July 23, 2007

Wrong questions on Ward Churchill

Yesterday, Aaron Barlow asked the political questions about l'affaire Churchill at Free Exchange on Campus. To Barlow, the central issue is the public perception of higher education. In responding to "those on all sides who try to make Churchill and his presumed guilt or innocence an emblem for their greater argument about academia," So he cites ACTA's "How many Ward Churchills" screed and the ACLU letter released over the weekend. But Barlow then repeats the error:

If nothing else, the Churchill case points out the fact that we need to seriously consider the question of whether we academics are doing enough to police ourselves. The next time those attacking academia come up with a particular person to attack, will we be confident that our defense of that person will not open us up to further accusations of protecting the unqualified or dishonest?

Barlow is right that the symbolic politics are important in some ways. But the critical question in each individual case is academic due process, not public perception. Should we warp academic due process to match what we think should happen, or what those outside academe think should happen? I haven't seen that in the actions of faculty at Colorado, but Barlow appears more concerned with perception than due process. And that is worrisome.

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Posted in Academic freedom on July 23, 2007 10:07 AM |