University of Colorado at Boulder

Ward Churchill: Persecution of the "Favorite Professor"

Revolution #006, June 19, 2005, posted at

Asked this spring to nominate their favorite professor, students at the University of Colorado at Boulder overwhelmingly picked Ward Churchill. Yes. This is the professor who's been widely attacked and vilified in recent months for an essay he wrote in the wake of 9/11, whose head has been called for by the governors of two states, whose life has been threatened, and who may lose his tenured position at the university as a result of an ongoing investigation on trumped-up charges.

The university alumni association, which sponsors the Teaching Recognition Award, promptly announced that they would withhold the award from Churchill. Given annually for 44 years, this is the first time anyone has heard of the award's being withheld from the person who won it.

Meanwhile...... One reason the university could not summarily fire Churchill from his teaching position was that he had been granted tenure—a formal status designed to protect professors from being fired for their research, writing, and speech. In other words, the purpose of academic tenure is precisely to protect the position of thinkers and researchers who come under political attack, as Churchill has been and continues to be.

But for those out to get Churchill and anyone else who dares to critique the U.S. role in the world, the tenure process poses an obstacle. The question was repeatedly raised in the media witch-hunt surrounding this case: How did Ward Churchill get tenure? And what about the whole tenure process? So in due course, the university Board of Regents created a special committee to review the entire tenure process at the university. It was reported that the committee's mission was to investigate whether the process is "tough enough."

Now who could be expected to head such a committee? Someone from within the university? Don't be ridiculous! Maybe a businessman? Well, the Denver economic development director is on the committee, but even someone from the dog-eat-dog world of business might still not be "tough enough." Well, then — a military man!

In fact, the choice to head the tenure review committee is Howell M. Estes III, former commander in chief of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and former commander of the Air Force Space Command, both headquartered in Cheyenne Mountain Air Station near Colorado Springs. These are the nerve centers of a worldwide air and space monitoring and warning system, coordinating a global array of satellites, radars and sensors.

At the same time, the Rocky Mountain News, an area paper with a conservative bent, has just published the results of its own "investigation" of charges raised against Churchill. In a major five-part series, the Rocky Mountain News finds him guilty (surprise!) on all counts. Even complaints that the university had said should not be investigated are made part of this inquisition.

Let's look at the picture painted by these developments. How does the university respond to the fact that the position, reputation, and even life of a professor are endangered for something he wrote? It bows to pressure and investigates the professor. The students have named him as their favorite teacher. Then it must be forbidden to give the award to this professor. The professor can't simply be thrown out since he has tenure. Then the whole tenure process must be brought under question.

Still not "tough" enough? Well, then—let's have the tenure-review committee headed by a retired Air Force general, a man whose job was "to enforce control of the skies over the United States and Canada" (as NORAD's web site boasts). Meanwhile, a conservative newspaper blasts out with an "investigation" of its own indicting the professor. Is the whole picture clear enough?

A columnist for the same Rocky Mountain News raised some sharp questions about this extensive campaign against Churchill, which now pretends to be only about his work and credentials as a scholar. The real story, wrote the columnist, is about "academic freedom and the limits of dissent," and about "those who wanted him fired long before anyone looked at his scholarship." Yes—it's about those things, and more.

Churchill is still under sharp attack, and the battle over his position in the university is ongoing. Churchill's case is a concentration point of an aggressive and concerted effort which overall aims to purge higher education of its radical and oppositional thinkers, to create a climate of intimidation and "watch what you say" in colleges and universities, and to create institutions of indoctrination pure and simple, where official pieties and "truths" will be inculcated.

Can this vision of the future be allowed to prevail?