Naturally, there are cases in which academic freedom can not be used to excuse the expression of ideas. For instance, if a university professor intentionally writes so as to intentionally incite unjustified violence against an individual or group, academic freedom should not be used in his or her defense. Even in this extreme case, though, things are more subtle than they at first appear. If a professor writes a paper detailing a case for going to war, he or she has certainly written to incite violence, but is the violence justified? It is virtually impossible to say when considering hypotheticals, and ultimately each case has to be evaluated individually.
Fortunately for all of us, that is what the University of Colorado appears to be doing, by allowing Ward Churchill to defend what he wrote about the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Ultimately, I think Gerald Dworkin is right when he writes:
While some of the language is disgusting (little Eichmanns for those killed in the WTC) and some of the claims are bizarre (were the secretaries, janitors, fireman, waiters in the restaurants, stock clerks, etc. also part of the technocratic corps at the very heart of Americas global financial empire"?) the main theses represent moral, political, and empirical claims about the cause of the attack, and its moral character. No faculty member should be dismissed because of such claims. Whether someone who has, and publishes, such views should continue to be retained in an administrative post is a more difficult question.What Churchill is guilty of is a terrible analogy. It seems more consistent with his position to compare some (certainly not all) of the World Trade Center victims with the German people under Hitler, not with Eichmann or others who directly participated in the Genocide. If he had used a better analogy, some of his claims might not have seemed as absurd (which is not to say that I agree with them, just that they could at least be transformed in a way that would make them more rational). For instance, of the WTC victims Churchill writes:
They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire the "mighty engine of profit" to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved and they did so both willingly and knowingly.One can't help but wonder in what sense Churchill means "willing and knowingly" here. His comparison to Eichmann suggests an answer, but it's an absurd one. Surely he doesn't believe that most of the WTC victims have ever considered themselves as members of the "technocratic corps" of which Churchill speaks, and even those who have probably did not consider their role in it. Most of them were likely completely ignorant of the political and economic dynamics of which Churchill wrote in that article, as most who still participate in Churchill's "technocratic corps" still are. However, if Churchill had used a more fitting analogy, he might have stated his case in a way that, while it wouldn't have gotten the attention it has now (I'm not sure that wasn't his aim), would have at least been more intellectually sound. He could have said that, much like many of the German people under Hitler in the 1930s and 40s, the people in the World Trade Center, and people throughout the U.S., have (mostly) unconsciously ignored the signs that the system of which they are a part is unethical. He might then have written:
They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire the "mighty engine of profit" to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved and their willful ignorance of this situation is no excuse.That still might be wrong, but it's certainly more empirically viable, and avoids the hyperbole that turns his claims into inflammatory nonsense.
I would argue, then, that what Churchill is guilty of is sloppy scholarship, in the form of exaggeration and terrible use of analogy. He hasn't violated any scholarly ethics that I can think of. He hasn't falsified evidence, for instance. He's merely uttered what, in the form that he wrote them, are extremely unpopular ideas (the idea that corporate or capitalist interests drive the "military dimension of U.S. policy," which has, and still is, being used unethically, is certainly not new, or entirely unpopular among many academics). This is hardly a reason to fire a tenured faculty member, no matter how offensive we find his ideas. Instead of calling for him to resign or be fired, any academic who disagrees with him, liberal or conservative, should be sitting in front of a computer working on a paper with arguments that counter Churchill's. That's how academia is supposed to work.