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Ward Churchill:

The University of Colorado's report on the investigation of Ward Churchill's alleged scholarly misconduct has just been released. Here's an excerpt of the summary:

Summary of Key Points of Report of the Investigative Committee of the Standing Committee on Research Misconduct at the University of Colorado at Boulder concerning Allegations of Academic Misconduct against Professor Ward Churchill

May 16, 2006

The Committee was charged with investigating seven allegations:
Allegation A: Misrepresentation of General Allotment Act of 1887
Allegation B: Misrepresentation of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990
Allegation C: Captain John Smith and smallpox in New England, 1614-1618
Allegation D: Smallpox epidemic at Fort Clark and beyond, 1837-1840
Allegation E: Plagiarism of a pamphlet by the Dam the Dams group
Allegation F: Plagiarism of Professor Rebecca Robbins
Allegation G: Plagiarism of Professor Fay G. Cohen

Based on its investigation of those allegations, the Committee unanimously found, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Professor Churchill committed several forms of academic misconduct as defined in the policy statements of the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Colorado system:
1. Falsification, as discussed in Allegations A, B, C, and D.
2. Fabrication, as discussed in Allegations C and D.
3. Plagiarism, as discussed in Allegations E and G.
4. Failure to comply with established standards regarding author names on publications, as discussed most fully in Allegation F but also in Allegations A, B, and D.
5. Serious deviation from accepted practices in reporting results from research, as discussed in Allegation D.

The Committee did not find fabrication in the first sub-question of Allegation D or plagiarism in Allegation F....

The Committee found that Professor Churchill’s misconduct was deliberate and not a matter of an occasional careless error. The Committee found that similar patterns recurred throughout the essays it examined. The Committee therefore concluded that the degree of his misconduct was serious, but differed on the sanction warranted. The Committee’s report states as follows:

...

• Two members of the Committee conclude and recommend that Professor Churchill should not be dismissed. They reach this conclusion because they do not think his conduct so serious as to satisfy the criteria for revocation of tenure and dismissal set forth in section 5.C.1 of the Law of the Regents, because they are troubled by the circumstances under which these allegations have been made, and because they believe that his dismissal would have an adverse effect on other scholars’ ability to conduct their research with due freedom. These two members agree and recommend that the most appropriate sanction, following any required additional procedures as specified by the University’s rules, is a suspension from University employment without pay for a term of two years.

• Three members of the Committee believe that Professor Churchill’s research misconduct is so serious that it satisfies the criteria for revocation of tenure and dismissal specified in section 5.C.1 of the Laws of the Regents, and hence that revocation of tenure and dismissal, after completion of all appropriate procedures, is not an improper sanction. One of these members believes and recommends that dismissal is the most appropriate sanction; the other two believe and recommend that the most appropriate sanction is suspension from University employment without pay for a term of five years....

Voting Members of the Committee:
Chair: Marianne Wesson, Professor of Law, Wolf-Nichol Fellow, and President’s Teaching Scholar, University of Colorado at Boulder
Robert N. Clinton, Foundation Professor of Law, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, Arizona State University
José E. Limón, Director, Center for Mexican-American Studies and Mody C. Boatright Regents Professor of American and English Literature, University of Texas at Austin
Marjorie K. McIntosh, Distinguished Professor of History, University of Colorado at Boulder
Michael L. Radelet, Professor and Chair, Department of Sociology, University of Colorado at Boulder

62 Comments
Churchill and Sock-Puppetry:

The Churchill report is much worth reading -- it's long, but quite interesting and strikes me as quite persuasive (though I should stress that I haven't checked the sources myself).

Here's an interesting item that I haven't seen much discussed: Churchill is found guilty of passing off others' work as his own (plagiarism), but also of passing off his own work as others'. The latter is faulted as a general departure from "established standards regarding author names on publications" (p. 89); but it's also more specifically, and more seriously, faulted because Churchill then used the work published under another's name "as apparently independent authority for claims that he makes in his own later scholarship" (p. 89). This "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" (p. 90). Here's an example, from pp. 23-24 (some paragraph breaks and emphasis added):

Footnotes 63 and 64 of his “Perversions of Justice,” in Struggle for the Land (1993 edition), contain basically three sources to support the claims regarding the General Allotment Act of 1887. All appear to the reader to be reputable, independent third-party sources.

