Wednesday, February 02, 2005

In Defense of Ward Churchill

The governor of Colorado has nodded approval of Ward Churchill's resignation as chairman of the Ethnic Studies Department at the University of Colorado. Now he wants Churchill to resign his position on the faculty too.

My response to a post over at Big Tent:

I hope and expect Ward Churchill will have the guts to stay. We live in a world where millions of people find his perspective makes perfect common sense. Most of those people, though, cannot explain their reasons for holding that view. Ward Churchill can. What? Are we too frail a society to stand the weight of that kind of criticism? And that "freedom for the thought we hate" stuff they fed us in American Government class. What? Was that bullshit?

The governor of Colorado is a politician and he pretty much had to issue such a press release. But there's a difference between doing that as a sop to public opinion and doing it because you're gunning for Churchill's job. Taking his job will chill voices of dissent at a time in our history when we badly need them, because they force those on the other side to think through their own views and policy prescriptions more carefully.

When you bear in mind the fact that Churchill's view is that of many people in Pentagon New Map's Non-Integrating Gap--for the American Indians are still in some measure within the Gap--you get a better sense of the problems that would attend efforts to use military force to shrink the Gap.

Liking Churchill or his views has got nothing to do with it. A free society--especially a free society as massively powerful as ours--needs the Ward Churchills.


Anonymous said...

There is a difference between allowing Mr. Churchill to express his views and paying him with public funds to express his views. We certainly would not approve of David Duke being paid by a public university to spout his Nazi drivel, and neither should public funds be used to subsidize Mr. Churchill's bizarre views. Also, there seem to be significant questions regarding his receiving tenure. Published reports are that he has only an MA, and that, despite statements to the contrary by a school spokesman, his record of scholarly publishing is extremely weak.

Mark G. said...

Get serious. If you're going to make a point, try to sustain it.

Number 1: Why should a public university a place where free exchange in the marketplace of ideas is inapplicable?

Number 2: You assert but do not demonstrate an equivalence between the views of Churchill and Duke. Would this be a moral equivalence; an intellectual equivalence, what?

Number 3: Scholars in whiteness studies do in fact study the views of neo-Nazis, skinheads, etc.; Churchill's views are considered a significant part of the literature on postcolonialism. In other words, both POVs are considered worthy of some form of engagement.

Number 4: If you're going to raise the issue of tenure and of having an acceptable profile for tenure, that is a gate-keeping function that we as professional historians get to make, so even if Churchill's profile were "weak"--he is in fact more influential and more heavily published than most full professors--that's a question for the faculty of the University of Colorado, not the governor.

Thanks for playing. Next time, grab your crotch and see if you have the balls to post using your name.

Anonymous said...

What's with the macho posturing?

You might wish to note that those without a Blogger account are given no options when leaving comments on your blog besides anonymous posting.

Mark G. said...

You're absolutely right, and I apologize--both for the tone and for not recognizing that you (or another anonymous commenter) did not have the option of using your name.

It's no excuse, but I think I got so irked because there's a bill pending in the Ohio statehouse that in theory would limit the freedom of speech of professors and instructors at state-supported universities. (I'll post some details about it if I can find time.) So parts of the previous comment just struck a nerve. But my response was uncivil and again, I apologize.

Buddy Larsen said...

Mark, Churchill could make the same point without the pointed baiting. Social critics in the thousands do so daily. This guy is nasty, demonizing murder victims for the publicity, and then screaming about oppressive societies making his point for him. He's playing you, Mark. Put your foot on this sort of stuff, forget being fair to those who ask you to oppress others for their sake. That's a mockery of 'fair' anyway.

Mark G. said...

Hi Buddy, the baiting, as you call it--and not inaccurately--is pretty usual stuff among postcolonialists. (See esp. the entry entitled Disappointment and Rejection and the two that follow--Gut Reactions and Is That a Gun in Your Hand or Are You Just Happy to Civilize Me?)

Civility can be overrated. Recall the words of William Lloyd Garrison, the famed abolitionist: "I have need to be all on fire, for I have mountains of ice about me to melt." Churchill is as full of attitude as he is because he figures nothing less will draw any response at all.

As for Churchill "playing me," I can't imagine that he gives a lusty crap about me. I'm a military historian; from his POV, one of Pharoah's court story-tellers. He wouldn't cross the street to spit the milk of my little pet kitten.

