Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

An open letter to Salon

Posted by Charles II on February 22, 2007

It’s difficult to disagree with Professor Paul Campos’s characterization of Professor Glenn Reynold’s call for assassinations as “pretty much insane.”  I think that if Iran called for assassination of American scientists, many of us would think *that* amounted to a declaration of war, after all.

Unlike Professor Campos, I think this incident illustrates how important academic freedom is and how it needs a stronger defense than many academics are willing to give it. For truth and error to contend on an equal field, we must permit error to speak its piece and be rebuked. It is the public rebuke of error that genuinely silences it.

The Ward Churchill case was alarming in that it showed how little academics are willing to hold true to their professed belief in academic freedom. Churchill was a showman, an entrepreneur who pressed the limits, and sloppy in his scholarship (see here). But none of this came up *legitimately*, as a critique by his colleagues. Instead, it came up because he made a cruel comment about those killed on 9/11, a comment which right-wingers believed they could exploit to expose the dastardly left.

What resulted from the criticism of Churchill by his colleagues was the creation of the impression that the University of Colorado had succumbed to right-wing pressure and fallen to enforcing political orthodoxy. Professor Richard Falk and others have joined to oppose this effort and support academic freedom (see here) [2/18/09, updated link here].

Those who do believe in academic freedom will dismiss Professor Campos’s raising the question of Professor Reynolds’s tenure as mischievous, not in the mainstream of American academic thought, and not worthy of serious consideration. One wishes that Reynolds and his cohort would return the sentiment, but that is doubtful. It is left to those who believe in freedom to defend it, no matter who supports or opposes it.


I might add that, having looked at the critique of Churchill, I thought most of it was pretty lame. If that’s what gets people fired, one could get rid of many people on a university faculty. What Churchill deserves– and he would find this the harshest punishment of all– is to be ignored.

14 Responses to “An open letter to Salon”

  1. aliasclio said

    Churchill was guilty of rather more than sloppiness. I understand that he was found to have published articles under false names, and then cited them in his other work under his own real name. That strikes me as a fairly serious form of fraud.

  2. Stormcrow said


    In serious academia, that ought to be career-ending.

  3. Charles II said

    Aliasclio, why speculate on what Churchill did when I provided links to both what the committee found and what one of his defenders, Richard Falk, has said? Go and read them both, and perhaps you’ll start to see my point of view.

    I’m not here to defend Churchill, who probably should never have been hired. But he was and he received tenure after review by his peers. Tenure is a very serious contract, one that took many decades of struggle to obtain in America. It’s something to be overridden only for the gravest of reasons.

    And how did the investigation into Churchill’s scholarship occur? Not because it came up in the normal course of things, but because Churchill made a politically unpopular (indeed, a reprehensible) statement. In other words, once he had been identified as a political opponent of the Bush regime, the search to find a cause to fire him commenced. That is what should worry anyone who cares about academic freedom and that’s why I posted in defense of Glenn Reynolds: an ass who should never have been hired, whose scholarship is doubtful, and whose actions were “pretty much insane” if not outright criminal.

    Take a look at how Wikipedia characterizes the review of his work:

    The Investigative Committee, a five-member subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Research Misconduct, agreed unanimously that Churchill had engaged in “serious research misconduct,” including four counts of falsifying information, two counts of fabricating information, two counts of plagiarizing the works of others, improperly reporting the results of studies, and failing to “comply with established standards regarding author names on publications.” In addition, the committee found him “disrespectful of Indian oral traditions.” Two members found that Churchill’s actions did not warrant dismissal and that the most appropriate sanction was suspension. While the remaining three found that his conduct was grounds for dismissal, they were split as to what the most appropriate sanction was—two believed suspension was appropriate and one stated dismissal was appropriate….The Standing Committee on Research Misconduct accepted the findings of the Investigative Committee that Churchill had “committed serious, repeated, and deliberate research misconduct.” However, the Committee disagreed on what sanctions should be imposed. Six members voted for dismissal. Two members voted for a five year suspension without pay, and one voted for a two year suspension without pay.(emphasis added)

    Churchill’s peers, who knew the details of the case, could not agree that he should be dismissed. Are you so sure that you know better than they?

  4. aliasclio said

    Charles II, I had in fact previously read the work of which you speak, encouraged to do so by a professor at the University of Colorado, as it happens.

