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February 02, 2005

Academic Freedom

Gerald Dworkin: February 2, 2005

Here is the full text of the article that is causing so much controversy regarding Churchill’s invitation to speak at  Hamilton College. So far he has had to resign as chair of the Ethnic Studies department at Boulder and his speech has been cancelled because of “credible threats” of violence at Hamilton.

While some of the language is disgusting  (little Eichmanns for those killed in the WTC) and some of the claims are bizarre (were the secretaries, janitors, fireman, waiters in the restaurants, stock clerks, etc. also part of the “technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire"?) the main theses represent moral, political, and empirical claims about the cause of the attack, and its moral character. No faculty member should be dismissed because of such claims. Whether someone who has, and publishes, such views should continue to be retained in an administrative post is a more difficult question. It is plausible that the head of an academic unit represents that unit to the public and, in any case, serves at the discretion of the administration. A similar case occurred a few years ago at the City College of New York where Leonard Jeffries, the Chair of Black Studies, was removed from his position for, among other things, calling a fellow professor the “head Jew at City  College".   A Federal Court of Appeals ruled that the dismissal was legitimate, which doesn’t settle the issue of whether it should have been done. Being a free speech fanatic I will hold my nose and defend Churchill's right to speak at  Hamilton (if there are threats of violence then protect the speaker), and against any attempts to dismiss him from his academic position.

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» Academic Freedom of Speech from Moonage Political Webdream
Gerald Dworkin of Left2Right writes ( yeah, I know, this is getting a bit redundant. ):Being a free speech fanatic I will hold my nose and defend Churchill right to speak at [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 2, 2005 3:27:22 PM

» The knives come out if you criticize the dead from Resonant Information

Ward Churchill, who until recently was the chairman of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, wrote an off-the-cuff essay that he described at the time as more of a [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 2, 2005 4:00:56 PM

» WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND. from Cold Spring Shops
Hamilton College in New York cancels a presentation by controversial University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill ... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 2, 2005 5:36:22 PM

» Ward Churchill from blogs for industry
Sigh...I had been meaning to take a pass on Ward Churchill on this blog. But now Colorado politicians are threatening to punish the Univ. of Colorado if they don't fire the http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/4151313/detail.html noted idiotarian. Ch... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 4, 2005 1:50:53 AM

» Volokh on Ward Churchill from blogs for industry
As the public outcry for Ward Churchil's head increases (see here, here, and comments here), Eugene Volokh has several posts on the situation. Eugene provides good explanations for why firing the noteworthy idiotarian would be a step on a dangerous sl... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 5, 2005 2:01:20 AM

» Ward Churchill from Mixing Memory
This is hardly a reason to fire a tenured faculty member, no matter how offensive we find his ideas. Instead of calling for him to resign or be fired, any academic who disagrees with him, liberal or conservative, should be sitting in front of a compute... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 10, 2005 2:35:27 AM

Comments

Posted by: miab

"Being a free speech fanatic I will hold my nose and defend Churchill right to speak at Hamilton "

Do you also defend Hamilton's right to not invite Churhill? If so, what about Hamilton's right to disinvite him? What if you assume for the moment that they disinvited him because of his expressed views, not because of fear of violence?

Posted by: miab | Feb 2, 2005 2:06:22 PM


Posted by: noahpraetorius@hotmail.com

Yes we all agree he has the right to his odious speech but can we all agree that to call him a scholoar is a big stretch?

Posted by: noahpraetorius@hotmail.com | Feb 2, 2005 2:47:57 PM


Posted by: Iconic Midwesterner

This is what I cannot stand. You can find people who hold the equivilent type of views as Churhill on the right. And where are they? Usually, living in "compounds" on some Idaho mountaintop. And long may they rot there.

However, if you hold extreme positions on the left you are most likely to be found in tenured univerisity jobs.

And you cannot hide behind the old "well, right wing nut jobs are famously anti-intellectual so what would they be doing in higher education" because Ward Churchill himself doesn't hold a PhD.

