Monday, March 12, 2007

Plagiarism & Misrepresentation - The Sins That Won't Go Away

As Wikipedia grows up, academe reminds itself of its own obligations.

On the heels of the credentials crisis at Wikipedia, there are new charges of plagiarism leveled against Ward Churchill.

You may remember the controversy initially sparked by an essay written by Ward Churchill, a University of Colorado professor, which made national headlines a year or so ago.

This controversy brought his work (which was quite significant--numbering 20+ books and 150+ essays) into the spotlight of his peers. Apparently, this was a virtual first, as he had been published "largely in alternative presses or journals, not in the university presses or mainstream peer-reviewed journals often favored by more conventional academics." (from the Report of the Investigative Committee of the Standing Committee on Research Misconduct at the University of Colorado at Boulder concerning Allegations of Academic Misconduct against Professor Ward Churchill).

At the time of the uproar over Churchill's post-9/11 essay, I was of the opinion that, while he displayed poor judgment and a general lack of professionalism, he was certainly in his right to write and research whatever he wished. Academic Freedom is one of those holy sacraments that higher education, and general human intellectual growth, simply couldn't be accomplished without. The case made against him in the popular press was so politically charged, that it was quite chilling to watch--particularly as a member of the Academy.

However, after the creation of a non-partisan committee of his peers, the Investigative Committee found numerous inaccuracies, and instances of plagiarism. In fact, the Committee recommended that Churchill's full professorship appointment be terminated. He has been on paid leave since the judgment of the university's Investigative Committee, and will remain so, while his case is under appeal.

While I can see the "politics" of how he may have chosen to publish in non-peer-reviewed journals and presses, it would seem that such politics can just as easily serve another purpose... That of a convenient veil for shoddy work. These revelations also raise issues for the tenure committees which accepted/approved these publications. No doubt, they shoulder some of the blame, and shame, for not catching these problems.

If ever there were a case study to be made in support of peer-reviewed publications, this is it.

And in today's issue of the Rocky Mountain News I read this:

New questions about Churchill
References cite secret documents available to few

By Berny Morson, Rocky Mountain News
March 12, 2007

Did University of Colorado ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill see secret Canadian government files about child abuse in Indian boarding schools?

Highly unlikely, says a Canadian researcher who reviewed the files and cited them in his 1999 book about the history of the infamous boarding schools.

So how did references to those documents end up in Churchill's 2004 book on the schools?

"Unless he got himself into one of those black suits that Tom Cruise used in that movie and snuck himself into the Department of Indian Affairs at midnight, he's not seen the documents," said John S. Milloy, a professor at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario.

This is not the first time Churchill has been accused of stealing facts from someone else's research.

Churchill's dismissal was recommended last year after a faculty investigation revealed plagiarism and fabrication of facts in his previous works. His case is on appeal before a faculty grievance panel.

Churchill did not return phone calls or an e-mail message about this latest allegation. His attorney, David Lane, declined to comment.

Churchill's book, Kill the Indian, Save the Man, and Milloy's book, A National Crime, deal with an ugly chapter in U.S. and Canadian history.

Beginning in the late 19th century, Indian children in both countries were taken from their parents and sent to boarding schools, where they were forced to adopt European culture.

Read the rest of the article here.

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