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The Attacks on Ward Churchill

We’ve done some preliminary research and analysis and it’s become clear exactly what’s at stake and what we’re up against. CU-Boulder has been made the national frontline of the neocon battle for dominance in academe.

CU-Boulder has likely been made their “test case,” their break-the-mould moment in a national strategy. Their local resources and troops (thinktanks, legislative, rank-and-file followers) are already fully mobilized and their national resources are mobilizing in our direction (if not already mobilized), and the infrastructure they already have here is formidable. On Ward’s specific case, they are already *at least* 3 weeks ahead of us in organizing, and they are using tactics they have been testing since the 90s.

Some details from preliminary research:

* The CO governor, Governor Bill Owens, is no ordinary Republican governor. He is an activist leader in their battle for higher education through his role in ACTA (American Council of Trustees and Alumni).

ACTA is Lynn Cheney’s organization, which hit the headlines a few years ago for creating the rightwing National Assoc of Scholars (NAS) and for proposing post-911 to monitor faculty nationwide for ideological (liberal/left) bias. Gov. Owens is especially active in ACTA’s “Governors Project”. He has already hosted an ACTA-led conference in CO for state trustees, probably for training them (wouldn’t be surprised if some of our regents aren’t in this same loop). He is already implementing the Governors Project strategy at less visible institutions. For example, last month the trustee structure at Mesa State College was revised and he appointed 3 new trustees, one of whom is “the intermountain coordinator for the American Council of Trustees and Alumni for teacher preparation reform.”

Also leading in this “Governors Project” is Pataki in NY-no doubt connected with the Hamilton College incident that started all of this.

* The general strategy in forcing and then manipulating this “investigation” of Ward’s scholarship shares key tactics with the neocon sinking of Emory historian Bellesiles in 2001 www.oah.org/pubs. There are also likely to be parallels with the campaign against Linda Brodkey at UT in 1991 as well as other campaigns through which they have been testing and developing their methods and tactics.

* Besides suggesting “treason” on the part of Ward and calling for his firing, Governor Owens has already requested Ethnic Studies’ budget, one of the most important neocon institutional targets. In a parallel de-funding move, see their successful campaign to pass H.R. 3077

Further, by going after Ward’s tenure, they are essentially targeting the scholarly legitimacy of the entire field that, through external and internal review, granted Ward tenure. If Ward’s tenure (and his promotion to Full, and his successful post-tenure review) was a “mistake,” the next question is “who gave it to him?” Ultimately, by undermining the integrity of tenure in one national field, the neocon Right will pave the way to an attack on the very legitimacy of tenure as an institution. CU Regent Lucero did not mince words in his public statement at the emergency meeting where the 30-day investigation of Ward was announced:

“My displeasure with Mr. Churchill’s essay should be abundantly clear, however, the issues regarding faculty responsibilities are still my focus. While the language in the Laws and Policies is in place, setting the standards for faculty expectations and the grounds for discipline, I would argue that they are subjective and dependent on the faculty for interpretation as to whether a professor has crossed a line. I would suggest that the time has come for a revision to the Policies that allows for other forms of adjudication that are not reliant on the faculty for determining subjectively the fate of one of their own. (Feb 3, 2005)”

* Neocon students at CU-B (College Republicans) are likely connected with CampusWatch and/or AVOT (Americans for Victory against Terrorism); they are already connected with a very hostile right-wing talk radio talk show host in Denver (that is then feeding to the national level) and they have been using tried-and-true CampusWatch/AVOT-type tactics to create the steady stream of racist, violent hatemail that not only Ward, but ES faculty and students are receiving.

* While we are confused and disoriented by the barrage of attacks, the state legislature is already moving to get tenure changes written into the books. The tactic is for Owens to make radical demands and push the envelope to the right, opening up space for a conservative Democrat to propose a more “moderate”-looking bill (Senate Bill 85, which includes tenure law changes) that should, if they’re smart, pass quickly and easily, possibly even before the next Regents meeting. Reported in the Colorado Daily on Friday Feb 11, the tenure changes appear minor but will be used as footholds for the next deeper round(s) of legislative actions.

* The CU-Boulder administration seems well-intentioned but to have misjudged the stakes and their opposition. They may have believed they could keep control of the investigation by doing it in-house but the Right is already outflanking them by using this investigation to launch an ideological show-trial; it’s a war of public opinion in which the administration has already been outmaneuvered. By the end of 30 days, they could easily be backed into a corner, unable to resist the Right’s larger agenda. The Admin’s investigation can find whatever it wants (it could even decide to make no move against Ward), but by that point, it won’t matter because all the legislative momentum/power will be out of their hands. Ultimately, the neocon agenda doesn’t even have to succeed in getting Ward’s tenure revoked; the attack on Ward is only one key piece of a larger campaign with several objectives beyond the firing of Ward.

* Ward is a prime target. He is vulnerable and, at the same time, has extremely high strategic value. In terms of his vulnerability: he can be isolated from support forces who would traditionally make it hard to attack a tenured faculty. There are faculty who have problems with his being American Indian or who have something against Ethnic Studies, etc etc-these faculty will be reluctant or refuse to defend him (until it’s too late). As a revolutionary, he can be counted on to have a significant number of colleagues who strongly dislike him and will be reluctant or refuse to defend him (until it’s too late). On top of all this, in the post-911 climate, moderates who would normally disagree with his views but then go on to defend his free speech rights and academic freedom, will hesitate because they are afraid of being cast in with his “anti-americanism” (much like the McCarthy period). In terms of his high value as a target (David Horowitz has already written on this): he’s not only tenured, but he’s a full prof; he’s not only inside ethnic studies but he was chair; he’s not in just any university in CO, he’s at the institutional flagship of “liberalism” in the middle of a red state.

We have to be as clear as possible about the big picture. This is much, much bigger than an individual attack on Ward. What we’re looking at is a carefully developed, pre-existing national strategy that has been searching for exactly the right breakthrough “test case.” It has found extremely favorable conditions in Ward’s situation and in the post-911 climate. As they’ve been doing already in other areas they want to dismantle the structural footholds (academic freedom/tenure, ethnic studies) that social movements gained for people of color and liberal and progressive intellectuals inside academe during the 60s & 70s. If they are successful in Colorado, it could set a precedent like Bakke. Raising the stakes even higher, Governor Owens has ambitions that reach as far as the White House. The next phases of his career hang on this crucial campaign that will give definitive proof of his leadership ability. If he pulls it off, it’s a glorious triple coup-de-grace: undermine the legal foundation of tenure/free speech, hurt/ruin Ethnic Studies…and at no less than the strongest “liberal” campus in the state. His personal investment in this campaign is very high and he is likely to throw his whole weight behind it.

This is a fight to make history.

EMMA PEREZ is the new chair of the Ethnic Studies Department at the University of Colorado.

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