National Project in Defense of Dissent and Critical
Thinking in Academia
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Reggie Dylan: (626) 319-1730
Matthew Abraham: (773) 682-9322
(Bonnie Azab Powell photo)
In a letter to the Board of Regents, University of
Colorado President Hank Brown has called for the
dismissal of tenured Ethnic Studies Professor Ward
Churchill. His recommendation goes beyond that of the
faculty investigative committee that examined charges
of research misconduct; and of the faculty Privilege
and Tenure (P&T) committee that recently heard
Churchill's appeal. Gov. Bill Ritter of Colorado joined
Brown in calling for the firing of Churchill, as his
predecessor Bill Owens did two years earlier. The Board
of Regents is expected to make a final decision in this
case at a public hearing some time in July.
A growing number of scholars see CU's investigation of
Churchill's scholarship as completely illegitimate and
a dangerous precedent threatening dissent and critical
thinking in the universities. The CU - Boulder chapter
of the American Association of University Professors
(AAUP) has written that "we believe that the
investigation now is widely perceived to be a pretext
for firing Churchill when the real reason for dismissal
is his politics." The investigation was launched in the
wake of controversy provoked by an essay Churchill
wrote after 9/11.
Churchill noted in response to Brown's letter that "the
University had received no formal or written complaints
about my scholarship when it initiated this
'investigation.' All of the allegations investigated
were either solicited or brought directly by University
administrators." He also noted that "The Investigative
Committee charged with conducting a 'fact-finding,
nonadversarial' investigation was chaired by law
professor Mimi Wesson, who - in February 2005 - had
compared me to 'charismatic male celebrity wrongdoers'
like O.J. Simpson, Michael Jackson and Bill Clinton,
and had already come up with the faulty 'traffic stop'
analogy the Committee used to justify its conclusions."
The committee included no American Indians or experts
in American Indian Studies, and scholars that had used
Churchill's research in their own work were removed
from the committee.
The report of the committee hearing Churchill's appeal
found that Churchill proved by a "preponderance of the
evidence" that "but for" his exercise of his protected
first amendment rights, the subsequent investigation of
his scholarship would never have been initiated.
In a recent open letter to colleagues around the
country Dr. Margaret LeCompte, President of the Boulder
AAUP Chapter, wrote: "What has happened at the
University of Colorado makes a mockery of both due
process and academic freedom protections, AND what
faculty believe. It is a cruel violation of the
delicate balance between faculty rights and
administrative responsibilities. The entire process was
a sham---imitating the form, but not the intent, of due
process and fair, objective, scholarly investigation."
Two faculty groups that have examined the report of the
investigative committee claim that the report is
seriously flawed. In an unprecedented action, both have
now filed formal charges of academic misconduct against
the members of the faculty committee. The most recent
group to do so, made up of principally Indigenous
scholars from around the country and Canada, documented
"many instances of fraud, fabrication, plagiarism
and/or serious deviation from accepted scholarly
practices" which "demonstrate a consistent pattern of
deliberate misrepresentation intended to discredit
Professor Churchill's larger body of scholarship." Eric
Cheyfitz, Ernest I. White Professor of American Studies
and Humane Letters at Cornell University, has found
"the Report turns what is a debate about controversial
issues of identity and genocide in Indian studies into
an indictment of one position in that debate."
The implications of this case go beyond the threat to
Churchill's reputation and career, as serious as those
are. The attack on Churchill is seen by many in
academia as part of a much broader attack on academic
freedom and critical thinking and dissent. Dr. LeCompte
notes, "It is not limited to Colorado. In fact, it is a
test case by the US right wing to emasculate faculty
rights in US universities."
This is illustrated by the recent denial of tenure for
DePaul University political scientist Norman
Finkelstein. Though he was supported by his department,
Finkelstein was denied tenure after an intense campaign
spearheaded by Harvard Law School's Alan M. Dershowitz,
who called Finkelstein "worse than Churchill." Many
DePaul faculty and others were alarmed at Dershowitz's
heavy-handed tactics and saw them as an attempt to
punish one side of a controversial debate. Finkelstein
said that DePaul's decision was based on "transparently
political grounds" and was an "egregious violation" of
Churchill noted in his response to Brown's letter that
"President Brown, his new VP Michael Poliakoff, and
Regent Tom Lucero, like Bill Owens, are key players in
Lynne Cheney's American Council of Trustees and Alumni
(ACTA). ACTA and similar neoconservative groups have
received generous funding [from] Castle Rock (Coors),
Scaife, Bradley and Olin foundations to eliminate
Ethnic, Gender and Peace Studies Programs and to purge
higher education of those who think critically,
challenge historical orthodoxy, or otherwise threaten
the status quo."
Opposition to this impending firing has been increasing
nationally, as more and more academics recognize the
stakes involved in the Churchill case. An open letter
signed by numerous prominent scholars, including Noam
Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Derrick Bell and Immanuel
Wallerstein was published in the New York Review of
Books in April. Scores of others have written letters
of support, and there was a recent Emergency National
Forum in Boulder of academics and supporters. The
Society of American Law Teachers has written a letter
arguing against a firing.
Richard Falk, visiting Distinguished Professor at
University of California, Santa Barbara recently wrote:
"All of us who value academic freedom should now stand
in full solidarity with Ward Churchill. The outcome of
his case at the University of Colorado is the best
litmus test we have to tell whether the right-wing's
assaults on learning and liberty will stifle campus
life in this country. Never in my lifetime have we in
America more needed the sort of vigorous debate and
creative controversy that Ward Churchill's
distinguished career epitomizes. We all stand to lose
if his principled defense fails."
# # #
Matthew Abraham - Department of English, De Paul
William Ayers - Distinguished Professor of Education
and Senior University Scholar, University of Illinois
Derrick A Bell - Visiting Professor of Constitutional
Law, New York University School of Law.
Timothy Brennan - Departments of English and Cultural
Studies & Comparative Literature, University of
Renate Bridenthal - Emerita Professor of History,
Brooklyn College, The City University of New York.
Bob Buzzanco - Department of History, University of
Dana Cloud - Associate Professor of Communication
Studies at the University of Texas (Austin).
Drucilla Cornell - Professor in the Departments of Law
and Political Science at Rutgers University.
Sandi E Cooper - Professor of History, College of
Staten Island and the Graduate School, The City
University of New York.
Richard Delgado - University Distinguished Professor of
Law and Derrick Bell Fellow, University of Pittsburgh.
Richard A Falk - Albert G. Milbank Professor of
International Law and Practice at Princeton University;
Visiting Distinguished Professor (since 2002), Global
Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara.
Seth Kahn - Assistant Professor of English, West
Chester University of PA.
Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies,
Middle East Institute, Columbia University.
Vinay Lal - Department of History, University of
California, Los Angeles.
Gary Leupp - Professor of History at Tufts University,
and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion.
Henry Silverman - Professor and Chairperson Emeritus,
Department of History, Michigan State University.
Immanuel Wallerstein - Senior Research Scholar, Yale
Tim Wise - Author of "White Like Me: Reflections on
Race from a Privileged Son," and "Affirmative Action:
Racial Preference in Black and White."
For more information, contact us at (626) 319-1730
Or contact any of the faculty listed below to arrange
Matthew Abraham: firstname.lastname@example.org; (773)
Timothy Brennan - email@example.com; (651) 228-0965.
Dana Cloud - firstname.lastname@example.org; (512) 471-1947.
Drucilla Cornell - email@example.com; (212) 260-9730.
Seth Kahn - firstname.lastname@example.org; (610) 436-2915.
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