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Feb 22, 2005 10:08 am

Recommended Reading ...

Andrew Delbanco,"Colleges: An Endangered Species?" NYRB, 10 Mar. For two important discussions and responses to Delbanco's article, see the posts and comment threads at: Erin O'Connor at Critical Mass and Margaret Soltan at University Diaries (17-21 Feb.).

The fallout from the inquiry into Ward Churchill's position at the University of Colorado continues. Noting the absence of a loyalty oath in his personnel file, university officials have begun a search of all faculty members' files to identify those that include no signed loyalty oath. My colleague, Jonathan Dresner, points to this article in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, in which a state legislator threatens the funding of the University of Hawai'i, if Churchill speaks there this evening, as he is scheduled to do. Meanwhile, Suzan Shown Harjo's"Why Native Identity Matters: A Cautionary Tale," Indian Country Today, 10 Feb. is being reprinted in Colorado's mainstream press. It denies that Churchill has any native American ancestry. If those charges stand up and he can be shown to have made claims to it in order to secure his position and give authority to his position in the classroom, I should think that he'd be subject to a severe penalty, at least.

Scott McLemee's"Defending Derrida," at Inside Higher Ed is the first of his two reports this week on a conference in NYC.

farangi at Chapati Mystery gives us a Eulogy for Thompson.

Growing out of the 2nd History Carnival, we've had two weeks of discussions among historians and philosophers about historiography, philosophy of history, and what it is that historians do. They took place primarily at Studi Galileiani, Blogenspiel, Siris, and Cliopatria. I highly recommend the most recent comments by Brandon Watson at Siris and, especially, Sharon Howard's"This Is My Truth," at Early Modern Notes.

At Liberty & Power, David Beito points to this article in Greenwood, Mississippi's Commonwealth about the decades old search for a surviving trial transcript in the initial case against those who murdered Emmett Till. David is surely correct that it would do little to modify historians' understanding of the case; but the trial transcript remains crucial to the renewed inquiry into the case by federal and state authorities.

On a lighter note, Alan Allport's"Dude, You're History" at Horizon seems exactly right and, alas, it gets no less so.

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Carl Patrick Burkart - 2/24/2005

In order to be a TA at the University of Georgia, I had to sign an oath, which said in part, that I was or had not been part of an organization that wanted to overthrow the US government. There might have been something about the sovereign state of Georgia in there, but I can't remember.

Oscar Chamberlain - 2/23/2005

I've nver had to sign one for a job, though there would be something vaguely ironic about an adjunct signing a loyalty oath. It might be a good idea, if the university had to ignone in return.

Of course, if they did, probably it would look a little like the Emperor Ming's Wedding Vows

Priest: Do you, Ming the Merciless, Ruler of the Universe, take this Earthling, Dale Ardon, to be your empress of the hour?
Ming: Of the hour, yes.
Priest: Do you promise to use her as you will?
Ming: Certainly.
Priest: Not to blast her into space? (Gets a strange look from Ming.) Uh, until you grow weary of her?
Ming: I do.

Jonathan Dresner - 2/23/2005

Got it, thanks. Given the propensity for philosophers to take more than one position (sometimes simultaneously), the former seems more likely to me.... There's a set theory problem for you, though.

Richard Henry Morgan - 2/23/2005

Your last line of your first post could be read to say there will be at least one philosopher who has taken every possible combination of positions. Another reading is that every possible combination of positions will each have a philosopher. I think I understood you correctly. Your point about the even greater travails of disambiguating texts in foreign and/or dead languages seems to me spot-on -- we rely on such a wealth of contextual knowledge in order to disambiguate (a wealth often denied to scholars looking back, and magnified by scholars looking back in what is not a live language).

Jonathan Dresner - 2/22/2005

Your comment was in the right place, though I'm not sure exactly where the ambiguity lies. Parenthetical remarks are never grammatically pretty, I grant you.

Part of the problem in this whole discussion has been a lack of charity in reading, I'll grant, but another part has been a lack of charity in writing....

Richard Henry Morgan - 2/22/2005

"throw out" -- that is a good example of charity at work, if you understood my meaning.

Richard Henry Morgan - 2/22/2005

The public purpose would be to saddle Colorado with the creature they created (as an object lesson to themselves and others) and to discourage both Colorado and other institutions from going down the same path -- the path of indeed hiring someone on the basis of his ethnicity, jury-rigging a tenure process, and then turning around and using such questions as a pretext for firing or other discipline, when the real goal was simply to avoid embarrassment.

I can't think of a better solution. All parties are revealed for their dishonesty, and Colorado is made to pay a price. I can understand the reluctance to see Churchill rewarded, but I don't think the mere inability of Colorado to fire him suffices as a punishing disincentive to Colorado. Millions are, I think, a small price to pay (certainly since I'm not paying it) to keep Colorado and other institutions from going down this path.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/22/2005

Richard, You have just confirmed my sense of your perversity. I can't see any public good served by Churchill winning both a huge settlement and his job back. As you know, I'm inclined to argue against "rushing to judgment" and am usually grateful not to be tasked with making decisions; but in the interim I'd say the resignation as chair of ethnic studies and a year's suspension should resolve a very messy business.

