Churchill's backers misrepresented sources, relied on faulty books
But they say CU investigators guilty of academic misconduct
Ward Churchill speaks at the University of Oregon in 2006.
By Berny Morson And Kevin Vaughan, Rocky Mountain News
May 18, 2007
A faculty group defending the accuracy of works by embattled University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill misrepresented sources or relied on books the authors themselves have since repudiated.
"That's just blatant distortion to make their point," said Russell Thornton, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, whose book was quoted in defense of Churchill.
University of Oklahoma professor Circes Sturm, who was also quoted, said she has since changed her views on a piece of federal Indian law Churchill is accused of distorting. Churchill was among her sources.
"If I had known that there were questions about the accuracy of his work, I would have looked to other sources," said Sturm, who is quoted by Churchill's defenders.
Sturm's sources included essays by M. Annette Jaimes, Churchill's first wife. Churchill has admitted ghostwriting some of Jaimes' essays - a fact Sturm couldn't have known at the time.
"What a tangled web," Sturm said. "I wish I wasn't in it."
A CU investigative committee last year concluded that Churchill, a member of CU's ethnic studies department, invented facts, plagiarized entire works and misrepresented the authorship of articles.
Coming to his defense in documents released April 23 are nine professors - seven from CU, two from other schools. They have filed their own academic misconduct charges against CU's investigative panel members.
The university has never dealt with that particular twist in an academic inquiry before, a spokesman said.
Churchill's defenders, led by Cornell University American studies professor Eric Cheyfitz, said the review panel ignored sources supporting Churchill's contention that both Captain John Smith and the U.S. Army intentionally spread smallpox to Indians.
Also overlooked, they argued, is evidence in the writings of other scholars bolstering Churchill's contention that the United States Congress in 1887 imposed a "blood quantum" standard to define Indians, similar to Nazi laws that later defined Jews.
Cheyfitz's group did not challenge the conclusion that Churchill plagiarized two works and ghost wrote articles such as the one Sturm, the Oklahoma scholar, relied upon.
"What gain was there for Churchill in doing this?" Cheyfitz asked. " . . . These were insignificant instances."
Brown to recommend
The latest dispute comes as CU President Hank Brown deliberates on whether to recommend that the Board of Regents fire Churchill. That was the recommendation of the interim Boulder campus chancellor following the report of the investigative committee.
Churchill appealed that recommendation to the faculty's Privilege and Tenure Committee. Churchill and his attorney have said the committee recommended suspending him for one year rather than firing him.
The report itself is sealed.
Brown is not bound by the Privilege and Tenure Committee's recommendation.
Churchill, asked to comment on the new questions raised about the investigation into his scholarship, issued a one-word response by e-mail: "Heh."
Churchill was at the center of national media attention in January 2005, when an essay come to light in which he referred to terrorist attack victims at the World Trade Center as "Little Eichmanns," a reference to a Nazi functionary who oversaw the Holocaust.
CU officials said the remark was protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
But CU opened an investigation after scholars at several other universities pointed to instances of alleged academic misconduct, some of which had been voiced in academic journals as long as a decade before.
But Cheyfitz said Churchill is now being railroaded over scholarly issues. "They've turned what should be an academic debate into an indictment," Cheyfitz said.
Smallpox in New England
Among the issues in dispute is Churchill's claim that English colonists and the U.S. government deliberately spread smallpox among Indians to wipe them out.
In one instance, Churchill wrote that there was "some pretty strong circumstantial evidence" that Captain John Smith spread smallpox among the Wampanoags.
The CU investigative committee concluded that Churchill "falsified and fabricated" the assertions about Smith.
A leader of the committee has since conceded that the panel erred in concluding that one of the works Churchill referenced mentions neither the disease nor the tribe in question.
"In this assertion we were incorrect," Mimi Wesson, the law professor who chaired the committee, wrote, in part, to Silver & Gold Record, the faculty-staff newspaper, on April 12.
Cheyfitz said that vindicates Churchill.
"Live by the sword, die by the sword," Cheyfitz said. "If you're going to make these allegations, then you ought to be awfully scrupulous in your own citations, and they haven't been."
But Wesson pointed out in her letter that the book, Manitou and Providence: Europeans, Indians and the Making of New England, 1500-1642 by Neal Salisbury, says the Wampanoags developed smallpox two years after Smith left the area. Salisbury, a history professor at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., did not return a message seeking comment.
Churchill also has frequently accused the U.S. Army of deliberately distributing smallpox-laden blankets to Indians at Fort Clark in 1837, sparking an epidemic there. But the investigative committee found that the sources he cited did not support his work.
One of those sources was Thornton, the UCLA professor whose book American Indian Holocaust and Survival covers the epidemic. The book concludes that smallpox was spread to the Mandan tribe by travelers on a steamship, not by the U.S. Army.
However, Cheyfitz and the professors working with him accused the investigative committee of ignoring a part of Thornton's book that includes the deathbed "speech" of Four Bears, a Mandan leader.
In it, Four Bears spoke of his impending death from smallpox "caused by those dogs, the whites."
But the speech doesn't mention the Army or the distribution of blankets.