First, Professor Churchill cites directly to the originally enacted version of the General Allotment Act of 1887 .... [But n]ot only is his statement unsupported by his source, but also more significantly, he did not follow the referencing convention that a lawyer or historian citing a lengthy statute for a particular detail normally would follow, which is to pinpoint the precise section number of the multi-section statute that supported his claim. As one will see throughout this report, this general reference to an apparent independent source in its entirety constitutes an unconventional referencing style frequently employed by Professor Churchill to create the appearance of independent support for his claims, while simultaneously discouraging or, at least, making far more difficult, any effort by other researchers to check his claims by failing to pinpoint the precise location of his claimed support in an otherwise lengthy work. Standing alone, this referencing failure might constitute some level of sloppiness, but certainly would not constitute research misconduct.

When it is combined with a pattern of other misconduct reflected in this and other allegations, however, the Committee is left with a firm impression, by a preponderance of the evidence, that it constituted part of a deliberate research stratagem to create the appearance of independent verifiable support for claims that could not be supported through existing primary and secondary sources. To put it most simply, it was part of a pattern and consistent research stratagem to cloak extreme, unsupportable, propaganda-like claims of fact that support Professor Churchill’s legal and political claims with the aura of authentic scholarly research by referencing apparently (but not actually) supportive independent third-party sources. The next problem discussed with these two footnotes makes this stratagem far clearer.

The other two apparently independent third-party sources cited in footnotes 63 and 64 are essays published in the same volume, The State of Native America, one under the name of a person named Rebecca Robbins and the other under the name of M. Annette Jaimes, the editor of the volume. Since both essays do contain statements of the type that Professor Churchill claims, that might have put an end to the matter of research misconduct regarding this allegation, except for the fact that in response to the separate allegation that he had plagiarized the Robbins essay in another later published piece, Professor Churchill said in Submission E that he had in fact ghostwritten both the Robbins and the Jaimes essays, in full.... [This] constitutes a serious problem of research misconduct. The initial support for the disputed statement involved three independent sources. As already noted, the Act does not expressly provide what Professor Churchill claims and therefore can provide no support for his claims whatsoever. The two other apparently independent third-party sources, the Robbins and Jaimes essays, turn out not to be independent sources at all but, rather, to have been ghostwritten in their entirety by Professor Churchill. This action provided him with apparent independent sources that he could and did in fact cite to support otherwise insupportable claims of legal and historical fact. In short, when one carefully dissects the Churchill claim quoted in the original allegation, the three apparently independent third-party sources dissolve into one source (the Act) that clearly does not expressly support his claim, and two other sources (the Robbins and Jaimes chapters) that he wrote himself.

Although Professor Churchill purported to offer his claims as supported by research, based on independent sources, it turns out that the claims not only cannot be supported but that he has misrepresented the independent nature of his sources employed to buttress the unsupportable details of his conclusions....

28 Comments
Real Misconduct, Uncovered By Politically Motivated Actions:

The Churchill report generally seems very thoughtful and scholarly, but it does have a small error (which commenter DelVerSiSogna also caught). The report states (p. 4):

To use an analogy, a motorist who is stopped and ticketed for speeding because the police officer was offended by the contents of her bumper sticker, and who otherwise would have been sent away with a warning, is still guilty of speeding, even if the officer’s motive for punishing the speeder was the offense taken to the speeder’s exercise of her right to free speech. No court would consider the improper motive of the police officer to constitute a defense to speeding, however protected by legal free speech guarantees the contents of the bumper sticker might be.

In fact, the First Amendment rule, as set forth in Wayte v. U.S., 470 U.S. 598 (1985), is:

"Selectivity in the enforcement of criminal laws is . . . subject to constitutional constraints." In particular, the decision to prosecute may not be "'deliberately based upon an unjustifiable standard such as race, religion, or other arbitrary classification,'" including the exercise of protected statutory and constitutional rights [such as free speech].

Even prosecution of people who are guilty of a nonspeech crime might thus violate the First Amendment if the government deliberately selected them for prosecution because of their constitutionally protected expression (though I should note that this is a very tough claim to prove).

Nonetheless, whatever may be the rule for criminal prosecutions triggered by the policeman's own hostility to the target's speech, such a rule need not be applied here. This isn't a criminal prosecution, but the university's decision whether to keep someone on its faculty; it need not keep a dishonest scholar on board, even if the complaints about the scholar were motivated partly by the complainers' hostility to the scholar's viewpoints. And as best I can tell, there's little reason to think that the University wouldn't have investigated Churchill had he been accused of the same misconduct but had expressed diferrent views. These are serious charges, and my guess is that most universities would indeed look into alleged multiple falsification of evidence and plagiarism by their faculty members.

