Ward Churchill’s going down

Dang it all. I’m not a political blogger by nature, but this week I just can’t seem to help myself, and getting this e-mailed to me didn’t help. I suppose that I can console myself by reminding myself that this is about academic misconduct. I may not be in the social sciences, but certain practices just aren’t right regardless of academic specialty.

It turns out that University of Colorado’s investigation of allegations of academic misconduct by Ward Churchill (famous for his referring to those in the World Trade Center as “little Eichmanns”) has been published, and it’s way more scathing than even I had expected. I haven’t had time to read the whole thing (the PDF file is 125 pages long), but words like “deception, lies, unprofessional, plagiarism” abound. Here’s one example that’s particularly egregious:

Based on the foregoing, the Committee finds by a preponderance of the evidence that: (a) Professor Churchill has engaged in research misconduct with respect to Allegation A regarding the General Allotment Act of 1887; and (b) that such research misconduct was not and could not have been inadvertent and therefore was deliberate. Specifically, the Committee finds by a preponderance of the evidence that:

1. Professor Churchill repeatedly and deliberately cited the General Allotment Act of 1887 and once cited Janet McDowell’s book for the details of historical and legal propositions that he advances. Because both sources in fact contradict his claims, this is a form of falsification of evidence.

2. Professor Churchill has deliberately cited two essays as independent sources of support for the details of his historic claims regarding the General Allotment Act of 1887, the Robbins and Jaimes essays, which he says he actually authored “from the ground up.” He did not disclose either at the time of publication of those two essays or at the time he cited them in other later works that he had written the essays. This is a form of both evidentiary fabrication and failure to comply with established standards regarding author names on publications.

In other words, Churchill used the academic equivalent of sockpuppets to support his conclusions.

3. Professor Churchill deliberately embellished his broad, and otherwise accurate or, at least, reasonable, historic claims regarding the General Allotment Act of 1887 with details for which he offered no reliable independent support of any kind in his publications or in his defense during this investigation and for which the Committee was unable to find that any reasonable and reliable support exists. This is a form of fabrication of such details and embellishments.

As a scientist myself, I found this to be the kicker from the earlier, more detailed part of the discussion:

Were Professor Churchill a scientist, rather than a researcher engaged in social science research in ethnic studies, the equivalent would be (1) the misstatement of some underlying data (i.e., his mischaracterization of the General Allotment Act) and (2) the total fabrication of other data to support his hypothesis (i.e., the ghostwriting and self-citation of the Robbins and Jaimes essays). Clearly, ghostwriting the Robbins and Jaimes articles involved considerably more work than fabricating underlying scientific data, but that fact makes it no less a type of fabrication or falsification. The Committee is not claiming that Professor Churchill fabricated his general conclusions; rather, he fabricated the underlying data employed to support the insupportable details bolstering those conclusions.

Ouch, that one’s gonna leave a mark!

I’m not so sure I buy the argument that fabricating scientific data (particularly in molecular biology) would involve less work than ghostwriting an essay. None of the members of the committee are basic scientists, and that remark shows it. However, I’ll leave that aside and move on.

Oops, he did it again, with regards to another essay:

It seems obvious that Professor Churchill, a major writer about Indian affairs, must have been thoroughly familiar with the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 since he wrote a major essay solely on that Act. Based on a preponderance of the evidence, we therefore conclude that in his 1994 essay, “Nobody’s Pet Poodle,” Professor Churchill seriously and deliberately misrepresented the specification of a blood quantum requirement of one-quarter Indian blood in the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990. Moreover, Professor Churchill has again compounded this misrepresentation by citing his own writings as if they were independent third-party sources written by others. He has also distorted the scholarship of distinguished scholars to his own ends. We conclude that this misrepresentation was not scholarly error but serious research misconduct and part of a general pattern of such misconduct in support of his political views.

In tone and overall degree of fisking, what I’ve read of the report sounds not unlike Judge Jone’s decision in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case. Heck, what little I read of it reminds me of the analysis that historian Richard Evans subjected David Irving’s writings to in Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial. Selective quoting, misrepresentation of sources, distortion of facts, all in the service of a political agenda, yep, it’s all there in just a brief perusal of the report. As the committee concluded about his patterns of behavior:

We have noted and discussed a number of distinct but related patterns of misconduct that deserve mention. One is an indifference to the proper attribution of scholarly work to its genuine author. This indifference has taken the form of misappropriation of the work of another, the attachment of the names of others to Professor Churchill’s own work, and the use of uninformative titles such as “Institute of Natural Progress” to muddy the assignment of credit and responsibility for work. 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. Professor Churchill’s disregard for them is therefore troubling. We have also observed several instances in Professor Churchill’s work of a willingness to make claims about legislation or historical events not supported by the evidence he cites or by any other evidence the Committee could locate. A related pattern is the employment of vague or obfuscating citation and reference practices. More serious still is the pattern of citing one’s own work, disguised by its attribution to another living scholar in the same field, as authority for assertions and claims that lack independent support. We do not know whether these practices are the result of inadequate training or the desire to obscure the lack of support for his claims from other scholars and the historical record (we suspect the latter), but they make it difficult for the reader to verify or discredit his claims. Such practices are of particular concern because Professor Churchill has repeatedly stressed the importance of full documentation as a means of promoting dialogue.

