Ward Churchill’s Lies, UH’s Shame

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - May 31, 2006
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Every time we visit my wife’s family in Boulder, Colo. - home to Colorado University - I find the coverage in the local newspaper, The Daily Camera, especially interesting. This past week, for example, there was the official recommendation: Instead of exterminating the city’s huge and pesky prairie dog population, just physically and more humanely relocate it to an adjoining county (indeed, we witnessed one wily little critter barely escape a busy intersection). Only in Boulder!

But the story I found most compelling was about C.U. ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill, the man who characterized the victims in the 9-11 World Trade Center towers as “little Eichmanns,” Adolf Eichmann being one of Hitler’s notable henchmen in the extermination of Jews. Recall that Churchill - a darling of the Left - was hosted by a fawning Ethnic Studies Department at the University of Hawaii to lecture on campus last year. His final Manoa appearance was rather climactic when he stomped out of a press conference in a snit, unwilling to answer a journalist’s question about his claim to be of Native American heritage himself. It turned out he had lied about his blood heritage, but that he had been made an “honorary” Native American by a chief in Illinois. It would now appear he obtained his professorship in the university’s Native American Studies Department under false pretenses.

As it turned out, this was only one of many discrepancies in Churchill’s personal resume, his research and his writing. The Camera article quoted from the findings of a five-member investigative panel convened by the Colorado university president: “Ethnic Studies - a relatively new field - could be harmed by the plagiarized passages and made up facts discovered in University of Colorado Professor Ward Churchill’s work. The stinging report also found that the tenured professor had “strayed from the bedrock principles of scholarship” and that his “patterns of academic misconduct” were even more serious for their damaging effect on his colleagues at C.U. and those who study Native American issues.

The paper quotes Vernon Bellecourt, a senior leader of the Minneapolis-based American Indian Movement: “There is, of course, evidence that Native Americans were mistreated, but Churchill’s exaggeration of the facts does irreparable harm to the cause and discredits the scholarly work of others (who may have drawn from his ‘research’ ).”

Larry Estrada, president of the National Association for Ethnic Studies, agreed with the C.U. panels rejection of Churchill’s argument that there are different standards for how evidence is interpreted in ethnic studies because it is not a hard science. His position is that ethnic studies is “advocacy.” That implies that if someone wants something to be true badly enough, objectivity is secondary.

In this regard, Tom Brown, a sociology professor at Lamar University in Texas, raised this allegation as an example: “The professor fabricated details in his claim the U.S. Army deliberately spread a smallpox epidemic among an Indian tribe in 1837. (He) has the ability to write things that are emotionally appealing to people of certain political bents, and they cite him” - whether it’s true or not.

CU’s ethnic studies chairman said the university administration has yet to decide on a punishment for Churchill, which could range from a warning to termination. The latter has been urged by countless e-mails from CU alumnae who are fed up with Churchill’s arrogance.

Keep in mind, this is the same “celebrity” professor so warmly embraced by the Manoa campus only a year or so ago. Let’s hope that here in our own university’s Ethnic Studies Department there will not be “people of certain political bents” who - in the spirit of Ward Churchill - will let their “advocacy” trump the truth.

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