Tuesday, May 16, 2006
I Know, I Know, Academic Freedom, But…
[Via Scott Jaschik]
Were a panel of my peers to find that I “had committed falsification, fabrication, plagiarism, failure to comply with established standard regarding author names on publications, and a ‘serious deviation from accepted practices in reporting results from research,’” I would expect to find a pink slip in my box. Academic freedom shouldn’t protect the falsifier, the fabricator, or the plagiarist from dismissal, should it? Or is this one of those cases in which we defend the worst for fear of future actions against respectable but politically unpopular scholarship?
Looking over the biographies of the committee members and the examples of patent plagiarism included in the report—available here [.pdf]—it doesn’t appear Ward Churchill’s work has been unfairly impugned by ideologues. A committee of this sort would want to seem politically neutral, of course, but the one which indicted Churchill at least appears to be. (Those more familiar with the scholars can speak to this, perhaps.) My reservations stem from the fact that the committee was launched after his inflammatory comments about 9/11, which makes this process an indirect attack on academic freedom.
Still, had Churchill not been a falsifier, a fabricator, or a plagiarist, the committee wouldn’t have called (however tentatively) for his dismissal. Other, more informed voices care to pipe up? (Or is everyone else equally confused?)
Better to talk about this ACTANT report, what with its careful assessment and reasonable conclusions.
No kidding. I read the ACTA earlier [.pdf] and was stunned, alright, merely disappointed, okay, actually relieved by its tendentiousness. To wit:
By this, we do not mean to suggest that issues of alleged plagiarism, dubious claims of ethnicity, or inadequate credentials—problems specific to Ward Churchill—apply broadly to all academics. What we do mean to suggest is that the extremist rhetoric and tendentious opinion for which Churchill is infamous can be found on campuses across America.
So they take the occasion of Churchill’s indictment to, what, reiterate the same thing they’ve been saying all along?
It’s a very sad business. Clearly, as the committee acknowledged, if Churchill hadn’t made the “little Eichmanns” remark he wouldn’t have been investigated, and wouldn’t now be about to lose his job. But the very nature of free political speech is that people may come after you, and use whatever weapons they can find. The plagiarism the committee found is indefensible, and it fits with a pattern of treating fellow scholars badly. And as you suggest, the very *last* position we want to be taking is that other people do this and don’t get fired.
It would be interesting to know about other institutions’ policies on this. Does anyone out there have experience with other investigations of this kind? Is there a prevailing standard of sufficient hideousness to get fired?
I’d also be interested in hearing from historians about the “falsification” charge. It seems to me that it’s not entirely unheard-of for scholarly work to commit tendentious misreadings, whether of archives or other scholarship. In that case other publications should arise to refute them. It hadn’t occurred to me that you got fired for doing that. Can someone articulate the dividing line for me?