Jurors in the wrongful-termination lawsuit filed by Ward L. Churchill agreed with the embattled professor's contention that he was the victim of a "howling mob," not the perpetrator of academic misconduct.
The problem here was that the charges of "academic misconduct" were seen as a pretext to mask the dissatisfaction with the content of Churchill's writings:
University officials concluded that free-speech protections prevented them from firing Churchill for the Sept. 11 essay. However, as complaints about Churchill's academic work surfaced, the school launched an investigation and fired him after three committees of faculty members from Colorado and other universities concluded that Churchill had committed plagiarism, fabrication and research misconduct in his writings on American Indian history.
Sadly, the bungling of the case by the University of Colorado does send the wrong message about professorial plagiarism.
Plagiarism is a bad thing, and it should be punished. But, it shouldn't be used as a pretext to punish something else.
The big issues in the case remain to be decided:
It's up to Chief Denver District Judge Larry Naves to decide whether to return Churchill, 61, to his $96,392-per-year job as a professor of ethnic studies at the Boulder campus. The judge also will determine whether the university must pay his legal fees.
The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote:
Five of the six members of the jury have told court officials they do not wish to speak with reporters about their thinking.
But a sixth, Bethany Newill, called a local radio station, KHOW, last night and said the $1 judgment was the product of a compromise between a single holdout juror who believed Mr. Churchill should not receive any damages and five others who believed he should be awarded some significant amount, according to today’s edition of the Colorado Daily. Helping shape the jury’s verdict was Mr. Churchill’s decision to have his lawyers not specify how much money he wanted, as well as his insistence throughout the proceedings that all he wanted was to get his job back.
**In Ward Churchill Redux, Stanley Fish suggests there was no plagiarism involved in the Churchill case:
The committee decided that a charge of plagiarism could not be sustained since it is not plagiarism to cite ones own work (even if it bears another’s name). That does not dispose of the issue, however, because in the committee’s view “ghostwriting” is itself a “form of misconduct” that fails “to comply with established practices” and deceives readers into thinking that an author has independent authority for his assertions, when in reality the only authority he has is his own.
Churchill’s response came in two parts. First he pointed out that university regulations (Colorado’s or anyone else’s) do not contain guidelines relating to ghostwriting. There seems, therefore, to be no “established” practice for him to violate. Second, he challenged the assertion that a text he wrote cannot be properly cited as independent support for something he is writing in the present.
If the text --independent authority for his assertions, when in reality the only authority he has is his own. -- sounds familiar, it should. Think back to Purdue and bubble fusion.
One assumes Fish does not think self-plagiarism is plagiarism. Contemplate Wendler at SIU.
**As a separate matter, Fish's statement "The committee decided that a charge of plagiarism could not be sustained" is not accurate. At page 94 of the committee report, one has:
The Committee’s investigation of the seven allegations before us has unanimously found, by a
preponderance of the evidence, that Professor Churchill committed several forms of academic
misconduct as defined in the policy statements of the University of Colorado at Boulder and the
University of Colorado system:231
1. Falsification, as discussed in Allegations A, B, C, and D.
2. Fabrication, as discussed in Allegations C and D.
3. Plagiarism, as discussed in Allegations E and G.
4. Failure to comply with established standards regarding author names on publications, as
discussed most fully in Allegation F but also in Allegations A, B, and D.
5. Serious deviation from accepted practices in reporting results from research, as discussed
in Allegation D.
We did not find plagiarism in Allegation F.
Allegations E, F, and G were:
Allegation E: Plagiarism of a Pamphlet by the Dam the Dams Group 83
Allegation F: Plagiarism of Professor Rebecca Robbins 88
Allegation G: Plagiarism of Professor Fay G. Cohen 91
Plagiarism was not found in allegation F on the basis that Churchill wrote the piece in question, under
someone else's name-->
In this allegation it is claimed that Professor Churchill plagiarized original work authored by
Professor Rebecca Robbins. The plagiarized source, according to the allegation, is Rebecca
Robbins, “Self-Determination and Subordination: The Past, Present, and Future of American
Indian Governance,” in The State of Native America: Genocide, Colonization, and Resistance,
edited by M. Annette Jaimes and published in 1992.215 (...)
Although we find that Professor Churchill is not guilty of plagiarism in connection with the
“Rebecca Robbins” essay, we also find by a preponderance of the evidence that Professor
Churchill’s publication of an essay in the name of Rebecca Robbins, another actual scholar in his
field, when he was the author (in his words, “from the ground up”) constitutes research
misconduct for its failure to comply with established practices concerning author names on
We were unable to determine the degree of Rebecca Robbins’ complicity in this conduct. But it
is misconduct whether or not she acquiesced in it, and irrespective of any benefit she may have
enjoyed as a result of it.
In light of Professor Churchill’s admissions, it is clear that his use of Rebecca Robbins’ name on
work authored by him was neither accidental nor isolated. He represents that he engaged in this
practice intentionally and repeatedly. Accordingly, we find by a preponderance of the evidence
that this research misconduct was deliberate.
**UPDATE. As to what Churchill did in the Rebecca Robbins matter, contemplate also
"sockpuppeting" on the internet:
Lee Siegel is not the only professional pundit to be caught in a sock puppet scandal. This year, Los Angeles Times business columnist Michael Hiltzik was stripped of his column and blog for using fake handles on his blog and those of his critics. Economist John R. Lott, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, passed himself off as his former graduate student "Mary Rosh" to defend his work and attack critics.
—Cathy Young, "Journalistic ethics gone astray," The Boston Globe, September 18, 2006