[News] Churchill v. University of Colorado: The Man Himself

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Mar 24 18:26:34 EDT 2009

Churchill v. University of Colorado: The Man Himself
Tuesday, March 24, 2009 at 06:35AM
Vanessa Conway

The courtroom was packed, noisy and stuffy this afternoon in 
anticipation of the testimony of Ward Churchill. Before Churchill 
could take the stand two other witnesses were called: Professor 
Tinker and Professor Russell Means.

Tinker described himself as a professor of American Indian Culture & 
Religious Studies at the Iliff School of Theology here in Denver, and 
as a spiritual leader of the Indian community Four Winds American 
Indian Council, also here in Denver. After telling the court that he 
had received his PhD in 1983, that he was a member of the Osage 
Nation, and that he was considered to be an elder (by others), Tinker 
was offered by plaintiff's counsel as an expert on Indian tradition, 
Indian culture, and Indian Studies. Defense counsel did not object.

 From that point Tinker was asked about Churchill's reputation in the 
American Indian community, to which he answered that Churchill was 
widely respected within the community as a scholar, and that it was 
recognized that his body of work was prolific as well extremely 
important to the community. In terms of Churchill's academic record, 
Tinker testified that he could attest to its accuracy by the fact 
that he frequently used Churchill's work in his own classes. The last 
general area Tinker discussed with plaintiff's counsel was the book 
Mother Earth by Sam Gill, another University of Colorado professor. 
Although Tinker's testimony seemed a bit tangential in this area, he 
tried to make the point that, in his opinion, Gill's work contains 
grave misrepresentations and yet despite complaints, Professor Gill 
had not to his knowledge been investigated.

Upon cross-examination defense counsel largely tried to make Tinker's 
testimony seem irrelevant by asking whether he had ever done any 
research on the specific topics of the plagiarism allegations such as 
the Indian Arts & Crafts Act and General Allotment Act. Tinker denied 
having done any such research, saying that Indian Studies is a large 
discipline in which scholars focus on different aspects and he was 
focused on religious aspects. The cross examination was short but 
very tense, and at one uncomfortable point defense counsel spoke over 
Tinker to scold him, saying, "you have to let me finish the question 
because she can't record both of us at the same time."

After Professor Tinker testified, Professor Russell Means was sworn 
in. Meanes described himself as a chief facilitator for the Lakota 
Republic as well as a long time university lecturer. Means' testimony 
was similar to that of Tinker, though focused somewhat more on the 
role of oral tradition and Churchill's reputation for truth and 
honesty in the American Indian community. Means also discussed his 
review of the Standing Committee on Research Misconduct's report, 
holding back tears and calling it a "scholarly massacre." Although 
his most memorable statement that "they do not treat white professors 
at CU the same way," was stricken, Means also testified to the fact 
that after the SCRM's report was released he filed a complaint with 
the committee against CU Professor Wilkinson (originally wrongly 
identified as law school Dean Getches). Means said that he had found 
errors in Wilkinson's work that were more egregious than any 
committed by Churchill, yet the SCRM issued a denial of the charges. 
Cross-examination largely focused on a clarification of the inquiry 
process triggered by the complaint filed against Wilkinson.

The bulk of the afternoon was spent on David Lane's direct 
examination of Ward Churchill. Churchill began by telling the court 
his life's history, from his childhood in central Illinois, to his 
service in Vietnam, to his college years, to settling in Boulder 
almost by accident, to his career path in Boulder and at the 
University of Colorado. The first part of Churchill's testimony was 
fairly engaging. He described teaching, service and academic awards 
he had won as well as deeper motivating personal values.

