Generous Assessment

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The flamboyant professor Ward Churchill, who taught at the University of Colorado at Boulder until he was fired in 2007, was the victor on April 2 in his wrongful termination suit. But the jury, after deliberating a day and a half, awarded him just one dollar.

Although he was notorious for an essay calling the victims of 9/11 “little Eichmanns,” Churchill had been terminated for plagiarism, fabrication, and similar academic misconduct. During the trial, the evidence of shoddy and fraudulent research was powerful, but the jury apparently concluded that his political views were a factor in his dismissal; without those views, he would not have been fired. Thus, legal precedents for protection under academic freedom prevailed.

I don’t criticize this Solomonic decision – granting him a win but holding back compensation. It will be a shame, though, if he gets back his job as ethnic studies professor (for which, it appears, he was poorly qualified in the first place).

The jury probably did what it had to do. But the trial showcases a dysfunctional higher education system. Churchill came to public attention only because he was invited to speak at a small college in New York state, Hamilton. Some faculty there objected to the invitation because of Churchill’s leftist and anti-American views (which, until then, hadn’t attracted much notice). They publicized his writings, including the “Little Eichmanns” essay, creating a firestorm of outrage, especially in Colorado, and forcing the university to examine his record. The discovery of plagiarism was the result.

A professor copies the work of others, makes up information, and fails to meet accepted academic standards. And nobody notices? How many other tenured faculty are getting away with such conduct because our universities are looking the other way?

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