Apparently there’s some controversy about University of Colorado Professor Ward Churchill speaking at a college in New York because he wrote an essay back in 2001 calling the September 11 victims in the World Trade Center “little Eichmanns,” among other insults.
Good. The only reason it didn’t happen earlier is because folks were a bit too shocked at the time to notice one more in a series of ignorant essays, but it looks like, paraphrasing what Mr. Churchill says, that the chickens do come home to roost.
I’m a big supporter of free speech, which means I’m also a big supporter of folks being able to complain about what you say. I mean, after all, wouldn’t one figure approbation might be in order if I were to say that it would have been much better if Ward Churchill had been personally attacked by the 9/11 “combat teams” he mentions, due to his tacit approval of the American system that comes from living here and profiting from it without rising up in armed revolution? (Churchill might be Cherokee, another heritage that deserves payback against their oppressors, but it doesn’t look from his description like he’s really going outside the system, there. Legal defense? Head of Ethnic Studies? Not exactly what he advocated we all do in his essay.)
But, I wouldn’t say that seriously. I know next to nothing about Ward Churchill. Kind of like he knew next to nothing about the victims at the WTC. Would it be right to say his death was justified because of his American collaborator status and all of the bad things America has done to the rest of the world? Of course not, no more than Iraqi children deserve to die to expiate our historical sins.
Churchill’s essay probably doesn’t deserve all of the attention. Aside from the controversial aspects, it really isn’t very good, which Churchill sort-of addresses in an equally bad addendum. (He apparently was disturbed he wasn’t able to mention the “ghosts” of American victims throughout time.)
Churchill’s continued academic employment, department chairmanship, and speaking engagements do deserve the attention. In his essay, he’s taken advantage of the worst interpretation of academic freedom — irresponsibility and academic laziness — and as a result should have his competence and desirability as a teacher of students and speaker to the masses called into question. Academic freedom ideally promotes the free interchange of ideas, and hopefully controversial speaking appearances would promote just that. However, if you read the essay, you’ll note there isn’t much room for discussion, just assertion. Churchill has not written an essay to provoke debate.
Churchill’s wife says he has a really big heart. I hope that is the case. He might wish to consider widening what it encompasses a bit.
Update: Mr. Churchill’s speaking engagement has been called off due to threats of violence. Specifically, at least one caller threatened to “bring a gun” to campus if he spoke. Always interesting how folks can take something bad and rapidly do worse things in response. Yep, threatening to kill someone. Way to trump everyone else in sheer evilness. Since when did doing something even worse become the acceptable response to anything you don’t like? (While I would think, say, 9/11 survivors might feel that angry about Churchill’s speech, apparently the larger part of the threats came after Bill O’Reilly publicized the college’s phone number on his show. Nothing angrier than a couch potato watching Fox News, apparently.)
Update, redux: Looks like Mr. Churchill has resigned his position as head of the Ethnic Studies department at Colorado.
Update, redux, again: A compendium of Colorado Governor Bill Owens’ letter to the College Republicans at CU (because the College Republicans were the most important people to write to, apparently?), Mr. Churchill’s statement from yesterday about his essay, and the infamous essay itself.
And again: The Chronicle of Higher Education carries a good synopsis of the controversy.