[News] Ward Churchill Update

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Mon Jun 6 08:40:27 EDT 2005


From: Natsu Saito [mailto:natsu.saito at gmail.com]
Sent: Saturday, June 04, 2005 12:40 PM
Subject: Ward Churchill Update


Dear friends and colleagues,

       My apologies for not keeping you updated on a more regular basis
regarding the ongoing efforts to discredit and/or fire Ward Churchill.
Although the national media coverage has abated, the local media continues
to attack Ward relentlessly and much of our energy has been absorbed into
the current phase of the University's "investigation."
There are a number of recent developments:

Status of the "Investigation":

As you know, in response to the political pressure brought on the University
in late January, Interim Chancellor Philip DiStefano formed an ad hoc
committee to examine Ward's "every word," to see if he had crossed some
mythical boundary of free speech.  In late March the ad hoc committee
concluded the obvious - that what Ward had written or said publicly was all
constitutionally protected _expression.

In the meantime, however, it was open season in the media, where all manner
of allegations have been thrown about.  At first we attempted to respond to
them, but soon realized that (a) Ward's responses were not being reported
accurately, if at all, and (b) as soon as one round of spurious allegations
was rebutted, another took its place.  It is an endless game, pursued by
forces with apparently endless resources.

Not surprisingly, the University felt it had to take some action against
Ward in retaliation for his political positions, regardless of the First
Amendment and principles of academic freedom.  The Interim Chancellor's
committee thus declared it had an "obligation" to investigate the
allegations which had emerged and referred several of these to the
University's Standing Committee on Research Misconduct (SCRM).  The SCRM is
currently reviewing charges of "academic and ethnic fraud" (discussed in
more detail below) and is scheduled to make its initial report by June 23.
The SCRM can decide to send any of these allegations to the Privilege and
Tenure Committee for further investigation and possible punitive action,
including dismissal.

Ward has continued to teach, finishing not only the spring semester but
teaching a condensed "Maymester" course as well.  He won a 2005 teaching
award, voted on by students, but its sponsor (the alumni
association) is withholding the award "pending the outcome of the
investigation," despite the fact  that the allegations have nothing to do
with teaching.

Illegitimacy of the SCRM's Current Investigation:

On its face, the continuation of this investigation in any form is
unconstitutional, arising as it does from the University's blatant attempt
to suppress Ward's constitutionally protected speech.  The pretextual nature
of the inquiry is further illustrated by the fact that the current
allegations are (a) factually unsupported, (b) all based on conduct well
over a decade old and, in some cases, previously investigated by the
University itself, and (c) come from political adversaries of extremely
questionable credibility (to be charitable).

I take the liberty of quoting recent e-mail correspondence from Noam Chomsky
to a CU employee which I think embodies the response the University should
have made under the circumstances:

************************************
Without reservations, I support Churchill's right to free speech and
academic freedom, and regard the attack on him as scurrilous-and by now
craven cowardice as well, as the state authorities and other critics pretend
that the issue is (suddenly) his academic credentials and ethnic origins.
That's a real disgrace.

As for his work, I've never read this article [on 9/11] and have no interest
in doing so-in fact, would not do so as a matter of principle in the present
context, for reasons that go back to the Enlightenment origins of defense of
freedom of speech.  I was interviewed by Colorado newspapers, and told them
basically what I've just written.
I was then asked what I thought of his earlier work, and told the
truth: that I found it serious and important, stressing again that these
comments have precisely nothing to do with the outrageous events now
underway.

I have no idea what the plagiarism and other issues are, [but] if the
charges were serious, they would have been brought up before.  For what it's
worth, there's no indication of that in anything of his I read-that is,
nothing more than is standard in scholarship. . . . .
Such matters are sometimes raised in the context of political persecution,
by cowards who are desperately seeking to conceal what they are really
doing.  Seems pretty transparent in this case.  Why now and not before?

Professor Noam Chomsky, e-mail correspondence of April 13, 2005
*********************************

Needless to say, the University has not chosen a principled response of this
sort. Despite the illegitimacy of the current process, Ward has submitted to
the SCRM a detailed response to each allegation.  He has not yet released
these responses publicly, preferring to give the Committee a chance to
consider them before they are tried in the press.  I have, however, attached
an excerpt of Ward's cover letter to the Committee and some summary
responses to the specific allegations.

The Allegations Currently Being Investigated:

       "Ethnic Fraud"
Most offensive, of course, is the charge that Ward fraudulently
misrepresented his American Indian identity in order to gain credibility for
his scholarly work.  First, it must be noted that in 1994 the same political
adversaries (these are the people who also accuse Ward of being an FBI
agent, a CIA operative, etc.) raised the same issue.  At that time the
University determined that Ward had legitimately self-identified as an
American Indian for employment purposes.

So, the very existence of the current investigation raises interesting
questions - is there a different standard of identity for research and
employment?  If so, what is it?  Who gets to decide?   And if one
isn't informed of the standard to be applied, how could one fraudulently
avoid compliance? The University has refused to answer these questions,
apparently leaving it up to a randomly selected faculty committee to
function as a racial purity board.

Again, the facts which are a matter of public record are being blatantly
ignored.  Ward has identified as American Indian since he was a small child,
based on his family's understanding of its history.  He has been recognized
as such by the Indian community in Denver, as well as much broader American
Indian communities, for decades.  (One only need view his speech at CU
broadcast on C-SPAN to see this.)  And he is an enrolled associate (not
honorary) member of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, a status
which requires confirmation of Cherokee descent by the Band's genealogist.