Defending him has more to do with sympathy with his statements (even if it remains unspoken) than it has with defending free speech. The man said what he wanted to say, and the last time I checked the government hasn't removed it from print.

I also love the martyr show of "resigning" from the chairmanship of the Ethic studies department...a job that most academics loathe doing anyway.

Posted by: Iconic Midwesterner | Feb 2, 2005 2:50:04 PM


Posted by: David Andersen

"No faculty member should be dismissed because of such claims."

What if the claims are lacking facts and evidence? What if they fly in the face of easily obtained and widely accepted information? Just what standards should a scholar be held to? Where is peer review in the case of Hamilton? Does being a scholar mean any B.S. is allowed to fly?

From the essay:

"A good case could be made that the war in which they were combatants has been waged more-or-less continuously by the "Christian West" – now proudly emblematized by the United States – against the "Islamic East" since the time of the First Crusade, about 1,000 years ago."

So it's always been about the 'West' attacking the 'East'?

"The trigger for the First Crusade was Emperor Alexius I's appeal to Pope Urban II for mercenaries to help him resist Muslim advances into territory of the Byzantine Empire." (From Wikipedia, or anywhere else you care to look)

This information is apparently an encumbrance to his 'argument.' There is also the apparently useless fact that in some of the Crusades, Muslims were not even involved.

Shouldn't those scholars who rightfully take pride in their meticulous and thoughtful work be hesitant to defend Hamilton 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?


Posted by: David Andersen | Feb 2, 2005 3:13:56 PM


Posted by: Jim Hu

Iconic Midwesterner,

I find Ward Churchill's public statements, to the extent that I've bothered to read them, disgusting and repellent. If you've looked at my posts here or on my own blog, I think it would be hard to conclude that I have a jot of sympathy for his statements.

While not in the same league, I also find offensive your assumption of motives on the part of those who defend his right to free speech. He has a right to say what he said and we have the right - no, the duty - to call him on it. The latter does not diminish the former.

Also, whether or not he's a barking moonbat, I have no way of evaluating the quality of his scholarship without looking a lot harder at his productivity and where it stands in the field. Whether or not he has a Ph.D. is not dispositive. Do you know more about his history at Colorado? If so, provide some links.

Posted by: Jim Hu | Feb 2, 2005 3:25:44 PM


Posted by: David Andersen

A right to free speech is a right that protects us from government force as a result of our speech (and even then there are exceptions).

It does not (and should not) protect a speaker from having a voluntary relationship severed by another party to that relationship. It may be unwise to sever the relationship in some cases, but let the party breaking the relationship justify the reason and suffer (or reap) the consequences.

Posted by: David Andersen | Feb 2, 2005 3:33:19 PM


Posted by: David Andersen

"I have no way of evaluating the quality of his scholarship..."

Please see my previous post re: The Crusades.

The teenagers in my wife's AP History classes know better than Hamilton.

Posted by: David Andersen | Feb 2, 2005 3:35:31 PM


Posted by: Iconic Midwesterner

"Shouldn't those scholars who rightfully take pride in their meticulous and thoughtful work be hesitant to defend Hamilton 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? "

I couldn't agree more.

But it goes beyond even that. Does the call for academic freedom mean that everyone should abrogate any claim that they might have to common human decency?

The notion that this, rather belated, criticism of Ward Churchill means that, for instance, Benjamin Barber's academic freedom could be the next one imperiled is ludicrous. Academics are already so well insulated from the negative effects from anything they might print or say (YOU try and remove someone from a tenured position with anything less than a felony conviction), as compared to what regular citizens often face, that this hand wringing about the modest inconveniences faced by Ward Churchill seems silly.

If any academic could use a little dose of what goes on in the real world it is Ward Churchill.

Posted by: Iconic Midwesterner | Feb 2, 2005 3:39:16 PM


Posted by: No Labels Please

Ward Churchill can, and should, say whatever he likes. However he is not entitled to an unconditional living at taxpayer expense. If the taxpayers, or their designees, decide to terminate his employment, with due process, based on certian performance standards, then tant pis for M. Churchill. There is always France.

