That’s Ward Churchill, not his illustrious namesake, Winston. The former “ethnic studies” professor at the University of Colorado is rapidly disappearing down the memory hole, but his odious comparison of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to Nazi bureaucrats will forever have a place in the library of morally obnoxious, pseudo-academic Newspeak. Churchill’s boutique radicalism rendered him a darling of the left-wing professoriate. There is nothing special about “ethnic studies” on college campuses. It is just one more outpost of rebarbative politicized sloganeering masquerading as scholarship. The late Kingsley Amis once observed that the word “workshop” summed up a lot that was wrong in the world of culture. The mantle for that distinction has been passed on to the word “studies.” Women’s studies, ethnic studies, black studies, LGBTQ studies: intellectually it’s 0 + 0+ 0 = 0. But those pseudo-disciplines were never intended to provide a home for serious study. Rather, they were all about political redress, victim studies, the make-believe activism of tenured radicals. His “point of view,” that the real evildoers on 9/11 were not the homicidal fanatics who steered jetliners full of innocent people into buildings but rather the capitalists—the “little Eichmanns”—who were going about their business that bright late-summer morning, won Churchill plaudits from an academy besotted with its histrionic opposition to a society that had lavished every sort of preferment and material reward upon them.
Churchill had chosen an academic discipline that was essentially brain dead. Still, when it came to publishing work under one’s own name, ethnic studies was, like every other academic discipline, real as well as spurious. What you published didn’t have to add anything to the gross domestic intellectual product; it didn’t even have to make sense. Nonsense was just fine. But it had to be your own nonsense. Appropriating other people’s work, even if it was worthless work, was not comme il faut. It let the side down. It ate away at the illusion that what emerged from the pens and word processors of all those professors was worth the wood pulp it was printed on.
Ward Churchill took his opposition to private property one step too far. Any dispassionate judge would readily acknowledge that his published work was worthless, politicized claptrap. That was never in dispute. Until he emerged into the limelight of notoriety, however, no one had thought to ask whether the claptrap published under the name Ward Churchill was, in fact, written by Ward Churchill. A little investigation demonstrated beyond cavil that it was not—that Churchill, in addition to publishing worthless, politicized babble, had not gone to the trouble to publish his own worthless, politicized babble. He was, in fact, a serial plagiarist.
It was for this tort, not his repugnant betrayal of his duty as a teacher—his duty, that is, to keep politics out of the classroom—that, in 2005, Churchill was finally cashiered. At first a university committee, noting that Churchill had “committed multiple acts of plagiarism, fabrication, and falsification,” recommended that he be suspended for a year, not fired.
The committee’s rationale for this leniency, we noted at the time, was puzzling. Yes, Churchill demonstrated “misbehavior.” His work was “below minimum standards of professional integrity.” But the committee recommended that he be suspended, not fired, because Churchill did not show “the worst possible misbehavior.” Got that? You can lie, fabricate research, plagiarize, and turn your college classroom into a center for anti-American propaganda: All that’s just fine. So long as you are not the worst, your tenure at the University of Colorado is inviolable. Amazing, what?
Or so it at first seemed. It took an administrator with backbone, then-president Hank Brown, to reject the committee’s recommendation and ask the Board of Regents to fire Ward Churchill. There followed the inevitable lawsuit in which the phrase “academic freedom” was hauled aloft early and often. In fact, the case of Ward Churchill had nothing to do with academic freedom and everything to do with a dereliction of professional responsibility. Last month, the Colorado Supreme Court finally handed down its ruling in the case, upholding rulings by two lower courts that found in favor of the University. Churchill had “engaged in repeated acts of intentional academic misconduct,” just as the university committees said he had, and the revocation, without pay, was entirely justified. Reinstating Churchill, the Court concluded, would undermine the university’s ability “to enforce standards of academic integrity.” Quite right. It took a while, but in the displeasing case of Ward Churchill justice was finally accomplished.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 31 Number 2, on page 1
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