One cannot understand the significance of the University of Colorado Boulder's hiring of a climate skeptic to “balance out” the liberal scientists without understanding what happened with Ward Churchill. Churchill, like Bill Maher, was a victim of the post-911hysteria gripping a nation, which made it impossible to discuss what actually happened without risking associating yourself with a terrorist sympathizer.
Perhaps enough time has passed for us to look back at that time with some perspective. If so, then we ought to also have a sober re-evaluating of the role conservative interest groups – and the Governor -- played in engineering Churchill’s ouster.
Academia, journalism and music played crucial roles in fostering opposition to the Vietnam War, so it is not surprising advocates of the worsening war in Iraq would seek to neutralize those potential focal points for the next generation of war opposition.
With Clear Channel’s organized pro-war rallies and the character assassination of the Dixie Chicks, the music industry had already been effectively neutered. Bill Maher’s scalp was a warning shot across the bow of the networks, and MSNBC would cancel the only show regularly airing critical views of the war – Donahue – despite it bringing in the networks highest ratings. Ward Churchill would serve the same purpose in terms of becoming the symbol of leftist professors for the pro-war right to project their hatred of academia onto.
Churchill made himself a prime candidate to be the academic Dixie Chick when he wrote a 2001 essay that sympathized with terrorists, as Maher had, and tossed in a Nazi analogy to boot. When that essay did not prove to be sufficient grounds for Churchill’s ouster, it was then used as an excuse to start poring through Churchill’s scholarship in search of inconsistencies, led by then-Provost and current Chancellor Phil DiStefano.
Whether or not Churchill was sloppy, we will never know if the scholars who went searching through his papers would weather the same scrutiny any better:
What it boils down to is that someone whose work contains 12,000 footnotes was being fired over the technical minutiae of select small passages of his work, and disputed for having the presumably “incorrect” view of the history of white racism and genocide. Moreover, Ward Churchill was an activist when he was hired by UC-Boulder, without a PhD, and has still proved himself to be a prolific scholar.
The timing of the investigation into Churchill’s work, and the political connections of some of the leading persons behind the investigation, raise extremely serious issues of conflict of interest and threats to constitutionally protected freedom of speech.
As the president of the university at the time, Betsy Hoffman -- a Bush appointee -- would later testify it was the equivalent of putting a faculty member under the microscope.
She would also testify that Governor of Colorado at the time, Bill Owens, had called and threatened to cut university funding if Churchill was not fired (a similar situation occurred in the early 1900s when the Colorado government was controlled by the KKK, and the governor threatened to cut funding if CU didn’t fire all the Catholics and Jews on staff.) When she refused, she testified Owens told her he would “unleash his plan.” (Owens later testified he did not recall making this threat.)
The groundwork from which to launch an attack had been laid several years before. David Horowitz of FrontPage made "balancing" CU a priority in 2003:
In the months that followed, Students for Academic Freedom Clubs were formed across the state and began gathering evidence of these so-called "abuses." Colorado Senate President John Andrews sent a letter to every college president in the state, asking them to provide statements describing their supposed "protections" for students and detailing any problems on their campuses.
Initially Horowitz identified CU President Hoffman as being someone opposing his campaign for an "Academic Bill of Rights" on the grounds— according to Horowitz—that she and others felt "although its principles are valid, it duplicates academic-freedom guidelines that already exist."
Hoffman was forced to resign and replaced by Hank Brown. She would credit her ouster to conservative media outlets and a similar organization devoted to rooting out liberalism on college campuses, American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA).
Here’s the interesting thing: Governor Owens and Hank Brown were co-founders of ACTA in 1995 along with Lynn Cheney when it was known as the National Alumni Association.
The NAA started to look for ways to get conservatives into academia other than merit, and the idea for a visiting conservative scholar was hatched in 1999. But 911 would present a better opportunity to install ideologues through brute force with the ouster of Ward Churchill, and then Hoffman. That opening allowed Owens to help insert Hank Brown - the same Hank Brown who was also chosen to select the current professor of conservative thought at CU, Steven Hayward.