Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Ask and ye shall receive

Oh how one does love the interwebs. PB reader Leah sends along Professor Thomas Brown's upcoming paper in Plagiary on "Ward Churchill's Twelve Excuses for Plagiarism" (and thanks to Professor Brown for making it available). It's devastating--and surprisingly funny. Long piece, so I'll just give a taste of Brown's points, and trust that the whole paper will be posted soon at Plagiary.

First, Brown sets the stage:
Churchill's various acts of research misconduct include his plagiarism of two essays, one by Professor Fay Cohen, and another by a defunct activist group that called itself "Dam the Dams." Now that these plagiarisms have been discovered, Churchill has changed his mind about plagiary, and thinks it should not be a firing offense after all. Churchill and his supporters have deployed at least twelve different excuses for his habit of plagiarism.

(In the interest of full disclosure: In June 2005, Churchill filed a spurious research misconduct complaint against me, because my faculty web page contained evidence of Churchill's fabrication of smallpox blanket genocide against the Mandan Indians in 1837. I published this research in Plagiary in June 2006. My superiors read Churchill's complaint and immediately decided that it did not warrant any response.)

Excuse Number One: I'm the real author.

When Churchill was charged with plagiarizing Rebecca Robbins and Annette Jaimes, he offered a novel defense: He had ghostwritten for both authors, and thus is entitled to reprint that material under his own name without crediting those authors. Jaimes (one of Churchill’s ex-wives) denies that Churchill authored her work, but the passages in question do bear Churchill’s stylistic tics and topical obsessions. . . .

The federal rules are currently silent on whether ghostwriting should best be classified as falsification or plagiarism. However, due to another ongoing academic ghostwriting scandal, Congress is investigating the question (Vance, 2007, p. A35). Editors of science journals already agree that ghostwriting is unethical (WAME, 2007).

Churchill's employer, the University of Colorado, addresses ghostwriting more directly, by specifying "Other Violations" that constitute research misconduct, besides fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism (1998):

Failure to comply with established standards regarding author names on publications. Other serious deviation from accepted practices in proposing, carrying out, or reporting results from research[.]

Furthermore, when Churchill defended himself against plagiarism charges by claiming to have ghostwritten the works in question, he made himself vulnerable to new misconduct charges. Churchill had fabricated and falsified while ghostwriting for others (Brown, 2006, pp. 4-5; Wesson et al, 2006, pp. 23-24, 90-91). Churchill then cited his ghostwritten essays as evidence for arguments in essays that he published under his own name (Wesson et al, 2006).

The CU research misconduct committee observes that this behavior: “permits the author to create the false appearance that his claims are supported by other scholars when, in fact, he is the only source for such claims” (Wesson et al, 2006, p. 90). If you accept Churchill's claim that he had the right to reuse material he ghostwrote for Rebecca Robbins and Annette Jaimes without crediting them, then the plagiarism charge transmutes into a fabrication charge. Each of CU's faculty committees has unanimously found Churchill guilty of fabricating data by ghostwriting and self-citation (Wesson et al, 2006, p. 90). However, there remain the two additional charges of plagiarizing essays by Fay Cohen and "Dam the Dams", for Churchill never claimed to have ghostwritten these works. . . .

Excuse Number Four: But I cited the real authors.

In Excuse Number Four, Churchill argues that his appropriation of various essays does not constitute plagiarism because he did, after all, give a citation to the original authors (Wesson et al, 2006, p. 83).

(“But Professor, when I plagiarized Janie’s term paper, I did mention her in the footnotes!”)

Of course, if the amount of work that Churchill had appropriated was miniscule [sic]and duly cited, such action could be defined as "scholarship" rather than "plagiarism." Churchill's Excuse Number Four appeals to the fuzziness of the boundary between plagiary and scholarship, inviting the cursory observer to give Churchill the benefit of the doubt.

Excuse Number Four raises an important question: How much can you take from another author, duly cited, without committing plagiarism? Churchill's challenge here is he is charged with plagiarizing extensive swaths of two essays, amounting to the majority of pages in the original. This degree of appropriation is unquestionably a transgression of an admittedly fuzzy boundary, and so all of the CU committees who heard Churchill's case have sanctioned him for plagiarizing both essays.

Excuse Number Five: It’s all the editors’ fault. For some reason they gave me authorship credit I didn't deserve.

The major weakness of Churchill's Excuse Number Four is that not only did he plagiarize the bulk of two essays, he also neglected to even cite the original authors in each of his multiple republications of the essay he plagiarized from "Dam the Dams." And so Churchill went to the well yet again for Excuse Number Five: His editors had given him full credit for an essay that someone else had authored, before he came along and "rewrote" it (Wesson et al, 2006, pp. 83, 86). The editors in question have not yet publicly either confirmed or denied Churchill's accusation. . . .

Excuse Number Six: But Churchill didn't plagiarize everything he's ever published. Only some of it! . . .

The federal regulations on plagiarism do not allow for a free pass for just a touch of plagiary. . . .

Excuse Number Nine: I, like, did it on behalf of "The Movement," man. . . .

Churchill appears to have borrowed this line of argument from one of his defenders, CU Professor Tom Mayer (2005):

“The Dam the Dams group, from which Churchill supposedly plagiarized, was part of a broad new left movement for social change, a movement in which I also participated. Movement people did not conceive the world in terms of property rights, nor were they obsessed with using publications to chalk up status points. Thus the ethics of citation within the new left movement differed substantially from standard academic protocol.”
Mayer's point is that there are certain circumstances, such as in "The Movement," where you can freely appropriate other people's work without meeting the definition of plagiarism. Are there such circumstances available to faculty at a research university? The federal regulations on research misconduct do not specify a circumstance in which it is permissible to appropriate another person's work without giving credit. . . .

