Adult supervision

March 13, 2009

So, interesting day yesterday. From what I’m hearing, I don’t think Hank Brown was nearly the slam-dunk for David Lane and Ward Churchill that Bill Owens and David Getches were, but that could be because I wasn’t in the room. It certainly didn’t seem like CU gained any points from him.

From Race to the Bottom.

The last witness of the morning was former United States Senator Hank Brown. Senator Brown was also the President of the University of Colorado and recommended Professor Churchill’s dismissal to the Board of Regents. Mr. Brown was also a former President of Northern Colorado University, President of the Daniels Fund, and held other political positions.

Right after the background was laid for Mr. Brown, the questioning was intense and contentious.After going through a few questions of the Privileged and Tenured Committee’s report and recommendation, Mr. Brown refused to agree with Mr. Lane’s interpretation of that report. Mr. Brown said that the committee did not say not to dismiss Professor Churchill, rather three voted for discipline and two voted for dismissal.

The examination was also contentious once Mr. Lane began asking question about Mr. Browns politics and if he thought that there was a “liberal bias” in academia across the country. Once Mr. Brown declared that he never made that statement, Mr. Lane moved in to impeach him by playing a video clip of his deposition. In that clip, Mr. Brown nods his head when that same question is being asked. However, he claims that it was merely an acknowledgement of the question, not that he agreed with it. After that answer, Mr. Lane attempts to get Judge Naves to instruct the witness to answer the question he asked with respect to the head nodding and the liberal bias. Judge Naves refused to do so and said that the witness was trying to answer the question.

Later on, Mr. Lane comes back to the political questions when asking Mr. Brown about his prior affiliation with a group called ACTA (American Council of Trustees and Alumni), a group of academics who, Mr. Lane says, are dedicated to getting rid of a liberal bias and liberal professors to replace them with more conservatives and conservative minded studies to balance out academia. Mr. Brown vehemently disagrees with this statement calling it a mischaracterization of that group and what it stands for.  As an aside, according to the ACTA website, part of its mission states:  

ACTA works with college and university trustees to ensure responsible management of higher education resources, end grade inflation, establish a solid core curriculum, and restore intellectual diversity on campus.

Mr. Lane attempted to impeach Mr. Brown again after he asked if he knew of Professor Churchill other than through this controversy; Mr. Brown replied that he did. That is when the court was shown a video deposition of Mr. Brown saying that he did not remember hearing about him before the essay, but after the controversy he had.

With questions about how he learned of the controversy, Mr. Brown testified that he heard about Churchill largely though the media and that based on his interpretation of what the media was reporting, Professor Churchill made offensive anti-Semitic comments when he used the term “little Eichmann’s” in his essay.

Mr. Lane went back to the position that Mr. Brown held right before he became the President at CU, the President of the Daniels Fund. The Daniels fund provides scholarships for students at the University of Colorado as well as other grants to the school for general use. Right before Mr. Brown left the Daniels Fund, the Board of Directors voted to withhold the grant money from the University of Colorado over concerns about the many ongoing scandals, including Professor Churchill. While Mr. Brown would not testify that Professor Churchill’s controversy was one of the top reasons, he thought it might have been for those members of the board that requested a delay and further investigation before they provided the grant money to CU.

There was a difference of opinion between the witness, Mr. Brown, and Professor Churchill’s attorney, Mr. Lane, about whether or not the vote that took place, that Mr. Brown voted in favor of, was a vote to withhold money from CU. It was characterized instead by Mr. Brown as a vote to investigate, and all the funds that were going to go to CU eventually did, and once Mr. Brown became president of CU, the money came in. When asked what information the Board of the Daniels Fund looked at in their investigation, Mr. Brown said that he had no knowledge of what they looked at to come to their determination.

They sparred further over Mr. Lane’s characterization of the Privileged and Tenured Committee’s report and Mr. Brown’s job as the President of CU. Mr. Lane suggested that the President’s decision to dismiss a member of the faculty is a subjective decision because he is required to give a recommendation to the Board of Regents that can either follow the committee’s recommendation or give it less weight in light of other evidence. Mr. Brown refused to answer the question without being able to explain it because he thought it was mischaracterizing the true role of the President in this scenario.

