Monday, February 07, 2005

The Crowded Echo Chamber

I've sat on the sidelines of the Ward Churchill controversy, because I haven't really had much to add. Churchill's the lefty prof of "Ethnic Studies" at the University of Colorado who wrote that the workers in the World Trade Center who died on Sept. 11th deserved their fate, in language that is out of bounds for civilized conversation, but is becoming increasingly common among the tenured set.

Actually, I think to call Churchill a "lefty" is disparaging to many lefties who hold reasoned disagreements with this administration's policies but would agree with most people that calling the victims of the terrorist attacks "little Eichmanns" is a bit beyond the pale.

Whether Churchill will retain his position at the University is now under consideration by the Board of Regents. Katherine Ernst, writing at City Journal, sums up the controversy, and notes that the arguments in favor of Churchill on a free speech basis tend to miss the point.

As CU Interim Chancellor Phil DiStefano told the press, “While I personally find his views offensive, I also must support his right as an American citizen to hold and express his views, no matter how repugnant, as guaranteed by the First Amendment.” Ditto Churchill’s CU Ethnic Studies buddies: “We as faculty . . . stand in full and unconditional support of our colleague Ward Churchill’s freedom of expression and First Amendment Rights.” Hamilton College’s president Joan Hinde Steward had mouthed similar sentiments (at least until the security concerns prevailed): “However repugnant one may find Mr. Churchill’s remarks, were the College to withdraw the invitation simply on the grounds that he has said offensive things, we would be abandoning a principle on which this College and indeed this republic is founded”—free speech.

These First Amendment-based arguments miss the point: the right to free speech is not a right to be heard or a right to hold on to a job. Would these schools hire or invite to speak a biologist who claimed that alien gamma rays caused cancer—even if that someone held a Ph.D. from a prestigious school? Of course not. So why is a psuedo-intellect—who thinks that stock traders, accountants, and Windows on the World busboys are comparable to genocidal Nazis—given intellectual time and respect? Just to prove that officials at these schools have read the Bill of Rights? CU is also a public university: Why should Joe Taxpayer be subsidizing such idiocy?

Ernst also notes that it would be unfair to single out Churchill since his views aren't exactly out of the mainstream on college campuses. Hamilton College in New York, which disinvited Churchill to a speaking engagement after his post-9/11 statements caused public outcry, decided to alter the focus of the forum where Churchill was to speak into a forum "where Churchill’s views could be 'confronted.'" Here's what Hamilton College means by "confrontation."

Therefore, to the original panel—Richard Werner (a Hamilton philosophy professor and pacifist) and Churchill’s wife, Natsu Taylor Saito, a law professor at Georgia State University and associate professor in her husband’s Ethnic Studies department, whose curriculum vitae reads like a satire of elite radicalism (among other things, she has sat on the board of G-Man killer Leonard Peltier’s defense committee)—Kirkland added First Amendment scholar and Nation contributor Philip Klinkner, who also teaches at Hamilton. If Hamilton really cared about free speech and the “exchange of ideas,” couldn’t it have found at least one right-of-center professor—or even just plain centrist—to participate in the forum?

Jib says Churchill's coming to UW - Whitewater! Road Trip!


At 9:45 PM, Blogger Jib said...

I welcome all travelers.


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