Saturday, February 26, 2005

A Teaching Moment

University of Colorado officials are considering offering Ward Churchill an early retirement package that could end an increasingly uncomfortable standoff with the controversial professor. ... David Lane, Churchill's attorney, said he has not been contacted about a buyout offer. But, he said, while his primary focus is on protecting Churchill's constitutional right to speak out, he would be willing to listen to a university proposal. "If they offer $10 million, I would think about it. If they offer him $10, I wouldn't," Lane said.

Freedom of speech is not priceless. It's worth ten million dollars and not a penny less. This, according to the Denver Post, is preferred way to get Professor Churchill off the campus. The alternative, it sources suggest, is far worse.

Typically such dismissals - even if done by the book - result in years of expensive lawsuits that Hoffman told legislators last week the university would like to avoid. Sources involved in the talks said if an arrangement could be made, it could get everyone off the hook, including Churchill, the subject of daily press revelations. The latest controversy is whether an artwork by Churchill titled "Winter Attack" was copied from a 1972 piece by Thomas Mails, "The Mystic Warriors of the Plains."

The Rocky Mountain News depicts the CU administration as practically paralyzed with fear at the possible retaliation Churchill could visit on them should they attempt to chastise him.

University of Colorado President Betsy Hoffman had some fairly strong words Tuesday for those who have argued that professor Ward Churchill should be fired. "The more talk there is about the need to fire him, the more difficult it becomes for us to do that, if that's what we decide to do," she told Republican lawmakers, urging them not to join calls for action. "If we approach this issue wrong," she said, "not only will every regent be sued personally, but every administrator will be sued personally and professor Churchill will win his lawsuit with triple damages and be back on the faculty, a very wealthy man at our expense."

This fear, whether real or pretended, is an impressive demonstration of the power of Political Correctness,  a compound of legal menace, the threat of extralegal action and of retaliatory vilification that is not some figure of speech but an actual, material force. Even if Churchill is 'bought out' at $10 million -- should he stoop to accept such a beggarly sum -- he will have unambiguously demonstrated the value of leftist protection. That he could have survived repeated exposure as an ethnic identity thief, academic fraud and art forger; that he could have assaulted a newsman on television and withstood the personal opprobrium of the Colorado Governor, only to receive a fortune in compensation, can only add to his fame.

The perception of danger depends on one's perspective. Neville Chamberlain's Foreign Minister, Lord Halifax, argued against opposing the Nazi aggression by asking "was any useful purpose served by treading on the landslide and being carried along with it"? Another Churchill, unrelated to Ward, counterargued that the danger lay entirely the other way: that capitulation mean stepping onto a "slippery slope" every bit as perilous as Halifax's metaphorical landslide; how each moment of procrastination increased the awfulness of the inevitable clash. The case, on smaller scale, describes CU's dilemma. From Hoffman's point of view, it is resisting Ward Churchill that is dangerous; from another standpoint it is not resisting him that constitutes the threat.