"My reaction to this stuff about the speech of Four Bears is it's a bunch of BS," Thornton said.
"All it (the speech) says is that white men brought smallpox to Indians," Thornton said. "Well, so what? That's nothing. That's my view, anyway."
Thornton's rebuke didn't faze Cheyfitz.
"He ought to read the speech again," Cheyfitz said. "I mean, it's quite clear what the speech says - it says whites spread smallpox. And although it doesn't say the Army spread smallpox, we can assume, I think - safely assume - that amongst those white people that Four Bears was referencing in that speech he certainly had the Army in mind as part of it, since the Indians' major interaction with white people was with the Army."
Churchill also contends that Congress adopted codes that defined Indians by "blood quantum," or the percentage of their Indian blood. A person with one Indian parent and one non-Indian parent would be half Indian.
Churchill claims the blood quantum standard is similar to codes adopted by the Nazis to define Jews. Such a code is also controversial, because tribes claim they - not the federal government - have the right to determine their membership.
Churchill says the blood quantum standard is in an 1887 law that imposed private ownership of land on Indians in place of the traditional communal ownership by the tribe.
But legal scholars have said the 1887 law, called the General Allotment Act, contains no reference to blood quantum. The CU investigative committee upheld that view.
The Cheyfitz group charged that the investigators failed to consider works that support Churchill's view.
They cited Sturm, the Oklahoma professor, who referred to a blood quantum provision of the General Allotment Act in her 2002 book about the Cherokees.
But Sturm, an anthropologist, said she now has read the act and agrees it does not mention blood quantum.
"I felt horrible about it when I realized this after the book was already out," Sturm said.
Sturm said she did research for the book in the mid-1990s among Indians in Oklahoma. They widely believed the law contained a blood quantum provision.
"I think I was ready to accept that at face value," she said.
Said Cheyfitz: "She's already printed what she's printed, and once it's out there, until she repudiates it in print or revises it, it basically holds."
Cheyfitz said he was not bothered that a section of Sturm's book had, among its sources, works Churchill may have ghost written.
"Wherever she got that information, she used it herself," he said. "She lent her authority to it. And I think that that, in and of itself, speaks to the fact that this is an area of debate . . ."
Also cited by the Cheyfitz group was Angela Gonzales, who, like Cheyfitz, teaches at Cornell.
But Gonzales said the essay Cheyfitz cited does not support Churchill.
Her essay does not say the law established a blood quantum standard to define Indians. Rather, federal officials who administered the law often defined Indians by blood quantum.
"There is nothing in the legislation that seems to suggest that blood quantum was to be required," Gonzales said in an interview.
Cheyfitz said that Churchill, like Gonzales, included interpretations placed on the act.
The Cheyfitz group also defended Churchill's claim that a blood quantum standard is part of a federal law governing the counterfeiting of Indian art.
Former Colorado U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, who sponsored the act, has said blood quantum is not part of the legislation. The wording of the act contains no reference to blood quantum.
Because the Cheyfitz complaint concerns Boulder campus faculty members, it will be reviewed by professors at the CU Health Sciences Center, said CU spokesman Bronson Hilliard.
Among questions to be answered is whether members of the investigative committee can be charged with academic misconduct.
"That is an open question we're dealing with," Hilliard said. "We've never had that question raised as an institution before."
Among the supporters: Nine professors from 3 universities
They have lodged a complaint of research misconduct against the committee that investigated Ward Churchill:
• Eric Cheyfitz, history professor at Cornell University
• Elisa Facio, associate professor of ethnic studies at CU
• Vijay Gupta, engineering professor at CU
• Margaret LeCompte, education professor at CU
• Paul Levitt, English professor at CU
• Tom Mayer, sociology professor at CU
• Emma Perez, associate professor of ethnic studies at CU
• Martin Walter, professor of mathematics at CU, not pictured
• Michael Yellow Bird, associate professor in the Center for Indigenous Nations Studies at the University of Kansas
The investigative group assembled by the University of Colorado's Standing Committee on Research Misconduct found numerous problems with Ward Churchill's work in a report issued one year ago:
• That he falsified claims that the General Allotment Act of 1887 created a "blood quantum" standard allowing Indian tribes to admit members only if they had at least half native blood, and that he failed to properly credit sources.
• That he falsified claims that the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 imposed a "blood quantum" requiring artists to be one-quarter Indian by blood, and that he failed to properly credit sources.
• That he falsified and fabricated assertions that Capt. John Smith introduced smallpox to the Wampanoag Indians in the early 1600s.
• That he falsified and fabricated accusations that the Army committed genocide by intentionally infecting the Mandan Indians with smallpox in 1837, and that he failed to properly credit sources and deviated from accepted practices in reporting research results.
• That he plagiarized a 1972 pamphlet about a water-diversion scheme in Canada titled The Water Plot.
• That he plagiarized Professor Fay G. Cohen's writings in a 1992 essay.
• That he committed research misconduct in writing an essay that he published in a 1993 book under the name Rebecca L. Robbins.
Among the detractors: UCLA's Russell Thornton
"My reaction to this stuff about the speech of (Mandan leader) Four Bears is it's a bunch of BS."
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