One of the many disturbing consequences of the University deciding that it
can adjudicate one's "race" has been the toll taken on the United Keetoowah
Band.  Initially they responded accurately to inquiries - saying that Ward
was an associate member -  but were then bombarded by reporters and
subjected to an unrelenting e-mail campaign of harassment. Eventually they
attempted to allay this pressure by disavowing Ward.  This forced him to
counter with evidence of his enrollment which, in turn, pushed them into
changing their position yet again. (Ward's statement on this question is
attached.)  In the meantime the Band's already meager resources have been
diverted, preempting their delivery of social services and causing turmoil
and division.  Apparently this is acceptable "collateral damage" in the eyes
of those attempting to silence Ward.

       "Academic Fraud"

The SCRM is investigating two sets of "academic fraud" charges.  One is
misleadingly labeled "plagiarism," and I've attached a summary of Ward's
responses on these claims.

The other is allegedly about Ward's interpretation of the U.S. Army's
participation in the spreading of smallpox to Indians and about the
implementation of "blood quantum" requirements pursuant to the 1887 General
Allotment Act.  Ward has provided the Committee with plenty of facts to back
up his analysis but it's important to note that this is at most a dispute
over historical interpretation, not fraud.

More significantly, these charges are part of an insidious attempt to
discredit a particular line of criticism of the sanitized version of
American history which is generally taught.  Ward, of course, is one of the
most prolific scholars in this field; if his scholarship can be discredited,
anyone who takes a similar position with respect to the U.S. government's
treatment of American Indians will be vulnerable as well.

Related Developments

During this process, CU-Boulder's Department of Ethnic Studies has come
under continuous attack.  Our faculty, staff and students have been
subjected to all manner of harassment, much of it explicitly racist.  We
have been targeted by local politicians as well as the likes of David
Horowitz.  Throughout this process, no University official has stepped
forward to condemn the racism directed at the Department or to provide us
with any support.  I've attached an Open Letter from the Department
describing some of this and including a sampling of the e-mails we have
received.

Adrienne Anderson, a CU instructor in environmental studies and ethnic
studies, has been terminated and her classes cancelled because of her
success in exposing the environmentally devastating misconduct of
corporations CU is closely affiliated with.

The City of Longmont has harassed and tried to fire one of its employees,
Glenn Spagnuolo (not coincidentally one of our co-defendants in the Columbus
Day protests), for statements made on a radio talk show in connection with
his support of Ward.

One of our students, Dustin Craun, is being prosecuted for attempting to
read a statement on behalf of CU students at the February 3 "open meeting"
of the CU Board of Regents.  (By way of contrast, other CU students who
recently chained themselves outside the Chancellor's office to protest
sweatshops are not being prosecuted.)

Most significantly, Shareef Aleem, a Denver activist who was forcibly
prevented by the police from speaking at the same Regents meeting is charged
with felony assault and faces a 16-year prison term.  My final attachment is
Shareef's statement on this matter; Ward and I urge you to actively support
Shareef's defense in any way you can.

The Big Picture

As Ward has said from the beginning, this is not about him; rather, he is
the current target of opportunity in a much broader assault on freedom of
political _expression and action.  Karl Rove is well known for his strategy
of attacking the enemy's strongest point, not its weakest, and Ward is a
strong one.  If he can be silenced, who won't be?

In one sense it's part of the larger attempt to discredit all of the
political movements of the 1960s and '70s which directly challenged
the status quo.   Young people who want to be politically active today
are being told that all of those efforts failed; that only approved and
symbolic (i.e., ineffective) forms of protest will be allowed.

It is also part of a pervasive movement to undermine critical thinking in
educational institutions.  Governor Owens and numerous Colorado legislators
are active in Lynne Cheney's American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA)
and in David Horowitz' attempts to stifle "liberal" professors in the name
of students' rights to "academic freedom."
Academics around the country are being targeted, as evidenced by the recent
"investigations" of Professor Joseph Massad and other Middle Eastern
scholars at Columbia.  As we have examined the purging of other
intellectuals, the same patterns emerge - widespread media frenzy, endless
rounds of unfounded allegations, a process designed to wear down those who
advocate critical perspectives and discredit them by any means necessary.

The University of Colorado has capitulated to political pressure and there
is no sign that it will not continue to do so.  We cannot take any comfort
in the fact that the University has acknowledged that Ward Churchill's
speech is constitutionally protected.  It is, in fact, far more dangerous to
allow dissent to be silenced through the subterfuge of investigating various
"frauds."  The pressure continues; those who fueling the attacks, such as
our local Clear Channel radio station, seem to have unlimited resources to
spend on this campaign.  So, we fully expect to face yet another
"investigation" after the current allegations have been refuted -- at which
point you'll likely be getting updates about our federal lawsuit.

The good news is that we have had amazing support at CU, in the Denver
community, and around the country.  Despite well-organized rightwing
campaigns, Ward's e-mail has consistently been more supportive than not.
Our students and the Ethnic Studies Department have remained strong despite
all of the attempts to divide us.  Tens of thousands of people have signed
petitions of support, thousands have written letters, and numerous
organizations of academics have denounced CU's investigation of Ward.
Despite nothing but negative media spin, everywhere we go there is evidence
of strong grassroots support, from security personnel to parking lot
attendants, waiters, and random people on the street.  As a Delta skycap
told me last week, "you don't have to be clairvoyant to see through the
bullsh*t."

Again, thank you for your interest and support.  If you have any questions
or would like more information, please feel free to contact me.

Natsu Taylor Saito
June 3, 2005

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