Posted by: No Labels Please | Feb 2, 2005 3:46:36 PM


Posted by: rtr

How about defending everyone from attempts to dismiss them from their wealth and private property, from their own ability to pursue and conduct free speech? To voluntary do with their private wealth what they want to voluntarily do? It's no wonder the violence of the State and individuals continues to the degree it does when nothing has changed from Plato's lies about the establishment of "State" violence. Academic Freedom is anything but when it rests upon the coerced theft and violence of others.

If it was up to me *all* professors would be fired who are in the slightest recipients of involuntary funding. Nothing is preventing you from starting your own university blog and teaching whatever it is you wish to teach. Let's drop the *lie* of Academic Freedom already. Everyone can say what they wish in their own space on their own dime. Firing anyone for any reason, no matter how petty or biased or bigoted, has absolutely nothing to do with "Academic Freedom". Academic freedom is free trade of knowledge and ideas. It requires willing voluntary pursuit and non-interference only. The educational establishment of the U.S. is not for any semblance of academic freedom as long as they are in favor of violent force, a.k.a. taxation, to fund themselves. Churchill is correct in one regard, the U.S. is caught up in a cycle of violence. He is just ignorant to limit it to the U.S., and not the world, especially when the world has been, much worse in many regards than the U.S. Even if Churchill was booted off the Boulder campus for merely being a native american, his "academic freedom" still would not have been touched.

Posted by: rtr | Feb 2, 2005 3:50:28 PM


Posted by: No Labels Please

By the way who is going to be the first to say that a "chill wind" is blowing through the office halls of Nazi analogizers?

Posted by: No Labels Please | Feb 2, 2005 3:51:06 PM


Posted by: Iconic Midwesterner

Jim Hu,

I in no way dispute Churchill's right to say whatever the hell he wants to. Its the idea that he should never suffer any consequences, however minor(and being disinvited from Hamilton is about as minor as they come), for his actions/speech that I take umbrage with.

As for my sympathy remark: I was trying to stress that a right-wing version of a Ward Churchill would not be tolerated in academia (and, IMO, nor should they). Why are the left-wing moonbats more acceptable? There seems to be some sympathy with their views, if not outright agreement.

As for Mr. Churchill's academic work, which seems to be some form of "Native American Holocaust" studies, I've no idea. If its the sort of thing that appeals to you, go read it and report back. Based on my having read "Some People Push Back," I wouldn't read the rest of Churchill's writings if you put a gun to my head and said "or else." I'd gladly take "or else!"

Posted by: Iconic Midwesterner | Feb 2, 2005 4:01:42 PM


Posted by: Perseus

Since Churchill was merely invited to speak at Hamilton College and therefore does not have a right to speak there, I see nothing wrong with withdrawing the invitation (Hamilton probably does not want any more bad press after the furor over their almost hiring Weather Underground terrorist Susan Rosenberg: http://chronicle.com/free/v51/i18/18a00701.htm). I, too, will hold my nose and say he should not be dismissed from his academic position, though I have no problem with dismissing him from any administrative position.

Posted by: Perseus | Feb 2, 2005 4:18:14 PM


Posted by: Terrier

David Andersen, your post actually provides fuel to his claims - he said he could make a case - apparently he made enough of a case just by bringing it up that you felt you needed to argue the point. You argue about when the crusade started and who started it? I hope there is no crusade - not now anyway. Please don't respond with any more history! :-) The whole crusade thing is a very murky subject in both Western and Islamic history books and not very germane to the problems of the world today and someone should probably point that out to Churchill but he will most likely not listen. It's clear that for him, "our democracy has atrophied resulting in rampant extremism" and, "it is not necessary for the mass of sheeple to be enraged or even interested." Quite frankly, after reading this and some of his other statements, he sounds very much like a Libertarian to me and very little like a Leftist. I hear Libertarians around here complain about "the mind-numbing effects of the indoctrination passed off as education in the US." That was brought up more than once debating the teaching of evolution. So barking moonbat he may be - but he's not my barking moonbat - he's a libertarian barking moonbat. It is a free country (I think) so he can express his views. If people or institutions don't wish to hear them they are free not to invite him to speak or not to show up where he does speak. Yes, he's not in a mountaintop compound, but he's also not advising the President, the Majority Leader of the Senate, and appearing on TV five nights a week to solicit money from old ladies, and until he does I think we can safely ignore him.


