Workers Vanguard No. 896

3 August 2007


University of Colorado Professor Fired in Right-Wing Witchhunt

Reinstate Ward Churchill!

(Young Spartacus pages)

On July 24, the Board of Regents of the University of Colorado (CU) voted eight to one to fire longtime Native American activist and tenured ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill. The ostensible reason was for supposed “research misconduct” regarding sources in some of his more than 20 books and 90 academic articles and essays. But as Churchill put it in a statement in late May in response to university president Hank Brown’s recommendation to fire him: “CU’s ‘investigation’ has all along been merely a pretext, transparently catering to the political and financial interests which dictate ‘educational’ policy at CU.”

Hundreds of Churchill’s supporters protested on the day of his dismissal, which was discussed not only behind closed doors but during summer vacation. Churchill has filed a lawsuit against the university for violating his free speech rights, demanding his reinstatement as well as monetary damages. We defend Churchill and support his demands despite our political differences with him.

Churchill has long been targeted because he is, as the 2006 “Report of the Investigative Committee” at CU put it, “one of the most widely read and influential writers in this country who deal with American Indian issues.” In his scholarship, along with his activism in the American Indian Movement (AIM), he has exposed the centuries-long racist extermination of the indigenous population in the Americas, as well as the continued discrimination against and oppression of Native Americans today.

Churchill is also well known for his extensively documented and valuable studies of government repression against political dissidents. His Agents of Repression: The FBI’s Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement and The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States (both written with Jim Vander Wall) detailed the bourgeois rulers’ decades-long campaign against leftists and opponents of Native American and black oppression. AIM leader Leonard Peltier and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal remain in prison to this day, framed up on bogus charges for their political beliefs. Churchill has been active in fighting for both Mumia’s and Peltier’s freedom.

For years, bourgeois forces have been gunning for Churchill, from former Colorado governor Bill Owens to David Horowitz, a racist right-wing ideologue who in 2001 distributed an advertisement to campus papers alibiing slavery and spitting on the gains of black struggle. Bolstered by the reactionary climate created by the bourgeois rulers’ “war on terror,” Horowitz has led a crusade to get rid of leftist and liberal professors. His 2006 book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, begins by pointing to Churchill as supposedly exemplifying how the “radical left has colonized” the campuses. Cynically claiming to stand for free speech, Horowitz has stated that it would be bad form to fire Churchill for his politics—the real problem, according to him, is that Churchill shouldn’t have been hired in the first place!

The campaign against Churchill became red-hot after some students and faculty at upstate New York’s Hamilton College protested his invitation to speak in February 2005. They denounced an essay he wrote in September 2001, “‘Some People Push Back’: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens,” an angry liberal response to the murderous sanctions against Iraq and other crimes of U.S. imperialism. In the essay, Churchill implied that Americans in general shared in the guilt for these crimes because of their supposed indifference to the suffering that U.S. rulers cause abroad. He argued that the attack on the World Trade Center was a counterstrike in a war between the First and Third Worlds, and referred to the “technocrats” in the World Trade Center as “little Eichmanns.”

As Marxists, we find Churchill’s interpretation of the attack on the World Trade Center—a criminal act that resulted in the deaths of thousands of ordinary people and a godsend to the imperialist rulers—a grotesque version of liberal “collective guilt.” As we wrote in “Right-Wing Thought Police Assault Free Speech on Campus” (WV No. 842, 18 February 2005):

“Churchill’s outlook divides the world into good peoples and bad peoples rather than into opposing classes. Those who carried out that attack embraced the same mentality as the racist rulers of America—identifying the working masses with their capitalist exploiters and oppressors. Unlike the World Trade Center, the Pentagon is the command and administrative center of the U.S. imperialist military, and as a military installation the possibility of getting hit comes with the territory. That recognition does not make the attack an ‘anti-imperialist’ act, nor does it change the fact that terrorism almost always gets innocent people—in this case, the passengers on the plane as well as the maintenance workers, janitors and secretaries at the Pentagon. Nevertheless, we vigorously oppose the persecution of Professor Churchill for his unpopular views. The witchhunters, transparently, have seized on his World Trade Center statement in order to censor him, as payback for his long-time activism and exposure of the crimes of U.S. imperialism at home and abroad.”

One of the allegations against Churchill by the CU administration is that he fabricated evidence that the U.S. Army deliberately spread smallpox among Native Americans at one location in 1837. In a Wall Street Journal (26 July) op-ed piece titled, “Why I Fired Professor Churchill,” CU president Brown claimed that “Mr. Churchill rewrote history to fit his own theories.” In fact, smallpox is widely recognized as playing an important role in devastating the indigenous population in the Americas. An article on “bioterrorism” by Dr. Mark Graber, a professor at the Iowa College of Medicine, in Emergency Medicine (January 2002) states:

“The first use of smallpox as a biological weapon, albeit inadvertently, occurred when Spanish conquerors led by Cortez introduced smallpox in 1520 during their assault on the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan in Mexico. In the years that followed, almost 90% of the population of the New World was killed by smallpox. The disease was used deliberately as a biological weapon during the French and Indian war in 1754 by the English, who distributed tainted blankets to Native Americans; the mortality reached 50% in many tribes. Smallpox was also used by the American government during its wars with Native Americans.”

The administration’s allegations against Churchill have the quality of disputing the timetables of the trains going to Auschwitz. As Churchill wrote in a May 2006 statement: “I have published some two dozen books, 70 book chapters and scores of articles containing a combined total of approximately 12,000 footnotes. I doubt that any even marginally prolific scholar’s publications could withstand the type of scrutiny to which mine has been subjected.” Even the University of Colorado’s “Report of the Investigative Committee” admits: “We do not find academic misconduct with respect to his general claim that the U.S. Army deliberately spread smallpox to Mandan Indians at Fort Clark in 1837, using infected blankets. Early accounts of what was said by Indians involved in that situation and certain native oral traditions provide some basis for that interpretation.”

The Spartacist League and the Spartacus Youth Clubs demand the reinstatement of Churchill. The firing of Churchill clearly demonstrates the role of the campus administrations, which run the universities in the interests of the capitalist rulers in order to train the future layer of ideologues, technocrats and government officials to administer the capitalist system. We revolutionary Marxists call for free, quality education for all and to abolish the administrations—for student/worker/
teacher control of the universities!