"My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular."
Earlier this month, Hamilton College, in Clinton, NY, cancelled a talk by University of Colorado Boulder Professor Ward Churchill because of threats of violence. Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., and Eastern Washington University, where Churchill was also scheduled to speak, followed suit. The anger directed at Churchill is based on views he expressed in an essay published three years ago, in which he suggested that the 9/11 attacks were retribution for U.S. foreign policy, for which the victims shared some responsibility, and particularly for his use of the phrase, "little Eichmans," to refer to WTC victims.
The angry denunciations came not just from a few individuals who heard snippets of Churchill's words on The O'Reilly Factor, but involved government officials as well: New York State Governor Pataki protested Churchill's appearance at Hamilton College; Colorado Governor Bill Owens went further and called for University of Colorado President Betsy Hoffman to fire him. Four Republican lawmakers went on record saying they will try to cut CU's budget by $100,000 to reimburse taxpayers for Churchill's salary.
While the government has no obligation to fund educational institutions, once it provides funding it cannot dictate what ideas may be expressed in the classroom or in professors' published work. The university is a special kind of marketplace where all kinds of ideas can be voiced and argued, error discovered, and truth affirmed. If academia became subservient to political concerns, if controversial and oppositional ideas were banned, education would become indoctrination. Thus, the announcement by the University of Colorado Board of Regents and Chancellor they have launched a "thorough examination of Professor Churchill's writings, speeches, tape recordings and other works," searching for "cause for dismissal" is particularly distressing.
These proceedings are clearly in retaliation for Churchill's views, even though the question he raises as to citizens' responsibility for the actions of their elected government is surely a valid subject for academic discussion. Punishing Churchill for addressing this subject ñ no matter how provocatively ñ would be a violation of the principle of academic freedom as well as of the First Amendment. If professors are threatened with an extensive review of all their work every time they voice a controversial opinion or argue a controversial theory, academic freedom will be chilled into meaninglessness.
As so much of the controversy is based on a few words, we are attaching here the full text of Professor Churchill's article, Some People Push Back, which contains the provocative language as well as his explanation of the controversial points.