Betsy Hoffman mops the floor with CU

March 14, 2009

It doesn’t get any better than this. From the Daily Camera, which, as I hear it, doesn’t half do her testimony justice.

Hoffman said she was “concerned” that the university decided to investigate Ward Churchill’s writings and works as a result of the tumult that arose over his 9/11 essay.

She agreed with Churchill’s lawyer, David Lane, that launching such an investigation based on controversial statements could have the effect of chilling faculty speech and she said it smacked of modern day McCarthyism.

“Would that be the equivalent of putting a faculty member under a microscope?” Lane asked.

“Yes,” she said.

But Hoffman also said once the school had allegations of misconduct in hand, they were obligated to look into them.

Hoffman said she interpreted Churchill’s remarks in his essay likening victims in the World Trade Center to “Little Eichmanns” not to mean they were literally Nazis, but that they represented technocrats in an oppressive American imperialist machine — and thus legitimate military targets in the eyes of the attackers that day.

She said she recognized it as political speech, protected by the First Amendment, as soon as she read it.

Hoffman also said she felt like she was becoming the target of a right-wing attack machine, led by conservative media outlets and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, an organization she said had the goal of reducing left-wing bias on university campuses.

“It was an all-out assault on Ward Churchill, the University of Colorado, and me,” she testified.

She said both former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, and her successor at CU, Hank Brown, had both been on the board of the organization.

Lane asked Hoffman about the different kinds of errors professors can make in their work and what rises to a fireable offense.

Hoffman said typical mistakes are failing to footnote someone in an academic work. She said other types of infractions, like publishing someone else’s work as one’s own, are far more egregious and would more likely rise to the level of termination.

Lane asked her if a professor could give a “straight-faced” reason why they wrote what they did, with no intention of providing deliberately false information, would that constitute academic misconduct.

She said it likely wouldn’t. Hoffman testified that conclusions between scholars can vastly differ, but that as long as the methodology used for reaching those conclusions is sound, it’s part of the universe of academic freedom.

“I think that’s what academic freedom is all about — challenging the accepted view about the facts,” she said.

The best part? As I understand it, it’ll be Churchill’s witnesses all next week as well.

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