A Paean to Ward Churchill and The “August” Inquisition That Fired Him

Tom Mayer, a professor of sociology, at the University of Colorado was one of the strongest advocates for academic freedom prior to the July 24, 2007 firing of a tenured full professor, Ward Churchill. His poem appeared in the C.U. publication “Silver and Gold Record.”


On the way to his auto-da-fé on the C.U. campus. May he prevail in his lawsuit.

The august board of nine
that governs the esteemed institution
and righteously defends its good name and scholarly probity
reconvened ninety minutes late.

The audience of hundreds,
motley in attire and demeanor,
hushed quickly.

The outcome was never in doubt
but the unfolding spectacle and prolonged clash of wills
exuded drama.

Eight to one the august board
fired the despised professor
with C.C. [unCommon Courage] the sole dissenter.

Already the despised professor was a marked man
branded “DESPICABLE” by
ten million irate citizens
one thousand scribes of our populist — and corporatized — media
fifty democratically elected legislators
five supposedly expert investigators
two state governors
and one university president.

The despised professor’s
spoken, written, and electronic rhetoric
severely embarrassed
his less articulate colleagues.
But being despicable
is not a suitable cause for firing
at any esteemed institution
that values its good name and scholarly probity.

As luck would have it
a more actionable cause appeared:
an astounding congruence of politics and procedural rigor.

Fortune favors the powerful.
The august board,
which voted eight to one to fire the despised professor,
did not deny he had:
inspired students,
written books,
provided footnotes,
attracted readers,
received citations,
garnered awards,
adumbrated ideas,
promulgated systematic interpretations,
stimulated numberless discussions,
inspired social change.

Nevertheless the august board
had weighty reasons
to fire the man.

According to the unquestionable conclusions of unimpeachable authorities
the despised professor:
falsified history,
fabricated sources,
plagiarized authors,
not to mention other
rumored but undocumented,
sins of omission and commission.

Ample — if fortuitous — cause to fire
a deeply despised professor.
On that day the august board
cast its eight to one vote
before beating
a hasty, nervous, monosyllabic retreat.

What reasonable soul could doubt
the unquestionable conclusions of unimpeachable authorities?
What moral person could challenge
the considered decision of the august board?

Those who witness hypocrisy,
experience injustice,
see truth negated,
who comprehend the totalitarian persuasiveness of power
come by doubt honestly.

If not fearful or beholden,
if not vengeful or nursing a prior grudge,
if not starved of status or spoon-feeding a career,
if not complacent or drowned within private life,
if still able to locate merit in a bitter foe
then
no rocket science is needed to find
evidence flawed and incomplete,
conclusions questionable,
authorities impeachable,
august boards fallible,
the prosecution a house of stacked cards,
the firing a systematic framing,
the victim the commonweal.

And yet the professoriate,
leaving aside incorrigible malcontents,
greet the termination of their erstwhile colleague
with deafening quietude
and ferocious passivity.

The good doctors take care
never to offend Caesar,
never to think a thought
for which they might be terminated,
reprimanded,
or even shot a second glance.
A crucifixion in the neighborhood?
No concern of theirs …
let alone a mere firing.

Perhaps these voiceless inert instructors of the young
even thank the august board
for exorcising
a public embarrassment.

July 24, 2007.
On that date the august board
dispatched the despised professor,
preserving the good name
of the esteemed institution.

June 22, 1633.
On that date occurred another exorcism.
Another august board
fired
another despised professor,
preserving the good name
of another esteemed institution.
Or, to be more precise,
a prior and more authoritative august board
inscribed a despised professor as antichrist,
condemning a man of the planets
to perpetual house arrest.
Galileo Galilei.
“And yet it does move.”
What goes around will come around.

Tom Mayer, U.C.B. sociology

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