(“But Professor, I'm sure Che Guevara wouldn't care that I plagiarized his writing and turned it in to you under my name. Because I was so doing it out of solidarity with oppressed workers and people of color. Viva la revolucion!”)

Excuse Number Ten: Holding me responsible for my research misconduct constitutes academic double jeopardy.

Churchill brought in Eric Cheyfitz as a defense witness in Churchill’s appeal hearing at CU to offer Excuse Number Ten. Cheyfitz, from his vantage point as an English professor, has managed to discern a hitherto unknown legal doctrine (Pascucci, 2007):

“Once a university has reviewed your work and then [to] suddenly charge you with research misconduct … is the academic version of double jeopardy."

Cheyfitz has yet to disclose the hidden authority that forbids a university from charging a professor with research misconduct if said professor is tenured. The federal regulations governing research misconduct fail to mention that tenure constitutes a free pass against plagiarism charges.

(“But Professor, you didn’t realize that I plagiarized Janie's term paper until the second time I turned it in to you. That’s academic double jeopardy!”)

Excuse Number Twelve: Holding me responsible for my plagiarism violates my right to free speech! . . .

While Churchill's defense is unconvincing, it nonetheless invokes the most important principle at stake in the Churchill controversy, and the one that garners the most concern from other academics. Churchill and his supporters argue that the academy should protect the free speech rights of people from all different perspectives–even from people who indict terror victims as equivalent to Nazis. While such support for politically unpopular free speech is admirable in principle, the logical outcome of protecting outrageous professors from political persecution by immunizing them from research misconduct investigations is problematic. Outrageous speech would become a shield that permits a professor to commit research misconduct without fear of sanction.

(“But Professor, certainly any student as deliberately offensive as I am must be automatically inoculated against all charges of plagiarism!”)

In order to make certain that he really is abhorrent enough to get the free pass on his research misconduct, Churchill added a few more choice words about the 9/11 victims in a speech last year (Crowell, 2006):

You do remember the incident which the terrorists overpowered the stewardess on the aircraft and tweezed her eyebrows with his tweezers, until she screamingly submitted to fly the plane into a building. Remember that one? Tweezers. Tweezed into submission.
The challenge for the University of Colorado has been to isolate Churchill's political speech from his research misconduct, and treat the two domains separately. CU holds that the principle of academic freedom preserves Churchill’s right to mock the murder of the 9/11 flight attendants. CU draws the line, meanwhile, at research misconduct. . . .
I'll just let the professor perorate from here on:
While Churchill’s copious manifestations of personal corruption have been known in Indian Studies and Indian activist circles for years, it seems that no one ever filed a formal complaint of plagiarism with CU. In early 2005, during the brouhaha over Churchill’s 9/11 commentary, the Colorado media rounded up various obscure exposes by Churchill’s academic critics and threw them in the university’s face. The university was then compelled to investigate.

Churchill and his defenders argue that it was too late. Turning the principle of probable cause backwards, Churchill holds that now that the university has evidence of his misconduct in hand, it cannot investigate. If the university wanted to investigate, it should have done so before the evidence of his misconduct came to its attention. According to this line of argument, Churchill's insults to the 9/11 victims have effectively inoculated him from ever being held responsible for his research misconduct, whether committed in the past, present, or future.

Churchill’s own principled support for free speech appears to end at the tip of his nose. He has been prosecuted in federal court for obstructing Italian-American pensioners from marching in Columbus Day parades. Churchill holds that his Ninth Amendment right to be offended by a Columbus Day parade somehow supersedes the elderly paraders’ First Amendment right to gather and celebrate.

Churchill and his supporters have filed spurious research misconduct complaints as retaliation against at least six professors who have criticized Churchill's research misconduct (myself included). Churchill even demanded that my university remove evidence of his research misconduct from my personal web page.

Nonetheless, I still support Churchill’s First Amendment rights—even if he doesn’t return the favor—because the principle of academic freedom is crucial for a well-functioning academy. Thus Excuse Number Twelve appears to be the sole source of what support Churchill still has remaining within the academy. Of Churchill's faculty colleagues at CU, 199 signed a newspaper ad on his behalf in February 2005 when the scandal broke. By July 2007, Churchill could find only four CU colleagues willing to sign a university grievance protesting his imminent firing. The cause of this dwindling support is the CU community's increasing awareness of the full extent of Churchill's plagiarism, fabrication, and falsification. There may also be distaste for making a free speech martyr out of a man who himself appears to be attempting to intimidate other professors in the CU community into silence, by filing spurious misconduct charges.

Churchill did manage to draw a handful of signatories for an advertisement published in the New York Times on April 12, 2007. The ad copy was composed by retired professor Richard Falk, and Reggie Dylan, "a contributing writer for Revolution newspaper" (the Communist Party's official organ). Falk and Dylan shamelessly misrepresent the facts and circumstances surrounding the CU faculty committees' investigation into Churchill's research misconduct. Much of their ad criticizes the Iraq War, and argues that Churchill's firing somehow derives from global politics. But the NYT ad does not even attempt to defend Churchill on the issue of plagiarism.
[Actually the ad appeared in the New York Review of Books--ed.]
Because surely a man with Twelve Different Excuses must be twelve times as innocent as a man with only one excuse, right? Unfortunately, Churchill’s academic supporters are either unaware of his first eleven Excuses for plagiary, or don't care. The pro-Churchill petition signers jump past them, and go right to Excuse Number Twelve. Even if you don’t buy the first eleven Excuses, that last one just might stick to the wall if Churchill is lucky.

(“But Professor, you wanted to let Ward Churchill get away with plagiarism! Why not me?”)

No comments: