Roasted Chickens Roosting
Mike Littwin at the Rocky Mountain News argues that in case anyone thinks the Ward Churchill saga has ended, in fact it has only just begun. Churchill plans to sue CU for firing him, arguing that his dismissal on grounds of academic misconduct were simply a pretext for firing him for his political views. Rocky Mountain News summarizes Churchill's suit:
In his suit, Ward Churchill claims he has been hounded by the media and politicians since January 2005, when his controversial essay about the 9/11 attacks was widely circulated. In response to the "outcry," CU pored over his published works in search of "some excuse for terminating his employment." That process violates his rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. CU should pay his legal bills.
As matters stand, Churchill is still entitled to a pension and separation pay. But that would be slim pickings for a man used to rock-star status and national attention.
Former CU professor Ward Churchill will get a state pension of about $70,000 if he chooses to take his retirement benefits. ... Under CU rules, Churchill also is entitled to one year’s salary as severance pay.
Littwin argues that Churchill's lawyers will argue that 'Everything happening here is in retaliation for his First Amendment protected speech. I don't have to prove it as the main reason. I just have to prove that it was a motivating factor.' They will maintain that politics is the real reason why Churchill was dismissed. There is of course, his academic misconduct. And while I disagree with Littwin's belief that the misconduct will be viewed only as a pretext -- Churchill's violations are so large and glaring -- that it's a wonder he could style himself a "professor" at all, Littwin is probably right in asserting it wasn't academic fraud that drove CU into ditching Churchill. It was politics. The kind that wants to cover up how such creatures could get into academia in the first place. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni recently wrote a report which asked, "How Many Ward Churchills?" The answer? Too many. And it asserts that Ward Churchill, rather than being an isolated instance of a rogue academic, is actually representative of a large number of faculty members in colleges and universities today. The report said:
But to understand Churchill as a one-of-a-kind phenomenon is to miss the lesson that he has to teach us about higher education today. Recruited into a tenured position with only a master’s degree in communication, Churchill has followed an exceptional path to academic prominence; even so, he is not at all unusual, and as an example of academe’s increasingly unapologetic ideological tilt, he is far from alone. In recent years, studies of faculty across America have shown that diverse and competing academic viewpoints are largely absent. And a student survey commissioned by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni in 2004 found that nearly half of college students at America’s top colleges feel their professors use their classes to preach politics rather than teach, while fully a quarter believe they must parrot their professors’ views in order to get a good grade.
By ridding themselves of this Jonah, academia might stand a chance of picking up where they left off. But they never reckoned with Wardo. Good old Wardo. Churchill's lawsuit against CU, fueled by his unlimited egocentrism, will not only threaten CU with large financial losses but keep the light shining where many would rather it not.
Maybe the chickens do come home to roost.