeply offensive at that, on so many levels), and in fact an embarrassment to the University of Colorado, the state of Colorado, the United States of America and the whole human race. My mother's aunt and my entire extended family on that side who remained in Europe were murdered by Adolph Eichmann and his minions.

However, Ward Churchill should not be fired and should face no disciplinary action.

Let's dispense with the trivialities first:

University officials concluded he could not be fired for his comments because they were protected by the First Amendment, but they launched an investigation into allegations that he fabricated or falsified his research and plagiarized.

I don't know what the investigation found, or whether he is guilty of plagiarism (apparently of an al-Qaeda propaganda manual if he was) but it is clear from this that the investigation was launched specifically for the purpose of finding something they could use against him, and that the real reason was his hateful and provocative essay. So, if he is fired it will be for the essay, whatever the official reason may say.

So should he be fired for the essay? Let's forget about tenure for a moment and suppose that it didn't exist, so they didn't have to go looking for something else. Should the University fire him then?

No. Academia exists to expand and challenge the mind. It is a laboratory of civilization, in which ideas are born, percolate and eventually become shaped and expounded to the whole world. Probably at least 99% of the ideas that originate in even the finest of academic minds are stupid, nonoriginal, pointless, useless or (as in this case) needlessly and provocatively harmful. However, it is in academia that the ideas which themselves show promise can be forged, refined and eventually presented as progress. Of such small bits of progress is humanity ever increasing in knowlege, wisdom and ability. If we begin (even the smallest beginning) to restrict those ideas, then we have set a dangerous precedent-- in which only 'certain' ideas will be allowed. Like in Nazi Germany (or for that matter in the Soviet Union or today's fundamentalist Muslim countries) that precedent can be used to create great ignorance, malice and even violence.

I know, this is a leftist blog, so someone will sooner or later find it and suggest that I am selectively defending Churchill because I must secretly agree with him (my earlier comments on that notwithstanding.)

I'd defer, pointing out some of my other posts on free speech:

I posted the infamous Mohammed cartoons that set off weeks of rioting, not because I agreed with their message (which I don't) but because I disagreed more with the fatwa issued against the Danish cartoonist for drawing them. He had a right to draw them, publish them and distribute them. If people don't like them then they can turn the page.

Not long after that, I defended the right of a Holocaust denier to speak his mind without fear of prosecution.

I've also defended anti-Castro Cubans, people who use the 'n'-word, and just recently, two cases that are directly relevant to my defense of Churchill: defending a professor threatened with being fired for espousing a right-wing view of immigration, and University of Colorado Student Max Karson, who was arrested after making tasteless and provocative comments after the Virginia Tech massacre. Certainly UC's tough stance on Churchill doesn't bode well for Karson.

Nevertheless I have to support their right to say what they will.

Because if Ward Churchill (or any of the others) doesn't have free speech, then neither do I, and neither do you.


danithew said...

I don't think he should merely be fired because of what he wrote in that essay. The real problem is that he is stupid - and a stupid man should not be given an assignment as a university professor.

Eli Blake said...

Define, 'stupid.'

The man has a Ph.D., so there is no question that he possesses the legal and appropriate academic qualification for his job. I agree that what he said is certainly stupid, but I'm not sure what evidence you can provide that he himself is stupid, and further, is 'stupid' to the degree that would disqualify him from teaching in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado.

Really, those people who want him fired keep coming back to what he wrote. If that is why he should be fired then go ahead and say it. If not, then let's be honest here-- if he hadn't made the 9/11-Eichmann comment in his essay then who outside of his little sphere of influence would know or care who Ward Churchill was, certainly not enough to go to extraordinary lengths to find a reason to fire him? So if he is fired (or faces any other disciplinary action, for that matter) then it will be a direct result of his writing and publishing that essay, no matter what the official justification given turns out to be.

shrimplate said...

Freedom of speech is, so to speak, a bitch.

Pardon my language, but I think you can see that I meant the offensive word to trigger irony.

Anonymous said...

"The man has a Ph.D., so there is no question that he possesses the legal and appropriate academic qualification for his job."

No question? You gotta be kidding me.

Pardon me for saying so, but you clearly are either very young, or don't know many PhDs. Maybe both.

My wife is a professor at a top-notch university in mid-career. I have met more PhD candidates, postdocs, researchers, professors, and fellows than I can count.

They are somewhat more intelligent, on average, than the average person, but they often have the most appalling judgment and are woefully lacking in real-world experience, incapable of running a hotdog stand.

And many of them are dumb as posts.

Mere possesion of a PhD means squat when it comes to job qualification. "Who you know" is EXTREMELY important. Or sometimes if you are a favored color or gender.