Posts tagged ‘ward churchill’

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.

These Are Trained Professionals: Don't Try This In Your Own Home

Three Duke professors, two of whom were members of the infamous group of 88 who advocated a presumption of guilt for the lacrosse players in the Duke non-rape case, have written their own self-serving version of history in an "academic" magazine.  The funniest part is where they claim that only trained experts like themselves are qualified to discuss any subject once the race card has been played:

"the most extreme marginalization was reserved for the faculty
whose professional expertise made them most competent to engage the
discourses on race and gender unleashed by the inaugurating incident
"” scholars of African American and women's studies. Instead, administrators,
like the bloggers themselves, operated under the assumption that
everyone was an expert on matters of race and gender, while actually existing academic expertise was recast as either bias or a commitment to preconceived notions about the legal case.
Some
faculty thus found themselves in the unenviable position of being the
targets of public discourse (and disparaged for their expertise on race
and gender) without being legitimate participants in it."

Beyond the hilarity of such a claim on its face, how does such a self-serving discussion meet the editorial standards of any academic publication?  For though they claim to have "professional expertise,"  all they really accomplish is to reinforce my impression that the social sciences in general, and racial/gender studies departments in particular, have the lowest academic standards of any group on modern campuses.  KC Johnson goes on to sample some of the outright mistakes, outrageous (and unproven) claims, and general lack of sourcing and footnoting that would likely have gotten them laughed out of most any university department with actual standards.  As I wrote about the Ward Churchill affair:

And, in fact, in the rush to build ethnic studies programs, a lot of
people of very dubious qualifications were given tenure, often based
more on ethnic credibility and political activism than any academic
qualifications.  Hell, 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.  And universities like UC
patted themselves on their politically correct backs for these hirings.

I could go out tomorrow and find twenty tenured professors of
ethnic/racial/gender studies in state universities whose academic
credentials are at least as bad as Churchill's and whom no one would dare fire.  This has nothing to do with Churchill's academic work or its quality.  UC is getting exactly what it expected when it tenured him.

I Don't Think He Understands

The Colorado faculty is going apeshit because the state has proposed making Bruce Benson, a Colorado oilman-Republican, who *gasp* only has a paltry BA degree, head of the University of Colorado system.  To a large extent, folks are going nuts largely because he has different politics than 97% of the faculty and because he has actually done something productive in his life.  However, not being able to say this out loud  (we're a government body so we are not supposed to have political tests, wink wink) his lack of an advanced degree has become the centerpiece of the opposition.

State House Majority Leader Alice Madden, a Democrat and CU law school
graduate, declared that Benson would be "the least educated president
ever considered in modern history."

Apparently, his academic record does not live up to University of Colorado standards, which has gleefully employed academic titans like Ward Churchill.  (By the way, isn't it interesting that these folks respect a couple of years at the age of 23 getting a masters in petroleum engineering more than 50 years of demonstrated excellence actually practicing petroleum engineering.)

But here is my advice to Mr. Benson:  Don't take the job.  Mr. Benson, in the private sector, you were probably used to having employees who didn't like you or think you were the best person for your job.  However, you knew that they could either be persuaded by demonstrated performance over time, or else you at least knew that people would work for your goals despite their dislike for you, since they knew that their success lay in the success of the organization as a whole.

University faculty do not behave this way.  They have a completely different set of incentives.  With a job for life, and knowing that no matter how bad the university gets, it will still get state support, they have absolutely no incentive to pull together for the good of the institution or, even less likely, for the well-being of the student body.  There are many exceptions to this; in fact, the exceptions may number more than 50% of the faculty.  But these exceptions do not drive faculty behavior.  Those that drive faculty behavior are the ones that are out for either self-aggrandizement or the promotions of symbols over performance or both. 

There once was a dean at Princeton University I liked and respected named Neil Rudenstine (actually he was Provost when I was there, but who the hell knows what a Provost is?).   Rudenstine was named President of Harvard, and was a good fundraiser (like Benson) and was very hands-off in his management style (as Benson promises to be).  Neil was a good man, but he was broken by the Harvard faculty, driven to what probably was literally a mental breakdown.  And then there was Larry Somers.  He was a very different type of man than Rudenstine -- tougher, more politically experienced.  But he too was broken by the Harvard faculty in an attempt to move that institution perhaps 1% of the way towards where you probably want to move Colorado. 

Don't do it. 

Tautology (and Thoughts on Ward Churchill)

Todd Zywicki notes that Congress "has been on a binge diet of junk social science."  Is there another kind of social science?  Particularly in the media, I really think the main influence of social science has been to substantially lower the bar for scientific inquiry and skepticism thereof.