    I’m not certain that his comments on 9/11 and the fact that they undoubtedly triggered the investigation into his work are relevant to Churchill’s dismissal.

    A purely hypothetical example/analogy: Suppose a colleague of mine fell under investigation for, let’s say, inappropriate use of departmental funds, for no better reason than that a jealous co-worker had frequently accused him of this and the rumours had grown to loud to ignore. In the course of the investigation, it was discovered that the man was not actually guilty of this offense, but was guilty of sexual harassment of his junior female colleagues. Would the fact that the initial investigation was unjustified and brought about by false rumours justify ignoring the man’s real offenses?

    If you had been able to name someone who made critical comments about the US’s role in 9/11 and was subsequently fired for that and for no other reason, I might be more inclined to share your alarm about the threat to academic freedom.

  5. Charles II said

    You mean, like Richard Berthold?

    On the morning of September 11, 2001, University of New Mexico history
    professor Richard Berthold joked with his class, “Anyone who would blow up the
    Pentagon would have my vote.” Berthold received death threats, keeping him off
    campus. On September 27, an unidentified person left a message on the provost’s
    voice-mail saying if Berthold were not “ousted” within 24 hours, Berthold would
    be ousted by other sources. Berthold was threatened in front of his home by a biker
    who came at him screaming obscenities, and he received several angry e-mails and
    letters with messages such as “I’d like to blow you up.” New Mexico state representative William Fuller declared, “Treason is giving aide or comfort to the enemy. Any terrorist who heard Berthold’s comment was comforted.” In the end, Berthold was pressured to retire from his job because of those 11 words he spoke
    on 9/11.

    C’mon, Aliasclio. If you’d read and reflected on Falk’s account of how David Horowitz has been systematically trying to get professors fired because of their political beliefs, you wouldn’t be cracking wise. I know academics who have silenced themselves because they are afraid.

    Is this what we want America to become, a place where people measure their political speech out of fear for their job?

  6. Ah, yes, David Horowitz and his censorship brigade.

  7. Stormcrow said

    Is this what we want America to become, a place where people measure their political speech out of fear for their job?

    Hate to say this, Charles, but that’s already what it is.

    I comment under a pseudonym for a reason. Nine or ten years ago, I was far more naive, and posted things up in the ‘Net under my own name. I was one of those lucky fools who didn’t pay the price of folly. And by today, I’m relived to say, nearly all of that work has gone down the bitbucket, with blog closings and hosting changes down the years.

    I don’t spend too much sweat on this. But it’ll be enough to throw a crafted Google search wide of the mark, which is was my intent.

  8. aliasclio said

    Charles II, you have not addressed my main point concerning Ward Churchill, which was that, whatever the events that brought about an inquiry into his activities, the activities themselves revealed a man unworthy of the name of a scholar.

    As far as the quarrel between David Horowitz and Richard Falk is concerned, I must plead ignorance, up to a point. I am not an American. I know of David Horowitz; I know of Richard Falk. I have googled their names together to see if I could find anything that suggested that Horowitz had done something unfair to Falk. All I could find were vague accusations that did not suggest anything that went beyond the kind of partisanship that appears to be normal in the United States. I mean, both sides – the Horowitz and Falk sides – appeared to be equally guilty of partisanship.

    I have read that at many campus events at which Mr Horowitz has been invited to speak, students hostile to his views either try to oppose the invitation or try to disrupt those occasions at which he does appear.

    Perhaps I ought to mention that although conservative in some respects, according to the American definition of the term, I was not an admirer of President Bush and did not support the war in Iraq. Nor did I support his sanctioning of torture. I am opposed to stem-cell research insofar as it involves the cloning of embryos and opposed to abortion. On the other hand, I am also opposed to capital punishment and I support state-sponsored health-care programs. In short, I do not think that I can be labelled as an uncritical supporter of the American Republican party.

  9. Charles II said

    Aliasclio, I’ll be happy to comment on Churchill’s scholarship or lack thereof as soon as I have some kind of sense that you’re reading and thinking about the links I am providing to you. I provided you with proof that one of your assertions was false (that I couldn’t name someone who had been fired purely for political speech). That should be a signal that you might want to re-think whether you know as much on this issue as you think you do. Actually discussing the Ward Churchill case takes work, and I am lazy enough not to want to do it unless there’s some possibility that what I say will actually be heard.

