Stanley Fish and a cautionary story about academic freedom.

This news is slightly stale, but it is worth our while to think about whether we could  be drummed out of a university on trumped up charges.  Since I can’t argue for each of the points, I’ll refer you to Fish’s article about an evidential assessment of them. 

First, then, the initiating event;  Ward Churchill, at the University of Colorado, Bolder, made a statement which  held many of those in the towers on 9/11 as causing and deserving their fate.**  When the statement came to public attention 4 years later, there was a huge outcry.  According to Fish, the following happened:

  1. The governor and state legislatures express extreme outrage to the president of the university.
  2. A committee of academics reviewed his work and found the sort of discrepancies just about  every variety of academic is guilty of. 
  3. Churchill was fired for violating the necessary standard of scholarship.

Just a few weeks ago, a jury found Churchland was fired unjustly.  Fish remarks:

The verdict did not surprise me because I had read the committee’s report and found it less an indictment of Churchill than an example of a perfectly ordinary squabble about research methods and the handling of evidence. The accusations that fill its pages are the kind scholars regularly hurl at their polemical opponents. It’s part of the game. But in most cases, after you’ve trashed the guy’s work in a book or a review, you don’t get to fire him. Which is good, because if the standards for dismissal adopted by the Churchill committee were generally in force, hardly any of us professors would have jobs.

Of course, it gets worse.  One juror decided that even though he shouldn’t have been fired, she could not bear to see him get lost pay.  And so he didn’t.  Presumably her logic will be examined in appeals.

Of course, we don’t know what was going on at every point, but the University of Colorado looks pretty bad, and I’m afraid this carries a cautionary tale for all sorts of possible faculty actions, including filing sexual harassment charges against a faculty member.  What is too likely is that one will come up against the factors that may well have gotten Churchill fired; namely, a set of administrators who think they merely need to seem to follow and law and a group of faculty who will go along with them.  

I have seen faculty perjure themselves in order to avoid being the next target.  Still more may go along with what the upper administation wants  to promote their own careers, or because they value the hierarchy, or because they want  an easy life.

**The terms he used were completely outrageous.  But protected by academic freedom.

2 thoughts on “Stanley Fish and a cautionary story about academic freedom.

  1. I actually don’t even dare to make some cynical remarks about academic freedom, because I am at the bottom rung and I don’t think it would be good if the remarks I have in mind get traced back to me. Bad huh? Does anyone else have that problem too and is that why this post is so remarkably silent?

  2. hippocampa, I’m not sure what gets people to comment, though sex is usually a reasonable draw. :)

    We’re not fond of sock puppets, but if you do use another name it would be very hard to trace you. I’d say, in fact, “impossible” except for a few of us who will get your IP number, and even then that shouldn’t take us to an individual.

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