Wednesday, May 17, 2006

History News Network

Ralph Luker has some comments on the Ward Churchill report at Cliopatra. Or rather, he comments that he is reserving comments until he reads the report, save for some statements about ACTA and David Horowitz:

It seems to me, however, that ACTA's title and methods are enormously irresponsible. Insofar as they are to be judged at all, and I think they should be, faculty members are assumed innocent until found guilty – found guilty by their peers and, then, only on a case by case basis. ACTA's claim that "Ward Churchills Abound" is highly irresponsible. You can dress David Horowitz in an academic gown and call him respectable, if you will. He's still a demagogue and I'm sorry to see ACTA, Erin, and the Phi Beta Cons trying to dignify his tactics.

I can concede part of his point for the technical reason that ACTA is probably not practicing perfect academic scholarship by using course descriptions to make their point. (See also the informative comments at for Luker's entry).

However, this misunderstands what ACTA has produced. ACTA has created a polemic, and as such, their arguments can be rejected or accepted. But Luker's criticism in fact holds them to a higher standard than the academics ACTA criticizes, and, if followed, would dismiss ACTA's arguments for reasons other than their persuasiveness and truthfulness, the only criteria on which a polemic should be judged.

An academic, as seen by the Churchill case, can produce shoddy, dishonest polemics for many years, yet be protected by tenure from any effects criticism of that work might have. They can even have such polemics regarded as scholarship. Those outside of academia not only have no such protection. They must produce work that is not polemical in any way before their criticisms of polemics will be indulged. Their polemics must be footnoted and peer-reviewed before their criticisms of dishonest footnotes and incestuous peer reviews will be engaged at all. A faculty member, merely by virtue of being faculty, is thereby granted privileges to pontificatee on a subject that equally qualified non-faculty do not have.

The test of whether ACTA or David Horowitz is worth listening to is not the academic perfection of their scholarship, but whether their conclusions are persuasive to those who have experienced contemporary University scholarship first hand. In my experience, their criticisms are fair and accurate. I would further argue that if their initial conclusions are pursued more thoroughly, that academics would look even worse than ACTA's report makes them look.

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