Friday, March 25, 2005

Boulder may get it right after all 

I've argued here, strenuously, that pursuing the dismissal of Ward Churchill from CU for his 'little Eichmanns' dig was wrongheaded, and that instead we should pursue Churchill's academic record which has the accusation of fraud. It appears that the University of Colorado agrees.
Phil DiStefano, chancellor of CU's Boulder campus, said Thursday that he has determined allegations of plagiarism and fraud in Churchill's writings were serious enough to be referred to a standing university committee that investigates research misconduct. That committee also will determine if Churchill's disputed claim to be an American Indian is a violation of academic standards.

"We have concluded that the allegations of research misconduct related to plagiarism, misuse of other's work and fabrication have sufficient merit to warrant further inquiry," said DiStefano. "The standing committee also will be asked to inquire into whether Professor Churchill committed research misconduct by misrepresenting himself as an American Indian to gain credibility and authority for his work."

DiStefano said the review by the Standing Committee on Research Misconduct could take up to seven months to complete. If its findings are upheld, they would then be referred to the university's Committee on Privilege and Tenure.

...The chancellor said Churchill's comments about 9/11 were protected by the First Amendment. But he made it clear that the allegations of academic fraud could be enough to end Churchill's career at CU.

"Research misconduct is one of the most serious allegations against a faculty member," said DiStefano.

...[the report] pointed to a series of allegations against the professor:

� John LaVelle, a University of New Mexico professor, has alleged that Churchill has misrepresented an important statute in federal Indian law, the General Allotment Act of 1887. LaVelle claims Churchill intentionally distorted the act, falsely portraying it as a "formal eugenics code" that established blood standards for tribal membership. He says Churchill continued to make this a keystone of his research, even after being challenged on the facts. LaVelle also claims Churchill lifted a passage from a 1992 essay by scholar Rebecca Robbins for an essay he wrote in 1993.

� A Lamar University professor, Thomas Brown, has alleged that Churchill promulgated a false story that the Army deliberately distributed smallpox-infested blankets to Mandan Indians in 1837, causing the deaths of 100,000 people.

� Professor Fay G. Cohen, of Dalhousie University in Canada, has accused Churchill of plagiarizing her work in an essay that appeared in the book The State of Native America. Cohen also has accused Churchill of threatening her in a late-night telephone call.

The full report is here, and a copy of the letter Chancellor DiSteffano sent to concerned citizens is up at American Kestrel. (Begrudging linkage to RMA non-supporters.)

So Joshua writes to ask me what it all means. There are many possible violations here -- the report has more -- and a serious academic even accused of this stuff would be unlikely to have his or her academic career survive. The problem is that Churchill does not care and can drag this out for two more years, hoping either that the pressure will die down and the report can be buried, or that he gets a buyout.

But it will be impossible to dodge an inquiry like this, particularly if the Legislature keeps the pressure on to see it through. In the end there will be a report, and the report will show whether these claims against Churchill are valid. A single incident might go his way, but to find against all of them and completely exonerate Churchill simply seems unlikely, even to those most inclined to believe conspiracy theories. When the report is released, Churchill may still have his job, but what remains of his reputation as an academic will be destroyed.

It will release some pressure -- see Governor Owens statement in the RMN article -- though not all. But Churchill, already a martyr, now gets to become an academic eunuch. Nobody will hire him for an academic post again. He will always have a microphone somewhere, but the DiSteffano report will do for Churchill's speaking fees what a Congressional hearing did for Mark McGwire's.

UPDATE: John Hinderaker seems to have come around to the same view.