Wednesday, May 17, 2006

On Churchill

Bainbridge points out that the investigation into Churchill's scholarship is complete. There's a little bit of everything, some plagiarism and some fabrication of evidence. The surprising thing is Bainbridge, while not agreeing with an iota of Churchill's work, is a little sympathetic to the plight:

I'm not fan of Ward Churchill, to put it mildly, but as an academic I'm troubled by this incident. On the one hand, academic misconduct is not to be tolerated. On the other hand, Churchill was singled out for an extensive investigation as a result of adverse publicity surrounding his role as a public intellectual. Apparently, there have been reports within his field of possible misconduct for years, which Colorado ignored until critics of Churchill's politics brought the charges to the attention of the mass media and the blogosphere. You will recall that Churchill wrote an essay in which he compared the victims of 9/11 to "little Eichmanns." After Colorado's regents were told the First Amendment barred them from punishing Churchill for that essay, they ordered the just completed investigation. Hence, the investigation was clearly political and retaliatory in its motivation.

Bainbridge goes just short of calling it a witchhunt. But in this case they found actual witches. I think Bainbridge is onto something with this argument. If someone is to make politically insane (not controversial in this case, just insane) arguments, are they to always be subject to such investigations? Will this lead to a great deal of self-censorship at public universities? For cases like Ward Churchill, maybe that's a good thing. But in a broader sense it's not a good precedent. But misconduct is misconduct. The more troubling thing, as Bainbridge is quick to point out, is that it took this kind of investigation to uncover such serious faults in someone whose work was actually taken seriously. And it's also right to point out that Cultural Studies as a discipline is, well, not very disciplined. People like Ward Churchill, in their efforts to write revisionist histories and challenge the very discipline of history, have basically thrown out the entire rule book of academic and scholarly rigor. So why punish just Ward Churchill? I'm sure if Colorado or any University went through their Cultural Studies faculty they would find the same kinds of misconduct. Perhaps ANY faculty. Everything about this shows that Churchill was singled out, and in a very vicious manner, for making ridiculous and insane analogies. If everyone is to be taken to task for that, we will have academic freedom in tatters, and University Professors running scared. It is good to hear from a libertarian/conservative like Bainbridge that this is of concern to him as well.