February 3, 2005

Ward Churchill fallout

KC Johnson's post on the Ward Churchill imbroglio is showing far more sense than other outraged outlets I vaguely recall at this point. (Hey, my day job takes precedence over blogging, right?) I'm quite worried by the use of "security threat" as a reason for Hamilton College to cancel a campus speech, since that's allowing a heckler's veto to determine decisions on a campus.

At my campus, "security" became a convenient excuse in the December 2001 star-chamber hearing in front of our Board of Trustees. Yes, the university police were overburdened by the threats because of the controversy surrounding Sami Al-Arian, but the fundamental problem was not the immediate situation but the underfunding of that department in the first place. (Case in point: there are four patrols maximum at any point on the Tampa campus. We have dozens of labs with sensitive equipment, including medically hazaroud materials. And we have 40,000 students, along with 1500 or so faculty and 1500 or so staff. When have you known a town of 40,000-45,000 have only four patrols?

But I digress. I suspect the cancellation of the speech and Churchill's resignation as department chair will feed the frenzy a bit more for his removal as a faculty member—and if Colorado's politicians push the point, the university will suffer the consequences of the political interference. I'm coming to the conclusion that there is an interplay between broader institutional and political trends (see for example reports of Brown University's presidential speech about intellectual diversity, being spun in various ways), on the one hand, and specific events or crises that turn otherwise unknown academics into poster boys and girls for academic freedom violations. That's a mundane point, and I'm not sure how to make a more nuanced explanation at the moment. C'est la vie.

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Posted in Academic freedom on February 3, 2005 12:18 PM |