    David Horowitz’s attack on academic freedom is well-known. The fellow I linked you to, John Wilson, has written a book on the issue (see here). Horowitz is widely resented by academics because he encourages the most irresponsible sort of attacks on professors. One of my acquaintance was accused of liberal political bias by one of Horowitz’s minions. It all came to naught when the head of the college Republican women, who had been in the class where the alleged bias supposedly took place, said it was a load of hooey.

  10. aliasclio said

    Sorry for my confusion in my previous comment. I hadn’t seen the link you provided, and I was also trying to work on something else at the same time. Now, having checked out the links you provided, and pursued the subject further via google, I still don’t see much of a case for a government-sponsored threat to academic freedom after 9/11. I don’t doubt, though, that there was an atmosphere of fear and paranoia on campus that may have prompted some members of the professoriate to censor themselves.

    First point: Richard Berthold was not fired; nor was he forced to resign, as far as I can determine from the information available online. He states himself (see his nervous chair and other senior university officials nagged him relentlessly to mind what he said in class, and he decided to leave. Most of the voices demanding that he should leave his post appear to have come from the general public rather than the federal government.
    Further, although some members of his state legislature threatened to remove university funding unless Berthold was terminated, the threat never materialized. He says his students were supportive although I assume some of them cannot have been, or the story of his comments would never have become a public issue. It might be wise to recall that all this happened in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when people were both angry and fearful, and that he did not resign until December 2002.

    None of the other academics cited by Mr Wilson was fired, either, except for Professor Churchill, whose case, as I said, is rather different. Nicholas de Genova was denounced by Columbia University President Lee Bollinger but not fired; his case is noteworthy for your perspective because it appears that 104 members of Congress demanded his resignation. Professor Kirstein was, according to Kirstein’s own (it seems) website, was suspended and reprimanded. (See

    Regarding Mr Horowitz’s approach to the issue of conservatism on campus, I do not believe that it is well-advised or wisely conducted, from what I have read of it. I think his Academic Bill of Rights is preposterous, as is the idea of a hiring balance between liberals and conservatives on American campuses. Nevertheless, I have seen evidence enough of the disappearance of conservative voices on campus over the last 30 years that I believe he has a valid point. (I have written about this on my blog, Moreover, like the critics of American foreign policy you name, he has also been the target of death threats and of attempts to prevent him from speaking on campus, see

  11. Charles II said

    Alaisclio says, “Richard Berthold was not fired; nor was he forced to resign”

    Oh, come on! This is like saying that when you’re confronted by a man with a gun, you didn’t flee, your heels elected to reverse direction. The State Legislature was threatening to cut the University’s funding. Senior management at the university took the hint and did everything up to fabricating charges against Berthold to make it clear that he was leaving, the only nicety being whether it was called “resignation.” The man was, for all intents and purposes, fired.

    I didn’t claim that more than one tenured academic had been fired for political reasons, because tenure still has some power, but Wilson documents at least two non-tenured people losing their jobs purely for what they said: Mohammad Rahat, who said something that people took amiss and Elizabeth Ito, who refused to accept a prohibition on speaking about the war in her classroom.

    I don’t know what your second link is supposed to be about. It’s a link to Frontpage Magazine, i.e., is an account in Horowitz’s magazine of protests to his speaking on campus. Nice unbiased source there!

    The main thing that’s interesting about Horowitz’s complaint is that the protests against him are essentially spontaneous. The government isn’t organizing them. Faculty and staff aren’t organizing them. Students, for their personal and individual reasons. dislike him. Their rudeness is wrong. But he thrives on it. Horowitz is well-known to fabricate or propagate fabrications of conservative victimhood. It is great for fundraising. Al Sharpton is nowhere near as polished at playing this game as Horowitz.

    I see nothing relating to death threats. But obviously, those are an important element of what amounts to denial of academic freedom. If you read Berthold’s account, he said that two right-wing hosts went right up to the line of openly urging their listeners to lynch him. If there were death threats against Horowitz, they deserve to be prosecuted as a crime… just as the threats against Berthold deserved to be treated with sympathy by the University of New Mexico– and prosecuted.

    Aliasclio says, “I have seen evidence enough of the disappearance of conservative voices on campus over the last 30 years that I believe he has a valid point.”

