February 4, 2005

EVAN COYNE MALONEY AGREES that Ward Churchill shouldn’t be fired:

We find these comments reprehensible. But we also believe that the best way to combat Professor Churchill is by opposing him with more speech. Creating an environment where tenured professors can be fired for controversial remarks is a dangerous precedent to set. Academic freedom provides a wide berth, and that’s by design. Sometimes, controversy is merely the result of childish, mean-spirited remarks, but it’s also true that many of mankind’s most brilliant thinkers aroused controversy in their day. If they’d been silenced because others were upset by what they had to say, then we’d all be poorer for it. To ensure that professors can safely pursue the most innovative thinking, academic freedom should be respected.

Shoddy scholarship–not a knack for generating controversy–is the primary reason Professor Churchill shouldn’t be holding his professor position. Still, the University of Colorado should have noticed that and acted when Churchill initially came up for tenure. Instead, low standards on the part of the university allowed him to gain tenure and even to chair a department. By giving Churchill tenure, the university made a tacit promise to stand behind him in the face of controversy. The university should respect that promise and protect his job.

We suspect the University of Colorado is acting not out of principle but a desire to quell a public relations disaster.

This is why tenure decisions are so important. And universities who tenure bad people should have to live with the consequences.

UPDATE: Sounds like they feel differently. Colorado blogger Bob Hayes reports: “I think the University of Colorado is about to sell Ward Churchill down the river. ” He reproduces an internal C.U. email that he got, which does sound like it’s laying the groundwork for that. I agree with Hayes, and Maloney: They shouldn’t have hired him, but they shouldn’t take the easy way out now that he’s gotten controversial, either.

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