Alex Blaze

Absence of conservative passion for free speech

Filed By Alex Blaze | July 30, 2007 8:25 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: ACLU, David Horowitz, employment discrimination, free speech, The Fire, University of Colorado, Ward Churchill

When I read Serena's news item several weeks ago about how Ward Churchill had been fired from his tenured position at University of Colorado, I thought, well, this would be a perfect way for those "academic freedom" organizations to show that they're more than just Republican push groups on campus and stand up for a professor who had been fired over his unpopular opinions.

Well, as always, I'm an unflappable optimist.

For those of you who haven't been following this story, Ward Churchill was a professor at University of Colorado who wrote an essay shortly after the 9/11 attacks entitled "Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens", which compared some of the people who died in those attacks to Adolf Eichmann, a high-ranking member of the Nazi regime who helped to organize infrastructure for the Holocaust. The long and short of Churchill's argument was that the powerful finance and business people in the World Trade Center that day were working to keep third-world countries poor by creating an infrastructure that resulted in so many deaths from malnourishment, etc., that those people were the moral equivalent of Nazis.

Needless to say, this wasn't a popular opinion.

But no one really noticed until the summer of 2005, when many conservatives, like David Horowitz, finally decided that they were offended by the comparison. So they made a furor over it that resulted in the governor of Colorado calling for Churchill to be fired. Of course, you can't fire someone for expressing their political views off the job, especially when they have tenure, so the president of UC announced that he would investigate everything Churchill had published and look for grounds for dismissal.

Anyone familiar with employment discrimination knows the way that employers who have a passing knowledge of the law look for alternative reasons for a discriminatory firing to provide cover for their actions. Six research violations were found in that investigation, three were found to be false charges, and only one of five members of the panel in charge of tenure at UC thought that those charges were serious enough for termination. But the board decided to terminate anyway.

So this is a pretty clear-cut case of someone being fired for his political views, right? Isn't that exactly what people like David Horowitz are around for? You might remember that guy from his endless quest to end supposed hiring bias at universities in favor of liberal professors. I've always thought, sure, professors are more likely to be liberal than conservative, but that's more because they're intelligent and educated, not because of any sort of bias. Considering how anyone who defends the current administration has to lie to prove her or his point, you can see why universities don't have many pro-Bush profs.

So since he's so in favor of academic freedom, and he's always saying that he isn't just trying to push a conservative agenda on college campuses, David should be front and center in making it look like he's at least trying to be fair and balanced here. But conservative mouthpiece OneNewsNow reports on Horowitz:

"They said that he plagiarized, that he had invented historical data. He had appropriated other people's work without attribution. He had lied about his Indian status in getting the job," says a disgusted Horowitz.

He's falling back on UC's excuse to fire Churchill, of course, but he's familiar enough with the case to know what actually went down. If he weren't so transparent before, this would prove that he isn't all about the academic freedom and just about making sure that campuses don't become welcoming to racial and sexual minorities.

Of course, he might just be too busy with fake violations of academic free speech to worry about real ones.

So what about The Fire? I've blogged about this organization before that goes around and sues schools that have codes against hate speech and sexual harassment in order to make sure that campuses are as white, male, and straight as they can be promote free expression.

On Churchill, they say that they were against the initial investigation because he had a Constitutional right to free speech, but:

Churchill was not immune to such scrutiny. FIRE wrote that Churchill freely injected himself into the public square, and that if “information that … legitimately places his job in jeopardy” came to light, “then that is simply the hazard of voluntarily participating in the marketplace of ideas.”

Forget the fact that nearly all the people actually involved in the nitty-gritty of research decided that none of his violations were worthy of termination, the Fire has its cover and its sticking to it. But as I said several months ago when I tried to get them to comment on the possible expulsion of two Notre Dame students for setting up a peaceful and religious remembrance for a gay soldier, they could at least call themselves a conservative advocacy group instead of a free speech advocacy group for honesty's sake. But perhaps they're too busy fighting diversity training to worry about a professor being fired for his politics.

