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.
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.