Posted by: Terrier | Feb 2, 2005 4:41:10 PM


Posted by: David Andersen

"...he said he could make a case - apparently he made enough of a case just by bringing it up that you felt you needed to argue the point."

Yes, he said he could make a case and then made the falsifiable assertion that the West has been waging and one-way war against the East for 1,000 years. Most history has some level of murkiness about it by its very nature, but I don't believe any well regarded historian will claim that any Christian vs. Islamic war has been a one-sided tale of Christian aggression on Muslims only.

My reason for pointing this all out is that his so-called scholarship is highly suspect, worthy of scorn, and that defending poor scholarship under the guise of academic freedom is a ill-thought decision by academics who strive for and value excellent scholarship.


Posted by: David Andersen | Feb 2, 2005 5:01:12 PM


Posted by: Iconic Midwesterner

"Yes, he's not in a mountaintop compound, but he's also not advising the President, the Majority Leader of the Senate, and appearing on TV five nights a week to solicit money from old ladies, and until he does I think we can safely ignore him."

You're right. He's not doing anything important, like educating young people.

He is?

Oh.

Never mind.

Posted by: Iconic Midwesterner | Feb 2, 2005 5:01:59 PM


Posted by: Yehudit

"As for Mr. Churchill's academic work, which seems to be some form of "Native American Holocaust" studies, I've no idea."

Apparently Churchill's Native American status is also controversial.

Posted by: Yehudit | Feb 2, 2005 5:03:54 PM


Posted by: David Andersen

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?

Posted by: David Andersen | Feb 2, 2005 5:13:24 PM


Posted by: john t

Mr Dworkin I,ve never fully understood the idea that an academic should be protected for doing something that would get someone else fired. I realize that I open myself to a harangue about the sanctity of this or that as applied to academics but it won't wash. We know no longer live in a kind of 13th century Paris where the college was almost a world of it's own. In any case even then teacher got bounced. It is to self serving to claim a right that,by it's scope,others don't enjoy. Several years back a New York radio host was fired for remarks,I assure you,far less inflammatory then those of the swinish MR Churchill,examples abound. Mocking and reviling the dead is a revolting and unforgivable act although I,m sure he thought he was quite the brave contrarian. Let him get a job washing dishes somewhwere. If he gets out of line there the cook will probably punch him out and Churchill will discover there are other limits to free speech. Somewhere a community has the right to express it's revulsion and observe elementary decencies. Wilmoore Kendall sarcastically said,you have the right to say whatever you want and we have the right to tar and feather you and run you out of town". You say this creature was the head of the Ethics Dept.?

Posted by: john t | Feb 2, 2005 5:41:58 PM


Posted by: No Labels Please

I assume Mr Dworkin must think it's OK to massively offend a group of people with a baseless slur- like all the 9/11 relatives, or the entire country, for that matter, and hold on to one's position at a public university.

However, I assume that for the sake of argument that Churchill had called one of his students an Eichmann or used a racial epithet that his dismissal would be imminent and Dworkin-supported?.

So, my question is why is it so much worse to attack a single person [hate-speech!], whereas irresponsible academics are able to hide behind prepesterous statements involving groups [free-speech!]?

Is there a difference?

Mr Dworkin?

Posted by: No Labels Please | Feb 2, 2005 5:45:05 PM


Posted by: Terrier

David Andersen, He said "A good case could be made." How is that a falsifiable assertion? He was deliberately vague so that he could launch into his vicious attack on American morality without being hindered by facts. It is a symptom of our times that people cannot stand to encounter opinions they do not share nor curb the desire to have their opinions accepted as fact.

