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John P. Calvert, Published April 20 2013

Letter: A lesson in phony studies

Ward Churchill is best known as the University of Colorado professor who wrote an essay comparing the 2,700 victims of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center towers to Nazi bureaucrats (little Eichmanns) who deserved their fate. In the ensuing furor, Churchill was disinvited from the college speaking circuit and later fired in 2007 by the university. He then sued, claiming that UC had caved to local pressure and violated his First Amendment right of free speech. UC replied that it dismissed him because a subsequent investigation turned up a history of plagiarism and falsified research. The contentious point was that UC investigated Churchill’s background only after his off-campus remarks had gotten the university into hot water and threatened, among other things, its state funding and private donations.

In April of 2009, a jury agreed with Churchill, sort of, and awarded him damages of $1. Later, the Colorado Supreme Court refused to order his reinstatement at UC and just recently, the U.S. Supreme Court ended it all by refusing to hear his appeal.

Obscure journals

Colorado first hired Churchill in 1991 to teach ethnic studies, a pseudo-field designed less to educate students than to assure selected groups that they are indeed victims of Western civilization and that the best therapy for them is chauvinism. He arrived with only a master’s degree from a state college and a few publications in obscure journals. The most compelling item on his resume was his claim of Indian heritage, which he fortified with a costume of shoulder-length hair, a headband and sunglasses. He also cultivated a warrior image by claiming a history as a sniper, paratrooper and point man on patrols in Vietnam; there is a widely circulated photo of him wearing a leather jacket and cradling an assault rifle in a pose reminiscent of Che.

Once in place, UC gave Churchill a career that most Ivy League Ph.D.’s could only dream about. Hired as an associate professor, he was tenured after just one year and then acquired, in short order, a full professorship, a six-figure salary and pop stardom with a radical following. So (as Churchill would later argue) if the university really cared about academic integrity, why hadn’t it vetted him before lavishing all these perks? They even took his word that he was a Native American, which turned out to be bogus, as did his military career, which was in fact spent as a film projectionist.

Silly Putty world

According to its website, the mission of UC’s Ethnic Studies Department is to move students “beyond existing social, cultural and political paradigms to more inclusive paradigms in which they are the subjects of their own reality.” And indeed, reality is exactly the issue in contemporary education. If the current “paradigm” of Western civilization – with its “privileged” notions like reason, science and truth – is horribly oppressive, then these “studies” programs open up a more agreeable alternative reality in which truth and falsehood are whatever you choose them to be.

In this Silly Putty world, plagiarism is meaningless and the writings and teachings of confidence men are as valid as those of the most prestigious scholars. So, believing that Churchill would suffice as a reasonable facsimile of a Native American, UC ignored his academic background as excess baggage.

The ‘church’

That’s because at UC and in ethnic studies programs everywhere, what matters is that teachers must faithfully mirror their students. The church of multiculturalism says that black students can only relate to black teachers, Hispanics to Hispanic teachers, Native Americans to Native American teachers, and so on. No authority outside the pertinent victim group can be authentic; there is no transcendent intellectual tradition to command respect, no common moral and social order to be shared; there are just … ethnic compartments. So, in the name of inclusion, students get segregation. And this is one of higher education’s proudest achievements.

Mercifully, the drama of a shameless self-promoter who became America’s most famous professor is finally over. The multicultural madness that created him, however, is still in place.

Calvert, Fargo, is a retired college educator and occasional contributor to The Forum’s commentary pages. Email Johnpcalvert@aol.com