February 11, 2005 [LINK]

Ward Churchill

Unlike many bigtime pundits in the "blogosphere," I generally refrain from commenting on every political controversy that comes along unless I have something special to say. The sorry case of University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill hits rather close to home for me, however. Thanks to C-SPAN, I happened to see his recent speech to a raucous crowd at UC; it was very disturbing. Also, I am familiar with the utopian community known as Boulder and have at least driven by the UC campus. Prof. Churchill, who teaches ethnic studies, specializing in American Indian culture, had been scheduled to speak at Hamilton College, near Utica, NY. Then he was disinvited after it was discovered that he had once written an abominable essay on the 9/11 attacks, saying that the financial analysts who worked in the World Trade Center were "little Eichmanns" who only got what they deserved, since they had (allegedly) prospered at the expense of millions of dead children in the Third World. In his defiant refusal to apologize for his past statements, he left no doubt that he is a dedicated enemy of capitalism and frankly sympathizes with the goals of Islamic terrorists. See usatoday.com

Obnoxious though Prof. Churchill may be, he is tenured and therefore largely immune to being dismissed on the grounds of controversial opinions he has expressed. As one who holds certain very unorthodox opinions about certain political and economic issues, I take very seriously any threat to academic freedom, and would object if the Colorado Board of Regents moves to dismiss him out of political expediency. Another reason for my hesitation about denouncing him is that Churchill's views are dreadfully commonplace in most universities these days. America-hating profs are a dime a dozen: so what? As I marveled at the mob student audience cheering him on, it occurred to me what may be the fundamental impetus behind "political correctness": the institutionalized pandering to the rebellious nature of youth. In other words, many professors may say harshly leftist things not so much because they believe it, but because that is the way to gain popularity among students. But that's just a conjecture on my part...

There may be grounds to question Churchill's tenured status, however: He somehow rose to the rank of full professor in spite of the fact that he never earned a doctoral degree. (Hmmm...) In terms of his speech and manner, Churchill just didn't strike me as a serious thinker. He's an aging activist from the 60s who apparently once pretended to have Indian blood but later retracted that claim. One member of the audience had the nerve to confront Churchill, who responded by saying that the Ninth Amendment (which reserves to the states or people any rights not specifically enumerated elsewhere) limited or offset the questioner's free speech rights under the First Amendment. That was a bizarre interpretation, casting further doubt on Churchill's qualifications as a scholar. Nevertheless, as long as Prof. Churchill confines his dissent to rhetoric and avoids any activities that overtly give aid and comfort to our enemies -- such as Lynne Stewart, the defense attorney who was just convicted for abetting terrorism -- I think he should be left alone.