It’s odd that they question whether these lapses were due to inadequate historical training. It may very well be the case, because Churchill doesn’t even have a Ph.D., just an honorary Doctorate for giving a speech. I can’t speak for history and social studies, but a big part of Ph.D. training in science is designed to teach us how to design experiments and present data in such a way as to minimize the effects of our preexisting biases on the outcome, in other words to train us to be as objective as humanly possible. Given that Churchill didn’t have a Ph.D., though, why did the University hire him in the first place, rapidly promote him and give him tenure, and then ultimately make him Chairman of the Department of Ethnic Studies?

The question is now: What will the University of Colorado do? This is serious academic misconduct. Ward Churchill may be tenured, but, if half of what’s in this report is true, he has clearly engaged in a pattern of academic misconduct in the service of his political beliefs that demands his removal as faculty. As Eugene Volokh put it:

As best I can tell, from what press accounts I’ve read and from the Report itself, Churchill hasn’t shown any contrition. His falsification, fabrication, and plagiarism (in the Committee’s words), which the Committee quite plausibly found to be deliberate, are substantial.

And these are falsehoods in his published work, which can readily be checked. How can his future students be confident that things he says in class are accurate? (Yes, we try to instill skepticism in our students, but they still rightly expect that they can count on our factual assertions, rather than double-checking every word.) How can his colleagues, and Colorado taxpayers, be confident that his students are learning things accurately? His work has been cited by over 100 times in law reviews alone, and law isn’t even his main field; I assume that quite a few scholars are now wondering whether their reliance on his work led their own work to be in error. How can other scholars, and his other readers, ever rely on anything he says?

How, indeed?

ADDENDUM: Ward Churchill has responded. The best he can come up with is to complain that this is an attempt to stifle his free speech:

This “investigation” has all along been a pretext to punish me for engaging constitutionally-protected speech and, more generally, to discredit the sorts of alternative historical perspective I represent.


The upshot is that the committee’s report is often self-contradictory. It frequently misrepresents or conflicts with the evidence presented. In many respects, it is patently false.

Of course, he never gives a single example of how the report is self-contradictory or of a false assertion in the report.


  1. #1 Hinschelwood
    May 17, 2006

    I haven’t read through all of this report yet, but it reminds me a great deal of the case of Jan Hendrik Schoen, the man who published 48 papers in one year in nanophysics, much of it fabricated:


    The investigators there did a similarly thorough job of trashing his work and scholarship. This Churchill case proves quite nicely that similar standards are expected everywhere.

    Oh, and Schoen? Fired from Bell Labs and his doctorate revoked by the University of Konstanz. I see no reason why Churchill should be treated more leniently.

  2. #2 beajerry
    May 17, 2006

    I live Colorado and haven’t heard about Churchill since the initial brouhaha.

  3. #3 Kiwiwriter
    May 17, 2006

    Sothe short version of the report is this: Churchill is an ideologue with a penknife to grind, and he knowingly and deliberately twisted facts and realities to support his political agenda. Being caught, he falls back on the same defense that Holocaust deniers, NAMBLA activists, and the Klan rely on: “Free speech.” Not: “I’m telling the truth,” but “Free speech,” which means, “I have the right to spout lies and garbage any time I want, and anyone who complains that my stuff is outrageous garbage should themselves shut the heck up.”

    As for Eugene Volokh’s comment that “teachers try to instill skepticism in their students,” I am reminded of how my high school English classes had us read books about heroic dissenters who stood up to outrageous acts of tyranny or persecution. We read “The Scarlet Letter” and “Scoundrel Time,” and were told about the importance of finding our own voice and sticking up for what we believed in.

    Then when we actually did so, we were told to sit down, be quiet, eyes on our own paper, take that test, provide the required answers to the questions, obey orders from the teacher, stop questioning policies, and that insolent remark about our glorious school principal/President of the United States would go down on our PERMANENT RECORD CARD and prevent us from getting into good colleges or getting any job that did not involve picking up trash.