Richard Henry Morgan - 2/22/2005

Actually, I tried to put the comment under Prof. Dresner's post, where the ambiguity of the last line is more obvious to me, though it is entirely clear to me what he meant. In trying to understand texts (and the intentions of the authors behind them) we routinely through out rules of syntax, compositional semantics, etc., and deploy mother-wit and principles of charity.

BTW, I agree with your comments about historian/philosophers. I had a professor of ancient philosophy whose original background was in classics, and he had a different approach to things. I've also much profited from he work of Michael Frede.

Brandon Scott Watson - 2/22/2005

That's true; one of the reasons I don't comment on posts often is that for some reason in comments I tend to slip into these ambiguities (it's the parentheses, which over-complicate the sentence!). Sorry about that....

Richard Henry Morgan - 2/22/2005

I know what you meant, but the last line of yours has an interesting ambiguity which we, in the normal course of things, disambiguate by charitable restriction of scope. As you pointed out in an earlier post, these problems can be magnified in a foreign language.

Richard Henry Morgan - 2/22/2005

I think Colorado-Boulder is in a tough position, Ralph, should they choose to take the line that they privileged his candidacy on the grounds of ethnicity. My reading of recent issues of the Rocky Mountain News seems to indicate that any number of people, on several occasions, have complained to Colorado-Boulder (and produced supporting documentation) of Churchill's misrepresentations of ethnicity. The administration, in responding correspondence, has uniformly taken the line that he was neither hired, nor promoted on the basis of ethnicity. One university response even went so far as to quote a federal document source that the best indicator of ethnicity is self-identification. We're also getting into some pretty tricky ground when we hold that mere ethnicity gives one an advantage as a scholar in studying an ethnic group.

What is abundantly clear is that the university has been aware of the problematic nature of his ethnicity claims for some time. They are hardly in a position to now call him out on it. Nor are they in a position to claim that they've suddenly discovered that they (accidentally, of course) jury-rigged a tenure process in his favor -- a tenure process that did not have the committee read all his work, or solicit outside opinions. It's really quite shamefully transparent. He's become an embarrassment to the university, and they want some pretext to unload themselves of him, and avoid the perfectly reasonable conclusion that they are violating his academic freedom.

We don't always get pretty cases of academic freedom to defend -- we play them as they lay. From my perspective, in the best of all possible worlds, Colorado fires Churchill for a whole slew of reasons, he sues, gets his job back, and a few million dollars, in the course of which both he and the university are revealed for what they are.

Brandon Scott Watson - 2/22/2005

Oh, we've come pretty close to it already! As Cicero said already in 45 B.C. (De Div. bk. 2), there is nothing so absurd that it is not said by some philosophers.

I'm glad my cautious remarks have had a fairly good reception among historians; I largely have to draw on my own experience, and while History of Philosophy is a historical discipline, it's a weird historical discipline (philosophical disciplines usually are weird), and my particular specialty, early modern HoP, is even weirder, since it's a historical discipline where you can actually find practitioners looking down their nose at historical work (as not adequately philosophical; more historically-minded HoPers have difficulty getting hired at some schools, because the departments want "philosophers not historians"). Unlike ancient and medieval HoP there isn't much effort to give graduate students a taste of the more purely historical tools relevant to the topic, so we're left to figure them out on our own). One of the things I've liked about blogging is that has provided occasions like this for me to get a clearer picture of what (real) historians do (or at least think of themselves as doing, since I guess the two need not always be the same thing).

Robert KC Johnson - 2/22/2005

I tend to agree with Harvey Silverglate on this issue--i.e., that the inquiry into Churchill's heritage never would have occurred without the governor's demand for his dismissal, and therefore even the point of personal fraud could be considered retaliation.

The irony here is that (based on Scott Smallwood's piece in the Chronicle Friday) there seems a good chance that: (A)Churchill fraudulently claimed Indian heritage; (b) there are grave doubts about his use of sources in his "scholarship"; and (c) he was hired and tenured under highly peculiar circumstances. as I've said before, colorado should be looking into reforms to ensure that the next Churchill isn't hired, rather than trying to fire this one.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/22/2005

I doubt if this one is going to be resolved apart from court action. As Nathanael Robinson pointed out early in these discussions, some people in Massachusetts have been granted legal recognition as native Americans for the purpose of operating casinos, even though the evidentiary base for their claims was marginal. Apparently, they claim, native Americans were often listed as white in census records. I'm not familiar with the case nor with the evidence they may have cited to sustain it. But I can name at least three academic bloggers who have stronger claims to being native Americans than Churchill may have -- and they've never capitalized on that bit of ancestry. It will be interesting if the University of Colorado is forced to defend action against Churchill in court on these grounds. In order to do so, it will have to admit that it privileged his candidacy because of what it believed his ethnicity to be.

