Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Controversial professor Ward Churchill spoke with reporters yesterday at the University of Hawaii's Bachman Hall. He gives a talk tonight on campus.

UH guest
not regretful over
9/11 comments

The governor of Colorado wants him fired. The University of Oregon canceled his lecture this month. And Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly calls him "the anti-American professor."

Some call him inspirational; others, a divisive fraud.

This week, Ward Churchill, a tenured ethnic-studies professor at the University of Colorado, is bringing a national debate over the right to free speech and the right of academics to freely debate and teach all viewpoints to the University of Hawaii's Manoa campus.

At a news conference yesterday at UH's Bachman Hall, Churchill said he did not regret what he said in a controversial book.

"It's not what I said that's the issue. It is the right to say it that has become the issue."

Churchill will speak tonight at 7 on "Academic Freedom in the Age of Terror" in the Art Auditorium on the UH-Manoa campus. His trip was paid for by contributions from individuals and organizations and not the university, according to organizers. Event sponsors include Not in Our Name-Hawaii, the Matsunaga Institute for Peace, the Center for Pacific Island Studies and Revolution Books.

"I want to change American attitudes. I want to make Americans think. American policy doesn't function without a massive cheering section of acquiescent people,'' he said yesterday.

Churchill, 57, has been the target of controversy since he first published an essay three years ago on the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy. In that online essay, he compared the victims in the Twin Towers to "little Eichmanns," a reference to SS Lt. Col. Adolf Eichmann, the bureaucrat responsible for keeping the trains of Nazi Germany rolling from all over Europe to death camps, and who was found complicit in the mass murder of Jews and others.

Churchill used the analogy of "little Eichmanns" to describe the armies of bureaucrats who, regardless of their political views, keep a government's policies and its bureaucracies running be they in Nazi Berlin or present-day New York.

Yesterday, Churchill said that the investment bankers, financial analysts and brokers who worked in the Twin Towers kept America's financial systems and therefore its political policies running. Churchill said to those in the world who feel America profits on the backs of the less powerful, America is as hated as was the Third Reich. And that hate brought 9/11.

Churchill also said yesterday that he is surprised at the recent "feeding frenzy" his essay has gotten, much of it propelled to national attention by commentator O'Reilly and Newt Gingrich, a Fox News analyst and former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Since 2001, Churchill has refined and expanded his essay into a book called "On the Justice of Roosting Chickens."

Members of the Hawaii College Republicans, a newly formed group with about a dozen members, are expected to protest at Churchill's lecture.

"We are disgusted that the University of Hawaii faculty would invite Churchill after his 9/11 comments became public," said Jame Schaedel, chairman of the group and a senior majoring in political science at the university.

Schaedel said the group will be holding protest signs.

Charlotte Keane, whose brother Richard was killed in the north tower of the World Trade Center, said she was sickened when she learned that Churchill was going to speak at the University of Hawaii.

"I just couldn't believe it," said Keane, an emergency room nurse at Kuakini Medical Center. "It's crushing to have someone speak ill of your dead like that."

Her brother, 54, was senior vice president for Marsh & McLennan, a risk and insurance firm.

Interim President David McClain Friday condemned Churchill's remarks as "personally offensive, wildly inaccurate and remarkably hurtful to those who lost loved ones that day."

But despite his emotions or opinions, McClain defended the university's invitation to Churchill along with the professor's First Amendment right to voice his beliefs as a "cornerstone of democracy."

Churchill told reporters yesterday that he not only has the right to free speech, but as a professor has an obligation "to analyze others in a critical fashion and raise uncomfortable questions."

UH English professor Ruth Hsu, who also spoke at the news conference, said that the media and academics have "similar responsibilities in a democracy to raise those uncomfortable questions."

Quoting from a letter defending Churchill sent to UC's Board of Regents by the Society of American Law Teachers, Hsu said: "Universities play the crucial role of providing a forum for informed criticism of our society and its policies. Such critique of the conventional wisdom, or the accepted way of doing (or seeing) things, is essential to fostering the public debate that is necessary to prevent tyranny."

Haunani-Kay Trask, a professor at the Center for Hawaiian Studies, condemned the UC regents' investigation into Churchill's activities, announced Feb. 4, as a witch hunt. The UC regents have said they will investigate whether Churchill "overstepped his bounds as a faculty member" and should be dismissed for cause.

Trask, a longtime Hawaiian-rights activist, has known Churchill for about 15 years.

Trask said, "Like the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings in the 1950s, the Colorado investigation of Ward Churchill is nothing less than McCarthyism."

"We in the university and all others concerned for civil liberties must ... defend Ward Churchill's constitutional right to speak his mind as a public intellectual," she said.

Churchill told reporters that because his views are dangerous to the status quo, "I've been targeted for elimination."

By extension, he said, there is an agenda to silence divergent opinions in academic departments including areas such as ethnic, American Indian, African-American, native Hawaiian and women's studies.

Along with his views, Churchill's ethnicity as an American Indian and his academic credentials have been questioned.

Churchill repeatedly declined to state his ethnicity, angrily calling it "an irrelevant question." He said raising questions about his ethnicity is "a flatly racist diversion from the larger issues."

George Witcliff, chairman of the Keetoowah Cherokee of Oklahoma, could not be reached for comment yesterday. However, Witcliff told the Rocky Mountain News that Churchill is an associate rather than a full member of the tribe. He also told the Denver newspaper that an associate is not necessarily of Cherokee blood.

The Denver Post has reported that Churchill "has been unable or unwilling to provide any documentation of his ancestry."

Supporters such as UH English professor Hsu said: "The attacks on his ethnicity and academic credentials are a red herring. It's what happens to people who raise uncomfortable questions."

Star-Bulletin reporter Rosemarie Bernardo contributed to this report.

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