DEFEND WARD CHURCHILL

Dear Colleagues,

In Brecht’s play Galileo the great astronomer sets forth into a world dominated by a mighty church and an authoritarian power: “The cities are narrow and so are the brains,” he declares recklessly. “Superstition and plague. But now the word is: since it is so, it does not remain so. For everything moves my friend.” Intoxicated with his own radical discoveries, Galileo feels the earth shifting and finds himself propelled surprisingly toward revolution. ” It was always said that the stars were fastened to a crystal vault so they could not fall,” he says. “Now we have taken heart and let them float in the air, without support… they are embarked on a great voyage—like us who are also without support and embarked on a great voyage.” Here Galileo raises the stakes and risks taking on the establishment in the realm of its own authority, and it strikes back fiercely. Forced to renounce his life’s work under the exquisite pressure of the Inquisition he denounces what he knows to be true, and is welcomed back into the church and the ranks of the faithful, but exiled from humanity—by his own word. A former student confronts him in the street: “Many on all sides followed you with their ears and their eyes believing that you stood, not only for a particular view of the movement of the stars, but even more for the liberty of teaching— in all fields. Not then for any particular thoughts, but for the right to think at all. Which is in dispute.”

The right to think at all, which is in dispute—-this is what the Ward Churchill affair finally comes to: The right to a mind of one’s own, the right to pursue an argument into uncharted spaces, the right to challenge the church and its orthodoxy in the public square. The right to think at all.

It’s no surprise that this outrage against Professor Churchill occurs at this particular moment— a time of empire resurrected and unapologetic, militarism proudly expanding and triumphant, war without justice and without end, white supremacy retrenched, basic rights and protections shredded, growing disparities between the haves and the have-nots, fear and superstition and the mobilization of scapegoating social formations based on bigotry and violence or the threats of violence, and on and on. There’s more of course, and this isn’t the only story, but this is a recognizable part of where we’re living, and a familiar place to anyone with even a casual understanding of history. Here the competing impulses and ideals that have always animated our country’s story are on full display: rights and liberty and the pursuit of human freedom on one side, domination and war and repression on the other. The trauma of contradictions that is America.

Ward Churchill is under a sustained, orchestrated, and determined attack because of his political beliefs and statements and activities, and nothing more. No one doubts his productivity or his accomplishments. But the attack on Churchill is neither isolated nor innocent— the high school history teacher on the west side of Chicago gets the message, and so does the English literature teacher in Detroit and the math teacher in an Oakland middle school: be careful what you say; stay close to the official story; stick to the authorized text. If someone of Ward Churchill’s stature and standing for so many years at the University of Colorado can suffer this kind of campaign, what chance do I have?

Every committee, every investigation, every report plays out under a shadow of the star chamber; everyone must choose who to be and how to act in response. For this reason I support Ward Churchill unequivocally, unapologetically, whole-heartedly. I urge my colleagues and my students and everyone who values education as a grand enterprise geared toward enlightenment and liberation to speak out forcefully and fearlessly now on behalf of the liberty of teaching and learning, on behalf of the right to think at all.

Sincerely,
William Ayers
Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar
University of Illinois at Chicago
billayers.org

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6 Responses to DEFEND WARD CHURCHILL

  1. Joe Blow says:

    So you would have no problem with one of your students turning in plagiarized or fabricated work, so long as he was sticking it to The Man?

    It is clear that for you, politics trumps research ethics.

  2. Jeff says:

    “No one doubts his productivity or his accomplishments.”

    What they doubt is his scholarship, and with good reason

  3. […] In Brecht’s play Galileo the great astronomer sets forth into a world dominated by a mighty church and an authoritarian power: “The cities are narrow and so are the brains,” he declares recklessly. “Superstition and plague. But now the word is: since it is so, it does not remain so. For everything moves my friend.” Intoxicated with his own radical discoveries, Galileo feels the earth shifting and finds himself propelled surprisingly toward revolution. ” It was always said that the stars were fastened to a crystal vault so they could not fall,” he says. “Now we have taken heart and let them float in the air, without support… they are embarked on a great voyage—like us who are also without support and embarked on a great voyage.” Here Galileo raises the stakes and risks taking on the establishment in the realm of its own authority, and it strikes back fiercely. Forced to renounce his life’s work under the exquisite pressure of the Inquisition he denounces what he knows to be true, and is welcomed back into the church and the ranks of the faithful, but exiled from humanity—by his own word. A former student confronts him in the street: “Many on all sides followed you with their ears and their eyes believing that you stood, not only for a particular view of the movement of the stars, but even more for the liberty of teaching— in all fields. Not then for any particular thoughts, but for the right to think at all. Which is in dispute” …. read the rest. […]

  4. Jeannine Moore says:

    The allegations against Ward Churchill would be laughable if not for the consquences to his reputation to say nothing of his career. I read with interest the “allegations” against him from his “peers.”

    You do not have to be “born” an Indian to be considered a member of a tribe, there are ceremonies for the majority of tribes that “adopt” people into their kinship groups. Perhaps the “distinguished members of the committee” should consider learning more about Native American culture before deciding “who is” and “who isn’t” a native. The only reason you would be an enrolled member of a tribe would be for the benefit of being a “ward” of the government. This is just conjecture on my part but I don’t believe Ward Churchill would consider that a good thing.

    As far as the plagarism, misconduct, etc., when is interpretation of any given legislation not open to debate? I beleive the Constitution of the United States is debated on a daily basis. The Allotment Act, and the charges that infected blankets were given to the Native American Indians isn’t a new story. If you really want to know how the governemnt treated the indigenous population of America. Go to the National Archives in Washington D. C., and read for yourself the first hand accounts of how the “Indian problem” was solved. Taking into consideration that from 1492 to the present, the population of North America tribes is LESS than it was in 1492, does this not spell “genocide?” (Current census app. 2.5 million Native Americans). Even the most feeble minded must come to the conclusion that something “bad” must have happened to reduce an indigenous population to that extent after 500+ years of colonization. Ward Churchill has history on his side.

  5. Viktoria says:

    Ward Churchill can call himself anything he wants. Do we have Nuremburg Laws here? After all, Michael Reagan goes around calling himself Ronald Reagan’s son, and he does not have one drop of Ronald Reagan’s blood, or any of his genes, in him. Ward Churchill is being flayed because of what he SAID (which is the truth, by the way–).

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