A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Friday, March 04, 2005

Oh THAT Ivory Tower: Churchill vs. Summers, part I

It's hard to imagine that Ward Churchill and Larry Summers have much in common, and yet both are embroiled in freedom of speech controversies. Both have responsiblilities to their constituents--the students for Churchill and the faculty and staff for Summers. The rhetoric, both that used by the principles and the subsequent responses on both sides of the issue by all manner of individuals and organizations, has been overstated, and, at times, strident out of all measure to the actual content being discussed. All of this has been hashed over in a variety of forums and, as already noted, by a wide array of pundits. It is not my intent to rehash either case. Rather, there are two striking things I wish to comment on. The first is brief, and will be the subject of this post. The second is far longer and more involved, and, at this point incomplete. It will be discussed at greater length on Monday.

Okay, on to the first point. For me, the important distinction between Summers and Churchill has been the reaction of the two men to the criticism and outrage they have engendered with their commentary. Summers has admitted that he made a mistake with his comments, has withdrawn his conclusions after consulting with others more knowledgeable in the field than he, and has promised to work more closely with faculty and the greater Harvard community in the future. Churchill has steadfastly refused to apologize, has denigrated his critics on numerous occassions, and has tried to spin what he said into something less offensive and not even close to the true thrust of his initial observations and subsequent clarifications. The contrast could hardly be more stark.

So, guess which one has received more support from the faculty and staff here at UW-Parkside? Sadly, the answer is probably far too easy to guess. Which brings us to the second point: on February 18, 2005 an email in support of Churchill was sent by UW-Parkside's Center for Ethnic Studies to the University of Colorado-Boulder. It was signed (virtually, since it was an email) by thirty-one individuals, with two more added later. I am presently soliciting signatures (all virtual ones) for an email in support of Summers. At present, I have seven signatories, only two of which are from faculty members.

I had hoped that my campus was, somehow, not as much infected with the liberal PC think as most of the other U.S. univeristies seem to be. Sadly, it appears that it is. Details will follow on Monday, the closing date for signatures to the Summers' letter.


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