Tuesday, May 16, 2006

More Bad News

For my favorite professor.

BOULDER, Colo. -- A University of Colorado investigative committee reviewing the writings of professor Ward Churchill has unanimously determined that he did commit serious academic misconduct, including several instances of plagiarism, falsification and fabrication, according to a report released Tuesday.

But the committee split on his fate. Three members said his transgressions are so serious that dismissal would be proper. But only one of them went ahead and recommended that it be done.

Two other members of the five-member committee don't think he should be fired. They don't think his conduct is so serious as to revoke his tenure and recommended that he be suspended without pay for two years.

Sheesh. Where's the rigorous defense of academic standards? If a student had done this, would he/she/it be expelled? Plagiarism? Fabrication?

But if the non-debate over the Walt/Mearsheimer "Jewish Lobby" article is any indication, the Academy has become a set of circled wagons where nobody speaks ill of another academic.

Instead of a roiling debate, most professors [at Harvard] not only agreed to disagree but agreed to pretend publicly that there was no disagreement at all. At Harvard and other schools, the Mearsheimer-Walt paper proved simply too hot to handle — and it revealed an academia deeply split yet lamentably afraid to engage itself on one of the hottest political issues of our time. Call it the academic Cold War: distrustful factions rendered timid by the prospect of mutually assured career destruction.

... At a faculty meeting, the paper came up, and the department head remarked that she was sure everyone had the same reaction when they read it — approval. One professor piped up: "No, this article is rubbish!" The room became very quiet. Finally, someone changed the subject. Through moments like these, a de facto consensus developed not to discuss the paper at all.

... The closest we've gotten to open academic argument over the paper is an online petition circulated by Juan Cole, a media-hungry professor-blogger at the University of Michigan, condemning the paper's critics for "McCarthyite race-baiting." It has garnered nearly 1,000 professors' signatures.

But even Cole's petition — many signers of which haven't read the paper — exemplifies how, instead of knocking heads over the paper's core argument, it's become acceptable merely to debate drier questions of academic standards. Critics condemn the paper as shoddy scholarship; supporters, such as Cole, insist that the academic world's primary ethic is the right to say whatever you believe.