WASHINGTON, DC—As the University of Colorado prepares to issue a report on tenured ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill, a new study by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) concludes that professors like Churchill are systematically promoted by colleges and universities across the country at the expense of academic standards and integrity.
In the report, entitled How Many Ward Churchills?, ACTA places Churchill in context and finds that “Ward Churchill is not only not alone—he is quite common.” Focusing on U.S. News & World Report’s top 25 private colleges and universities, and the Big 10 and Big 12 conference schools, the report examines departmental websites, on-line course descriptions, electronic course syllabi, and faculty home pages in a wide range of liberal arts disciplines.
From this broad survey of publicly available materials, ACTA finds that “the kinds of politically extreme opinions for which Ward Churchill has become justly infamous are not only quite common in academe, but enthusiastically embraced and rewarded by it.” The study concludes that “throughout American higher education, professors are using their classrooms to push political agendas in the name of teaching students to think critically.”
The study comes in the wake of an extended public controversy involving the outspoken Colorado professor whose article describing the victims of 9-11 as “little Eichmanns” came to light early in 2005. A number of legislators and political leaders called for Churchill’s firing, while the Colorado Board of Regents demanded that university administrators undertake a study to determine whether Churchill should be fired for “professional incompetence.” Their report will be released on May 16.
“All Americans—whether on the left, right, or in the center—should be outraged by the one-sided, doctrinaire perspective that, too often, today defines the college experience,” the ACTA report finds. “Today’s college students are not being prepared for leadership—or even for full, engaged citizenship. College and universities must ensure that they provide education, not indoctrination.”
“The solution to the problem Ward Churchill poses is not to fire him—or others like him—for expressing extreme beliefs,” the report says. Rather, institutions should “assess much more closely and systematically than they have yet done whether—and how—extremist professors adversely affect the intellectual climate on campuses across the country.”
“In the past, administrators and trustees have shied away from assessing the state of the classroom. Worried that doing so might—as many faculty claim—create a chilling effect, or verge on wrongful censorship, they have failed to act,” said ACTA president Anne D. Neal. “But academic freedom is not insulation from oversight or accountability. It does not license professors to ignore their duties to teach and research responsibly and it most certainly does not mean institutions or individuals are exempt from criticism.”
Calling on institutions to “take steps to guarantee a proper balance between students’ academic freedom to learn and professors’ academic freedom to teach, research, and publish,” the study offers concrete steps colleges and universities can take to ensure a vibrant learning environment. These include:
- Performing post-tenure review of faculty;
- Undergoing a self-study to assess the atmosphere in the classroom;
- Reviewing hiring and promotion practices to ensure that scholarship and teaching—not ideological litmus tests—are the foundation for lifelong job security; and
- Hiring administrators who are committed to intellectual diversity.
Most broadly, the report calls on students, parents, alumni, trustees, elected officials and concerned citizens to make the intellectual climate of higher education their business—to demand better information about what is happening in colleges across America and to exact more accountability from the colleges and universities they support.
Chapters include “The Politicized Liberal Arts Curriculum,” “Coursework as Sensitivity Training,” “Educating in Activism,” and “Social Justice and the New Intolerance.”
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is a national education nonprofit dedicated to academic freedom, academic quality, and accountability. ACTA has issued numerous reports on higher education including Intellectual Diversity: Time for Action, The Hollow Core, and Losing America’s Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century.
Highlights of How Many Ward Churchills?
Though the controversy surrounding Ward Churchill now focuses on whether the University of Colorado will find him guilty of professional misconduct, Churchill’s case raises questions that extend far beyond his career. These questions have to do with how to place him in context. Is there really only one Ward Churchill? Or are there many Ward Churchills, academics who use their positions as scholars to promote their politics, to present propaganda as reasoned research, and even to impose their politics on others? Just how typical—or atypical—is the man who praised the 9/11 attacks?
