An Open Letter From Concerned Academics
March 2, 2005
URGENT: The University of Colorado Board of Regents will be making
its recommendations about Ward Churchill in the week of March 7.
We call on all those who teach and research at colleges and
universities to raise their voices in opposition to this inquisition.
Sign and act on this open letter. Circulate it widely. Inform the
As an immediate step, we call on our colleagues to pass emergency
resolutions in faculty and professional associations and send them to
the University of Colorado Board of Regents. We offer the following
as a template for such resolutions:
Resolved, that the attempt, escalated by government authority, to
fire Ward Churchill and the trial by media which he is undergoing
amount to a serious assault on dissent, critical inquiry, and
academic freedom, and a heightening of the repressive atmosphere in
American society overall. This attack is intolerable and must stop
now. The precedents already set in this case - that a professor can
be publicly pilloried and threatened with dismissal for what he
writes - must not be allowed to stand. The University of Colorado
Board of Regents must drop any effort to fire Churchill, cease its
spurious investigation into his body of work and repudiate its
actions up to now; and all colleges and universities must reaffirm,
in word and deed, their commitment to defend critical thinking.
The past month has witnessed a chilling turn in American political
and intellectual life. Ward Churchill, a tenured professor and
former chair of the Ethnic Studies Department at the University of
Colorado, has been made the object of an unprecedented nationwide
attack for an essay he wrote three years ago. Two governors,
including the governor of Colorado, have called for his firing. The
national and local media have not only misrepresented his work and
views, but have increasingly vilified and slandered Ward Churchill
himself. Some of Churchill's speaking engagements have been
cancelled. Death threats have been made against him. In response,
the University of Colorado Board of Regents not only "apologized" for
Churchill's remarks - itself an utterly gratuitous and inappropriate
action - but initiated an investigation into his entire body of work
to search for mistakes and supposed evidence of "fraud." During the
week of March 7, the Board of Regents will conclude its 30-day review
of all of Churchill's writings and statements.
One must go back to the "scoundrel time" of the McCarthy years to
find anything even close to this. And now, as an unmistakable sign
of what this portends, just a week ago the University of Colorado at
Boulder announced an investigation into campus records to make sure
that every faculty member has actually signed his or her
state-required loyalty oath!
All this is intolerable and must be reversed--immediately.
To be clear: the issues here have nothing to do with the quality of
Ward Churchill's scholarship or his professional credentials. However
one views his choice of words or specific arguments, he is being put
in the dock solely for his radical critique of U.S. history and
present-day policy in the wake of the events of September 11, 2001.
Apparently, 9/11 is now the third rail of American intellectual life:
to critically probe into its causes and to interrogate the
international role of the United States is treated as heresy; those
inquiring can be denied forums, careers, and even personal safety.
And now Churchill's persecutors have gone further, repeatedly
ridiculing his scholarly argumentation that the United States
committed genocide against the indigenous people of this continent,
and that the FBI systematically attempted to disrupt and destroy the
movements and leaders of the 1960s. Rather than debate or disprove
such theses, Churchill's attackers attempt to render them beyond the
pale of respectable discourse. Through all this, new ground rules
are being established: any criticism or even questioning of the
institutional foundations of the United States, or of the motives and
interests behind its policies, will be treated as essentially
treasonous. Left unopposed, this trajectory will lead to a situation
of uncontested indoctrination enforced by the state.
The Churchill case is not an isolated incident but a concentrated
example of a well-orchestrated campaign launched in the name of
"academic freedom" and "balance" which in fact aims to purge the
universities of more radical thinkers and oppositional thought
generally, and to create a climate of intimidation. While the
right-wing claim that the universities are "left-wing dictatorships"
is specious beyond belief, it is unfortunately true that the campus
remains one of the few surviving refuges of critical thinking and
dissent in this country. This is something to defend and strengthen.
It would be hard to overstate the serious nature of what has already
happened, let alone what it would mean should the Regents fire
Churchill. If this assault on academe succeeds, the consequences for
American society as a whole will be nothing short of disastrous.
The response from the academic world has thus far fallen short of
what is required. Voices have been raised in opposition, but many
have been intimidated. What is needed is an outpouring of faculty
resolutions condemning this witch-hunt. Teach-ins. Protests.
We propose that emergency faculty resolutions be passed and sent to
the University of Colorado Board of Regents (secretary:
EthnicStudies@colorado.edu) and major media outlets. We further
propose that if the Colorado authorities continue their persecution
of Churchill, we mount major nationally coordinated protests on
campuses all over America - and internationally - as soon as
possible, and that we begin to join efforts to reverse this dangerous
direction in American political and intellectual life
The hour is very late; this case is nothing less than a watershed. We
must act, and act now.
Steven P. Best, Chair, Department of Philosophy, University of Texas-El Paso
Henry A. Giroux, Global Television Network Chair Professor in English
and Communications, McMaster University
Ruth Y. Hsu, Associate Professor of English, University of Hawai'i at Manoa
Alan Jones, Dean of Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs,
Bruce Lincoln, Caroline E. Haskell Professor of the History of
Religions, University of Chicago
Raymond Lotta, author and lecturer
Henry Silverman, Professor and Chairperson Emeritus, Michigan State University
Immanuel Wallerstein, Yale University
Allen W. Wood, Professor, Department of Philosophy, Stanford University
AMONG NEW SIGNATORIES TO THE OPEN LETTER:
Robert M. Baum, Director of African Studies, Iowa State University
Prasenjit Duara, Chair, Department of History, University of Chicago
Allen F. Roberts, Director, James S. Coleman African Studies Center,
University of California, Los Angeles
E-mail this letter to colleagues, as well as people and institutions
in other walks of life. Please get back to us with your ideas and let
us know what you are doing. Send us copies of resolutions and
statements. Add your name to this Open Letter.
E-mail to: email@example.com