Thomas Brown, Ward Churchill and prison time for "research misconduct"


Posted to on July


For anybody following the Ward Churchill witch-hunt, the name Thomas Brown should ring a bell. This is a professor from Texas who has been pursuing Ward Churchill like Ahab pursued Moby Dick. He achieved a certain recognition for exposing Churchill's failure to properly document the charge that the U.S. Army handed out smallpox blankets to the Mandan Indians in 1837. Churchill cited Evan S. Connell's "Son of the Morning Star: Custer and the Little Big Horn" and Russell Thornton’s "American Indian Holocaust and Survival" but neither book says anything about the army playing such a role.


In my view, Churchill made this mistake because of a predisposition to see the genocide against the Indians in the light of the German genocide against the Jews, which did involve systematic murder. Although army raids did cost the lives of many tens of thousands of Indians, most died because of diseases that they had no resistance to or from the effects of stealing their land and killing their game. Apologists for the American genocide state that this lets the U.S. ruling class off the hook because Indian deaths were "accidental". However, everybody knew that smallpox could be spread through contact, including Lord Amherst, the British officer who did distribute smallpox blankets to Indians in 1763.


Brown pops up on the comments pages at Inside Higher Education whenever an article appears about Ward Churchill. This is an online publication that was launched by editors and reporters at Chronicle of Higher Education, a print publication that has much more clout than the upstart Inside Higher Education. Both publications hew to a careful "balanced" approach which amounts to printing articles pro and con about Ward Churchill.


However, some of the articles are harder to define in this fashion, especially Jon Wiener's "A Lesson From the Churchill Inquiry," that appears in the June 30 edition ( Wiener is a Nation Magazine contributor who has written about the culture wars in the academy, John Lennon and lots of other subjects from a generally progressive standpoint. In this article, he goes out of his way in an unseemly fashion to praise the investigating committee at the U. of Colorado:


"Ward Churchill should be fired for academic misconduct -- that’s the decision made by the interim chancellor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, after receiving a report from a faculty committee concluding that Churchill is guilty of falsification, fabrication and plagiarism. That report shows that, even under difficult political conditions, it’s possible to do a good job dealing with charges of research misconduct."


I posted a brief reply to Wiener shortly after his article appeared:


"I think the usually astute Jon Wiener is missing the point. It would have backfired if the investigating committee had been composed entirely of yahoos from the U. of Colorado law school who had been after Ward’s scalp for years now. By adopting the discourse of the touchy-feely humanities world, the committee made it easier for people like Jon Wiener to swallow a bitter pill. There never should have been an investigation to begin with, not as long as the U. of Georgetown is hiring people like Douglas Feith."


A day later Thomas Brown chimed in:


"Does the fact that other academics found guilty of misconduct have received lesser sanctions automatically mean that Churchill’s sacking is inappropriate? Not at all.


"Take the time to read the CU investigative committee’s report on Churchill. They researched the sanctions given to offenders such as Churchill, and found that sacking is a common outcome. A perpetrator who is caught in one offense and who repents may escape firing. But a repeat offender such as Churchill--who is also loudly proclaiming that he did nothing wrong and that he intends to keep on doing what he’s doing--can expect to be dismissed.


"Just this week, a UNC-Chapel Hill professor was given a year in prison for research misconduct. Churchill should consider himself lucky that he’s only getting fired.


"As to the political context of the situation, I think that Prof. Eckstein put it rather succinctly. Live by it, die by it."


(The Eckstein referred to above, by the way, is as obsessed with Ward Churchill as Thomas Brown. He is a U. of Maryland professor who has contributed to David Horowitz's Frontpage four times in the past:


Although the comments editor at Inside Higher Education was beneficent enough to allow one of my comments to appear on their august publication's website, two have not been forwarded. Since I have a reputation for being something of an ill-mannered lout, let me assure you that my comments were beyond reproach in keeping with the faculty club atmosphere of Inside Higher Education. In fact, compared to a number of the anonymous rightwing ranters who haunt the comments section of Inside Higher Education, I would come across as St. Francis of Assisi.


Since the comments editor has seen fit to exclude my latest comment, I am repeating here on these mailing lists and my own blog:



In his comments on Ward Churchill, Thomas Brown states, "Just this week, a UNC-Chapel Hill professor was given a year in prison for research misconduct. Churchill should consider himself lucky that he’s only getting fired."


My eyebrows went up when I read this. When the hell did professors start going to jail for "research misconduct"? I spent an hour on Lexis-Nexis and Google News trying to find evidence of such a thing, but could not turn up a thing. The plain fact is that there is no such crime as "research misconduct". People go to jail for car theft, battery, bank robbery, etc.--not for improper citations or plagiarism.


Of course, if people like Thomas Brown, Art Eckstein and David Horowitz had their way, people would go to jail for "false" beliefs just the way that they did in the 1950s. Perhaps Brown was confused by his own call for jailing Churchill on the charge of perjury. Brown raised this question after Churchill referred to the Mandan incident at a Colorado trial stemming from his role in Columbus Day protests. After I raised hell on the Internet for Brown raising the question of jail time for perjury, he amended his attack on Churchill as follows: "The first draft speculated that Churchill *may* have committed perjury. I am not a lawyer, and used the word “perjury” as any layman would, to describe dishonesty in a court proceeding. Given that the technicalities of perjury rules can vary from one venue and one situation to the next, I have removed that statement."


At any rate, if Brown or anybody else could provide the documentation for professors at the University of North Carolina being jailed for "research misconduct," I'd like to hear about it. That sounds like we would be much further along toward the fascist state that David Horowitz, Art Eckstein and Thomas Brown obviously long for.