Tuesday, June 19, 2007

ACTA President Anne Neal Says "Academic Freedom Needs Defending — From Ward Churchill"

Anne Neal, the President of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), has written a 6-19-07 article for Inside Higher Education called "Academic Freedom Needs Defending — From Ward Churchill."

This is exactly what President Carry Nelson of the American Association of University Professors ("Protecting your rights") should be doing if he were really protecting academic freedom and tenure instead of cynically exploiting professors' fears in order to protect Ward Churchill.

The AAUP website boasts loudly that its core mission is "telling the truth in difficult times" and "protecting academic freedom"; but as I have noted in earlier posts, the AAUP really just seems to be protecting Ward Churchill.

ACTA President Neal writes:

...Churchill is in the headlines today for something other than his opinions — this time, because of Colorado’s attention to his scholarly record.

Despite having only a master’s in communications, Churchill’s Colorado career was put on the fast track — landing him both a tenured professorship and chairmanship in ethnic studies. In subsequent years, charges of research misconduct began to surface. And in 2005, his university chose to ignore those allegations no longer. Having first made clear that Churchill was not being punished for his public utterances, the university launched a meticulous investigation centered on specific charges of scholarly misconduct. That is, it did what any institution claiming to care about academic standards must do. For this Hank Brown, who became president at Colorado after the scandal broke, deserves great credit.

When the Boulder campus’s Standing Committee on Research Misconduct issued its report on Churchill last summer, it unanimously found Churchill guilty of severe, sustained, and deliberate breaches of professional integrity. It further noted that the evaluative system that nurtured and rewarded Churchill needed an overhaul. Now, as Brown advises what sanction should apply, the investigation has also galvanized an important discussion about what academic freedom is — and what it is not.

To Brown, accountability is a crucial component of academic freedom. In recommending that Churchill be dismissed, Brown noted that the university’s policies define academic freedom as a set of privileges and correlative responsibilities — the latter often ignored in academic discourse on the topic. Academic freedom, he wrote, is “the freedom to inquire, discover, publish and teach truth as the faculty member sees it. … Within the bounds of the definition, however, ‘faculty members have the responsibility to maintain competence, exert themselves to the limit of their intellectual capacities in scholarship, research, writing, and speaking; and to act on and off the campus with integrity and in accordance with the highest standards of their profession.’”

Noting that academic freedom entails both individual and institutional accountability, Brown observed that taxpayer-supported institutions have particularly binding obligations to the people. “The public must be able to trust that the university’s resources will be dedicated to academic endeavors carried out according to the highest possible standards,” he wrote. “Professor Churchill’s conduct, if allowed to stand, would erode the university’s integrity and public trust.” Churchill’s conduct, said Brown, “clearly violated the University’s policies on academic freedom.” [See the full text of this fantastic article]

President Neal is really serious about protecting academic freedom and tenure. Ward Churchill is cynically exploiting professors' fears by making it appear that if he is fired then academic freedom and tenure are at risk. Really, just the opposite is true.

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