Precinct 333

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Churchill Hiring, Tenure Decisions Bypassed Normal Procedures

Ward Churchill has been at the center of a controversy for several weeks. Many fgolks have asked how it was possible that the usual standards of scholarship and peer review failed, getting him into a tenured position without a doctorate.

The answer is simple. They didn’t fail. The normal procedures were simply bypassed.
Churchill started teaching at the school in the 1980s as a non-tenure track teacher. Ethnic studies was not even a department back then.

In the 1990 e-mail exchange, [Kaye] Howe, the vice chancellor, noted that Churchill had been invited to be a guest lecturer that fall at Alfred University in western New York State.

Howe sought support from [Charles] Middleton, the dean, to make Churchill a visiting professor in Indian studies in spring 1991. Howe said Churchill could return to his slot in the academic support program if the visiting professorship did not turn into a permanent faculty position.

"I think this would give Ward a significant opportunity," Howe wrote.

Howe told Middleton she had the "highest esteem for Ward."

Middleton responded that he agreed with Howe "in principle." However, he anticipated Bruce Ekstrand, the vice chancellor for academic affairs, would have concerns about Churchill's lack of a doctorate.

Ekstrand - not Howe - had direct authority over faculty appointments. Howe supervised the support programs where Churchill then worked.

Now that isn’t necessarily outrageous. Go ahead and give the guy a chance. Maybe he doesn’t have the doctorate that the job would ordinarily require, but sometimes that can be dispensed with if there is exceptional merit on the part of a candidate. Not to mention, this wasn’t even a tenure-track position. That could come later, with all the usual reviews and evaluations.

But then things got even more interesting. For reasons not discernible in the public record, Churchill was brought before the Board of Regents for a decision on tenure – ten months after being offered the non-tenure-track visiting professorship, in April, 1991. And no one seems able to explain why or how, especially since the normal process for granting tenure .

This is a situation that cries out for examination. Every step of the way, normal processes and procedures were dispensed with and finessed. We need to know why, so that such things do not happen again. After all, an unqualified, plagiarising polemicist was head of a department at a major state university. That should be a matter of concern for folks of all political stripes.


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