Distinction between facts, opinion governs free speech

Since this column last left the now-infamous University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill, a lot has happened.

Hamilton College canceled Churchill’s scheduled Thursday visit, but the University of Colorado gave him a forum the following Tuesday. In that speech, Churchill said, “I’m not backing up an inch. I owe no one an apology.”

He also released a statement in which he, in a failed attempt to quell criticism, said, “I have never characterized all the Sept. 11 victims as ‘Nazis.’ What I said was that the ‘technocrats of empire’ working in the World Trade Center were the equivalent of ‘little Eichmanns.’ Adolf Eichmann was not charged with direct killing but with ensuring the smooth running of the infrastructure that enabled the Nazi genocide.”

Boy, that makes me feel a lot better; how about you?

Also, the University of Colorado’s Board of Regents held a meeting and decided to look into the record of the man who can now be safely referred to as “mental” Ward. No offense to any clinically insane individuals who may be reading my column.

In defiance, Churchill said in his speech, “I don’t answer to Bill Owens (Colorado’s governor). I do not answer to the Board of Regents in the way they think I do. The regents should do their job and let me do mine.” If ever there was an example of the kind of ivory-tower, delusional mentality that can result from tenure, that statement was it.

As you may know, two weeks ago in a column attempting to understand the world of liberal academia, I supported letting Churchill speak and continue on as a professor. I’ve now changed my mind based on three new points of criticism that have been raised about the supposed American Indian, Vietnam War combat veteran and academic scholar.

First, the ethnic studies professor’s legitimacy as a real American Indian has come into question.

The Rocky Mountain News said Churchill hasn’t provided the names of any of his American Indian ancestors and, “Critics who researched his family tree found only white branches.” The American Indian Movement accused Churchill of “masquerading as an Indian for years.”

It’s rare to find an ethnic studies professor who isn’t ethnic, and even more so to find one who lies about his ethnicity.

Second, the Denver Post reported, “Churchill has been unable or unwilling to produce anyone who can testify to … his accounts of facing combat in Vietnam.” And a Wisconsin newspaper for Native Americans reported that Churchill has “contrary military records.”

This is looking worse than last year’s presidential campaign.

And third — and probably the most important — Churchill’s academic work has been found, to say the least, lacking.

The Post said, “Churchill cites UCLA anthropologist Russell Thornton as the source of his assertion that, ‘The U.S. Army distributed smallpox-laden blankets as gifts among the Mandan (Indians).’ But Thornton actually wrote that smallpox was likely accidentally spread by deckhands with the disease as they unloaded merchandise among the Mandan.”

The Post also quotes University of New Mexico law professor John LaVelle, who wrote an essay questioning Churchill’s academic writing. LaVelle wrote, “By researching those copious endnotes, however, the discerning reader will discover that … Churchill’s analysis overall is sorely lacking in historical/factual veracity and scholarly integrity.”

If these allegations, which have been overlooked by his supporters in the media, are true, Churchill should be fired immediately.

Some well-meaning individuals would argue that he deserves academic freedom and can’t be fired because he has tenure. But based on these latest allegations, Churchill has not only misled people about his heritage and war record, but he has also totally discredited himself as an academic scholar.

I’ll be the first to defend someone’s right to free speech. As a college professor, Churchill has every right to his own opinions, but not his own facts.

Adam Fowler is a junior majoring in political science. oraclefowler@yahoo.com