By Bryan O’Keefe
Rich posted a blog a couple of days ago about Ward Churchill, which generated quite a discussion in the comments section of this blog (that’s a good thing – please post away!) While much of that post and the subsequent comments debated tenure, there is a strong case to be made that the real underlying issue with Ward Churchill is accountability.
Hank Brown, the president of the University of Colorado, makes this point in a compelling op-ed in this morning’s Wall Street Journal (subscription required). Mr. Brown says that taxpayer’s fork over $200 million dollars a year for his university. In return, the university has at least some obligation to make sure that the faculty members are meeting scholarship standards, even those who are tenured and/or controversial, like Mr. Churchill.
Accountability is a word that few people in higher education like to hear – and Mr. Brown recognizes this unpleasant reality. He writes that,
“Mr. Churchill's difficulties in facing up to his academic responsibilities are in many ways emblematic of higher education's trouble with accountability. Too often, colleges and universities tend to insulate themselves in ivy-covered buildings and have not been as diligent as necessary to ensure that the academic enterprise is conducted rigorously and honestly. This elitist attitude is simply outdated, and our university has made tenure reforms -- precipitated by the Churchill case -- that will ensure academic integrity.”
I won’t spoil the rest of the piece and if you don’t have a WSJ subscription, this op-ed alone is worth the cost of the newspaper today. It’s important that we look at Ward Churchill outside of his controversial comments (which, on their own, might not be a reason to fire him) and examine how academic frauds are able to survive on college campuses. The lack of accountability in higher ed is a major part of that problem.