There was a connection between Churchill's politics and the investigation, but it seems to me much more attenuated than in the bumper sticker context. Churchill first attracted public notice because of his "little Eichmanns" comment. This led people to scrutinize his work, and past critics of his to repeat their criticisms. This in turn yielded the large body of accusations, large enough that the University had to take notice (in a way that it didn't seem to have done when at least one of the accusations had been separately brought to its notice some years before). So the better analogy is if someone had caused a lot of controversy by his bumper sticker; this caused a lot of people to notice him, and in the process to notice that he was speeding; they in turn complained to the police officer; and the police officer gave him a speeding ticket. There, I think there's no problem under Wayte; the government official (the police officer) wasn't making the enforcement decision based on the bumper sticker, though the people who complained to the officer -- private parties who have no viewpoint-neutrality obligation under the First Amendment -- were motivated by the bumper sticker.

As the report points out, "public figures who choose to speak out on controversial matters of public concern naturally attract more controversy and attention to their background and work than scholars quietly writing about more esoteric matters that are not the subject of political debate" (p. 4). That seems to me to be exactly what happened here. Unfortunately for Ward Churchill, it turns out that his scholarship couldn't bear the attention that his statements prompted.

26 Comments
The Punishment in the Ward Churchill Case:

Though only one member of the Churchill investigative committee recommended that Churchill be fired -- two others recommended a five-year unpaid suspension, and two more recommended a two-year unpaid suspension -- it seems to me that this one member was right.

As best I can tell, from what press accounts I've read and from the Report itself, Churchill hasn't shown any contrition. His falsification, fabrication, and plagiarism (in the Committee's words), which the Committee quite plausibly found to be deliberate, are substantial.

And these are falsehoods in his published work, which can readily be checked. How can his future students be confident that things he says in class are accurate? (Yes, we try to instill skepticism in our students, but they still rightly expect that they can count on our factual assertions, rather than double-checking every word.) How can his colleagues, and Colorado taxpayers, be confident that his students are learning things accurately? His work has been cited by over 100 times in law reviews alone, and law isn't even his main field; I assume that quite a few scholars are now wondering whether their reliance on his work led their own work to be in error. How can other scholars, and his other readers, ever rely on anything he says?

It seems to me that keeping him on the faculty would be a substantial disservice to Colorado students, Colorado taxpayers, and the academic fields in which he works. I hope that in its sympathy for a colleague, and its desire to avoid hassle or even litigation, the University doesn't lose sight of that.

40 Comments
Dismissal Recommended for Ward Churchill

by a majority of the University of Colorado Standing Committee on Research Misconduct. Six members recommended dismissal, two recommended suspension without pay for five years, and one recommended suspension without pay for two years. The committee also had this to say about the "[t]iming and [m]otivation of the [a]llegations" (paragraph break added):

In his response to the Investigative Committee’s report, and in other communications with the SCRM, Professor Churchill has maintained that this investigation has been motivated by a desire to censure him for his controversial expressions of political positions. He has noted, accurately, that the allegations sent to the SCRM were the result of a review of his scholarly work by an administrative committee appointed by the Chancellor, and that this review occurred in response to a public outcry following public awareness of his so-called “9/11 essay.”

Our position -- which we believe is consistent with that of the Investigative Committee -- is that while this context is important, it should not distract us from the critical points that (1) complaints of research misconduct were lodged; (2) these complaints required a response by the SCRM; (3) the investigation process proceeded as specified by University policies and procedures, and (4) the resulting findings and recommendations for sanctions were based solely on a review of the facts as determined by a panel of Professor Churchill’s peers.

While acknowledging the larger context in which their work was done, both the Investigative Committee and the SCRM have been scrupulous about limiting their analyses to the facts as uncovered by the Investigative Committee. As such, we believe we have complied with Article 5D of the Regents Laws, which stipulates that disciplinary recommendations should not be “influenced by such extrinsic considerations as political, social, or religious views, or views concerning departmental or university operation or administration.” Considerations of academic freedom and what Professor Churchill alleges to be “punishment for constitutionally protected speech” have not entered into our deliberations, except to the extent that we state our strong support for the former and our rejection of the latter.

Sounds quite right to me.

Thanks to Pirate Ballerina for the pointer.

7 Comments
Text of University of Colorado President's Letter About Ward Churchill:

Thanks to Diana Hsieh (NoodleFood):

TO: CU-Boulder Students

FROM: Office of the President

SENDER: officeofthepresident@cu.edu

DATE: 07/24/07

SUBJECT: Communication from President Hank Brown on the Board of Regents Vote

Dear Students of the University of Colorado,

The Board of Regents today voted to accept my recommendation to dismiss Professor Ward Churchill from the faculty.

I made the recommendation for the good of the university. CU's success depends upon its reputation for academic integrity. A public research university such as ours requires public faith that each faculty member's professional activities and search for truth are conducted according to the high standards on which CU's reputation rests.