    If conservative voices have been disappearing from American campuses (a proposition which I don’t agree to), it’s because conservatives have been losing the national argument. The period of conservative ascendance from 1995-2009 was based on razor thin margins at the presidential level and by gerrymandering at the state level. And even that marginal attachment to power was the result of huge amounts of money being poured in to poison the national debate with false choices and false facts. Conservatism has always been based to some degree in aristocracy and monarchism, the notion that some people are better than others, the idea that the mob must be controlled by the better sorts.

    America is thin soil for such ideas, thank God.

  12. aliasclio said

    Sorry, Charles II, but I think your argument is hollow. The threat to cut off funding to the University of New Mexico never materialized, as I said, and Prof. Berthold remained at his job for over a year afterwards. He was not in any sense under a gun. He states that he found his working conditions intolerable because of harassment from his superiors, who appear to have been a collection of lily-livers. Incidentally, I rather liked what I read of the man and in spite of his lack of judgment after 9/11 I certainly wouldn’t have thought he deserved firing, or the nit-picking anxiety of his colleagues.

    I did not mean to imply that the article to which I linked claimed that Mr Horowitz had been subject to death threats. I included because it indicated that many campuses had made attempts to prevent him from speaking. I found reports of the death threats he has received elsewhere; I cannot at present recall the source. You deplore my own source without taking into account that it is difficult to get anything except hostile comments about any conservative from any “liberal” news account. As I have no way of determining which members of either group might be telling the truth, I try as best I can to discriminate fairly between the two by not dismissing either one.

    In any case you cannot seriously suppose that no right-wing speaker, academic, or pundit has been the target of death threats from the left. Both Jonah Goldberg and John Derbyshire say that they have received the occasional death threat; they appear not to have taken the things too seriously, either. Celebrities routinely receive death threats, whether or not they make public statements. This seems to be an inescapable fact of public life.

    As for your comments here, If conservative voices have been disappearing from American campuses (a proposition which I don’t agree to), it’s because conservatives have been losing the national argument. The period of conservative ascendance from 1995-2009 was based on razor thin margins at the presidential level and by gerrymandering at the state level…Conservatism has always been based to some degree in aristocracy and monarchism, the notion that some people are better than others, the idea that the mob must be controlled by the better sorts, they are nonsensical.

    When I say that conservative voices are not represented in academia, I do not mean that Republican voices are not to be found there – an issue about which I neither know nor care. What I meant was that it is often difficult for a scholar with conservative views regarding history, English literature, theology, and other humanities studies to get hired, or indeed even to proceed with academic training. As a PhD in history myself, with conservative views, I found it difficult to find a thesis adviser because most professors in my department had an understanding of history that was profoundly different from mine. I had no objection to hearing their views but feared that it would not be possible for them to mentor me because they would instinctively dislike my approach.

    Your suggestion that conservatives are monarchists in disguise is absurd. American conservatives today are, if anything, decidedly populist in their view of the nation and of government. Those who are not populists resemble classical liberals far more than they do classical conservatives. Their spiritual father is Adam Smith (would that they adhered to him more closely), and not Joseph de Maistre. What’s more, the idea is all the more absurd in that your country is rapidly approaching a point when its laws will be set, and not merely administered, by the judicial rather than the legislative branch.

  13. Charles II said

    I think you’re being unreasonable in refusing to consider what happened to Berthold as a firing, Aliasclio. As evidenced by this letter, people who were there saw it as a firing. The title of the letter: Berthold fired to warn faculty not to question military links. Perhaps I’m the unreasonable one, but at least I can find someone who agrees with me that Berthold was effectively fired.

    Aliasclio says “You deplore my own source without taking into account that it is difficult to get anything except hostile comments about any conservative from any “liberal” news account.”

    It’s not really a matter of facts– I’ll stipulate that opponents of Horowitz go to his talks in order to be obnoxious– it’s a matter of sourcing. You couldn’t even find a conservative other than David Horowitz or someone relying on his self-interested reporting? I think I could easily find that, especially since school newspapers tend to report on matters of controversy.

    Aliasclio says, “Celebrities routinely receive death threats, whether or not they make public statements. This seems to be an inescapable fact of public life.”

    Making death threats is serious business, a criminal act. Celebrities pay big sums of money for bodyguards and other protective measures. Fortunately, they can usually get help from law enforcement. It’s a very big deal for someone who is not a public person to start receiving death threats.

