Monday, May 21, 2007

How low can you go

The Rocky editorializes commonsensically on the CU Privilege and Tenure Committee's recommendation for a one-year suspension of Ward Churchill:
For anyone who cares about the integrity of American higher education, recent reports that the University of Colorado's Privilege and Tenure Committee has recommended professor Ward Churchill be suspended for a year but not fired is a blow to the stomach.

And bad news for CU, too.

Don't get us wrong. We don't believe for a moment that President Hank Brown will actually adopt the committee's advice and let Churchill remain as a permanent blight on the Boulder campus. At the end of this month Brown will, we remain confident, concur with recommendations made last year by the then-acting chancellor and the Standing Committee on Research Misconduct. They said Churchill should be fired.
Hmmm. "Don't believe for a moment . . ." "We remain confident . . .". They seem a little nervous to you?
So why is the latest recommendation such a depressing development? Because it undermines the united front that CU - that any university - should present to a member of its community who indulges in academic misconduct that includes plagiarism and the falsification of the historical record. Secondly, because the recommendation is yet another piece of evidence that a significant portion of the CU faculty rejects all meaningful accountability.

After all, the committee freely acknowledges the gravity of Churchill's transgressions. It concludes that he "committed multiple acts of plagiarism, fabrication and falsification." It says his behavior falls "below minimum standards of professional integrity" - the minimum, mind you - and therefore "requires severe sanctions."

And yet for three of the five committee members, a one-year suspension qualifies as "severe."

Why such leniency? Because while the Churchill case "shows misbehavior," the committee concluded, it is "not the worst possible misbehavior."

We readily grant the point. A professor could behave worse than Churchill did. So? People are fired all of the time for behavior that is patently intolerable but that could have been worse.

Come to think of it, most people in prison could have behaved worse. The question is whether the crime they committed warrants incarceration, not whether they sank as low as they possibly could go. . . .

In Churchill's case, the "multiple acts of plagiarism, fabrication and falsification" are compounded by a total, arrogant state of denial; he does not even consider what he did to be wrong, much less pledge to reform his ways. His behavior is likely to continue, in other words, if he returns to his old haunts. . . .

Churchill's case already proves how hard it is to take decisive action even in what should be an easy case: a tenured professor whose gross misconduct is conceded by all but a crackpot fringe. The process ensures that the case drags on for years. Committee after committee must weigh in with an opinion, as well as individual university officials, before any recommendation ultimately goes to the regents. All the while costs skyrocket.

If Churchill isn't fired, it will signal that CU has no interest in policing itself and that it puts the lifetime tenure of its faculty above its own reputation. It will devalue the truly remarkable research and writing done by so many other faculty members. It's too bad that a majority on the Privilege and Tenure Committee can't understand that. Thank heaven they don't have the final word.
Yes, thank heaven. But you have to admit, the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy isn't operating up to its usual standards of efficiency.

(via PB, who also notes the New York Post weighing in on the case)

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