"Anything goes" in college classrooms: that's the message of Ward Churchill's legal victory this week, according to Stephen Balch of the National Association of Scholars. Balch said the win for Churchill, whom he called "the poster boy for academic irresponsibility," worsens the disconnect between the academic freedom's obligations and its protections.
Here's his full statement as posted Thursday at www.nas.org:
The decision for Churchill will only further attenuate an already fraying relationship between the protections of academic freedom and their corollary obligations. Churchill is the poster boy for academic irresponsibility in both substance and style. That he wins today in court, helped somehow by his very notoriety, can only fortify the sense that anything goes.
If there is a lesson here it is that universities must be proactive in the enforcement of standards. Waiting for a public scandal with all its attendant complications is hardly the policy of choice. Universities must build a culture of responsibility that affects every aspect of institutional operation, but especially scholarship and teaching. Faculty members must realize from the beginning of their employment that their institution, and their peers, care about issues of intellectual integrity, foster a consciousness of scholarly ideals and good practice, and apply these at every level of professional review.
The outcome of the Churchill trial is unfortunate, but it was a trial that in a better academic world would never have occurred. The best point at which to protect professionalism is not career exit, but career entrance and stage-by-stage thereafter. If that’s the lesson learned from this sorry result, academe will still be able to recoup its loss.
The National Association of Scholars is America’s foremost higher education reform group. Located in Princeton, NJ, it has forty-seven state affiliates and more than four thousand professors, graduate students, administrators, and trustees as members.
Disclosure: Stephen Balch and I serve together as board members for the Center for Western Civilization at CU-Boulder, headed by classics professor Christian Kopff.