Lane also questioned Churchill at some length about his 9/12 essay. 
Churchill described the essay as an attempt to explain the simple 
proposition that the terrorist attacks were a predictable result of 
U.S. foreign policy. In his testimony Churchill familiarized this 
idea by referencing phrases like "chicken coming home to roost," from 
Malcolm X, "as you sow, so shall you reap," and "what goes around 
comes around." He explained that in writing the essay he was not 
espousing or endorsing a pro-terrorist stance, but was merely trying 
to apply the mainstream American response instead to the "other 
side," saying that it could probably serve as an indicator of how 
U.S. action is received in other parts of the world. Churchill also 
explained the essay's reference to a Nazi bureaucrat by saying that 
his mistake was in assuming that people would know the history of 
Adolf Eichmann, who facilitated the organization of the Holocaust. 
Churchill ended the first part of his testimony with a brief 
discussion of the origin and result of the media firestorm that took 
place in early 2005 when the 9/12 essay and Churchill himself came 
under great scrutiny.

After the break, Churchill resumed his description of the events that 
took place in early 2005, including an explanation of why he stepped 
down as the academic chair of the ethnic studies department in the 
midst of the media frenzy. Lane then transitioned Churchill into 
questions directly related to the allegations of the Standing 
Committee on Research Misconduct. From this point on, Churchill 
became increasingly longwinded, and occasionally Lane had to redirect 
him to the matters at issue. Most of the testimony was a reiteration 
of points that plaintiff's counsel had already made, albeit from 
Churchill's perspective.

Churchill addressed the Fay Cohen allegation by saying that he did 
not plagiarize Cohen, that he merely copy-edited a work in which 
Cohen was plagiarized, that he indicated in his editing that there 
could be a problem (an indication he said they chose not to believe), 
and that he had never included the work in his C.V.

In response to the Rebecca Robbins ghost-writing allegations, 
Churchill explained why and how he had produced the work. He went on 
to appeal to a long-standing tradition (even in academia) of 
ghost-writing, and even of scholars citing their own ghost-written 
works. In terms of alleged plagiarism of a Damned & the Dams pamphlet 
(by citing instead to a collaborative article written by Churchill 
and D&D which contained all of the information in the packet, but 
which was significantly more accessible to researchers than the 
packet itself) Churchill stressed that his citations have always 
intended to give credit where it is due.

In a discussion of the Fort Clark small pox epidemic, Churchill 
stated that he believed that the idea that the U.S. Army had 
intentionally inflicted American Indians with small pox was so widely 
known and accepted that he didn't need to cite it. To that effect, 
plaintiff's attorney offered into evidence middle school and high 
school texts making the same or similar points. Within this testimony 
Churchill critiqued the expertise of Marjorie McIntosh, with Lane's 
help implying that Professor McIntosh was a mere "hobbyist" and not 
an expert in his field. Lane was careful to emphasize that the 
smallpox references in question constituted only 2 paragraphs out of 
a roughly 200-page text. This discussion eventually transitioned into 
one describing the scope of communication at the CU investigative 
hearings. Both the jurors and the crowd perked up a bit when 
Churchill described the circuitous process by which he was allowed to 
question his witnesses at the hearing: by typing a question and 
emailing it across the room to Professor Wesson, as chair of the 
committee, who would then read (either verbatim or sometimes in 
altered form) the question to the witness.

Churchill also addressed the John Smith small pox epidemic 
allegations. Explaining the circumstantial evidence that did exist, 
Churchill explained that his statement that "strong circumstantial 
evidence exists" was an opinion statement, and thus he did not 
believe that it needed to be supported by citation. Lane once again 
emphasized the significance of the statement at issue by drawing 
attention to the fact that it was one line in a work of approximately 60 pages.

The last issue touched upon this afternoon was a 1991 essay reprinted 
in a book in 1994, that focused on an opinion of a federal act, the 
Indian Arts and Crafts Act but that was written before the final text 
of the act was widely known. Churchill said that because the article 
is no longer in print he wasn't aware of a way for him to retract it, 
and that his later essay that he uses now gives a more solid 
explanation of the act. After a brief discussion of the last issue 
Judge Naves kept Lane from transitioning into yet another allegation, 
making it clear that Churchill will likely testify for most of tomorrow.
Article originally appeared on The Race to the Bottom 
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