Falling Short of Standards in a Profession with No Standards

Ward Churchill's civil suit to be reinstated to his teaching post is apparently in court.  Churchill is arguing that the nominal reasons for his termination (mostly shoddy academic work) were not alone enough to have normally justified his termination, and that he was in fact fired for his remarks about 9/11.  This is an important distinction, because tenured professors can generally not be fired for exercise of first amendment rights, no matter how wacky their statements.

In a post that spawned a number of angry emails, I actually said I thought Churchill was fired improperly.  There is plenty of evidence that the Native American studies department at Colorado, and gender/racial studies departments in general, have never enforced any sort of academic rigor, and it is hypocritical to suddenly discover such rigor for this case.  Churchill has been rewarded and promoted historically for much of the same work he is nominally getting fired for now.  Further, examples are legion of heads of various elite university racial and gender studies departments who exercise the same or less academic rigor as Churchill but whom no one is criticizing.   As I mention in my earlier post, Cal State Long Beach hired a paranoid schizophrenic who had served prison time for beating and torturing two women as the head of their Black Studies department.

Frankly, Colorado is getting exactly what they hired.  They weren't looking for a research mastermind.  They were looking for a politically correct hire to fill a void and create a department that made them look nice and progressive on paper.  And that is exactly what they got.

Update: Here is a good example of the academic standards in many racial and gender studies departments, where political activism substitutes for scholarship.  Churchill, by being slack on his research work and publishing but making high-profile and incendiary statements in public, was merely following the template of many such department heads.

  • http://anopenmindedrepublican.blogspot.com/ jon

    I don't know that I agree with you here.
    Plagarism and using his own ghost-written work as a source seem like they ought to be enough all by themselves. Maybe what I got from the article is wrong?

    And if you do something extravagant to draw attention to yourself when you have stuff like that in your past, who's responsible for the consequences?

    That what you did to draw attention to yourself was protected speech really doesn't change any of that.

    Personal freedom means personal responsibility, or as I like to say, stupid should hurt.

  • mexican american

    I think it comes down to just how shoddy his work was.

    If his work simply failed basic rigor, then he should not be fired because--as Mr. Meyer argues--it is not he who has sub-standard work, but the university that has sub-standard expectations; thus he has not failed to meet any of his obigations.

    But if, as alleged, he plagiarized and lied about his credentials, then I have no problem with him being fired even if the ultimate reason is his remarks on 9/11. Breaking the law while the authorities look the other way is a privilege, not a right; and hypocritical though it may be to be made an example out of when s*** hits the fan, its perfectly legal.

  • http://blog.jackalopepursuivant.com/ Dan

    If shoddy academic work was the problem, then the axe should have fallen on the publishers and editors who gave his work the imprimatur of legitimacy.

    But I think plagiarism should be a capital offense in academia, punishable by termination and public ostracism. Likewise, lying on your resume should be grounds for termination in any job, no matter how far down the line.

  • Mesa Econoguy

    A) There is plenty of evidence that the Native American studies department at Colorado, and gender/racial studies departments in general, have never enforced any sort of academic rigor, and it is hypocritical to suddenly discover such rigor for this case.

    Completely agreed.

    B) Which is exactly why you cannot separate this person's overall stupidity from the action itself (Churchill's little "essay"); they are part & parcel of a feeble mind, which deserves to be fired.

  • markm

    Since he apparently isn't even partly American Indian, as he claimed in his resume, even as a "politically correct" hire he didn't meet standards. His resume was fraudulent, and that's always sufficient cause for firing. The only relation to his remarks about 9/11 was that he thus drew the attention that caused others, not his employer, to check his credentials

  • http://herdgadfly.blogspot.com/ gadfly

    Ward Churchill must believe that he has a jury box full of leftist radicals. According to the summary of his testimony in the WSJ:

    Mr. Churchill, for his part, remains unrepentant. On the stand this week, he repeated his position that the attack on the World Trade Center was "perfectly predictable," saying: "When you bring your skills to bear for profit, you are the moral equivalent of Adolf Eichmann." And he refused to acknowledge that the objections to his scholarship had merit, explaining that history written by white men is full of lies and that he is simply trying to correct for that historical imbalance. The "technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire," dead in the World Trade Center, were legitimate targets, Mr. Churchill insisted, while he is an innocent victim. Perhaps, instead, it was simply that Mr. Churchill's own chickens finally came home to roost.

