Tuesday, April 05, 2005
Ward Churchill: Not Quite Gone Yet
Ward Churchill wasn’t above using his (possibly imagined) ethnic heritage to help secure a job he otherwise never would have been seen as qualified to hold. He wasn’t above using that same (possibly manufactured) ethnic heritage as a fast track to tenure. He hasn’t been above using that (possibly fabricated) ethnic heritage as a sort of stage prop and window dressing. And, in fact, he seems to be utterly fine using his (possibly inaccurate) ethnic heritage to help shield himself from criticism.
According to the Churchill panel report, the professor will not face disciplinary action for having used his ethnicity to help land the job at CU, but he could face potential action if he is found to have “has attempted to gain a scholarly voice, credibility, and an audience for his scholarship by wrongfully asserting that he is an Indian.” While this racially sensitive portion of the panel’s findings is quite short, Churchill’s lawyer latches onto it like a rabid pit bull.
In the lawyer’s response to the University of Colorado’s complaints, the question of such little things as plagiarism and faulty research are brushed aside to focus almost entirely on the question of Churchill’s ethnicity. Supposedly, it is inappropriate for CU to ask Churchill to quantify his heritage--to prove that he is, in fact, a Native American. The letter raises the worries of Nazis and internment camps, and drops the term “racial purity” like a bomb. On most of the other accusations facing Churchill, the questions are brushed off with a terse declaration that he “can easily refute the substantive allegations of the report.”
This tactic might well work. It might cow CU into submission for fear of treading on that American political sacred shrine: ethnicity. It isn’t too difficult to imagine CU backing down in fear of offending minorities. This case is going to be noisy and contentious; depending on what happens, they’ll be brutalized by either the left or right for their actions. For fear of offending the right, the school might offer a slap on the wrist for academic misconduct. To cater to the left, though, he very well could keep his job.
Normally, I would agree with Churchill’s lawyer. Race shouldn’t have to be quantified, no pedigree should be needed, and, typically, a person should not be punished for being unpardonably Anglo. If Churchill is found to have misrepresented his heritage, though, then it is him who made race an issue. In his writing, in his lectures, in the causes he supports, he has continually made race an issue. The school just foolishly trusted him to be honest on the subject.
The most important lessons that CU should learn, though, are to be more rigorous in their hiring and that hiring for race has unique pitfalls. The damage to the school’s reputation--whether he stays or goes--is going to be considerable. That such a charlatan was hired at all is a blow to the school’s esteem regardless of what happens next. If he stays after all of the allegations of academic impropriety and outrageous public statements, then CU is saddled with an offensive professor with below-average academic stature and a less-than-serious approach to world affairs.
Churchill has made a career of playing the race card. Via his lawyer, he’s playing it once again--only this time to cover himself from legitimate criticism of his race-baiting ways. While I have no real admiration for the man, I have to admit that his nerve is impressive. There aren’t too many people who would lie about something for personal gain and then call you the criminal for having the audacity to have caught them in the lie.