May 16, 2006

Ward Churchill, redux—NOT!

Inside Higher Ed, the Rocky Mountain News, and the Associated Press (in the Washington Post) have covered the just-issued report on allegations of research misconduct by Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado. The accepted federal definition of research misconduct comprises plagiarism, fabrication, and falsification. And according to the faculty committee, Ward Churchill had a hat-trick of the worst kind. I haven't read the entire report word-for-word, but it's clear from the sections I have had time to read that the committee members spent a great deal of effort trying to comb through the debris of Churchill's scholarship, finding a long-term pattern of disturbing conduct. My favorite sentence thus far:

The conventions of scholarly attribution are not empty forms of etiquette; they are central to the progress of scholarship and the accountability of the scholar. (p. 95)

In addition to the discussion of the individual charges, there is also some discussion at the beginning and end of the committee members' distaste with the political context of the investigation. They didn't use that as any sort of excuse either to exculpate or to condemn Churchill, though. The core looks like a fairly straightforward examination of things on their merits. Around that are some jewels about the outside pressures on the university, the harm caused to ethnic studies by Churchill's transgressions, and a lack of consensus on appropriate sanctions. All five members agreed that at least two years' suspension without pay was warranted. Three members thought that firing would be at least minimally acceptable, though two of those recommended five years' suspension without pay, and only one thought firing was the most appropriate sanction. A compromise verdict, or the closest one can get in academe?

Either five or more years' suspension without pay or outright dismissal would be appropriate. A more creative approach might be to suspend him for two years, strip him of tenure, demote him to assistant professor, and then require he demonstrate professionalism necessary to earn tenure in the normal way. Since his wife has already resigned from the university, it's clear that he has planned for being fired or suspended: He'll go somewhere else and sue. But if CU gives him a reasonable appeal process, he'll almost certainly lose (barring anything interesting that could be revealed in discovery).

Thanks to Ralph Luker and Erin O'Connor for linking to news stories. Erin O'Connor isn't quite right, though, in describing Churchill as "guilty as charged." It turned out, at least for a few charges, that he was "guilty not quite as charged." Churchill's own statements in defense of plagiarism charges damned him in at least one other instance.

Update (5/17): A comment at the Volokh Conspiracy has the right word describing Churchill's conduct: mendacity.

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Posted in Academic freedom on May 16, 2006 7:00 PM |