  • Spiro

    Coyote,

    As a former academic (now a capitalist pig small business owner) I have to agree with you.
    The Ward Churchill situation is not an exception in the current American academia. In fact, spend some time on any state-funded university in this country and you will quickly find DOZENS of faculty with even thinner resumes and weaker intellects. (hint: if you don't believe me just stroll around in the "social sciences").
    The only reason that this story is getting so much attention is because most average people with real jobs have NO IDEA how far into the ridiculous these departments have traveled in the last 30 years. I think it all started with the acceptance of "post-modern" philosophy as legitimate, but I have no doubt that the dominance of only one political philosophy on college campuses has contributed also.

  • http://blog.jim.com James A. Donald

    Jon:

    Plagarism and using his own ghost-written work as a source seem like they ought to be enough all by themselves. Maybe what I got from the article is wrong?

    The article you read is incomplete - it left out the fact that he from time to time threatened to kill people, and was recorded doing so on a telephone call.

    Plagiarism, ghost writing, and death threats. These days, those are have ceased to be merely standard procedure and become pretty good academic qualifications, therefore no basis for losing tenure. Clearly he should win his case. How many academics do you think can write without hiring someone else to commit their brilliant thoughts to electrons? Reading, writing, and rithmetic is for lesser people.

  • Brandybuck

    He wasn't fired for shoddy work, we was fired for plagarism and lying on his resume. Even in the most touchy feely of leftist institutions that's frowned upon.

  • Yosemite Sam

    With Bill Ayers effectively de facto Secretary of Education, rather than rotting in the cell he so richly deserves, I don't think anything should surprise us.

  • http://thewhitedsepulchre.blogspot.com/ The Whited Sepulchre

    Jon and Mesa,
    I think you're misunderstanding Mr. Coyote's position on this. Churchill was hired for reasons having little or nothing to do with teaching ability or upholding academic standards. Therefore, it is unjust for the university to fire him when his political attitudes remain unchanged.

  • Gringo

    As others have pointed out, Ward Churchill is but a drop in the ocean of fraudulent politically correct B@#$#$T-spewing academics. Churchill is correct that he had been getting away with shoddy work for decades, and that it was only his post 9/11 commentary that brought examination to his work. Perhaps in addition to firing him, Colorado should fire those who had previously considered his work to be up to academic standards.

  • Bob Sykes

    Some years ago, I read an estimate that around 30% of science and engineering faculty had engaged at one time or another in academic fraud, mostly plagiarism and falsification of experimental data. The problem is supposedly most serious (>30%) in medical research, which is hardly reassuring for those of us approaching geezerdom. From my personal experience in civil engineering departments, I would say the CE rate falls somewhat below 30%, but it is at least 10%. Mathematics is largely immune from fraudulent results, but plagiarism is still a problem.

  • dearieme

    @Bob: do look at "Chance and Chaos" by
    David Ruelle to see his eye-opening complaints about the decline in moral standards in the study of Chaos when physicists entered what had been largely a mathematicians' field.

    I am reminded of it every time I contemplate the moral standards in "Climate Science".

  • TDK

    Churchill was hired for reasons having little or nothing to do with teaching ability or upholding academic standards. Therefore, it is unjust for the university to fire him when his political attitudes remain unchanged.

    I'm not picking up on your comment except in that it is a good summary of coyote.

    The universities claim to maintain good academic standards. You and I both know they looked the other way deliberately when it was in their interest to do so. If Ward Churchill had done quality academic work and made his 9-11 comments I doubt he would be being fired. However he gained a certain notoriety after those remarks and that combined with his academic failings was too embarrassing. They need to get rid of him to be able to maintain that others really do have the academic rigour.

    That said we all want universities to be better. To do that we have to raise those academic standards and unfortunately that's a long journey that starts with a single step.