The Other Charlotte and I have blogged aplenty about Ward “Little Eichmanns” Churchill, the University of Colorado-Boulder professor who compared the victims of the 9/11 massacre to Nazis. (Click here, here, and here for our posts.) Churchill has now resigned his position as chairman of Boulder’s ethnic studies department, a panel featuring him at New York’s Hamilton College has been canceled (after much dithering), and the trustees at Boulder are considering whether to fire him from his position as a tenured professor there.
Now, the New Criterion’s Roger Kimball weighs in with a thoughtful blog-post on why, much as we might feel like giving Churchill the heave-ho from his tax-funded $96,000-a-year professorial slot at Boulder, firing him for what he wrote is not the right thing to do. Kimball draws a careful distinction between free speech, which protects the right to nonviolent dissent, and academic freedom, which protects the right to teach and pursue research unfettered–as long as one does not turn one’s classroom into a pulpit for political propaganda. Thus, as Kimball reasons, Churchill had a right as a citizen to say whatever he wanted about 9/11, even the repulsive things he did say, but there’s no evidence–at least yet–that analogizing the victims to Hitler’s henchmen is part of Churchill’s course curricula. Kimball writes:
“In my view, there are plenty of reasons that the University of Colorado might wish to dismiss Churchill from his tenured position….But I also believe that Ward Churchill is a red herring, a distraction from the real issue, or rather issues.”
The real culprit, Kimball maintains, is the Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society and Culture, a left-leaning, quasi-indepement institute at Hamilton that dipped into ts rich endowment to invite Churchill to speak there (it’s the same outfit that earlier invited Susan Rosenberg, a convicted Weather Underground-affiliated terrorist who was serving a 58-year prison sentence before Bill Clinton pardoned her in 2001, to teach memoir-writing to Hamilton undergrads). The Kirkland Project does not pretend to conduct distinterested scholarly research; its self-described mission is, rather, to supply a patina of intellectual respectability to what it calls “social justice movements.” As Kimball writes:
“The Kirkland Project is one of hundreds, maybe thousands, of institutions on college campuses bent on radicalizing American society by betraying the intellectual and moral standards whose general observance they depend upon for their very existence.”
I agree. Along with Voltaire, I’d defend to the death any citizen’s right (and that includes college teachers and students) to make any sort of obnoxious political statement he or she wishes–largely because the shoe could easily slip to the other foot. As a sometime college teacher myself, I don’t want to get canned just for belonging to someone’s idea of a vast right-wing conspiracy when I’m not on the job. But I don’t bring politics into my classroom. As long as there’s no evidence that Churchill turned his teaching into a teach-in, let him call the innocents who died on 9/11, from the toddlers in n the airplanes to the dead stockbrokers, secretaries, cafeteria workers, and firefighters “little Eichmanns” if he chooses. On his own time.
The real question I have is why the University of Colorado-Boulder hired and gave tenure to Churchill in the first place. The guy doesn’t have a Ph.D., which is usually a prerequisite for a tenure-track job at a prestigious state institution like Boulder. Nor does he appear to have the formal training in history, anthropology, or linguistics that might qualify someone to teach ethnic studies. His B.A. and M.A. are both in communications–and he got both degrees from Sangamon State University in Illinois, one of those grade-free, do-your-own-thing “alternative” colleges were all the rage during the 1970s (the state of Illinois finally shut the whole thing down 10 years ago and folded Sangamon into the regular state university system).
Churchhill’s entire academic output seems to consist of screeds, usually published by small, left-leaning presses, about the genocide and other injustices visited upon the Indians, of whom Churchill claims to be one. That leads to another problem with his resume: the American Indian Movement and others who have investigated the situtaion say that Churchill, despite his cultivation of long Sitting Bull locks and a tribal ‘tude, is not an Indian at all, and that his closest ties to the Cherokee tribe with which he claims affiliation are his alleged 1/16th(!) Indian blood and the relatives of his late wife, who are indeed Native Americans. Here’s what the online Indian-affairs news site Indian Country has to say:
“At various times, according to press reports, Churchill has described himself as Cherokee, Keetoowah Cherokee, Muskogee, Creek and most recently Meti. In a note in the online magazine Socialism and Democracy he wrote, ‘Although I’m best known by my colonial name, Ward Churchill, the name I prefer is Kenis, an Ojibwe name bestowed by my wife’s uncle.’ In biographical blurbs, he is identified as an enrolled member of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees. But a senior member of the band with access to tribal enrollment records told Indian Country Today that Churchill is not listed. George Mauldin, tribal clerk in Tahlequah, Okla., told the Rocky Mountain News, ‘He’s not in the data base at all.’
“According to Jodi Rave, a well-known Native journalist and member of the Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara Three Affiliated Tribes, Churchill was enrolled as an ‘associate member’ of the Keetoowah by a former chairman who was later impeached. The one other known member of the same program, since discontinued, was President Bill Clinton. Rave said that she made this discovery as a student in a journalism class at the University of Colorado. She was also in a class taught by Churchill. When her article came out, she said, he dropped her grade from an A to a C minus.”
The Indians are rightly ticked off. Mohawk construction workers helped build the World Trade Center towers, and several were working in the flight path of the crashing planes on 9/11; they risked their lives to join the rescue teams.
Churchill seems to be a poseur in other ways as well. Here’s a photo of him in his Che Guevara phase, with automatic weapon in hand (and I thought leftists were for gun control!). Last week Churchill filed a complaint with the Boulder police (what? collaborating with the pigs?) alleging that some right-wing enemy had painted a schwastika on his pickup truck. I don’t understand why he went to the cops: Why didn’t he just grab his AK-47 and blow the vandals away? (And here’s a photo of Churchill at his comfy, taxpayer-funded home [click to enlarge]–nice pad, Prof. Anti-Corporate Amerika! And those politically incorrect cigarettes on the coffee table–nice touch!)
If “Little Eichmanns” turns into Churchill’s Little Big Horn, and he loses his professorial job for fraudulently claiming Native American blood, I’ve got a proposal for his successor: me. I’m at least 1/16th Indian, via maternal relatives from Mexico and South America, and I can prove it. (I’m a bit of a paleface, thanks to my Scottish paternal grandpa, but I’ve got those high cheekbones.) With my degrees in classics and medieval literature, I’m as qualified to head the ethnic studies department as Churchill, and gosh–love those Rocky Mountains!