Creative Destruction

June 28, 2006

On The Firing of Ward Churchill

Filed under: Current Events,Free Speech — Ampersand @ 12:44 pm

This week, the Chancellor of the University of Colorado officially announced his intention to fire Ward Churchill. That doesn’t mean that Churchill has been fired, yet – there’s still an appeals process to go through, plus Churchill has announced that he’ll sue the University.

Joanne Belknap, a women’s studies professor at U of Colorado, summed up the Churchill case well:

…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.[…]

In this case, in daring the media and university to come after him, Churchill apparently didn’t care that when they revealed his co-opted identity and sloppy (even unethical) research methods, that it was ethnic studies programs that would take the real hit. Of course, Churchill may be taking a few hits as well, but he seems to enjoy his “I’m-a-bad-boy-leader-of-the-oppressed-world” identity. The real tragedy is that Ward Churchill has done an incalculable amount of harm to ethnic studies programs in order to promote himself.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Churchill is a dishonest scholar. Among his many academic dishonesties, what I somehow find particularly galling is his habit of citing claims to essays he wrote under different names, thus giving the false impression that his claims were supported by independent authority.

It’s true, of course, that Churchill only got in trouble for his academic dishonesty because of his unpopular political opinions. That’s disturbing to me, because it could create a chilling effect on unpopular speech. And it’s also true that few or none of the right-wingers calling for Churchill to be fired for his dishonest scholarship, called on the AEI to fire John Lott (Lott did finally leave AEI two months ago, but it’s unclear if he quit or was fired).

Yet despite all that, the kind of academic cons Churchill committed should be legitimate cause for firing, just as the AEI should have fired Lott years ago. Fighting to protect the job of a dishonest and lousy scholar is not the way to defend either leftism or free speech. Besides, Churchill does more to harm than to help progressive causes, as Professor Belknap argued. Facts and evidence, by and large, support left-wing views; dishonest scholars like Churchill don’t help the cause, they muddy the waters.

If we want to stand for the academic freedom of lefty professors, let’s start with some professors who deserve a defense, like David Graeber and Joseph Massad (see also here).

And while we’re at it, we should also object to the appalling case of adjunct professor Thomas Klocek, who was fired for his pro-Israel views.



  1. It’s true, of course, that Churchill only got in trouble for his academic dishonesty because of his unpopular political opinions.

    Well, kind of. Churchill’s academic dishonesty has been well known for some time, but the realities of tenure (and ethnic politics in the university) are such that it was not worth the incredible hassle it would have been to start action against him. Perhaps university administrators should be expected to undertake heroic action to preserve the integrity of the academy – but in reality they rarely do.

    His unpopular political opinions reduced the political cost of taking action against him for the university administration. They would have been crucified by the activists on campus if they’d done it six years ago; by waiting for Churchill to make the full loathesomeness of his views known to the general public, they defanged those activists who stood in the way of good administrative practice. Few publicly-funded politicos can afford to spend their capital defending someone that aggressively hostile to America.

    Comment by Robert — June 28, 2006 @ 1:17 pm | Reply

  2. Holocaust “denial” is unpopular speech.

    Comment by Republican Shabbos Goyim — June 29, 2006 @ 12:41 am | Reply

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