Yesterday, the University of Colorado Board of Regents voted 8-1 to fire Ward Churchill, professor of crackpottery at the university's Boulder campus. When not pretending to be an armed revolutionary (see photo), Churchill spent his tenured days posing as a Native American (he isn't) and a scholar (he's a serial plagiarist with a MA in communications, not a PhD in history). This, not his famous "little Eichmanns" comment, informed the decision to fire, said a university spokesman. From the Times' account:
"We wanted to do what was right for this university," the board chairwoman, Patricia Hayes, said after the vote. "We did not address Professor Churchill's freedom of speech as part of our discussion."
The university president, Hank Brown, who recommended that the board fire Professor Churchill, said he deserved to lose his job because he had "falsified history" and "fabricated history."
Brown is referring to not just to the discovery of Churchill's plagiarism, but also to his questionable body of academic work—like his claim the U.S. Army embarked on a program of genocide by deliberately infecting Indians with small-pox. Sounds plausible, but, according to this investigation by the Rocky Mountain News, not supported by the available evidence. "In fact, the pages of various books he refers to not only don't buttress his argument," wrote the News, "they contradict it." UCLA professor Russell Thornton, a scholar of Native American history, calls Churchill's writings on the smallpox epidemic "just out-and-out fabrication."
Churchill is clearly cavalier in his approach to the historical record, twisting and misrepresenting facts in order to make a grand, "anti-imperialist" point. When rereading his controversial essay "Some Push Back"—in which he refers to the "little Eichmanns"—I noticed this passage on Gulf War I:
In trying to affix a meaning to such things, we would do well to remember the wave of elation that swept America at reports of what was happening along the so-called Highway of Death: perhaps 100,000 "towel-heads" and "camel jockeys"--or was it "sand niggers" that week?--in full retreat, routed and effectively defenseless, many of them conscripted civilian laborers, slaughtered in a single day by jets firing the most hyper-lethal types of ordnance.
100,000 killed in the closing days of the war by "hyper-lethal types of ordnance"? (As opposed, I suppose, to moderately lethal ordinance.) Easy to understand "why they hate us," I suppose. Except that Churchill's casualty figures are off by about 99,700.
As Washington Post correspondent Steve Coll wrote, "more Iraqis fled their vehicles and were taken prisoner than were killed by U.S. bombing of the highway. There still are no reliable figures on precisely how many people were killed in the convoy, but reporters who visited the scene as bodies were being collected say the most they saw at any one place was 40, and they estimated that a total of 200 to 300 Iraqis may have died at the scene."
It is this sort of thing that resulted in Churchill's termination; he was not, as this Newsday headline says, "fired over [his] controversial 9/11 essay." If this were true, it would be a clear violation of Churchill's academic freedom—a freedom to write amateurish, semi-coherent philippics comparing sinister capitalists "braying into their cell phones" to the fascist "desk killers" responsible for Auschwitz. His Eichmann comments surely precipitated the accusations of academic misconduct, but so what?
The Norm Finkelstein case, which I blogged about here and Cathy Young discussed here, was a tougher call—and after surveying the evidence I agree with Prof. Norm Geras' position. But Churchill's firing is unambiguous: it has nothing to do with academic freedom and everything to do with academic standards and honesty.
reason on Ward Churchill here.