February 05, 2005

Obviously, the question of whether Prof. Ward Churchill should be fired due to his vicious, hateful writings about the 9/11 dead concerns academic freedom, not necessarily the First Amendment or freedom of speech. He's not being threatened with jail for his remarks, nor is the government attempting to bar him from exercising his right to vocalize his opinion. A college professor should be granted more leeway in being allowed to say what he wants without having to worry about the axe falling whenever he makes a politically incorrect statement.

But, really, I can't believe that a university should be powerless to act just because a professor has tenure. Putting aside the allegation that Churchill lied about his ethnic background (he claims to be part-Indian, an assertion that has been debunked by the tribe he claims membership in), it's hard to see why a state university, funded by the taxpayers, should have no recourse when one of their employees goes off the deep end. If a tenured professor in geology were to begin teaching his students that the earth was flat, or a paleontology professor were to advocate creationism in the classroom, or a history professor decides that his students should learn about how the Elders of Zion are plotting to eat Christian babies, the schools that are paying them clearly are not getting what they bargained for when they granted tenure in the first place.

The regents at Boulder should examine why Churchill is being paid a salary to teach at their university in the first place (it's certainly not because he has overwhelming qualifications; considering the thousands of PhD recipients who can't land teaching jobs in this country, the fact that Churchill never went beyond a Masters degree is especially grating), and act accordingly. Celebrating the slaughter of other human beings no more belongs in a school than a teacher advocating the rape of women, or the extermination of gays. That is not a matter of free speech, or of defending leftist politics: it is a matter of decency.

But rather than firing the professor, Colorado should set appropriate guidelines as to what it considers acceptable classroom conduct. The university should demand that Churchill apologize for his three-year old statements, and thereafter vigorously regulate the courses he teaches. If he refuses, he should be introduced to the rigorous virtues of the private sector. If they are unwilling to do that, the university might as well announce that it fully backs Prof. Churchill, and that his views about how the janitors and secretaries in the Twin Towers are "little Eichmanns" are shared by the college, and are consistent with what it regards as its educational mission. Poisoning the minds of students should never be considered part of "academic freedom". [link via Marc Cooper]

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