As public awareness of the problem mounts—and as a movement for legislative intervention gains momentum—it’s important to explore just how widespread the “Ward Churchill Phenomenon” really is. In order to answer that question, we took a look at the course offerings of some of the most prominent and influential colleges and universities in the country. Focusing on the U.S. News & World Report’s 2005 list of the top twenty-five private colleges and universities, the Big 10 conference schools, and the Big 12 conference schools, we examined publicly available department websites, on-line course descriptions, electronic course syllabi, and faculty home pages in a wide range of liberal arts disciplines. What we found is that Ward Churchill is not alone, and that the kinds of politically extreme opinions for which he has become justly infamous are not only quite common in academe, but enthusiastically embraced and rewarded by it.
In colleges and universities across the country, in both traditional disciplines and new-fangled programs, the classes offered and the faculty who teach them are displaying an ideological slant that is frequently as uniform as it is severe….
Throughout American higher education, professors are using their classrooms to push political agendas in the name of teaching students to think critically. In course after course, department after department, and institution after institution, indoctrination is replacing education. Encouraging students to think independently has been too often supplanted by the impulse to tell them what to think about some of the most pressing issues of our day.
In the past, administrators have shied away from assessing the state of the classroom. They have worried that doing so might—as many faculty claim—create a “chilling effect” or verge on wrongful censorship. Ironically, fears of endangering academic freedom have prevented higher education officials from following up on concerns that faculties may be abusing the privileges academic freedom confers.
Their fears rest on a basic misapprehension about what academic freedom is—and what it is not. Academic freedom is not insulation from oversight or accountability. It does not license professors to ignore their duties to teach and research responsibly, and it does not license institutions to fail to ensure that they do so. Nor does academic freedom exempt institutions or individuals from criticism.
Too often, however, members of the academy equate academic freedom—the right to teach, research, and speak publicly—with the right to institutional autonomy. Too often, they expect that, in the name of academic freedom, they should be immune from scrutiny and that they should not have to answer to the public. But academic freedom only grants faculties intellectual and pedagogical independence on the condition that they honor their reciprocal obligation to respect students’ academic freedom to learn.
Academic freedom is essentially a public trust founded on the condition that universities foster a robust exchange of ideas that acknowledges the existence of multiple perspectives and enables students to decide for themselves what they think and believe. Academic freedom ends where violations of that trust begin.
…academic freedom isn’t just the freedom to be extreme in the public forum. It is also a series of interlocking responsibilities. It is the responsibility to conduct research and to share that research with the public. It is the responsibility to teach students well and to empower them to make up their own minds. Producing propaganda is not doing research. Preaching one’s politics in the classroom is not teaching.
Disturbingly, as this study shows, college and university teachers across the country are profoundly confused on these points. When institutions of higher learning proudly and unabashedly dedicate their pedagogical resources to political advocacy, activism, sensitivity training, and social change, students, parents, trustees, administrators, and taxpayers have a right to be concerned. They also have the right to raise questions, demand answers, and compel action.
Though biased course descriptions and syllabi do not themselves prove that a course will be graded unfairly, they do tell us a great deal about their instructors’ slanted presentation, and they do strongly suggest that their instructors are neither particularly interested in or respectful of the full range of opinions on the issues at hand. They also tell us—through their prominent omissions—that students who wish to uncover alternative viewpoints are going to have to do so on their own….
Faced with substantial evidence of academic bias and pedagogical malfeasance, with course catalogs and professorial websites that openly declare war on impartial, objective teaching, institutions that do not take action deserve the criticism of public officials, taxpayers, students, and parents. Colleges and universities must ensure that they provide education, not indoctrination.
This report aims to inform elected officials, trustees, administrators, parents, alumni, students, and citizens about what is happening, virtually unrecognized and unchallenged, in college classrooms across the nation. It urges them to demand better information and more accountability from the colleges and universities they support.
Likewise, colleges and universities must amend their questionable practices and begin fulfilling their professional obligations. They must also recognize that if they do not take swift and decisive action, they risk losing the independence and the privilege they have traditionally enjoyed.