No: I defend Churchill because there's one thing I won't stand for, and that's people getting muzzled for the things they say. Especially professors. As my late colleague Jim Kittelson, a distinguished historian of the Reformation, used to remind us, the term professor has its origins in the medieval clergy. It means someone who believes something, who professes something. Churchill believes and professes. He's doing his job, which like the gadfly Socrates, involves pissing people off.

One last point. Churchill is himself is a Keetoowah Band Cherokee. Part of what this nation has done to his people is to crate up their dead and put them in museums for study. Only in recent years--since 1990--has the U.S. government shown any willingnes to return those dead and permit them the burial any human being deserves. These dead include for example the dead defenders of the Cheyenne and Arapaho encampment at Sand Creek. Imagine if we had gone to Vietnam to retrieve our war dead, only to find the Vietnamese had put them in a museum in Hanoi. We'd have the ass something fierce, and I don't think we'd find a tactful way to discuss it.

PatrickM. said...

Would you invite Ward Churchill to speak at Ohio State?

Buddy Larsen said...

Mark, I'm a sixteenth Cherokee myself, and have never felt that any extra rights were attached. I appreciate your very good 'all fire' defense but I still wonder if burning the burnt rates the moral state you bestow. Civility can be overrated but is the corrective an utter renunciation? Doesn't that over-rate the overration? But the main reason I write back is to point out that you can't advocate free speech for one party and deny it for the other. Mr. Churchill is free to say whatever he likes, and so are his critics, and so are his employers. Lastly, if going off the rhetorical deep-end is as you say the only way the man can make his point, then maybe the problem is with his point. Well, many thanks for, reading.

Anonymous said...

Well, I also don't have a blog, so I guess I get to post anonymously also. But I am Jaron for those who want to know. The thing with Ward Churchill that bothers me is that holding the views he does (I heard audiotape of him on NPR equating the the NYC civilian victims of 9/11 to Eichman's bureacrats running the trains that killed the Jews in WW2), and getting tenure speaks of a larger imbalance in the academy. First, he does have the absolute right to free speech as a private citizen and certainly as an author. By all means, let him dissent all day long. Whether his dissent and comparison of the 9/11 victims to the Nazis should be propogated at taxpayers expense is another question that Colorado will have to figure out.

I personally would hesitant to hire such a guy. I guess Colorado sees it differently, which is their option. If I did hire him as an academic, I would in all fairness have to do an "intellectual affirmative action" hire to balance it by bringing on someone who is just as far to the right as Churchill is to the left. And I just don't see any real chance for a David Horowitz or a Daniel Pipes (to name a few examples of equally outspoken conservative academics) ever getting tenure in today's academic climate. But my sense is that while Churchill's views are quite welcome in much of academia, views equivalent to his on the right are not. That partially explains why a great many conservatives (in terms of outspoken conservative social activism, as their counterparts on the left do with alacrity) academics are not actually in universities but outside the proverbial ivory tower.

I think that may be what anyonymous was trying to say earlier. Not that I have done much better to articulate it. Ah well.

Take care, I really enjoy your blog

Anonymous said...

Note to people commenting anonymously: The blogger system sucks, but it doesn't stop you from signing off with your name and a link to a homepage or email address. Lots of people do it.


Anonymous said...

Hi all:

This is Mark G. I see I somehow hit clicked on the "Anonymous" comment button. Oops.

Many thanks for the reponses. To Pat: yes, I'd invite Churchill to OSU and in fact I'm considering that very thing. I've still got some remaining grant money and his perspective would be directly relevant. To Buddy: I concur, being a minority confers no personal virtue. If being marginalized made people better human beings, it would be a good argument to continue the practice of marginalization. But being in a minority can sharpen your grasp of the inequities in a society. We tend to notice more when our own ox is being gored, and the analysis that flows from such observations can be useful.

BTW, I do have other posts on this subject,if you'd like to comment on those. And again, I appreciate your feedback.

airraid81 said...

First off, change the color of your text. It is so hard to read on that backdrop. Secondly Churchill is an anti-American shithead. Some crazy terrorists knock down a building and Churchill says that it's the fault of the people working inside inocently. He must belong to Al-Quada. He obviously doesn't give a shit about the inocent Americans killed for no reason on 9/11. Colorada tax payers shouldn't have to finance a bitch like him, especially since most of them, as no rational person would, agree with him and think he should continue turning his students against America.
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