Sunday, May 28, 2006

CU Philosophy Chair on Ward Churchill

Diana Hsieh, at NoodleFood, has posted a letter written by the philosophy chair at CU, Bob Pasnau. The letter was published as an op/ed by the Boulder Daily Camera, registration required. The most interesting, and hopeful, part of the letter is Pasnau's statement that Churchill's frauds are the exception and not the rule at CU:

Since the investigative report released earlier this month on the Churchill affair, little has been heard from CU faculty. This is understandable, since the whole affair is such a quagmire, but still the silence is unfortunate, since no one is so well placed to judge the matter. I hope these remarks will provide some helpful context.

A careful reading of the investigative report (available on CU's web site [here]) shows the committee to have discharged its duty with tremendous care for the many nuances of the case, scholarly and political. Ironically, however, the very care taken in the report, which runs to over 100 pages, may have kept the full seriousness of the charges from being fully appreciated. In short, the committee found two cases where Churchill extensively plagiarized the work of others. They found other cases where he first wrote articles under a false name, and then in a later work cited those earlier articles as providing independent confirmation for his own claims. They found a great many places where apparently detailed footnotes turned out on close inspection to offer no support whatsoever for the claims being made, and found that Churchill continued to stick with these false sources in later work even after being confronted in print with their inadequacy. Assessing the cumulative impact of these tactics, the committee describes "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 fact that this disparate group of highly distinguished scholars could reach its verdict with complete unanimity -- save for the final, delicate question of what sanction to impose -- should give one a great deal of confidence in their verdict. No such confidence can be taken from Churchill's own statement (available on the Camera's web site [here]). A careful reading of the original report, next to his response, shows him to have misstated and ignored the committee's findings at every stage. Indeed, one might almost laugh at the way his slipshod responses reenact the very sorts of intellectual failings that the report originally highlighted.

One might laugh, that is, if the whole affair were not so depressing. Perhaps its most unfortunate aspect, beyond the immediate and very serious damage to CU, is the impression it seems to have left in some quarters that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Here my own experience is relevant. In the course of my duties evaluating the work of my colleagues, I have never encountered a single instance of fraud or misconduct, or even the bare allegation of such. Additionally, in all of the graduate seminars I have conducted, and dissertations I have read, I have never seen anything even remotely resembling this sort of conduct. Furthermore, over many years of evaluating thousands of job applicants, reviewing their qualifications with the greatest care, I have never seen or heard of even the shadow of this sort of behavior. Finally, in all my years of scholarly research, over the countless articles and books that I have read, I have never encountered anything of this kind.

Happily, it does not fall upon me to decide what sort of penalty is appropriate in this case. But were such misconduct discovered among my own faculty, or in my own field at large, I would be the first to seek that person's dismissal.

Professor Robert Pasnau
Chair, Department of Philosophy, CU/Boulder

Diana is a graduate student in philosophy at CU.
Hat tip: Thrutch

Crossposted at The Dougout

1 comment:

cube said...

I hope the CU response is not the typical invertebrate response we get from these committees of two-legged jellyfish. I would love to be pleasantly surprised for once by academia.