Iconic Midwesterner, you can rest easy! He's not doing anything like teaching evolution to 9 year olds. I'm sure every student on his campus knows what to expect from one of his classes and I'm equally sure he'll not be received at the Whitehouse any time soon no matter how good his Libertarian credentials are. Besides, I have it on good authority that it doesn't matter what you teach the market will sort it all out over time.

Posted by: Terrier | Feb 2, 2005 5:54:10 PM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

What is being discussed here? Academic freedom, freedom of speech, or both?

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Feb 2, 2005 5:59:27 PM


Posted by: David Andersen

Terrier, the quote is:

"A good case could be made that the war in which they were combatants has been waged more-or-less continuously by the "Christian West" – now proudly emblematized by the United States – against the "Islamic East" since the time of the First Crusade, about 1,000 years ago."

The falsifiable assertion is the part that follows "combatants." He is wrong. There is no case possible. The evidence is diametrically opposed. It's not a matter of opinion. The Muslims in the Crusades were not innocent victims of aggression. They were aggressors themselves before the Crusades. (And I'm not trying to pin blame on anyone, just pointing out that it was not a one-sided affair).

Are we arguing about something?

Posted by: David Andersen | Feb 2, 2005 6:03:04 PM


Posted by: David Andersen

Terrier, Churchill is not a libertarian any more than I am a socialist, which I am 100% not.

Posted by: David Andersen | Feb 2, 2005 6:06:54 PM


Posted by: Iconic Midwesterner

"Iconic Midwesterner, you can rest easy! He's not doing anything like teaching evolution to 9 year olds."

Ah, a call back to another thread. It should be pointed out that I stated repeatedly that I believe in evolution and I would want it taught to my children. Unlike some others, however, I don't find it difficult to understand where people with different religious covictions than my own are coming from when they raise their objections. All this isn't really relevant to this discussion--but then again I didn't bring it up.

"I'm sure every student on his campus knows what to expect from one of his classes and I'm equally sure he'll not be received at the Whitehouse any time soon no matter how good his Libertarian credentials are. Besides, I have it on good authority that it doesn't matter what you teach the market will sort it all out over time."

Then he is a strange type of anti-capitalist libertarian, who thinks that the market "corrects itself" not by economic activity but by flying planeloads of human beings into office buildings.

Where exactly was that in the "Road to Serfdom"?

Posted by: Iconic Midwesterner | Feb 2, 2005 6:11:14 PM


Posted by: Matt

DA, you make a good point. Unfortunately, Dworkin has already confused the issue:

"Being a free speech fanatic I will hold my nose and defend Churchill right to speak at Hamilton (if there are threats of violence then protect the speaker), and against any attempts to dismiss him from his academic position."

These are two substantially different claims. The second clearly relates to academic freedom and I think it is an issue worth discussing, though I'm pretty sure I know where academics stand on this one. Dworkin seems to think the first is related to freedom of speech, but I don't understand how it is defensible on those grounds, since Hamilton certainly has the right to withdraw an invitation to speak. In fact, you could describe that as part of the institutions right to freedom of speech.

Posted by: Matt | Feb 2, 2005 7:18:22 PM


Posted by: Henrik

Matt gets it exactly right.

If I live a thousand years I don't think I shall ever see the day that a majority of American citizens understand the elegant simplicity of the First Amendment -- sometimes seemingly especially those Americans who believe they have access to greater wisdom than the average voter.

Prof Churchill is free to say whatever he wants without fear of jail time. Period.

Now listen up. There is no constitutional compulsion whatsoever for anyone in America to take any affirmative actions which would abet or support Churchill, and there is no constitutional restriction against anyone -- short of the judicial arm of the Federal government itself -- from shutting up his idiotic nonsense entirely.

There might be educational value to free speech, and it's arguable that Hamilton's students have a reasonable expectation they will hear a diversity of views during the experimental anarchy we call college (more a college-marketing concern than an educational-moral one, by the way), and it's also fair for Hamilton to say they do not wish to be moral judges (a view I would find in this case to be a cop-out), but to call this stupidity a "right" is intellectually insulting.

Posted by: Henrik | Feb 2, 2005 7:40:44 PM


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