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January 29, 2005

Ward of the State U

By now, everyone knows about the University of Colorado's Ward Churchill and the atrocious screed he wrote after September 11, essentially accusing the entire country of being "little Eichmanns." Today, the Rocky Mountain News's Charlie Brennan wrote puff-piece intended to portray this, um, iconoclast, as a brave, lonely warrior, worthy of admiration and sympathy.

So, people are mad at Ward Churchill. What else is new?

For a man who has weathered anonymous death threats telephoned to his home, the latest turmoil is comparatively tame.


Churchill, chairman of the Ethnic Studies Department at the University of Colorado, is at the center of controversy - again. This time it's students at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., upset about his scheduled appearance there next week.

They are disturbed by an essay Churchill wrote in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks suggesting they were justified.

In an essay written the day after the attacks, Some People Push Back: On the Justice Of Roosting Chickens, he said America was merely reaping what it had sown through a long history of violent domination and assault upon indigenous people.


Among those spitting mad is Debra Burlingame of Westchester, N.Y., sister of a pilot who died on Sept. 11. She said the CU professor's remarks are "beyond the pale."

To find himself outside the mainstream is not a novel experience for Churchill; this is the same man who, in an interview last year, said "it may be that more 9/11s are necessary."

Notice how Churchill is "outside the mainstream," "weathered anonymous death threats," and "suggests" that American citizens deserve to have a little jet fuel with their morning coffee. Notice, too how his opponents are "spitting mad" and "disturbed." As though death threats were all that uncommon. Basketball coaches, reporters, even bloggers I know personally have received them.

Brennan also is curiously uninterested in Churchill's academic credentials. It turns out that Churchill has no PhD. According to Susan Kent, Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at Colorado, this is unusual, but not unprecedented. The "terminal degree," or the degree required for tenure, is determined by the academic organization that the professor's department is affiliated with. So, for instance, MESA determines if professors in Middle East Studies should be expected to have PhDs. In certain departments, such as Music, PhDs are not expected.

She was unsure of the specific requirements at the time that Churchill received his tenure (1997), for a professor in the Communications Department. However, the conversation did proceed as though an exception was made in his case. This was done because Mr. Churchill had an "exceptional" record of peer-reviews publication.

A search of the Academic Search Premier database reveals that since 1986, Mr, Churchill has published 25 academic articles. Only 3 of those were published before 1997, with 4 more occurring that year. This hardly seems like an astonishing output for a full professor, especially given that the majority are quite short, including a 2-page book review and a 2-page discussion in Progressive attacking the FBI.

Mr. Brennan was at the Greeley Presidential rally I attended, and had to be talked down by Mike Littwin from saying that the invocation called President Bush "appointed by God," and was way too eager to take my joke about the lead-in music (endlessly replayed) as being from Apollo 13as factual.

Apparently, some facts are more important than others.

UPDATE: According to today's Rocky, Churchill received tenure in 1991, at which point he had exactly two publications, one of which was the aforementioned hit-piece on the FBI.

He had also published a book. One of the requirements for tenure is, according to Ms. Kent, usually something like a book and substantial progress towards another book. And indeed, Mr. Churchill did indeed find something called "Common Courage Press" to publishe books in 1992, 1993, and 1994. Neither his first publisher, South End Press, nor his second look much like an academic press to me.

I should also add, in fairness to Ms. Kent, that she did not hold her current position in 1997, and is not in the Communications Department which Mr. Churchill was infesting at the time. She wasn't even at CU in 1991. Therefore, I didn't think it appropriate to ask her to defend the university's tenure grant.

Cross-Posted at Oh, That Liberal Media.

Posted by joshuasharf at January 29, 2005 07:34 PM | TrackBack

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