Wednesday, 2 February 2005

Ward Churchill

I can’t say I have a huge amount of sympathy for the political views of Ward Churchill, the UC-Boulder professor who now won’t be speaking at Hamilton College. That said, he’s a tenured faculty member at Colorado—however ill-judged the decision to tenure him was—and even if he weren’t tenured, the facts that he’s an insensitive jackass with repellant views and a walking testimonial for the validity of Godwin’s Law wouldn’t rise to the level so as to justify his firing.

More at Protein Wisdom and Cold Spring Shops; another account of Churchill’s travails appears in today’s Chronicle of Higher Ed daily update ($).


Any views expressed in these comments are solely those of their authors; they do not reflect the views of the authors of Signifying Nothing, unless attributed to one of us.
[Permalink] 1. David Andersen wrote @ Wed, 2 Feb 2005, 11:28 pm CST:

There’s a bit of discussion on this topic over at Left2Right. I’m not sure if he should be canned either, but I left this thought over there:


Here’s a scenario for the academics:

A tenured member of your department is publishing extremely radical views with little to no evidence in support. Because you are naturally curious and open to new thought, you might even find these views intellectually intriguing, but they are clearly baseless.

They are clearing the peer review process because the reviewers involved are either equally radical, don’t really care, or are playing publishing politics. They might also be receiving publication outside of the peer review process.

Knowing that this person teaches undergrads and communicates the same ideas, what should happen? Is this person above reproach because of tenure and academic freedom?


No one has replied to this and for some unknown reason the author closed comments to the topic.


Good question. I tend to think there are legitimate bases for firing tenured faculty—criminal misconduct, severe academic misconduct, failure to perform assigned duties (teaching classes, serving on committees, etc.)—but lack of scholarly output is not generally one of them. Lack of scholarly output will probably lead to a denial of promotion to full professor, however.

I’m not sure that promotion of wacky theories is enough to fire a professor; it might be enough, however, to justify his reassignment to other duties (only teaching graduate students, for example).

[Permalink] 3. David Andersen wrote @ Wed, 2 Feb 2005, 11:56 pm CST:

I like your answer Chris and as a result, I will call off my fatwa on several local academics. ;)

I really do have a problem with someone like Churchill teaching undergrads; I have less of a problem with him teaching grads only (though I question the faculties’ judgment keeping him around) since there are usually at least a few grad students who don’t have a problem calling B.S. to the prof and that is what this guy needs to hear frequently.

Another question I posed over at L2R was:

Shouldn’t those scholars who rightfully take pride in their meticulous and thoughtful work be hesitant to defend Churchill as a peer in any capacity? Do you not denegrate your own standards of excellence when you defend atrocious work under the banner of academic freedom?

Shouldn’t those scholars who rightfully take pride in their meticulous and thoughtful work be hesitant to defend Churchill as a peer in any capacity?

A quick note: variants of Churchill’s thesis have been quite common and could even be considered mainstream. The general idea that participants in the larger social machinery aren’t innocent was one that started being advanced in the wake of WWII and the holocaust, as political scientists and philosophers were grappling with the question of the citizenry’s complicity in the Nazi regime.

Right after 9/11, I thought we’d start seeing some thinkers bring this line of thought up since it’s directly on point, but I guess that had anyone brought it up they’d have been eaten alive. At any rate, Churchill shouldn’t have been the first; after reading his essay, I could only conclude he’s a total hack.

[Permalink] 5. David Andersen wrote @ Thu, 3 Feb 2005, 9:20 am CST:

jpe -

The reason I think scholars should avoid defending Churchill isn’t because of his ideas, but because his scholarship is terrible. As you said, he’s a total hack. He makes assertions without a shred of evidence and completely misstates history (see his claim about the Crusades for example). At that point, no matter how compelling or mainstream the idea may be, no one who values the pursuit of truth should give his work a second thought, except to debunk it.

[Permalink] 6. flaime wrote @ Thu, 3 Feb 2005, 10:23 am CST:

I don’t think Churchill should be fired. I do think it was appropriate that he step down as department chair, which he has done. But Governor Owens call for censoring Churchill’s views are more offensive, to me, than the nonsense that Churchill was spouting. Indeed, most people recognized Churchill’s views as extremist and gave that view appropriate weight in evaluating his statements. People are failing to recognize Owens’ views as equally extremist.

[Permalink] 7. Wamtoozer wrote @ Fri, 4 Feb 2005, 8:57 pm CST:

It never ceases to amaze me the raw number of incendiary hatemongers who are paid to teach at universities, both private and public, across this country. I’ve been reading some of Churchill’s writings to familarize myself with his point of view, and I was really struck by the hatred that seeths from this man. If you want to see why revolutions fail, or turn into brutalities far worse than those fought against, look no further than Ward Churchill. This man could lead no one to any place but destruction, because this is not a man who wants to build a better world, he wants to destroy it. And because of that, he’ll always be tearing down (and be paid rather nicely to do it). Hatred always breeds more hatred. Anger always breeds more anger.

[Permalink] 8. Pompus D. Gumphoot wrote @ Sat, 5 Feb 2005, 2:48 pm CST:

This jackass from CU exemplifies the new level of tastelesness to which CU has sunk. Lest we forget, CU’s appriciation of Colorado’s favorite son, the cannibal, Alferd Packer. CU boasts the Alfred Packer Memorial Grill , which lies below the main floor of the Memorial Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder, directly beneath the Glenn Miller lounge. A small, marble bust of Packer, unveiled by Colorado governor Roy Romer, sits on a pedestal at the hub of the grill. For those who don’t remember Al, he was the now infamous nineteenth-century Colorado pioneer who was enlisted to guide five homesteaders along the Mormon Trail into Colorado. Packer soon emerged from the San Juan Mountains – alone – and was convicted of cannibalism and sentenced to hang by Judge Melville B. Gerry. “Stand up, yah voracious man-eatin’ sonofabitch, and receive your sentence!” the judge exclaimed. “Thar were only seven Democrats in all of Hinsdale County and you ate five of them!” What next? Maybe CU can honor the Columbine killers as masters of marksmanship and demolition!!! Us non-acedemics know that there is more truth at the bottom of a scuttle in a barn than in the hallowed ivory towers of acedemia. At least none of us calls the stuff at the bottom of the scuttle anything but what it is: manure!!!! With which, by the way, Churchill’s head is unquestionably full.

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