Ward Churchill, the highly controversial University of Colorado ethnic studies professor who likened some of the World Trade Center victims to "little Eichmanns," was defrocked of his tenure by the Colorado Board of Regents yesterday.
I was infuriated by Churchill's inflammatory statements. Not only were they incomprehensibly absurd, but they were cruel to the 9/11 victims, the 9/11 victims' families, and if I may say so, to Eichmann's victims and their descandants.
But still, I am angry that Churchill was fired.
Sure, I know that plagiarism, not those repulsive statements, was a cited reason why he was let go.
But the fact that he was kept on even after those disgusting utterances has always given me the impression that the Regents were looking for a reason to fire him that unlike claims of academic freedom shelter, would hold up in court.
Keep in mind that while plagiarism-related accusations against Churchill had been published as early as the 1990s, no one ever filed a complaint of research misconduct with the university until 2005.
But the fact is that a public university, financed by taxpayers in a sharply politically divided state, could not risk keeping such a polarizing figure around.
But yesterday, they got him.
I don't know the merits of the plagiarism charge. Still, why is Ward Churchill's dismissal so infuriating to me?
One, having been to and taught in college, I have used and borne witness to the phenomena of professors that make seemingly outlandish statements to spark debate. The debate can be class-wide, campus-wide, or society-wide, but statements can be an effective tool of the polemicist.
Second, I am as close to a believer in academic freedom of speech as you can get. No matter how offensive, I believe it is a central role of academicians to raise the points they choose and then try to prove them. I personally don't see how Churchill's objectionable argumentation could ever be proved or validated, but that's why we have other academicians.
If they disagree, it is their place, indeed their duty, to use evidence and facts - published in journals, espoused before young minds in forums- to argue down claims of their colleagues.
Ward Churchill will not have another chance to defend his views before his peers. That's because, at least at the University of Colorado, those who were his peers are now his former peers.