    I’m sure conservatives do receive threats, including death threats. That’s wrong. I’m just as sure that conservatives have an organized strategy of issuing threats of harm as a means of silencing political opponents. I’ve documented examples of that:

    Probably one of the best-documented recent episodes of harassment of an individual for a thought crime is the restaurant manager who had the temerity to report Jenna Bush for illegally buying alcohol at Chuy’s, an Austin trough catering to students. In addition to publishing the name, address and telephone number of the manager, the Free Republic printed her driver’s license number, date of birth, even the name of her infant daughter — and then commented about what lamentable things could befall her and her family. “Tracer” said:

    Giving out her driver’s license no. and her DOB opens
    her up to mucho identity theft. It also makes
    background checks by ‘inquiring minds’ a breeeze. But
    at least that’s better than the way a Democrat
    apparatchik in Chicago would have handled this if the
    roles/parties were reversed. The result rhymes with
    ‘room’. [7]

    Free Republicans also boasted in planning to place phony orders for food, file false reports of drunk driving by patrons, make unfounded accusations of tax violations by the restaurant and the manager and — speaking of abortion clinic protestors — dump “buturic [sic] acid” in the restaurant.

    Far less prominent enemies of such “Rethuglicans” are treated to tactics just as vicious. Journalist Johnny Angel, a contributor to the LA Weekly and other publications tells me that he “got a hate letter once telling [Angel] that he had exposed [Angel] to the LAPD as a known child molester.” [8]. A former editor for Newsweek of my acquaintance has also mentioned this sort of false accusation being used against him.

    Aliasclio says, “What I meant was that it is often difficult for a scholar with conservative views regarding history, English literature, theology, and other humanities studies to get hired, or indeed even to proceed with academic training.”

    Conservative scholars like Robert Bork, Ken Starr, and Milton Friedman? John Yoo? Harvey Mansfield? Bernard Lewis? Gilbert Maielender? Walter Williams? Victor Davis Hanson? Stephen Hayes? Daniel Dreisbach? John Marini? Charles Kesler? Fred Singer? Robert Sirico?

    I could give so many more examples of people who don’t seem to have had any problems, despite being not just conservatives, but publicly self-identified movement conservatives.

    And I might also point out that it cuts both ways. You complain about being isolated in history. Students who don’t believe in conservative orthodoxy tend to feel isolated in business school.

    Aliasclio says, “Your suggestion that conservatives are monarchists in disguise is absurd.”

    You deny that the American Tories were conservatives, seeking to conserve the hold of the British monarchy over the American colonies? Hm. Well.

    Conservatism is very careful not to define itself too carefully, lest what it is become all too clear. But here’s an essay from a fellow at Leiden that makes the key point well:

    Conservatim as a political philosophy – As a doctrine, conservatism is notoriously hard to define, partly because its adherents explicitly reject doctrines as the basis for politics. Nevertheless, it is probably justified to say that those who have sought to establish philosophical foundations for political conservatism from Edmund Burke
    1, through (Lord) Hugh Cecil and (Lord) Hailsham2 to Roger Scruton3 in the Nineteen Eighties, have shown a remarkable consistency in what they see as its central characteristics. Burke, the father of conservatism as an ideology, developed in his Reflections six themes, which have remained characteristic of conservative thought ever since:
    1. The importance of religion;
    2. The danger of injustice to individuals in the name of reform;
    3. The reality and desirability of distinctions of rank and station;
    4. The inviolability of private property;
    5. The view of society as an organism, rather than a mechanism; and finally
    6. The value of continuity with the past.4
    Central to the concept of conservatism is the notion that legitimate rule is based on established usage rather than on a mandate or any other form of “contractual” relationship between the rulers and the ruled.

    (emphasis added)

    So, conservatives believe that ruling people doesn’t require elections, just “established usage.” Like, say, conquest.

    I’ll stick with my opinion, thanks, but I appreciate your offer of yours.

  14. a m malik said

    There is nothing like antisemitism. It is not a sacred cow that u cant even open ur mouth. This is how much the Pro jewish lobby has stiffled the American thinking. Is it alright if one were to be called anti christian or anti muslim – but not antisemitism. It is high time that this thought be rationalized and brought parallel as for ohers
    am malik

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