March 18th update

March 19, 2009

From the indefatigable Ken Bonetti.  I love that Marjorie McIntosh had never even heard of critical race theory. Y’know, considering that she’s established a goodly portion of her career on the backs of African women. She makes a grand claim about starting out sympathetic to Ward Churchill, but it strikes me that asking her to disentangle her own interests from the colonial metanarrative that Ward Churchill has spent his career deconstructing is a little like asking the Hamburglar to to go vegetarian.

Hi Folks, Here’s another long one,

I included the Race to the Bottom blog first as it is quite detailed.  The Camera blog is relatively brief, but touches on an important occurrence not mentioned by RtB.

It’s interesting to compare the two blogs.  A reporter writes the first blog.  The second is composed by a succession of academics.  The reporter is purely descriptive trying to write in a “nothing but the facts ma’m” tone  The RtB academics can’t help but provide an exhaustive analysis of the logic and consistency of arguments, generally expressing a more incisive and nuanced view of the proceedings.  They enjoy commenting on the subtleties in speech and body language of witnesses and lawyers.  They weigh the confidence of the players and love to consider how the jury might rate the show.  It’s a bit like looking through a window versus a magnifying glass.  To a third-party observer, one view complements and tends to moderate the impact of the other.

I may be wrong, but today’s action did not seem like the best of days for the Churchill team.  Professor Yellow Bird seemed quite deft at distinguishing between written (white man’s) history and indigenous oral tradition as he had done quite ably the day before.  Regarding the Mandan smallpox epidemic, Yellow Bird, who is a member of the three Mandan affiliated tribes told the court that Churchill’s version of what happened with respect to the issuing of the infect blankets by the U.S. Army is consistent with his tribes’ oral tradition.  Though some observers might view the professor’s deference to oral history as equivocation with respect to academic rigor his skill at conveying the difference between white and Native historical traditions seemed evident.  

Then came what seemed like the kicker O’Rourke had been angling for.  The final question the CU attorney put to Yellow Bird, drawing from a transcript of the professor’s previous testimony before CU’s Privilege & Tenure Committee, was whether he had said “fabricated, made-up accounts promote the truth.”  Professor Yellow Bird had to answer “yes.”  Now, was Yellow Bird’s utterance taken out of context?  Was it just a poor choice of words for something meant to indicate ‘scholarly conjecture?’  I don’t know for sure, but O’Rourke, being the savvy lawyer to whom CU no doubt pays the big bucks, certainly aimed to discredit the professor in one fell swoop. Reminiscent of a Perry Mason moment, certain the defendant had just convicted himself on the stand, O’Rourke’s next statement to the court was “no further questions.”

Those who might think the persecution of professor Churchill was a direct response to the infamous essay probably felt a bit glum at that point.  However, reading the RtB blog one fails to see any mention of that ‘gotcha’ event.  The blogger writes that Professor Yellow Bird “made some strong arguments with a great deal of emotional appeal… and he did a great job of directing these arguments toward the jury.”  Further, she notes that questions about academic misconduct were countered with strong statements regarding the “unfair categorization of Native American oral history as mere storytelling among savages, when it should be considered a valid, significant source in academia.”  She concludes that Yellow Bird “may very well sway a young, diverse jury,” but hedges a bit by asserting that his arguments “disguise the real issue at hand: academic misconduct.”

English, Anthropology and American Studies professor Jose Limon of the University of Texas and CU Distinguished Professor of History Emertia Marjorie McIntosh, both on the investigating committee, were called by the defense to explain in some detail the reasons they found Professor Churchill guilty of research misconduct for what both believed to be repeated transgressions.  McIntosh had deposed earlier on video.  Reading the RtB blog, the testimonies initially appeared solid and fairly incriminating.  McIntosh seemed especially useful to the defense in appearing to be initially ‘biased’ in favor of Professor Churchill in order to counter the plaintiff’s claims of opposite bias on the part of Professor Wesson.  McIntosh stated that she was wary of the investigation, not wanting to be part of some “rightwing conspiracy to get Professor Churchill” but was ultimately reassured that the investigation would be fairly conducted.  Further, McIntosh indicated that she detected “no evidence of any kind” of bias on the art of Professor Wesson.

Cross-examination of Limon and McIntosh by Churchill attorney Robert Bruce focused on the two professors’ qualifications to evaluate Native American history.  Despite Bruce’s assertions, Limon insisted there is only one truth and that truth is not open to interpretation.  Limon maintained that there are clear standards of scholarship and said he would doubt the credibility of any scholar who agreed with those writings of Churchill that were at issue. Limon was forced to admit that he was not an expert in Native American Studies.  

Professor McIntosh, whose specialties are English History between 1300-1600 and the history of women in Africa during the 1900s was likewise insinuated to be less than an expert in the field.  McIntosh was found to be unaware of   critical race theory, for which Professor Churchill is particularly well known.   

The testimony of two other witnesses, retired CSU business professor Myron Hulen and Churchill publisher Elaine Katzenberger were relatively short.  Dr. Hulen spent only seven minute on the stand as Judge Naves sustained CU council’s objection to having him speak about the nature of academic freedom.  Katzenberger seemed useful to Churchill’s defense in pointing out that many people had attacked Churchill’s works, but to little effect.  She added that in nine years since publication of Struggle for the Land no one had come forward to accuse him of plagiarism. 

In general, it seems that the CU defense and the Judge are trying to decontextualize the issue by not allowing some witnesses to talk about the political environment and the overarching issues related to this case.

Ken

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