Cross examination came and Mr. Brown was given an opportunity to explain his answers and go through a timeline of the committees and meetings and other events with respect to this controversy. Mr. O’Rourke went through each one and each step in the process of dismissing Professor Churchill asking Mr. Brown if the Board of Regents or anyone else said that they were going to fire Professor Churchill but had to find a way. Mr. Brown said, “all of that is absurd and any reasonable person would know it is absurd.” The committees were made up of people that even Professor Churchill recommended and they were not biased in anyway. When asked if he had day-to-day involvement, he chuckled and said no, it was up to the faculty and other committee members to do the day-to-day investigation.

When asked why, if three of the five recommendations were to not fire Professor Churchill, why did he still recommend termination to the Board of Trustees. He said that because he felt that the offenses which were found to have occurred by all the committee members–that he had plagiarized and falsified information–were so severe, how could he kick a student out for committing these acts, but not a professor.  At this point, there was a great deal of jousting between Lane and Mr. Brown on whether there was any legal limitation on what Mr. Brown could recommend to the Board of Trustees even in the face of an unanimous decision by the committee not to terminate Churchill.  Finally, Mr. Bown admitted that there was no legal limitation on this power to made this termination recommendation to the Board of Trustees.

The first two witnesses went by relatively smoothly with few disagreements and interruptions, other than the occasional objection. However, Mr. Brown’s testimony did not go smoothly and was very contentious. The jury seemed very aware of the courtroom action and very engaged, listening intently and following along closely.  Responding from a question from CU’s attorney, Mr. Brown took the opportunity to give a speech directed at the jury that CU had to terminate Ward Churchill due to the number and gravity of the breaches in academic research.  The judge then adjourned the court until after lunch.

More interesting, I thought, was the testimony from Deward Walker and Robert Williams, both American Indian Studies experts. Walker made the rather obvious point that just because someone makes a mistake in their scholarship, it ain’t academic fraud if they had reason to write what they wrote. Even better, Robert Williams seemed of the opinion that the SCRM folks had no idea what they were talking about. From Race to the Bottom.

Churchill’s next witness was Professor Robert Williams, a Harvard educated University of Arizona professor with a joint appointment in American Indian Studies and American Indian Law. After an extensive list of credentials, he was qualified, without objection, as an expert in American Indian Studies and American Indian Law. He testified about receiving a call from the CU provost and being asked to serve on the committee evaluating Churchill.  Williams testified that, because he knew and respected Churchill and had recently invited him to the University of Arizona as a distinguished scholar, he asked the provost, and later a member of the committee, to evaluate whether he had a conflict of interest and determine whether it would be appropriate for him to serve on the committee.  Within a week, after receiving no response to his request for a determination of conflict, Williams withdrew from consideration from the committee and encouraged all committee members to do the same.  Prior to withdrawing however, Williams expressed concerns to the University about the lack of appropriate standards to guide the committee, chastised the committee for what he claimed was “neurotic behavior about all things Churchillian” and suggested that the committee appeared to need “adult supervision.”

Robert Bruce then took Williams through the committee report and elicited the witness’ opinion as to why each of the allegations against Churchill was unfounded.  With regard to Churchill’s characterization of the Allotment Act, Williams indicated that Churchill’s claims about the allotments were “absolutely correct” and “gave the committee an ‘F’” for its apparent lack of understanding of the issue. Similarly, with regard to Churchill’s discussion of the Indian Crafts Act, Williams testified that, even now he does not understand what the committee’s concern was with Churchill’s discussion because he believed that Churchill was accurate in his discussion.  Williams indicated that in his opinion the committee was inaccurate in its characterization of both the Act and Churchill’s claims about the Act.


One Response to “Adult supervision”

  1. volley Says:

    “Williams indicated that Churchill’s claims about the allotments were “absolutely correct” and “gave the committee an ‘F’” for its apparent lack of understanding of the issue. Similarly, with regard to Churchill’s discussion of the Indian Crafts Act, Williams testified that, even now he does not understand what the committee’s concern was with Churchill’s discussion because he believed that Churchill was accurate in his discussion. ”

    What the hell. How could this be so difficult? Aren’t undergraduates expected to be able to digest and synthesize material at this level in their term papers. That was the meat of the plagiarism charge, besides two other items.

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