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The Collective
Sunday, February 27, 2005
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via Betsy Newmark, I found the following column by CU Professor of Law Paul Campos on the Churchill affair: Freedom unused is abused

One of the many ironies of this scandal that threatens to undermine academic freedom is that it couldn’t have happened if those who decided to hire, tenure and promote Churchill had taken advantage of academic freedom themselves.

The privileges created by tenure are supposed to insulate faculty from political pressures in general and censorship in particular. Yet those of us in the academy, if we were candid, would have to admit that few places are more riddled with the distorting effects of politics and censorship than university faculties.

There are, no doubt, pressures from peers and superiors (it was clearly the case here, given the Dean of Arts and Sciences fear of losing Churchill) that come to bear. Further, there are federal affirmative action guidelines in place that require paperwork when a minoritry candidate is turned down.

Campos continues:

The University of Colorado hired Churchill onto its faculty because he claimed to be an American Indian. Anyone who has the slightest familiarity with research universities can glance at his résumé and state this with something close to complete confidence.

This is undeniably the case. It is why my first post on Churchill was primarily about his credentials, and why Cal State Northridge, and at least two deparments at CU, didn’t want him. I teach at a primarily teaching-oriented university, rather than a Tier I research school like CU, and his lack of a terminal degree would’ve been a huge red flag for us which would have gotten him tossed from the stack of applicants. I have served on at least four search committee for three different departments during my time at Troy and in all four cases a doctorate (or someone who was an advanced ABD) was assumed to be a minimum requirement in all cases. We have faculty on campus with less than doctorates, but they are either older faculty from a bygone era, teach in a field in which a masters degree is terminal, or likely teach at the instructor level. There are a few exceptions for a variety of reasons (but we shan’t get into that). I do know that that idea of offering a tenured slot out of the gate to someone with a masters degree would be unheard of-ditto a Full Professorship.

It is clear that most significant lesson here is that sacrificing qualifications on the altar of diversity is a crime against the university, its students and, ultimately, to the cause of a diverse campus.

As Campos notes:

Churchill thus represents the reductio ad absurdum of the contemporary university’s willingness to subordinate all other values to affirmative action. When such a grotesque fraud - a white man pretending to be an Indian, an intellectual charlatan spewing polemical garbage festooned with phony footnotes, a shameless demagogue fabricating imaginary historical incidents to justify his pathological hatreds, an apparent plagiarist who steals and distorts the work of real scholars - manages to scam his way into a full professorship at what is still a serious research university, we know the practice of affirmative action has hit rock bottom. Or at least we can hope so.

As someone of generally liberal political inclinations, I support affirmative action in principle. (And I have surely benefited from it in practice: My parents came to this country from Mexico in the year of my birth, and I spoke no English when I started school.) In theory, the argument that aggressively seeking out persons of diverse backgrounds can enrich the intellectual life of the university has great force.

Affirmative action is based, in part, on the idea that it will help us understand the viewpoints of the conquered as well as those of the conqueror, of the weak as well as the strong, of those far from power as well as those who wield it.

Too often, these sentiments are abused by those who sacrifice intellectual integrity while engaging in the most extreme forms of preferential hiring. Ward Churchill’s career provides a lurid illustration of what can happen - indeed, of what we know will happen - when academic standards are prostituted in the name of increasing diversity.

Tenure and academic freedom are hard to defend if they don’t provide us who benefit from them with the minimal degree of courage necessary to say, when confronted by someone like Churchill, enough is enough.

While I have issues with formal affirmative action policies I am big believer in the idea that diversity should be encouraged in hiring, because it is good for the students to be exposed to a variety of points of view. Unlike some in the academy, I don’t see my job as one of indoctrination and therefore think it is a good thing for students to be exposed to a variety of ideas, personalities and approaches.

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Filed under: Academia | |

5 Comments

  1. Do We Need a National Collegiate Academic Association?
    The disturbing case of Ward Churchill has me asking a question I ought not ask, but somehow feel compelled. The NCAA has an arcane, complicated, often brainless set of rules regarding recruitment and pampering of college athletes. The rules require m…

    Trackback by Hennessy's View — Sunday, February 27, 2005 @ 2:49 pm

  2. Given the “reductio ad absurdum” nature of Mr. Churchill’s career, how long will it be until someone floats the theory that — because the situation is SO ludicrous — that KArl Rove must be behind it?

    If a pool is started, I would like to take Wednesday.

    Steven L.

    Comment by Steven L. — Sunday, February 27, 2005 @ 3:28 pm

  3. “Diversity hiring” has nothing to do with “points of view,” Steven.

    Comment by John Lemon — Sunday, February 27, 2005 @ 4:10 pm

  4. Point taken.

    Comment by Steven Taylor — Sunday, February 27, 2005 @ 4:12 pm

  5. In fact, one would guess that universities are the one place in the country least likely to engage in discrimination against minorities, given the ideological predilection of the faculty. Nonetheless, I still have colleagues who insist that universities are a hotbed of “institutional racism,” whatever that means (and the definition shifts quite a bit when you engage somebody on this).

    Instead, it is my guess that “diversity” hires at universities are meant to do three things:

    1) Make the faculty feel good about themselves — i.e., make them feel enlightened;

    2) Avoid lawsuits and “pay off” vocal constituencies;

    and

    3) Help solidify the ideological monopoly at many universities.

    The last point may not seem obvious, but when you consider that the way “diversity” hires tend to undertaken, they usually come in the form of some “[fill in the blank] critical studies” program or subfield. As you may know, anything that has “critical studies” in its title is likely to be steeped in left-wing ideology and the person you get is likely to be of that mind.

    Now this may be less likely in the natural sciences and engineering, but I have heard about hires that seek to get the “minority perspective” on engineering, which just boggles my mind.

    Comment by John Lemon — Sunday, February 27, 2005 @ 9:22 pm

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