  4. #4 Joe
    May 17, 2006

    Churchill is a great example of the foolishness of granting tenure. In cases like this, the school has to pay a lot to get rid of him. Either, they buy back his tenure, or they revoke it, and pay a lot in legal bills.

    I can only think of one person who legitimately used tenure to keep his job. He was an analytical chemist who turned his scholarship to the fields of public health and environmental problems. His department was furious; but, that is what tenure is for- protecting unpopular scholarship.

    The more common use of tenure is to support a sinecure. That would be senior faculty with minimal teaching loads, who do nothing else of any value. There are state schools where four or five people have the teaching load of one person (based on American Chemical Society guidelines).

    The most egregious example of such excess is a professor I know who was granted tenure in large part because he obtained a substantial federal grant. He then returned the money to Washington, emptied his lab and settled in to teaching four hours a week, 28 weeks out of the year. As a visiting scholar there for 18 months, I had full use of his (otherwise abandoned) lab.

    While I was there, one of his colleagues had a heart attack in mid-semester. The department asked if he could teach another three hours to finish the semester (bringing him up to seven hours a week). He became apoplectic, and whined to me that they just don’t know how hard he works!?

    In short, tenure causes more problems than it solves. Tenure shelters wingnuts more than it protects unpopular scholarship. And it is also expensive, especially at research institutions. It costs a lot to get rid of tenured faculty when they are a problem, and it costs a lot to maintain “scholars” who are no longer involved in scholarship.

  5. #5 Sheila
    May 17, 2006

    His outright fabrication that the US Army deliberately gave smallpox to Indians is his lie that has done the most damage. Lots of people believe this is an established fact, and it just ain’t so.


  6. #6 Kristjan Wager
    May 17, 2006

    There was actually one case of the US army deliberately giving Native Americans smallpoxs – as this article states:

    Ward Churchill, taking the argument a step further than Stannard, asserts that there was nothing unwitting or unintentional about the way the great bulk of North America’s native population disappeared: “it was precisely malice, not nature, that did the deed.” In brief, the Europeans were engaged in biological warfare.

    Unfortunately for this thesis, we know of but a single instance of such warfare, and the documentary evidence is inconclusive. In 1763, a particularly serious uprising threatened the British garrisons west of the Allegheny mountains. Worried about his limited resources, and disgusted by what he saw as the Indians’ treacherous and savage modes of warfare, Sir Jeffrey Amherst, commander-in-chief of British forces in North America, wrote as follows to Colonel Henry Bouquet at Fort Pitt: “You will do well to try to inoculate the Indians [with smallpox] by means of blankets, as well as to try every other method, that can serve to extirpate this execrable race.”

    Bouquet clearly approved of Amherst’s suggestion, but whether he himself carried it out is uncertain. On or around June 24, two traders at Fort Pitt did give blankets and a handkerchief from the fort’s quarantined hospital to two visiting Delaware Indians, and one of the traders noted in his journal: “I hope it will have the desired effect.” Smallpox was already present among the tribes of Ohio; at some point after this episode, there was another outbreak in which hundreds died.

    So, while Churchill is distorting the truth if he wants to make it sound like this was a common practice, the link that Sheila links to ignores the one case that actually supports Churchill, which sounds like cherryh-picking to me. For a better criticism of Churchill, see the article that I linked.

    BTW, I am pretty sure that tenure doesn’t protect you from being fired for deliberate academic misbehaviour, so this case doesn’t really show any problems with tenure (there might or might not be such problems, but this clearly hasn’t anything to do with that). So hopefully Churchill will get fired for this.

  7. #7 Lace D'Oyley
    May 17, 2006

    A small quibble Kristjan: there was no US Army in 1763. Amherst was a Briton; not that that makes his suggestion less reprehensible.

  8. #8 Mr. Bingley
    May 18, 2006

    Actually, the Churchill case is not so much an indictment of tenure as an indictment of racial quotas. He was hired and tenured solely because he claimed to be of american indian lineage. He does not have a PhD (well, not one actually earned); he is a symbol of PC gone amok.

  9. #9 Mr. Bingley
    May 18, 2006

    Trackback keeps getting ‘throttled.’

  10. #10 Graham
    May 22, 2006

    After reading the report, its interesting to reflect just how much damage Ward Churchill has done to his own cause by his actions.

    As the investigators noted there is legitimate evidence of the dubious actions carried out by the US Govt in the name of ‘assimilation’.

    That Ward Churchill resorted to David Irving style tactics in his writings cannot be justified by any defence that Ward Churchill can offer.

    The truly sad thing about all this is that Ward is ‘immune’ to critisim not merely because of tenure but because his output is ‘politically correct’ and therefore only ‘reactionaries’ would attack him or find fault with it.

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