December 13, 2006
Ward Churchill's student base
He's back in the news, this time being cheered by 200 students at the New School, where he called the school's president, Medal of Honor Winner and former Senator Robert Kerrey, a "mass murder and serial killer to boot"
Clearly the man has his fans on campus. At Colorado University his case is winding its way through the multi-year disciplinary process for tenured faculty, on charges of plagiarism and other academic transgressions.
Despite, or perhaps because of this, according to the Colorado Daily:
In 2005, CU students voted to honor Churchill with the Alumni Association's annual teaching award. Churchill won the student vote by a margin of 32 percent over the nearest runner-up in his category.
That award is back in the news because the President of the Alumni Association
Kent Zimmerman had an impromptu meeting with four students who are protesting Zimmerman's decision to withhold a teaching recognition award from Professor Ward Churchill.
Zimmerman appears to be hanging tough, refusing to bestow the award until the case is resolved. The students, of course, chant "Innocent until proven guilty" as their mantra.
My guess is that Zimmerman is quite familiar with the case, understands the charges and evidence, and sees where it all is heading. He wants to avoid an embarrassing award to someone likely to be cashiered out of the faculty. Perhaps quite literally, carrying away megabucks.
He also probably wants to avoid being cast as a participant in the case. Churchill's public standing would be improved with whatever prestige the award would retain after having been devalued by bestowal upon him. At worst, it would still be a valuable talking point to make the case to the public that he is being judged by political standards, rather than by a fair inquiry into the specifics of the charges.
I also have questions about the significance of any such student vote for an award. In politicized times, a vote can become a statement. he percentage of the overall student body at a large university like Colorado who would have first hand experience of any one of the university's excellent teachers is quite small. Perhaps a few percent of the tens of thousands of students. Someone who has a campus-wide base of support, and some organization could loom large.
I do not know what percentage of the university's students participated in the voting, but if it was less than one hundred percent, than the weight of any organized group would be magnified. If only a small percentage of the students bothered voting, a relatively small group could play a dominant role, as may well have been the case.