The Ward Churchill WTF

I’ve never been the most avid fan of Ward Churchill. I knew who he was, and that was about it. So when he made his “little Eichmanns” statement (a term he did not invent) to describe the the corporate powerplayers who died in the World Trade Center on 9\11, I was neither suprised nor particularly interested. But many other people who had no idea who he was or what his statement meant reacted screechingly. You can read the statement he made here. Maybe you agree with it, maybe you don’t, and that’s fine either way. But he got fired for speaking his mind, and that’s where things get ugly.

The “Courthouse News Service” (whatever that is) published a report about how Churchill lost his appeal to get his job back. Here’s some excerpts from the article:

Churchill, a professor of ethnic studies, made headlines in 2005 for his essay “On the Justice of Roosting Chickens,” in which he called some people who worked in the World Trade Centers “little Eichmanns.” The essay likened Eichmann’s work organizing trains to send Jews to concentration camps to “ongoing genocidal American imperialism.”

Reaction to the essay sparked a university investigation, which found Churchill guilty of academic misconduct, including plagiarism and falsifying data. He was fired in 2007.

“Churchill’s academic freedom did not include the right to commit research misconduct that was specifically proscribed by the University’s policies and enforced through a system of shared governance between the administration and the faculty,” Judge Graham wrote.

Note how there is no actual mention in the article of any details of the alleged “plagiarism”. Instead, it focuses on his naughty, naughty ‘little Eichmann’ comparison, which supposedly was not the reason he was fired. It also goes into details about Eichmann’s role in the Holocaust, which Churchill did not mention in his essay. The .PDF attached to the end of the article has a copy of the court’s decision, which also provides no details about the “misconduct” or “plagiarism”. Keep in mind I am not a legal expert; I do not know if it is customary or not for official legal decisions to carry much detail of the charges, but I certainly expected to see details in the NEWS article. I mean, it’s the “Courthouse News”. Why WOULDN’T they at least write about the details of the findings if they were significant enough for Churchill to lose his appeal?

After reading one side of the story, I decided to read the other. Churchill’s website carries a FAQ-style rebuttal to the charges. Here’s part of it [emphasis theirs]:

Didn’t the investigating committee find misconduct?

After combing through more than 4,000 pages and 12,000 footnotes of Ward Churchill’s publications, CU found only a handful of minor points to dispute. CU called them “fraud” and “plagiarism” but they were really questions of historical interpretation and claimed deviation from unspecified “standards.”

Many people have been fooled by the heft of the Investigative Committee’s 124-page Report. In fact, most of the allegations were dropped. The charges boiled down to:

◦4 questions of interpretation of sources concerning smallpox epidemics or
“blood quantum” laws.

◦3 charges of ghostwriting and attribution of authorship, under “standards” the
Committee never could identify. The author whose work was supposedly
plagiarized never accused Ward Churchill of doing so.

(Although there is a link at the bottom of this part of the rebuttal that says “. . . click here for more details”, it simply goes back to the top of the page.) It seems suspicious indeed that such trivial quibbles would be grounds for termination, and I tend to believe Mr. Churchill was right in claiming his firing was due to political pressure and not misconduct on his part.

The reason that I focused on the claims of plagiarism is that that’s a pretty serious thing for an author to do, and if that claim could be substantiated, then Ward Churchill’s arguement would be much harder to take seriously. But if the author (whose name is not mentioned either in the court decision or Churchill’s page) never made an accusation of plagiarism, then I would have to conclude that Churchill was fired unfairly. I suppose I could read through the court’s other documents to find the author’s name, but “Courthouse News” should have put it in their article.

This is yet another news story where the headline completely misleads the reader from reality. And the article’s author probably has nothing against (or for) Mr. Churchill. It just seems like another example of lazy tabloid reporting, where the SCANDAL is more important than the facts.


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