Update: On a related note, these really low academic standards in the social "sciences" are the reason I think firing Ward Churchill is bogus, as I wrote here.  Academic standards for things like ethnic or gender studies are incredibly low, particularly for the "research" done in these departments.  As I pointed out before, Cal State Long Beach, for example, hired a paranoid schizophrenic who had served prison time for beating and torturing two women as the head of their Black Studies department.  It is almost impossible to imagine Ward Churchill fired for violating the academic standards of his discipline because his discipline tends to have none, and everyone knows it.  The University of Colorado fully knew what it was getting with Ward Churchill, but they hired him to check a politically correct racial/gender/ethnic box.  Everything UC supposedly fired him for were known to them or should have been known to them with the most minimal of due diligence when they tenured the guy.  Nothing has changed, except that he is no longer a PR asset for the university.  As I wrote previously:

I could go out tomorrow and find twenty tenured professors of
ethnic/racial/gender studies in state universities whose academic
credentials are at least as bad as Churchill's and whom no one would dare fire.  This has nothing to do with Churchill's academic work or its quality.  UC is getting exactly
what it expected when it tenured him.  This is about an attempt to fire
a tenured professor for the content of his speech, speech that has
embarrassed and put pressure on the university, and I can't support
that.

Even More:  Background from KC Johnson:

Churchill was hired through a "special opportunity" position, designed
by the university to help "recruit and hire a more diverse faculty." He
had an M.A. from little-known Sangamon State University and no Ph.D at
all. As documents from the time noted, his qualifications included only two items: strong lobbying from Evelyn Hu-DeHart,
the chair of the Ethnic Studies program, and the now-disputed fact that
"Ward is a Native American," meaning his hire would contribute "to
increasing the cultural diversity on campus."...

How, then, could his fellow academics have originally found Churchill's
scholarship acceptable? The outcome, alas, suggests that in politicized
fields such as African-American Studies, Women's Studies, and Ethnic
Studies, the message too often trumps quality. In this case, it appears
that Churchill's extremist arguments that the U.S. government engaged
in genocide against Native Americans blinded his academic reviewers to
the poor quality of his scholarship. Indeed, some Churchill
sympathizers, led by Cornell professor Eric Cheyfitz,
have continued to maintain that the former professor's writings
constitute appropriate scholarship for the field of Ethnic Studies.

I contend that Churchill was and is still exactly what UC thought he was, and his scholarship was and still does exactly conform to the (miserably low) standards of his discipline.

A Thought on Ward Churchill

I suppose this is going to be one of those nutty libertarian rants that help explain why libertarians do so poorly at the polls, but I am not really very comfortable with Ward Churchill's potential firing from University of Colorado.  I can't think of very many things Mr. Churchill has said that I agree with, but I still have this crazy idea about defending speech regardless of the content of the speech.

And it is hard for me to escape the sense that Mr. Churchill may lose his tenured position at a state-run institution over the content of his speech.  Yeah, I know, its nominally about his academic credentials.  But don't you think everyone is winking at each other about this?  Yes, Mr. Churchill is an academic fraud, but he was a fraud when UC hired him and tenured him as well, and they should have known it.

Over a couple of decades, every major university in the country rushed to build, practically from scratch, racial and ethnic and gender studies programs and departments.  Had every university raced at the same time to build any discipline, talent would run short and in the hiring race, some under-qualified people would be hired.  Let's suppose that every university decided at the same time they needed a climate department, there just would not be enough qualified climate scientists to fill out every position.  The rush to build ethnic studies programs was similar but in fact a bit worse.  Because while some people actually do have climate-related degrees, no one until recently had an ethnic studies degree.  What professional qualifications should a school look for?  And, in fact, in the rush to build ethnic studies programs, a lot of people of very dubious qualifications were given tenure, often based more on ethnic credibility and political activism than any academic qualifications.  Hell, 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.  And universities like UC patted themselves on their politically correct backs for these hirings.

I could go out tomorrow and find twenty tenured professors of ethnic/racial/gender studies in state universities whose academic credentials are at least as bad as Churchill's and whom no one would dare fire.  This has nothing to do with Churchill's academic work or its quality.  UC is getting exactly what it expected when it tenured him.  This is about an attempt to fire a tenured professor for the content of his speech, speech that has embarrassed and put pressure on the university, and I can't support that.

A Bit More on Academia

I have tried to resist the temptation to blog much on the whole Ward Churchill situation.  In part this is because it has been kicked around so thoroughly in other venues, and in part because I just knew I would get emails purposefully misunderstanding my point.  I have instead tried to focus some positive attention on emerging examples of scholarship where none existed before.  That said, I would like to try to add my own postscript on the whole Churchill fiasco.

First, while he has made some truly egregious statements that point to his moral bankruptcy,such as those he made about the 9/11 attacks and victims, I don't think that UC has grounds to fire him for these comments, at least based on the accepted rules and purpose of tenure.  One of the reasons for tenure is to give academics the freedom to pursue scholarship in any direction, without threat of political retribution.

However, Churchill should be fired for his complete lack of quality scholarship or principled academic research.  Churchill, through his poor scholarship, plagiarism, and outright fabrications have helped to set back historic studies about Native Americans and their tragic interaction with Western Civilization.  Churchill has become the poster boy for one of the leading problems in academia today, that is the ability of certain individuals to substitute vocal leftist politics and minority status for intellectual rigor and true scholarship in getting tenure at major universities.   A non-protected group white male of moderate politics with the same body of academic work as Churchill couldn't get a job teaching at any self-respecting university, but put the same work under the banner of radical leftist native American, and suddenly he has tenure at the University of Colorado.

Anyway, Victor David Hanson has a great piece in NRO summarizing why Ward Churchill represents what is wrong in academia today.