Churchill has vowed to sue, and he might receive help from the ACLU, an organization that is actually committed to free expression, from NAMBLA's website to Fred Phelps protesting (military) funerals (no one cared when he was just protesting AIDS victims' funerals), from Nazis marching in a Jewish neighborhood to an American Indian professor comparing financiers to Nazis. He probably has a case considering some of the public statements made by the president of the University of Colorado.

But that's not the point, or at least for me it isn't. What really makes me mad is when people in a position of privilege use a principle, like free speech or equality under the law or innocent until proven guilty, but then when someone who isn't in a position of privilege seeks the protection of that principle, those very same people turn their backs on that someone. But the only way to fight it is to remember that the next time The Fire or Horowitz or any of these charlatans play on our sense of fairness to tolerate an abhorrent idea in the name of free speech is to remember that they're just playing on fair-minded people's goodwill and could never do the same for others.

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Lynn David | July 31, 2007 3:18 AM

From what I can remember of Churchill's case, when I read up on it almost a year ago, American Indians have been after him to get him fired for some time now, for either false reporting or plagarism. So the other?

beergoggles | July 31, 2007 10:16 AM

Shameful really, and I'm talking about you trying to rationalize his firing for plagiarism and fabrication despite what lead to those reasons being unearthed.

I guess for your impartial next installment you'll be talking about how Holsinger's lies about gays aren't that big of a deal since its in his past and you're in favor of academic freedom even if it means making stuff up.

BG~ I'm doing the opposite of "trying to rationalize his firing", in fact. I checked out the report you linked, and it says pretty much what the ACLU said it says - Churchill was found guilty of some misconduct, but the committee did not recommend termination. Rather, it recommended various degrees of suspension for charges of not citing authors names properly, etc. That kinda proves the point that the Board of Regents used its discretion to fire him against the recommendation of the majority of the Panel, and with its public statements that it was out to get Churchill, it's kinda hard not to see a correlation there.

Your Holsinger analogy doesn't really hold up. I wouldn't have even known who the dude was if it weren't for the fact that he was nominated to be surgeon general. But he was, and a more paralallel, but not completely analogous, situation would be if Churchill were nominated to Secretary of Defense or police chief of NYC, where he'd be in a position of power that contradicted his previous statements.

But your Holsinger analogy does prove my larger point: that conservatives with little regard for the facts can get ahead but people who oppose empire will be retaliated against to a much greater degree. Holsinger went on after that report to have many high-ranking jobs in the medical field; Churchill was terminated and will probably not be offered another professorship. Holsinger is being nominated for Surgeon General; no one is nominating Churchill for a government position. Holsinger had a chance to defend his views to the Senate; Churchill can't even get in the door, doesn't even have a reason to get in the door.

Holsinger's blatant disregard for scholarship was ignored as he took on higher and higher academic positions, while Churchill's statements were scrutinized by the media and led to termination for other, trumped up charges. If the Holsinger case doesn't prove that those in power will ignore/reward conservative lies, then I don't know what does.

beergoggles | July 31, 2007 2:41 PM

I used to work in cardiology research at one of the top 3 research institutions in the country and a simple non-citation would be enough for a warning, a repeat or any minor fabrication would have gotten me terminated. I don't see how such standards should differ when it comes to other aspects of academia. Tenured professors should be held to a high standard, and the pdf was pretty clear about his misconduct. The fact that the board deemed it unnecessary to terminate him is an indication of the lax attitudes of that institution and I am glad that the regents decided to terminate him - it might have been a witch hunt, but the end result is something I agree with.

In the case of Holsinger, I've actually written to the AMA asking them why Holsinger hasn't had his medical license revoked for his lies only to receive a response that his lies don't measure upto the level of misconduct necessary for such action. If the AMA were to strip his license, we wouldn't have to deal with his surgeon general nomination. Apparently we didn't pressure the AMA enough on the issue.

Hypocrites. There are hypocrites in power that pick and choose what doctrine to subscribe to depending on which best fits the current desired mold. Much like I envision the Dick Cheney outside his home ('conservative homophobic Republican') versus the Dick Cheney inside the hise home ('loving father') How do we as a nation continue to let things like this happen? I can't stand it! You don't get to not practice what you preach and you better make sure you preach inclusiveness and equality.