We are accountable to those who have a stake in the university: the people of Colorado who contribute $200 million annually in tax dollars, the federal entities that provide some $640 million annually in research funding, the donors who gave us more than $130 million this year to enhance academic quality, the alumni who want to maintain the value of their degrees, the faculty and staff who expect their colleagues to act with integrity, and the students who trust that faculty who teach them meet the high professional standards of the university and the profession.

Given the record of the case and findings of Professor Churchill's faculty peers, I determined that allowing him to remain on the faculty would cast a shadow on our reputation for academic integrity.

Throughout the case, we have adhered to shared governance procedures as determined by the CU Faculty Senate Constitution and Bylaws and adopted by the Board of Regents. During the course of two-plus years, Professor Churchill presented his position in writing, in person, with his attorney and with witnesses of his choosing. He was afforded full due process.

More than 20 tenured faculty members (from CU and other universities) on three separate panels conducted a thorough review of his work and found that the evidence shows Professor Churchill engaged in research misconduct, and that it required serious sanction. The record of the case shows a pattern of serious, repeated and deliberate research misconduct that falls below the minimum standard of professional integrity, including fabrication, falsification, improper citation and plagiarism. No university can abide such serious academic misconduct.

Professor Churchill fabricated historical events and sought to support his fabrications by manufacturing articles under other names. His publications show more than just sloppy citations or using the work of others without crediting them. The Investigative Committee of the Standing Committee on Research Misconduct found multiple instances of falsification, fabrication and plagiarism. Any student engaging in such a wide range of academic misconduct would be seriously sanctioned. We should hold our faculty to a high standard of professionalism

While Professor Churchill's peers on the faculty panels were unanimous in finding research misconduct, views on the appropriate sanction varied. Some faculty recommended dismissal while others suggested a less severe penalty. My obligation as president is to recommend to the Board of Regents an appropriate sanction that is for the good of the university.

Some on the Boulder campus and beyond claim Professor Churchill was singled out because of public condemnation of his writing about September 11, 2001. They see this case as a referendum on academic freedom. The university determined early in the process that his speech was not at issue, but that his research was. The prohibition against research misconduct extends to all faculty, regardless of their political views. We cannot abandon our professional standards and exempt faculty members from being accountable for the integrity of their research simply because their views are controversial.

Professor Churchill's activities not only run counter to the essence of academic freedom, but also threaten its foundation. Academic freedom is intended to protect the exploration and teaching of unpopular, even controversial ideas. But that pursuit must be accompanied by the standards of the profession. Academic freedom does not protect research misconduct. After his research misconduct was identified, Professor Churchill did not admit any errors or come forward to correct the record, as is expected in the profession.

CU's most important asset is its academic reputation. Professor Churchill's actions reflect poorly on the University of Colorado, but we will not let the research misconduct of one individual tarnish our reputation. Our faculty members take pride in their work and demonstrate their respect for the high standards of their profession and this university day in and day out. Professor Churchill's research misconduct is an affront to those who conduct themselves with integrity.

We will remain accountable to those who have high expectations of Colorado's flagship university. And our faculty will remain true to high professional standards to ensure our reputation for academic integrity remains intact.

Sincerely,
Hank Brown
President

Here's the Report and Recommendations of the [University of Colorado] Standing Committee on Research Misconduct Concerning Allegations of Research Misconduct by Professor Ward Churchill. Six of its nine members had recommended dismissal; two recommended suspension without pay for five years; one recommended suspension without pay for two years.

I think President Brown's action is correct, for reasons I gave last year:

As best I can tell, from what press accounts I've read and from the Report itself, Churchill hasn't shown any contrition. His falsification, fabrication, and plagiarism (in the Committee's words), which the Committee quite plausibly found to be deliberate, are substantial.

And these are falsehoods in his published work, which can readily be checked. How can his future students be confident that things he says in class are accurate? (Yes, we try to instill skepticism in our students, but they still rightly expect that they can count on our factual assertions, rather than double-checking every word.) How can his colleagues, and Colorado taxpayers, be confident that his students are learning things accurately? His work has been cited by over 100 times in law reviews alone, and law isn't even his main field; I assume that quite a few scholars are now wondering whether their reliance on his work led their own work to be in error. How can other scholars, and his other readers, ever rely on anything he says?

It seems to me that keeping him on the faculty would be a substantial disservice to Colorado students, Colorado taxpayers, and the academic fields in which he works. I hope that in its sympathy for a colleague, and its desire to avoid hassle or even litigation, the University doesn't lose sight of that.

41 Comments