Jonathan Dresner - 2/22/2005

Churchill, in his pre-talk press conference yesterday, rejected questions about his ancestry as "irrelevant" which is only true in the narrow context of the argument he is choosing to make today about academic freedom.

But I would argue that Churchill's misrepresentations, if such they be (I would like to see some good faith explanation from him as to why he has represented himself as Native), would merit substantially greater penalties than Ellis. Churchill's teaching is in the area of ethnicity and identity: who he is is fundamental to that field, both in the literalist sense and also in the more theoretical "positioning" sense. And there is the question of hiring....

Ralph E. Luker - 2/22/2005

I agree with Tim Burke that the bar of evidence for the claims made in Thomas Brown's article in re Churchill's work should be held high. I have also suggested to Brown that a presentation of evidence without inflammatory accusations is more likely to be persuasive than headlining charges. I do _not_ believe, however, that simply because Churchill is claimed by some people to be on the Left that he is, thus, exempt from accountability for truthfulness. If he has misrepresented himself, for example, in order to win his position in the classroom and to give authority to his teaching, I should think that he is subject to the same sort of penalty that Joe Ellis faced. I don't recall any of those who now claim that we must march in lock-step defense of Churchill's academic freedom coming to the defense of Ellis when he was suspended for a year for making false claims about himself.

Louis N Proyect - 2/22/2005

I deem it sensible that Timothy Burke took the last exit off the Interstate, while the rest of the caravan (Luker, Brown, Rocky Mountain News, et al) plunged ahead on their mad dash. To my knowledge, Burke's last comment on the Churchill affair was on where he distanced himself from Thomas Brown. Btw, my latest comments on Brown can be read at under the heading "Thomas Brown and the bastard Piscataways".

Robert KC Johnson - 2/22/2005

I'm trying to recall, but I don't believe that I had to sign such an oath at CUNY. I had no idea they were still around.

Don Willis - 2/22/2005

Mr. Proyect,

I am glad to see that your assessment of Prof. Burke has changed remarkably since the Feb. 6 posting that appears on your webpage. "Sensible" is not an adjective that emerges from your essay on that date.

Don W.

Louis N Proyect - 2/22/2005

I find the disjunction between concern over loyalty oaths at the U. of Colorado and the demand that Ward Churchill prove that he has Indian blood quite interesting, since they are obviously related. If Ward Churchill is fired because he can't prove that he is an Indian and/or because he failed to document charges about smallpox blanket in 1837, it will lead to a narrowing of what it is possible to say politically if you are a professor. It will accomplish in the academic sphere what the guilty verdict against Lynn Stewart will accomplish in the legal sphere. Today's Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Rashid Khalidi will no longer train NYC public school teachers in Mideast affairs because the Board of Education caved in to a pressure campaign mounted by the NY Sun, a redbaiting, Likudist daily newspaper.

A new McCarthyism is brewing and every professor who has joined in on the get Ward Churchill campaign will have played a role in this, willy-nilly. I would hope that sensible people like Timothy Burke might be waking up at this point. For the academic fellow-travelers of David Horowitz, I obviously expect no change.

Jonathan Dresner - 2/22/2005

I thought Brandon Watson's piece was very good (I can't seem to comment there, so I'll do it here). I understood it, and none of his propositions struck me as inconsistent with well-grounded and sophisticated historical practice. Though, in the end, I suspect that I'm even more of a realist than Watson.

Reading the first part of the post, though, I was struck by the thought that eventually every possible combination of philosophical positions (and several we consider impossible) will be taken by at least one philosopher.

Jonathan Dresner - 2/22/2005

You might think so, but don't underestimate the extent to which American universities have, for the last forty years or so, been seen as subversive and dangerous institutions (David Horowitz is, in a sense, just the most recent incarnation of a decades-old bugaboo) which responsible and loyal citizens need to keep in check.

And don't underestimate the extent to which American faculty take pride in that, either.

For what it's worth, though, I think every state employee in California has to sign one of those, but I could be wrong about that, too.

Sharon Howard - 2/22/2005

Well, now I've got the clarification, I'm dumbfounded. OK, I know there are certain posts and offices over here that require such things - usually to the Crown, I suspect, rather than to the nation (eg, people joining the armed forces have to swear loyalty to the monarch as their supreme commander), but for university faculty? That's outrageous.

Jonathan Dresner - 2/22/2005

I had to sign one when I was a lecturer in the UCal system, pledging myself to the preservation and protection of the constitutions of both the United States and State of California. I vaguely remember someone telling me that the oath was a Vietnam War era relic, but I (or they) could be wrong.

So of course my sedition plans had to be put on hold for a year....

Ralph E. Luker - 2/22/2005

Loyalty to the US of A. Many of us believe it is a left-over from the McCarthy era, when it was used to drive some people from the faculty, but it has survived challenge in the courts.

Sharon Howard - 2/22/2005

What kind of loyalty oath is this? To what or whom?

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