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NLG DU chapter hosts Ward Churchill

National Lawyers Guild
DENVER- Ward Churchill will speak Tues, Oct 7, 12-1pm at DU’s Sturm College of Law, Room 180, on THE MYTH OF ACADEMIC FREEDOM, sponsored by the National Lawyers Guild. Detractors are already raising a stir. They’re not scholars, what stake do they have in repudiating Churchill’s work?

If they are simply cheerleading the Eichmann-remark backlash which led to Churchill’s dismissal, the charges of plagiarism seem to have already been debunked. Churchill’s colleagues have weighed in with their testimony, and leading academics have likewise spoken against the actions taken against him.

Nevertheless, the National Lawyers Guild got some flak for sponsoring this lecture. Here’s a note circulated to its members:

Dear NLG:
I am dismayed that you are sponsoring a talk by Ward Churchill. I do not regard him as a fit spokesperson for the progressive movement. While his firing was undoubtedly motivated by the opprobrium engendered by his outrageous and ill-considered comparison of the people in the World Trade Center to Adolf Eichmann, the grounds cited by the University of Colorado for his firing are plagiarism, a serious breach of academic ethics. Churchill is a fourth-rate thinker, he should not have been granted a doctoral degree in the first place, and he should not now be able to peddle his mediocre cant on the lecture circuit — why are you enabling him to do so, and why do imagine that he is qualified to address the issue of academic freedom in general? It is clear that his comments were not made pursuant to his work as an academic, so whether his firing was justified or not, his case is hardly exemplary of the infringement of academic freedom. I do not plan to attend.

I’ll withhold the idiot’s name. But let’s look into what the email author did not, before opening his trap to parrot the usual disinfo talking points. From Tom Mayer, Department of Sociology, University of Colorado at Boulder:

The research misconduct charges against Ward Churchill are of two general kinds: charges of faulty research and charges of plagiarism. The faulty research accusations have been largely discredited through the efforts of professors Eric Cheyfitz, Michael Yellow Bird, David Stannard, Huanani-Kay Trask, James Craven, Ruth Hsu, and others. These independent scholars, all of whom are intimately familiar with Native American history and culture, have shown that the Report of the Investigative Committee (henceforth called Report) finding Churchill guilty of research misconduct contains numerous errors of omission and commission. The Report improperly converts legitimate scholarly controversies into indictments of the positions taken by Professor Churchill.

Procedural fairness in modern jurisprudence requires that accusation, formal charging, decisions about evidence, and imposition of penalties should be clearly separated. This has not happened in the case of Ward Churchill. The CU administration, usually in the person of Provost Philip DiStefano, has functioned as Churchill’s accuser, grand jury, tribunal selector, and sentencing judge. This concatenation of roles makes it easy for political motivations to penetrate the process of adjudication. While a charade of academic due process has been maintained, the treatment of Ward Churchill strongly resembles a political lynching. The plagiarism charges against Professor Churchill are superannuated, unproven, substantively inconsequential, and either wrongheaded or misdirected. His reputation as a scholar has suffered egregiously and unjustifiably as a consequence.

A number of academic luminaries published this May 2007 advert in the NYT Review of Books: An Open Letter Calling on the University of Colorado to Reverse its Recommendation to Dismiss Professor Ward Churchill. An excerpt:

The relentless pursuit of and punitive approach of the University of Colorado at Boulder to Professor Ward Churchill is a revealing instance of the ethos that is currently threatening academic freedom. The voice of the university and intellectual community needs to be heard strongly and unequivocally in defense of dissent and critical thinking. And one concrete expression of such a resolve is to oppose the recommended dismiss Ward Churchill from his position as a senior tenured faculty member.

Without nurturing critical thought, learning tends toward the sterile and fails to challenge inquiring minds. For this reason alone, it is crucial that we who belong to the academic community join together to protect those who are the targets of repressive tactics, whether or not we agree with the ideas or expressive metaphors relied upon by a particular individual.

Signed by:
Derrick Bell, Visiting Professor of Law, New York Univ. School of Law
Noam Chomsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Juan Cole, University of Michigan
Drucilla Cornell, Rutgers University
Richard Delgado, University Distinguished Professor of Law, and Derrick Bell Fellow, University of Pittsburgh
Richard Falk, Milbank Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University; Visiting Distinguished Professor (since 2002), Global Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
Irene Gendzier, Boston University
Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies; Director – Middle East Institute, Columbia University
Mahmood Mamdani, Herbert Lehman Professor of Government and Anthropology, Columbia University
Immanuel Wallerstein, Senior Research Scholar, Department of Sociology, Yale University
Howard Zinn, professor emeritus, Boston University

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