Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Denver Post reports that three of the members of the committee to examine his work have either signed petitions saying that he shouldn't be fired for his writings about 9/11 or have spoken up in his defense. They say that they can be objective and I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they can separate the question of his speech from his academic work. I tend to agree that a tenured professor shouldn't be fired for objectionable speech. Where do you draw the line and do conservatives, who are in the minority on campuses, really want to set that precedent?

However, what is amazing is what law professor Richard Collins said,
Collins, reacting to questions about the likelihood of firing Churchill, said it would be tough to demonstrate that Churchill's work is so inaccurate that he is an unfit professor.

Nauenberg said Churchill's Sept. 11 essay was obnoxious but that he shouldn't be forced out because of it. "If he had just been a little more thoughtful, nothing would have happened," Nauenberg told The New York Times.

Collins recently told the CU faculty newspaper that the university would have to prove that Churchill was unfit for his job. For comparison, Collins said it would take evidence comparable to the hypothetical case of a math professor who repeatedly declared two plus two equals five.

"It's tough to sack him," Collins said.


Churchill is accused of plagiarism and of falsely characterizing primary sources to accuse the U.S. army of deliberately committing genocide by spreading smallpox among the Mandan Indians in the 1830s. This scholar, Thomas Brown, does a thorough accusation showing how Churchill, in his academic work, totally mischaracterized the research he was supposedly basing his research on. Read the accusation and see if you think that Churchill presented honest research. Here is the conclusion.
Situating Churchill’s rendition of the epidemic in a broader historiographical analysis, one must reluctantly conclude that Churchill fabricated the most crucial details of his genocide story. Churchill radically misrepresented the sources he cites in support of his genocide charges, sources which say essentially the opposite of what Churchill attributes to them.

It is a distressing conclusion. One wants to think the best of fellow scholars. The scholarly enterprise depends on mutual trust. When one scholar violates that trust, it damages the legitimacy of the entire academy. Churchill has fabricated a genocide that never happened. It is difficult to conceive of a social scientist committing a more egregious violation.
Verbs like "mischaracterize" and "misrepresent" are kindnesses. Deliberate "lie" might be more accurate.

Professor Collins seems to think that incompetence such as not knowing elementary facts of addition is the only reason to dismiss a tenured professor. That's a pretty high bar. Now, does Professor Collins believe that a professor at his university is fit for his job if the professor lies in his research? That is an egregious violation of the responsibility a scholar has. How can a university keep on a professor once it has been revealed that he lied in his research? How can students be held to a high standard in their research if the university, by not firing Churchill, gives an imprimatur of approval to dishonest research? This is what got Michael Bellesiles in hot water at Emory. Eventually Bellesiles had the grace to resign before he was fired. I don't sense that Churchill would behave similarly. They'll have to get Churchill out with a crowbar and a stick of dynamite. But, judging by Professor Collins' disregard of Churchill's academic malfeasance, this committee doesn't seem up to the task.