Academic hypocrisy

By Elie Dvorin

University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill and Harvard University President Lawrence Summers made national headlines recently by making some controversial statements. Churchill, a caricature of the liberal left, compared Sept. 11 victims to Nazis, justified the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings, called for the United States to “cease to exist,” and refuses to apologize for his blatantly offensive and borderline evil comments.

Last month, Lawrence Summers, secretary of the treasury under the Clinton administration, put forward the hypothesis that innate differences between men and women may be the reason why men have been traditionally more successful in math and science fields.

Churchill, as I mentioned last week, has a history of espousing blatant lies disguised as truth to his students, for which he can (and should be) fired. Summers, on the other hand, simply offered a possible explanation to a question that has gone unanswered. He just threw out the possibility of innate differences as a sound bite, but concluded that further research is needed in the field before any serious conclusion regarding the impacts of gender on math and science performance is reached.

Any decent person can recognize that Churchill’s statements, although constitutionally protected, are far worse than anything Summers said. Calling for more attacks against the United States is morally repugnant. Examining gender differences in academics may be unpopular and offensive to some, but the two statements don’t even belong on the same radar screen. I don’t know if Summers’ statement has much validity, but it is legitimate as an academic inquiry. Let further research prove or disprove his theory, but let’s not dismiss his ideas in the name of political correctness. Churchill didn’t make his comments because he wants to further understand the psyche of the terrorist mind or obtain a deeper understanding of US-Iraqi relations. He made them because he hates the United States and everything it stands for (except his $96,000 salary).

As demonstrated by the “outrage” that followed the statements of Churchill and Summers, there is an obvious element of hypocrisy in academia. Academics have always prided themselves on their defense of First Amendment Rights, especially in an environment that is supposedly open to a variety of different opinions and areas of research. Nonetheless, Churchill is being protected and Summers is in jeopardy of losing his job. In the twisted world of academia, it’s popular to hate America, but it’s career suicide to hypothesize that men and women may have different innate talents.

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Churchill has been defiantly standing by his statements, and as a tenured professor, he has the support of most of the faculty. He has been portrayed as a courageous defender of personal liberty standing up to the overbearing politicians and cable news hosts. Summers, on the other hand, has been portrayed by the media as a sexist, elitist flame-throwing administrator. Instead of standing by his suggestion, he has been forced to recant his statement and jump through hoops to prove he’s not really sexist.

Arthur Kleinman, chairman of the anthropology department at Harvard, said “I ask you then, to think hard about how who you are as president has taken us to this dangerous moment.” Unpopular? Perhaps. Shortsighted? Maybe. Dangerous? Not a chance.

Churchill’s comments are dangerous. Open support of attacks on U.S. soil can legitimize and encourage terrorists to strike again. It may be the case that his words have no effect on the morale of groups like al-Qaeda, but they’re far more dangerous than the few words that landed Summers in hot water.

I don’t support the statements of Churchill or Summers, but it’s clear that Churchill’s venomous statements are more troublesome than Summers’. Not surprisingly, academia doesn’t see it that way. Free speech on campus is becoming an increasing problem, as students and professors fight to express their views against those generally accepted. This hypocrisy has infiltrated college campuses everywhere and if left unchecked, it could spell disaster for the First Amendment in higher education.