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Friday, February 04, 2005

Will Ward Churchill be Fired?

It might well happen. From today's Chronicle of Higher Education (sorry, reg. required):
As a first step toward possibly firing him, the University of Colorado will investigate the writings and speeches of a professor at its Boulder campus who has compared victims of the September 11 attacks to Nazis.

Here is a link to the original article that has Dr. Churchill in trouble.

Churchill teaches in "ethnic studies" which by its very nature is less a positive and more normative field of study. In other words, Dr. Churchill is not in the business of generating testable hypotheses and attempting to refute them with data from the real world. Dr. Churchill is only one of hundreds of "controversial" professors across the country who are controversial not because they hold ideas counter to the majority of the population but because they write and make statements about things that are almost always opinion.

I don't know about the publishing racket in these other fields, but if it is anything like economics, I bet a thesis such as "the 9/11 terrorists did an incorrigible thing by killing innocents" doesn't sell to the journals as well as the hypothesis that he ultimately went with.

If Dr. Churchill really believes what he wrote then I feel sympathy for him - living in this country must be a tremendous daily burden for him. On the other hand, if he writes controversial topics to stir debate and get noticed in a field where there is not a lot of positive analysis, well I guess he is successful.

My concern (and this is not new, of course) is that the state of Colorado Board of Regents, at the whim of public outcry, are taking it upon themselves to "investigate the writings and speeches" of a professor. I have also been disappointed with supposedly right-of-center radio hosts who have blamed teachers unions for Dr. Churchill's tenure and immunity (Gallagher), insisted that Churchill does not enjoy a freedom of speech protection because he works for a tax-supported institution (does this mean Congressmen don't have freedom of speech) (guest host on Savage), and that syllabi and material taught in the classroom needs to be vetted by some higher authority (Limbaugh).

College professors face a different market test than grade school and high school teachers. A union does not protect a professor from the reactions of the students. If a professor is a bad teacher, students will not attend his class and the dean will quickly recognize this. If the teacher cusses in class, or teaches Shakespeare instead of accounting, or if the teacher says things that are over the top, the students will react. Students will go to department heads, deans, university presidents, or the media, and the professor will bear the costs of his unwarranted behavior. These costs may not be fair, but they do exist.

Unlike high school or grade school, for the most part the classes we teach are voluntarily enrolled and attended. Students pay for the privelege of attending our classes, and in return a conscientious professor will provide reasonable service for their students - most importantly, by not intentionally lying. If Churchill didn't lie to his students, although he has some unfortunate views of his fellow countrymen, he should not be fired.

If things progress towards his termination, I am sure a petition supporting him will be proffered. At this point, I think I would be willing to sign. I don't see any grounds for him being fired, but I haven't read all of his course evaluations, writings, and speeches. If anyone has more information, pass it along to me and I will collate.

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