Home > Uncategorized > Shouting Fire: Stories From The Edge Of Free Speech, Commentary 1

Shouting Fire: Stories From The Edge Of Free Speech, Commentary 1

The University of Colorado had to deal with the controversial professor Ward Churchill somehow.  I believe that their choosing to investigate was fair. It can help justify those who view him unfavorably, while still giving the man a chance to reveal his innocence.

Any professor should be able to speak on nearly any subject that is relevant to their class.  But when the level of passion about a moral controversy becomes so great, a professor may be abandoning his goal to educate.  It is true that Americans should become aware of the atrocities that our predecessors committed against American Indians.  But I think studying historical detail and accounts of suffering is a better way for college students to learn.  Churchill’s goal seems to be “you should hate the government for what they did and now deny they did.”  He doesn’t give our self-loathing, ever-correcting United States government any respect. 

His claims and opinions about 9/11 are extremely controversial.   He says that the suffering caused by it is a form of justice against the United States.  I don’t believe Ward is crazy.  This country should look at its recent military engagements critically.  However, this radical hate of this country, or any current nation, even, doesn’t belong in a classroom.  He doesn’t seem to care about people learning and debating, as much as he wants people to agree that America is evil.  He did a poor job teaching if he talked about 9/11 this way in a classroom.  He puts the university at risk, since they are inevitably associated with him. 

 His variety of dissent is protected.  He should be glad he can say whatever extreme thing he wants sans an actual intent to harm people.  But he seems to deliberately feed off the controversy and confusion that happen when he is talked about.  I would not like learning under a professor with such a hardcore agenda, even one I agreed with.  People are fired for poor reasons all the time.  I think this is a good reason.  The official firing reasons included poor research conduct in the form of plagiarism and fabrication.  This might be a justification, not a reason.  But it is a fine justification.

 I would not have fired Ward Churchill.  I would have tried to give him one more chance to teach, with more emphasis on positively presenting arguments that he does not agree with, and helping students synthesize and analyze them.  He would probably gain more public respect if he gave this kind of balance a chance.  If he responded cynically, I’d fire him.  Churchill seems to be a victim of his identity as part of a heavily wronged race of people, who loathes not speaking ill of his enemy.

 Having to teach “both sides of as issue” seems like an extremely good policy.  I would recommend it for all classes involving government, human rights, politics, or ethics.  I have learned a great deal in college classes that have ideologically opposed material in the same subject.  But such a sweeping answer still has flaws- not to be met with cynicism, but an eagerness to understand its depth.

 Surely in the past, a professor that promoted equal rights for all races could be considered radical.  We Americans may be deniers of our own cruelty.  But the situations are so different, and we have made so much progress.  A professor should not have an agenda, and condemn all he disagrees with.  But if he has a strong opinion, this could stimulate more learning about a topic.  Radical speech of the past has oft become progress of the present.  And we may end up accusing people who have agendas who don’t, or are trying their best not to make agendas out of their opinions or understanding. 

 We must admit there are some agendas that are acceptable, some not, and some in between.  We do not object to the professor who calls for increased intercultural communication or fair elections.  We despise a professor who hates the country’s government as a whole, or is disgusted by social mobility.  We are mixed hearing someone who says- a belief in God makes you a better person, or universal health care is a right.  Yet then again, without actual solid beliefs about human existence and good government, the United States’ culture and well-being can be risked.   I do not doubt the sophisticated qualities of American ethics.

 I would tell these things to David Horowitz also.  He has the right to hold and speak about his anti-affirmative action and anti-war views.  But when you are a very well-off person, who can make his opinion famous, with a chief goal of indoctrinating your side of an issue in the classroom, and the university does not approve of such a thing, I have no sympathy for the loss of work.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Professor Dunphy
    May 15, 2010 at 1:53 PM

    Well done on this post! Really good insight.

    Enjoyed reading it.

    Great work.

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